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The aviation safety sector works together to respond to Tropical Cyclone Harold

While Global COVID-19 outbreaks have had a devastating impact on many countries around the world, there are a handful that do not yet have reported cases. Vanuatu is one of these countries. They took critical steps to strengthen their prevention and containment measures because they know the COVID-19 numbers can quickly change. Because disaster risk management necessitates preparedness for countless scenarios, below we are sharing their response, during this pandemic, to the severe tropical cyclone that devastated their island.

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With winds that reached 250 kilometres per hour, Tropical Cyclone Harold was approaching the strength of a Category 5 hurricane when it hit Vanuatu from 6-7 April 2020. The storm, that also caused widespread destruction in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Tonga, destroyed many homes, businesses and food crops. More than 30 lives were lost in the South Pacific basin.

Vanuatu’s commercial chartered aviation operators served as a critical component in the Pacific nation’s emergency response to the devasting impacts of the tropical cyclone in the northern provinces of the nation.

Harold was the first severe Category 5 tropical cyclone to occur in the South Pacific basin since Cyclone Gita in 2018. It was the second-strongest tropical cyclone to ever affect Vanuatu, behind Cyclone Pam in 2015.

The Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu (CAAV) are working with Vanuatu’s civil aviation operators to ensure Vanuatu’s commercial chartered aircraft are meeting international airworthiness safety standards as they respond to the effects of Tropical Cyclone Harold.

“PASO is currently providing technical expertise to CAAV to assist with airworthiness certificate renewals for commercial chartered operators’ aircraft that have had major maintenance carried out,” said PASO Operations Manager, Mr. Netava Waqa. “These commercial aircraft are vital to Vanuatu’s current emergency Tropical Cyclone Harold relief response and PASO’s technical aviation safety oversight will enable the CAAV to properly assess and certify that these aircraft can safely return to the air to help Vanuatu’s communities.”

“PASO and CAAV are cooperating to carry out meticulous inspections of aircraft operators’ maintenance records to ensure aircraft have been maintained fully in accordance with the required standards and are therefore, safe to operate to carry passengers,” said Mr. Waqa.

With Vanuatu in a self-imposed COVID-19 locked down, foreign aid is restricted to the transport of emergency supplies to the capital Port Vila. The Pacific nation is relying on locally-based, commercial chartered operators to reach Vanuatu’s network of small remote airports to transport emergency supplies onto impacted remote communities across the wide geographical area affected by the natural disaster.

Commercial chartered aircraft are in demand because they can carry out impact assessments, transport critical relief equipment and emergency supplies, and medivac retrievals of critically injured patients on behalf of the Vanuatu government, aid donors, and private citizens. Vanuatu has five commercial chartered operators with about 20 domestic aircraft servicing the country.

Aviation safety sector working together: Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu’s Airworthiness Officer, Manfred Veremaito with Pacific Aviation Safety Office’s Operations Advisor, Joseph Niel Noupat and Air Taxi Vanuatu’s Chief Engineer, Nick Barber at Port Vila Airport, Vanuatu. Credit: PASO.

“We are really pleased to support the strong work of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu to get these planes back into the skies to help Vanuatu. We are also very pleased to be able to support Vanuatu’s local operators who provide an essential service,” said PASO’s General Manager, Mr. Andrew Valentine.

“One such operator has an aircraft that was previously a victim of Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015. It was so badly damaged it was rendered unserviceable. Now this aircraft has been repaired in accordance with approved aviation standards by the operator, and CAAV and PASO are in the process of confirming its airworthiness status so the aircraft can take to the skies again.” Valentine noted, “We are appreciative of the New Zealand Government’s financial support to enable PASO to provide a highly specialised aviation technical advisor to strengthen CAAV’s efforts”.

Despite the Advisor being currently based in New Zealand due to the current COVID-19 travel restrictions, PASO has been using innovative ICT technology to continue to provide much needed regulatory services to Vanuatu. PASO is now looking to provide these services remotely to other PASO Pacific Member States.

“The Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu appreciates and acknowledges PASO management for recognising the urgent need for continued regulatory compliance during these unprecedented times brought about by COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold,” said the Director of CAAV, Ms. Jackie Langati Trief, “We also acknowledge the New Zealand Government’s assistance to enable technical support to facilitate regulatory compliance to the aviation industry in Vanuatu.”

While the CAAV is the lead agency for air safety and security compliance in Vanuatu, it is the role of PASO to support and strengthen CAAV’s and other Pacific Member States civil aviation requirements. PASO, which is hosted by the Republic of Vanuatu in Port Vila, was created by the 10 Member States of the Pacific Islands Civil Aviation Safety and Security Treaty treaty (PICASST) to provide specialized regulatory aviation safety oversight services and capacity building to their respective National Civil Aviation Authorities.

In conclusion Valentine noted, “Achieving compliance with required International Civil Aviation Office (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for aerodromes, air navigation services, airworthiness, aviation security, flight operations and personnel licencing is an absolute necessity for Pacific governments to ensure their civil aviation industry can operate safely. PASO plays a critical role in delivering aviation safety and security for the Pacific.”


About the Contributor

The Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) is an international organisation that provides quality aviation safety and security service for Member States in the Pacific. PASO is the sole Pacific regional organization responsible for regulatory aviation safety oversight services for the ten Pacific Governments who are signatories to the Pacific Islands Civil Aviation Safety and Security Treaty (PICASST). These States include: the Pacific nations of Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu and make up the PASO Council. Associate Members of PASO are Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.  For more information on PASO and their efforts, click here.