Australian financial subsidy will keep Tongatapu-Vava‘u service flying until June

Australia will help Tonga pay Fiji Airways to run a passenger service seven times a week between Tongatapu and Vava’u.

Tonga and Australia signed a financial agreement this morning which will help fund the service until June.

The Australian High Commissioner to Tonga Her Excellency Rachael Moore and Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku

The service is being provided by Fiji airways’ domestic carrier, Fiji Link.

The financial subsidy is expected to help reduce the worst of the crisis.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku announced the agreement earlier today.

Lulutai’s CEO, Poasi Tei, said Lulutai had compensated overseas visitors who were stranded in Tonga. He said Lulutai had worked with Qantas and Air New Zealand to handle overseas visitors’ issues with connecting tickets.

The Prime Minister said additional expenses incurred by the compensation deal would be covered by Australia.

The Australian High Commissioner in Tonga, Rachael Moore, said Australia was donating Aus$500,000 to the rescue package.

“It will depend on the number of flights,” Moore said.

“Lulutai will continue to sell tickets. If there is a shortfall in the cost of any of those segments Australia will meet that shortfall to ensure that connectivity domestically for Tonga.”

Hon. Hu’akavameiliku said Australia’s support would ensure Lulutai would not encounter further financial problems between now and June.

Asked whether the government had considered selling Lulutai to a private company, the Prime Minister said that was part of the process to resolve the Lulutai crisis. He said the immediate priority was to sort out the Tongatapu – Vava’u flight crisis. 

A journalist asked the High Commissioner whether the Australian government was aware that Lulutai’s management involved ousted Deputy Prime Minister Poasi Tei who was appointed as CEO. Tei’s election was declared void after the Supreme Court convicted him of electoral bribery.

The journalist, a daughter of the late Prime Minister and former Democratic Leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva, wanted a response from Ms Moore, but the Prime Minister quickly picked up the question and eventually said the appointment of Tei went through due diligence process and there was nothing illegal about it.

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

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