After the Mihabika Community on South Epi witnessed the first aircraft to land on the new airstrip built by hand, Mr John Supo, the man behind the project traveled to Port Vila to meet with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities (MIPU) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu (CAAV) to request additional funding to complete the airstrip.
According to the Head of Aerodromes and Air Navigation Services at CAAV, an initial meeting with Mr Supo and other landowners took place last week, however no actual inspection on the new airstrip has been carried out at this stage by the CAAV.
Mrs Naiany Karu says before any inspection is to take place, CAAV needs a directive from MIPU which CAAV comes under as new initiatives such as this airport will be under the responsibility of the Public Works Department, whom may tender the maintenance and management to any contractors.
The Assistant CAAV Director says to meet safety standards for Required Public Transport operations, all new airstrips need to be built in accordance to Advisory Circulars that are issued by CAAV, these outline the minimum length, width and surface type suitable for commercial operations.
The AC also determines which category of aircraft can operate from these airstrips. The new airstrip on Epi is most likely to be a Category C airport and to cater for aircrafts such as the 20 seater, DHC-6 Twin Otter which Air Vanuatu operates.
Mrs Karu acknowledges that the people of South Epi have always faced difficulties in travelling by boat to Valesdir Aiport.
She says this is what drives them to build an airstrip themselves, however she says that if they require extra funding from the government, they or any other communities in remote parts of the country, who wish to go down the same path, should have go to MIPU with their plan before attempting construction as any new initiative would require a policy direction from MIPU. The need for a new airport would also need to have the support of political will.
The assistant director also explains that should the airport become a government airport, the government would have to have funds available in their annual budget to fund its operation.
Other airports in Vanuatu that were recently built by hand include Mere Lava in the Banks Islands, which is currently being used by Dr Mark to fly in and treat patients or medivac them and there is Olal on the Northern end of Ambrym which CAAV had inspected in 2014 and deemed fit for category C operations, but no further work had been carried out there due to land disputes.