By rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission
Tonga’s Lulutai Airlines will soon be able to fly its new aircraft to service the country’s domestic route.
The Tonga High Commission Office in Canberra confirmed on Friday that the de-Havilland Twin-Otter was in Australia in the last week of October for final preparation before flying to Tonga to begin its service.
Tonga’s acting High Commissioner to Australia Curtis Tuihalangingie was able to inspect the aircraft on Thursday and confirmed the aircraft was leaving for Tonga on Friday.
The Australian government had provided the Tongan government with AU$1.25 million to help with transporting the aircraft, train pilots to fly it, purchase spare parts needed and ensure its smooth transition into servicing the people of Tonga.
Australia has been providing support to Lulutai Airlines since mid-2022 in critical areas, such as training for pilots and engineers, a wet-lease arrangement with Fiji Airways to operate regular flights while their fleet was grounded for maintenance, as well as regional cooperation and collaboration with other Pacific Island airlines.
They are also working with Lulutai Airlines to develop a long-term sustainable business plan to support fleet growth as well as good reservations and sales system enhancements.
Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni had stated last month that the aircraft would help Lulutai meet the demands of local travel.
“This new aircraft is a much-needed boost to our current fleet and will help us keep families, communities, tourism operators and businesses connected,” he had said in a statement.
Australia’s High Commissioner to Tonga Rachael Moore said Australia is proud to partner with the Kingdom to support Lulutai Airlines achieve reliable, sustainable and safe domestic connectivity.
“The entry into service support will ensure Lulutai Airlines can start operating their new aircraft as soon as it arrives in Tonga,” she said in the statement.
“Reliable domestic air travel remains essential to Tonga’s economic recovery, development and tourism.”
She said Australia remains committed to helping build a stronger Pacific family and to navigate shared challenges together.
Lulutai has been under a lot of pressure from the Tongan public over the last 18 months, following technical problems to their aircrafts, affecting flights from Tongatapu to the outer islands of Ha’apai and Vava’u.
One of the company’s aircraft was grounded last year for three months for repairs and maintenance, with Fiji Airways stepping in to serve the domestic route.