Air Vanuatu wants clarity on Samoa’s COVID-19 flight requirements

Air Vanuatu says a flight to take students to Samoa is on hold until the Samoan Government officially notifies Vanuatu of its COVID-19 testing requirements for air flight attendants.

Last week, an Air Vanuatu flight carrying Vanuatu students to Samoa was refused permission to disembark passengers and the plane was forced to return to Port Vila.

Samoan authorities reportedly claimed Air Vanuatu attendants on the flight had not undergone necessary COVID-19 testing before travelling to Samoa.

Air Vanuatu’s Chief Executive Officer, Atu Finau, says the bungle was caused by Samoa Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Samoa Airways “miscommunication”.

Mr Finau said Air Vanuatu was not aware of Samoan Government regulations that all flight attendants must undergo COVID-19 testing before travelling to Samoa.

He said flight attendants on an Air Vanuatu flight to Samoa last December had not undergone COVID-19 testing but had been allowed entry into Samoa.

“We were shocked when we heard the news [of the rejection of last week’s flight] and I want to see Samoa’s official requirements before we send the students back,” Mr Finau said.

Mr Finau said last week’s flight was approved by Samoan authorities before it flew to Samoa and he questions why Samoan authorities did not make their COVID-19 test requirements for flight attendants clear.

“At least they should have let us know before approving the student flight,” he said.

Vanuatu’s Chairman of the Scholarship Board, Colin Natonga, says a new date for the student’s flight to Samoa has not been set at this stage.

He says the board is awaiting the completion of discussions with Samoan authorities before the flight will return.

The Air Vanuatu CEO says many people had complained about Air Vanuatu on social media because of the issue – but he says the disruption “was not Air Vanuatu’s fault”.

Mr Finau says last year Air Vanuatu had been operating flights to Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and Samoa and that there had been no such COVID testing rules for flight attendants.

He said, “Negotiations are underway between Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education and Training, the Foreign Affairs Department of Vanuatu and Samoa.”

Thirty-five Vanuatu students were onboard the ill-fated flight to Samoa last week.

The flight was a chartered by the Vanuatu Ministry of Education and Training.

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