Lulutai airline’s newly purchased aircraft was reportedly grounded today, a source has told Kaniva News.
We contacted the airlines chief executive Poasi Tei for comment and asked him to confirm whether it was true the Twin Otter had been grounded and why.
Source said engineers were called to look at the Twin Otter, apparently for mechanical issues.
The incident comes after several complaints about the Lulutai services had been shared on social media, including Kaniva News.
The news comes in the midst of an ongoing investigation conducted by staff from Australia and the Tonga’s Civil Aviation Division (CAD) to determine the cause of the 36-seater Saab 340 aircraft accident, at Fua’amotu Domestic Airport a month ago.
It is understood the investigators want to find out if the damage is consistent and aligns with the insurance company’s coverage claims policy.
As we reported previously there were complaints of travel chaos caused before Christmas after the Saab 340 struck a cement block on landing at the Fua’amotu domestic airport.
Flight passengers were then forced to take the inter-island ferries.
The airline has three aircraft including the Saab 340, Y12 Harbin and the Twin Otter.
It is understood the Y-12 plane was only fixed last week. It was grounded after it veered off the runway during its take-off run on ‘Eua island in July last year and was later hit by a tow tractor at the Fua’amotu domestic airport.
The new 18-seater Twin Otter was forced to fulfil all the inter-island services among ‘Eua, Ha’apai, Vava’u and the Niuas after the Saab accident.
The Prime Minister, who is the chairman of the Lulutai board of directors said two pilots had been accredited to fly the Twin Otter 16 hours a day. He said each pilot flew the plane for eight hours a day in an attempt to cope with the high-demand on the domestic routes during the Christmas holiday season.
The Prime Minister also recently said the Lulutai airlines was struggling to find another aircraft after an attempt to lease or buy another aircraft. He said none was available and a deal with the Fiji airways to assist the situation had proven fruitless.
A New Zealand-based Tongan resident said this afternoon she was booked to fly from Ha’apai to Tongatapu tomorrow (Thursday, January 11) but was informed today by the Lulutai that her flight had been cancelled.
She was told to stay in touch.
On Lulutai’s Facebook accounts some passengers vented their frustrations and raised their anger directly with the airlines after being told their flights had been cancelled.
One ticket holder wrote: “Why did you guys cancel the Wednesday flight??? I’m in Ha’apai and I’m leaving on Wednesday night back to NZ. There should be some kind of compensation with these kind of rescheduling”.
Another wrote: “I should start swimming. They are known for their no communication and all of a sudden flights are cancelled. We planned before time and yet still cancelled. Just be ready for cancelled flight when you come. Because travelling in Tonga it’s about who you know”.
The national airline also appears to lackof online public relation tips and strategic communication services to facilitate its services and reduce customer complaints help them contact its office directly.
Most of the complaints said e-mails and calls to the Lulutai office went unanswered.
“Hello Lulutai Airline Ltd, can you please let me know how I can buy ticket to Vava’u on April 20? Will be much appreciated”, a commented wrote on Luluta’s Facebook account.
One commenter wrote: “I’m gonna go to Haapai in July and afraid of this happening!! How will you get to (Nuku’alofa) now? Or is there another flight you can take?”