Warning light forces MA60 to return to Tongatapu

Kiliki heni: ki he ongoongo ni 'i he lea faka-Tonga

Real Tonga’s director Tevita Palu said the airline’s controversial MA60 aircraft returned to Tongatapu while on its flight to Vava’u on Monday 16 because an indicator light came on.

This was the second time within two days the MA60 could not land in Vava’u and it had to return to Tongatapu after it failed to land on Saturday 14. 

Palu said it was a ‘false indication’ warning that something in the aircraft needed to be fixed.

He said the aircraft landed safely after it returned to Tongatapu.

Palu was cautious in his response to Kaniva News, saying it was not something serious, that the problem could be fixed and the aircraft continued on its normal schedules.

“It now flies two to three times a day,” he said.

The aircraft returned without landing in Vava’u on Saturday because of bad weather. The Monday incident was due to technical failure and it had to return to Fua’amotu airport because there was no engineer in Vava’u to fix it, he said.  

Asked whether the MA60 would be grounded, Palu said the matter had not been discussed.

However, Radio Australia has quoted Stuart Perry, the general manager of Tourism Tonga, as saying Real Tonga would stop flying the MA60, which was a gift rom China.

New aircraft

Real Tonga recently bought two British Aerospace Jetstream 32 aircraft from Australia.

Palu said the two new aircraft were bought as alternatives for passengers who did not want to fly on the Chinese-made MA60.

“We are test flying the two new Jetstream today and hopefully they will start servicing the outer islands tomorrow,” he said. 

Kaniva News has been reliably informed that Tonga’s Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano met New Zealand Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon Murray McCully in March. They allegedly agreed to ground Tonga’s MA60.

However when the Prime Minister declared the MA60 had to be grounded he was strongly opposed by his Deputy and Minister for Transport, Hon Samiu Vaipulu in Nukualofa.

Vaipulu threatened to resign if Tu’ivakano grounded the MA60.

Vaipulu was instrumental in establishing Real Tonga Airline and forcing the New Zealand-based Air Chatham out of the kingdom.

NZ travel advisory

New Zealand government has issued a travel advisory warning that the MA60 is not certified to fly in New Zealand and anyone who flies on it does so at their own risk.  

The New Zealand government withheld NZ$10 million dollar funding for Tonga’s tourism industry because of its concern over the MA60.

It eventually released half of the money last month.

However, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told the Tongan government earlier this month that the travel advisory would stay.

Tourism Tonga head Stuart Perry told Fairfax Media this week the Tongan economy had suffered dramatically as a result of the travel warning.

The main points

  • Real Tonga’s controversial MA60 aircraft has had to abandon a flight to Vava’u for the second time in two days.
  • Real Tonga’s director Tevita Palu told Kaniva News the problem was not serious.
  • Overseas tourism in Tonga has suffered seriously because of the New Zealand government’s warning about travelling on the MA60.
  • Real Tonga has now bought two British Aerospace Jetstream 32 aircraft from Australia to provide an alternative for foreign tourists.

For more information

‘Tonga to replace troubled MA60 plane’

‘Real Tonga caves to New Zealand pressure; acquires Jetstream 32s’

‘China's Gift Causes Big Trouble for Tiny Tonga’

‘Chinese plane forces NZ airline out of Tonga’

Jetstream 32

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