The Chinese controversial MA-60 aircraft given to Tonga as a gift took its maiden flight on Saturday 10 despite condemnation from Tongan and the Pacific communities.
The airline said they fulfilled process required by “Rules and Regulation of the International Civil Aviation Organization” and Saturday’s flights “went smoothly”.
The claims were not strong enough to convince New Zealand’s government to lift its hold of $10.5 million dollars in aid to Tonga’s tourism that had been suspended in response to the Tonga government’s acceptance of the Chinese MA-60 aircraft.
The government celebrated the arrival of the new 60-seat Xian MA60 turbo-prop aircraft last month attended by King Tupou VI.
The welcoming ceremony drew reactions from the Pacific communities after it announced the plane was not certified to fly in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the US.
Last Saturday New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued an updated travel advisory after Tongan authorities allowed the aircraft to fly saying “Travellers utilising the MA-60 do so at their own risk”.
“The MA-60 is not certified by comparable jurisdictions such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EU), the Federal Aviation Administration (US) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (AUS),” statement from New Zealand MFAT says.
The aircraft’s first flight on Saturday outraged Tongan community with many accused the government for playing politics with people’s lives.
Many pointed up the 2009 incident after the former government purchased the doomed MV Princess Ashika that killed 74 innocent passengers at sea.
A Royal Commission found in 2010 the key causes of the 2009 tragedy “were both a failure to conduct due diligence and a failure of leaders to perform their duties properly.
It also said the, “purchasing of the MV Princess Ashika was totally unsuited for service in the open seas of Tonga.
Tongan authorities who were responsible for the purchase of the MV Ashika were all failed to conduct due diligence in the purchase of the vessel, ultimately resulting in the disaster, the report said.
They rushed “to find a replacement for Tonga’s other inter-island ferry, the MV Olovaha, the Commissioners found that due diligence was by-passed by various officials”.
Critics on social media where many Tongans met nowadays asked questions like: “When will Tongan leaders learn?” “Do they travel by the aircraft or not?”
Some highlighted what had happened when Tonga operated Royal Tongan Airline (RTA) in early 2000 that declared bankrupt in 2004. Leaders wanted the people to fly on the RTA jet while at the same time they traveled to and from overseas using Air New Zealand aircraft.
Many critics compared Tongan leaders attitudes to how President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe refused in 2007 to fly in MA-60 aircrafts he was active in purchasing for his country but expected his countrymen to fly in it.