Air Vanuatu (NF, Port Vila) has grounded its sole jet aircraft after a mechanical issue took the plane out of service on March 31, leaving passengers stranded in several countries. The airline has not specified the type of mechanical issue, but has canceled flights through to April 7 and says it is attempting to source the required parts as quickly as possible.

The grounded B737-800 is registered as YJ-AV8 (msn 42052). The 7.2-year-old leased aircraft was scheduled to operate a passenger flight from Brisbane International to Port Vila on March 31 when the issue was detected, causing that flight to be cancelled. The twinjet remains in Brisbane. Air Vanuatu also uses it for flights to Auckland International, Melbourne Tullamarine, and Sydney Kingsford Smith. Air Vanuatu has rescheduled impacted passengers onto flights for later this week.

"Air Vanuatu operates a Boeing 737 for the Australian and New Zealand flights and this aircraft is currently in Australia awaiting parts that are being sourced with urgent support from Boeing offices in both the United States of America and Australia. Until the timeline for replacement parts is confirmed by Boeing, the airline is unable to resume all flights," an Air Vanuatu statement reads. "The airline has reached out to all available sources to charter a replacement aircraft. However, given the proximity to the busy Easter weekend and the school holidays, this has not been successful."

The grounding adds to Air Vanuatu's considerable operational and financial challenges. The state-owned airline is undergoing a restructuring process under a new board and interim CEO, and is facing significant day-to-day challenges. The B737 was also grounded for three days over the Christmas 2022 period for repairs, disrupting the travel plans of thousands of people. An Australian government taskforce charged with assessing the carrier's ongoing viability has suggested that leasing a second B737-800 could benefit the airline.

Meanwhile, inadvertently coinciding with the latest grounding, Port Vila residents now have an alternative carrier on the key Port Vila-Brisbane route. After a three-year absence, Virgin Australia (VA, Brisbane International) recommenced flights last week and will operate up to five roundtrips a week on an ongoing basis. Virgin Australia will also use a B737-800 on the route and ends Air Vanuatu's sole operator status on arguably what was its most lucrative commercial route. Air Vanuatu says it has booked some of its stranded passengers onto Virgin Australia services but notes that seats on these flights are limited. Air Vanuatu also says that it is talking to Nauru Airlines (Nauru) and Solomons - Solomon Airlines (IE, Honiara) about arranging short-notice flights this week to move stranded passengers but advises this requires the cooperation of many parties, including airports.

Air Niugini (PX, Port Moresby) also flies to Port Vila from Port Moresby and Honiara, while Air Fiji (Suva) links Port Vila with Nadi. Aircalin (SB, Nouméa La Tontouta) flies in from Noumea, and Solomons - Solomon Airlines competes with Air Niugini on the Honiara-Port Vila sector.