Air Vanuatu collapse leaves teenage Rotary club volunteers stranded on island of Tanna

Air Vanuatu collapse leaves teenage Rotary club volunteers stranded on island of Tanna
  • PublishedMay 14, 2024

More than a dozen Australians volunteering in Vanuatu for a youth project run by Hive Rotary Club Australia have been stranded on the island of Tanna following the liquidation of Air Vanuatu.

Air Vanuatu said on Thursday afternoon all international flights until Sunday were cancelled, and flights after that day were “under review”.

The Australians are part of a group of 18 people that also includes exchange students from Switzerland, Germany and other European countries.

The group is in Vanuatu to run health clinics and provide medical assistance and training. 

Fourteen people from the group are between the ages of 15 and 18.

The group flew into Port Vila on Sunday, May 5.

Hive Rotary president Kellie Kadaoui said there was a lot of talk about the airline’s situation when they arrived in Port Vila.

“It was pretty well known to everyone that they were going into insolvency,” she said.

“I pretty well have been trying to find out since Thursday how we get home.”

People sitting on grass
Matt Allen (Wodonga), Tess Kadaouie (Albury), Sarah Long (Wangaratta), and Ruby Kadaouie (Albury) attended the Pay It Forward program in Vanuatu.(Supplied: Hive Rotary Club)

Facing extra costs of up to $3,500 each 

Since Thursday, Ms Kadaoui has been trying to get answers from Air Vanuatu, Qantas and the Australian consulate.

The group was scheduled to fly with Air Vanuatu from Tanna to Port Vila on Saturday, May 18 and then fly back to Australia.

The other two options are taking a boat into Port Vila, which comes two days a week to Tanna, Ms Kadaoui said.

It’s not a passenger ferry but an ordinary boat, which would be quite an uncomfortable trip, she said.

The other option of getting out of Tanna is by private charter and for a group of 18 would cost about $5,000, Ms Kadaoui said.

Airport workers load up an Air Vanuatu plane.
Air Vanuatu collapsed last week leaving many passengers stranded.(ABC News: Doug Dingwall)

Ms Kadaoui said the Australian consulate had told them to contact their travel agent.

The Smartraveller website’s latest update for Vanuatu informs Australians affected by cancellations to contact their travel agent or insurance company about rescheduling.

The agent has told them that they can’t do anything unless they’re prepared to pay up to $3,500 per person to come home, which Ms Kadaoui said was “not something we’re in a position to do.”

Ms Kadaoui said their travel insurer through Rotary didn’t cover insolvency and wouldn’t cover them to come home, something the group did not know before.

‘Let down’ 

Added to that is the prospect of not being able to make their Qantas codeshare flight from Port Vila to Sydney on Sunday, May 19 and then connecting flights to Albury, Melbourne and Adelaide, Ms Kadaoui said.

“I feel very let down. I’m a Qantas frequent flyer,” she said.

Her Qantas app still shows that she’s scheduled to fly out of Port Vila to Sydney on Sunday, May 19.

“They’ve said on their socials that they’ve contacted everyone. Well there are five of us on a Qantas e-ticket and none of us have heard from Qantas,” she said.

“When we land in Sydney, we’ve all got connecting flights to Albury, Melbourne, or Adelaide and Qantas will basically penalise us if we don’t catch our flight on Sunday.”

The penalty will be anything between $100 and $200 per person to change the flight, Ms Kadaoui said.

“Their codeshare airline is not flying so we should not have to pay a fee to change our flight.

“If they are servicing Qantas customers in Vanuatu, we are not one of them.

“We have got our faith in the hands of big players and we are hoping that one of them will come to the party and help us.”

Normal trading intended to resume ‘as soon as possible’

Qantas advised that it has a dedicated line set up for impacted customers, regarding codeshare tickets for travel from Port Vila to Australia.

In a statement on Friday, Ernest and Young, which has been appointed as liquidators for Air Vanuatu, said it would “conduct safety and maintenance checks before the resumption of normal operations”.

“The liquidators intend to resume normal trading as soon as possible, while considering all opportunities to place the carrier on a stronger footing,” the statement says. 

“Affected travellers will be informed of this disruption and rebooked on flights as soon as operations resume.

“The existing management team will remain in place and will work closely with the liquidators through this process.”


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