PM revokes Real Tonga’s airline license, promises to adopt New Zealand aviation standards in confidential letter

Tongan Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano has promised to revoke Real Tonga’s airline license and overhaul the kingdom’s civil aviation regulations.

In a confidential letter to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Lord Tuivakano says he has removed Deputy Prime Minister Hon Samiu Vaipulu from the Civil Aviation portfolio and relieved the Director of Civil Aviation, Mr Vili Cocker, of his responsibilities.

The Prime Minister promised to

  • Revise Tonga’s civil aviation rules and regulations within 60-90 days
  • Commit to meet New Zealand aviation standards
  • Replace Real Tonga with a New Zealand operator during the revision period

Kaniva News recently revealed that Hon. Vaipulu had been removed from the Ministry of Infrastructure – which covers aviation – and given a new portfolio, Environment, Energy, Climate Change, Disaster Management, Information and Communications.

The letter, dated August 27, was sent to ICAO Deputy Director Henry Gourdji. In it, the Prime Minister said he had made the changes to show his “personal commitments” to meeting the ICAO’s demands on Real Tonga’s controversial MA60 aircraft.

The Prime Minister said Real Tonga would be allowed to reapply for its license under the new civil aviation regulations. It would be replaced by a New Zealand operator during the review process.

Real Tonga did not immediately response to a request from Kaniva News for comments.

The Prime Minister’s letter was sent in response to a letter sent by the ICAO on July 15 concerning two Mandatory Information Requests (MIRs) concerning the certification of the MA60.

The Prime Minister’s letter said the kingdom was submitting what he described as a “corrective action plan” for approval to the ICAO before it made a decision on the controversial Chinese aircraft.

He said a new airline operator from New Zealand would take over the domestic airline while the proposed review of Tonga’s aviation system took place. This would happen within 60 to 90 days.

Lord Tu’ivakano said his government would submit a revised version of Tonga’s Civil Aviation Act 2013 to Parliament that would reflect ICAO requirements.

The Prime Minister said he had taken over responsibility for the Infrastructure portfolio, which includes civil aviation.

The letter said all certification and decisions issued by the previous Tonga Civil Aviation Division management, including the ratification of the operation of the MA60 aircraft, would be revoked.

Lord Tu’ivakano said the review of Tonga’s aviation system would cover the Air Operator Certificates, Foreign Air Operator Certificates, Maintenance Organisation Certificates, Aerodrome Operator Certificates, Airworthiness Certificates, Aircraft Certificate of Registration and Type Acceptable Certificates.

Also included would be a full evaluation and review of Tonga’s state Aviation Activity Questionnaire (SAAQ), Compliance Checklists (CCs), and Protocol Questions, with a comprehensive gap analysis to be sent to ICAO by 17 October 2014.

The ICAO was told the Tongan government would work with Pacific Aviation Safety Office inspectors to rewrite and execute “a new service agreement effective 28 August 2014” that also covered safety rules provided by PASO.

The Prime Minister has asked the ICAO for an extension to November 3 to complete its review and implement the changes.

History

Tonga received an MA60 aircraft from China in July 2012, forcing the New Zealand-based Chathams Pacific to move out of the kingdom. Its owners said it could not compete with an airline subsidised by the government.

The aircraft, which is based on an old Russian design, has been involved in several accidents in different countries. In the worst accident 27 people died.

The New Zealand government released a travel advisory warning that New Zealanders flying in the Real Tonga MA60 did so at their own risk.

Wellington withheld $10 million aid for Tonga’s Tourism industry because of concerns over the aircraft.

Lord Tu’ivakano visited New Zealand in March this year and after a meeting with New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon Murray McCully, the Tonga government became more amenable to New Zealand’s demands.

In May the Tongan Parliament was told New Zealand would release half of its funding for Tonga’s tourism.

Comment

The Prime Minister’s letter could be read as implying that the Deputy Prime Minister was removed from the civil aviation portfolio to please the ICAO.

There have been claims that a report from the Civil Aviation Division had upset the international authority.

The government has denied allegations that Lord Tu’ivakano and Hon. Vaipulu rowed over matters related to MA60. Justice Minister Hon. Clive Edwards said the Deputy Prime Minister was removed because of errors in a report to the ICAO.

Hon. Vaipulu, who was instrumental in bringing the aircraft to kingdom, criticised New Zealand’s stance on the plane.

At one stage he publicly announced Tonga would obtain more aircraft from China.

Even after claims that the Prime Minister had agreed to ground the aircraft, Hon. Vaipulu still insisted the MA60 would fly.

The main points

  • Tongan Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano has promised to revoke Real Tonga’s airline license and overhaul the kingdom’s civil aviation regulations.
  • In a confidential letter to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Lord Tuivakano says he will revise Tonga’s civil aviation rules and regulations, commit to meet New Zealand aviation standards and replace Real Tonga with a New Zealand operator during the revision period.
  • Lord Tu’ivakano has already sacked his deputy, Hon Samiu Vaipulu from the Civil Aviation portfolio, and taken it over himself.
  • The overhaul of Tonga’s civil aviation regulations comes in the face of mounting international pressure over its use of the controversial MA60 passenger aircraft.

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