Air Vanuatu (NF, Port Vila) has grounded its sole B737-800 due to a mechanical issue, severely disrupting the carrier's scheduled service and stranding thousands of passengers at airports around the South Pacific during a peak school holiday period.

The 7.68-year-old B737-800 registered as YJ-AV8 (msn 42052) is the carrier's only jet. It was grounded for unscheduled and unspecified technical reasons after arriving at Brisbane International on September 18. The aircraft normally operates flights to that airport as well as Sydney Kingsford Smith, Nadi, and Auckland International. It is the second time YJ-AV8 has unexpectedly gone out of service this year, and similar issues occurred over the busy Southern Hemisphere 2022/23 summer school holiday period.

On September 25, Air Vanuatu advised that it expects disruptions to continue until late this month, saying that the lengthy wait is due to a delay in procuring and flying in the necessary spare part. "The completion of necessary work has encountered unexpected challenges, making it impossible for us to provide an exact timeframe for resuming our regular schedules," reads the airline's statement.

ch-aviation has learned that YJ-AV8 has an auxiliary power unit (APU) that is outside of limits in the turbine area with Boeing recommending it be sent away for "a shop visit." Air Vanuatu is now looking to buy a replacement APU. Four engine valves on both engines have also been replaced after a check of the bleed system found them outside their limits and bleeding internally.

Meanwhile, Air Vanuatu has called on Nauru Airlines (ON, Nauru) to supply an aircraft to operate some limited services between Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, and Nadi. Nauru Airlines deployed B737-300 VH-XNU (msn 25609) to Port Vila on September 24, and it has since run a series of flights to Auckland, Sydney, and Brisbane on behalf of Air Vanuatu. Nauru Airlines, which operates multiple B737-type aircraft, has built a strong revenue stream by wet-leasing aircraft at short notice to single aircraft operators in neighbouring nations when those planes go unexpectedly out of service.

"At this stage, we anticipate the possible resumption of international flights by the end of this week," Air Vanuatu's statement says.

Editorial Comment: Updated with information that identifies the particular problem that caused the grounding - 26.09.2023 - 09:20 UTC