Air Vanuatu’s First Airbus A220 Will Replace Its Boeing 737 Lease

Air Vanuatu will end its wet-lease of a Nauru Airlines B737-800 in June of 2020. The carrier’s only jet airliner will be replaced by a newly purchased A220-100.

air vanuatu airbus a220
Air Vanuatu will be the only airline in the South Pacific flying the A220. Source: Air Vanuatu

Air Vanuatu’s wet-leased B737-800 has been in service since 2008. It replaced the airline’s own B737-300, which had, in turn, capped a Qantas wet-lease begun in 1997.

Writes CH-Aviation, Air Vanuatu’s boss Derek Nice said his company’s purchase of the A220 is part of a three-year bid to improve the frequency of services between the archipelago, mainland Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

Air Vanuatu uses its current B737 to fly between Bauerfield International Airport, Port Vila to Auckland, Brisbane and Nadi. As we reported in June of this year, the order may be small but it is expected to have a huge impact on the economy of the island nation.

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Expansion plans

In the face of a recent surge of inbound visitors to the Republic, Air Vanuatu hopes to cash in on heightened passenger demand. Routes between destinations in Asia are of particular interest to the carrier. It hopes its upgrading of the fleet will place it in contention for lucrative tourist routes to and from Oceania and China.

Much-Improved connectivity would also allow more long-haul visitors from Europe and the United States easier access to the island nation.

Smaller aircraft, more flights

Despite the A220‘s reduced capacity, the type will be flown more frequently to Air Vanuatu’s current destinations. These include airports in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand. The carrier’s 100s will be equipped with 108 seats: eight business class and 100 coach.

Air Vanuatu airline on taxiway
B737-800 wet lease to end, but Air Vanuatu set for expansion. Photo: Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Nice told CAPA, “We will not be increasing capacity but this aircraft is going to deliver us some substantial economies through cost-savings and efficiencies.

Our role is the last mile, to bring visitors from the main hubs in the Oceania region to Vanuatu. We need to partner with other airlines which bring passengers to these hubs.”

Domestic upgrades

The carrier’s second A220 is slated for delivery in October 2020. This aircraft will replace some regional ATR 72-600 routes and increase flight frequencies between domestic airports. The airline currently services 28 domestic routes using the prop type.

Up until last year, Vanuatu operated an ATR 500 and 600. But in July of 2018, ATR 72 registration YJ-AV71 crash-landed at Port Vila after an engine fire broke out in flight. 13 people sustained minor injuries and the aircraft was written off.

In tandem with the carrier’s fleet upgrades Vanuatu’s government intends to make significant upgrades to some of the archipelago’s main airports. A $47.7 million upgrade of Porta Vila begun in 2016 is already nearing completion.

More orders

On the approach to 2022, the carrier expects delivery of two A220-300s. The 300s will be configured for 133 passengers including eight seated in business class.

The Airbus purchases were announced at the Avalon Air Show in February of this year. At the same time, the carrier announced its termination of the 737 wet-lease agreement with Nauru Airlines.

Air Vanuatu sunset
Nauru Airlines B737 wet-lease set to end with the advent of the A220s. Photo: gil_dumbea [CC BY-SA 2.0]
According to Flight Global, Nice said at the start of the year, “These aircraft will be deployed to operate on our current domestic and international routes, including our newly announced non-stop Melbourne-Vanuatu service, and will bolster plans to expand our network in the South Pacific.”

Air Vanuatu is the South Pacific launch customer of the A220. It has retained an option for a further four A220s. Future additions will, however, be determined by the success or otherwise of its current program of expansion.

Recommend retail price for all four aircraft is $345 million.

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