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Swift action needed at Bauerfield

Saturday 30 January 2016 | Published in Regional

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PORT VILA – The World Bank is ready to come to Vanuatu’s assistance for a swift rehabilitation of the country’s main airport runway.

This follows a decision by Air New Zealand, Qantas and Virgin Australia to suspend flights to Vanuatu, due to concerns over the safety of the runway at Port Vila’s Bauerfield airport.

A 2015 World Bank offer of an almost US$60 million loan to Vanuatu to upgrade the runway, which was earlier brushed aside by the Sato Kilman-led government, is reportedly still on the table.

The World Bank’s country director for the Pacific, Franz Drees-Gross, told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific runway issues go back many years.

“There have been several attempts over the past seven or eight years to make some smaller repairs – very much ad hoc repairs that never amounted to a comprehensive rehabilitation.

“And I think now we’ve reached the stage where the state of the runway is so poor that you can see that two major carriers have suspended their flights.”

DATELINE PACIFIC: Under the deal, who is to do the work? Is this a soft loan-type arrangement?

“It is a soft loan. It’s a credit, we call it, to Vanuatu. It has ten years of grades, 40 years of repayments, so it’s a very soft loan.

“And the way that it works is that the government procure both the emergency rehabilitation it’s going to need in the next couple of weeks and then the major overhaul of the runway. It procures those works according to World Bank guidelines.

DATELINE PACIFIC: Which government are you dealing with? I guess you have to wait.

“Well, we’ve received a letter from the Sato Kilman government in its current caretaker role, inviting the World bank to field a team as quickly as possible given the situation in Port Vila.

“We’re doing that, we’re sending a team on February 8, our full technical team. We have a pavement expert who is actually on the ground right now looking at the runway. So we’re dealing with the caretaker government.

“We’re also dealing with the more technical people in Airports Vanuatu Ltd, in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Public Utilities and some other stakeholders, both inside and outside the government.

They confirmed that they would like to move forward with us. The loan was always on the table, it’s still on the table.

“What I think we need to do is be very clear about, I think there’s greater agreement on what needs to be done, which is an emergency rehabilitation now, in a matter of weeks, not months, just to get the airport functional again, and basically to tie over the airport until the full scale rehabilitation can be contracted.

“The full scale rehabilitation will take months, not weeks. But the short-term rehabilitation can be done relatively quickly if we can agree in February 8 on the exact measures that need to be taken.

DATELINE PACIFIC: Do you envisage that those emergency repairs will be enough in the interim to get Air New Zealand and Qantas flying back in?

“That’s our hope. I think the idea is this airport needs a comprehensive rehab. And it needs a 2600 metre runway – not more, not less. And I think that the runway can be made safe and operational at least for a period of six to twelve months, until the major works are fully underway and accomplished.”

- Dateline Pacific