The newly set up domestic Real Tonga Airline announced that it has leased two Y-12 aircrafts and will start operating Tonga’s outer islands on 4 March 2013.
In its announcement, Real Tonga said that a 9‐seater BN2 Islander, a 19‐seater DHC6 Twin Otters and a 68‐seater ATR72‐500 aircraft had also been made available to its services.
The new domestic airline comes into existence amid high tension between the public together with local businesses and the government after the news that Chatham Airline will pull out from Tonga because the government brings two aircrafts from China to compete with them.
Tongan, Eseta Schaaf from Utah USA staged a petition online and called for Tongans on social media network to sign up as a protest against the government proposal.
“Tonga already has a safe, reliable, efficient, professional airline. Chatham’s Pacific has earned the trust of domestic air travelers, and is operating excellently,” the petition says.
It also reminds that, “ Tonga has had 10 failed and/or bankrupted airlines in the past. Chatham’s is the 11th, and the most successful to date. The new plane Tonga will order from China as is not certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration, and is not built for Tongan terrain/environment.
“This aircraft mainly operates in developing countries where it is sold heavily subsidized or given away free.The Xian MA60 has a record of crashes and accidents, the most recent incident just over a year ago in Bolivia.
“In 2011, a fatal accident took place in West Papua killing all passengers and crew. There is a high price to pay for such free gifts.
We cannot afford to risk another possible Ashika-like accident. At what point does our Government stop selling Tonga and its future out? Chatham’s has invested heavily in Tonga and its people – it deserves to continue operating in Tonga.”
Some Tongans wrote abuse in Face Book after finding out on Kaniva News that the two aircrafts were previously announced by government on its state funded Radio Tonga Broadcasting & Television that they are a purchase from China and not a grant as government later on admitted in Parliament – now meaning tax payers have to pay.
Critics compared the government’s decision to purchase the controversial Chinese built aircrafts to Tonga’s former government decision to purchase the doomed MV Princess Ashika that went aground in Tonga water claiming the lives of 74 in August, 2009.
The market is small:
Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Vaipulu told Radio Australia (ABC) in an interview on January 23 that his government intention of bringing the two airlines from China is that they “wanted to… have a competitor in the market.”
But the Chatham’s general manager in Tonga, Noel Gillespie told the radio on January 18 that they decided to cease operation in Tonga as government’s new aircrafts “wouldn’t have the normal commercial expenses that we have” meaning that there is a tendency that the government would subsidize Real Tonga airline.
A move that would create an unlevelled playing field for a competition that the rival is a private commercially operated airline.
He also said that, “the market is so small that even a 10% reduction in the traffic that we have would jeopardise the operation and we have a New Zealand operation as well Air Chathams, between New Zealand and Chatham Islands who rely on Craig for the air services, it’s extremely important to them.”
The Real Tonga’s CEO is Tevita Palu of Palu Aviation and his new post ensured that he is now interacting well with Hon Vaipulu after the two apparently have been on bad terms in mid 2012 following a decline of a license application by Palu aviation to launch a flight to just Vava’u and Ha’apai.
Radio NZI reported at the time that “Mr Vaipulu says the company hasn’t completed the required paperwork on technical information and its finances” in which Mr Palu denied.