Air Taxi Vanuatu, which was founded in late 2009 operating a Cessna 206 for charter from Bauerfield International airport in Port Vila, says that COVID has had an enormous impact on its ‘small tropical paradise’. The company completed a merger in June 2018 and since then has been operating a fleet of Cessnas SEPs and BN2 Islanders. It is also in a partnership with Air Taxi Solomons, which operates from Honiara with a pair of Islanders.
“Each year we have seen remarkable growth for such a small grass roots company, and the end of last year saw us recognise the need to attain a new level of management, safety and accountability,” comments CEO Julia Johnstone. “We have learnt, along the way, to run a business properly – understanding that cash flow is often remarkably different to what’s in the bank.
“Business was looking up, we were looking to expand into the RPT (regular public transport) market, and then COVID hit. Who could foresee the impact this would have? No-one could have predicted that 12 months on we would be continuing to battle on. We are a small group of 83 islands in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Our government closed its borders in the middle of March 2020 and has not reopened them since. We have had one positive case, within quarantine, in the entire year, so that’s a blessing.”
There is plenty to be thankful for, living on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Vanuatu residents have no restrictions and are free to eat wherever and with as many people as they choose. “Our people have become healthier due to the increased focus on hygiene, with each business house having a hand washing station installed,” Johnstone continues. “The downside: we have managed to maintain a positive cash flow for the first 10 months of the border closure despite suffering a 70 per cent loss due to tourism. We have made substantial losses for the past three months and had to terminate three staff with upper management taking a 50 per cent pay cut and remaining staff a 20 per cent pay cut.
“Vanuatu is not a rich country. There is no free education or health. These are people with families, kids in school and bills to pay. Times are tough, but we are nothing if not resilient. We will continue to smile, chin up, knowing we will get through.”