A new part for the Lulutai airline’s Twin Otter did not arrive as expected last night, sources have told Kaniva News.
Lulutai airlines’ recently purchased TP13 million 18-seater aircraft has been grounded for maintenance for an unspecified issue since last week, a month after it made its debut.
It is understood that the part was supposed to be carried to Tonga by a passenger on a flight from Fiji.
Last month Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku, who is also the chairman of the Lulutai board of directors, asked during a live press conference that if a passenger coming from China to Tonga could carry on a new part for the Harbin Y-12 aircraft, to let him know.
As we reported previously the Harbin-Y12 plane was fixed earlier this month before it experienced a mechanical failure yesterday morning, causing some passengers from Vava’u to miss their connecting flights to New Zealand.
A source who asked not to be identified claimed Lulutai staff members arrived at the Fua’amotu International Aiport’s arrival check-out last night (January 17) expecting to collect the part for the Twin Otter from a passenger on Fiji Airways flight FJ213 from Nadi.
However, they discovered that the luggage in which the part was packed had not arrived.
A missing baggage report was submitted, the source claimed.
He said it could be that the part was detected when baggage was screened as it was processed in Brisbane or Nadi.
“If that is the case, it might be that the part was not declared in the traveller’s declaration form or the scanner had flagged it as a dangerous item”, the source said.
Our source claimed the part was given to a couple who were paid to carry the item.
The airline is currently tracing the baggage and it will take time depending on the condition of the part and how it aligns with IATA requirements, the source said.
Fiji Airways could not be reached for comment.
However, Lulutai CEO Poasi Tei gave us a different explanation for what had happened.
He said the part was given to a passenger to bring with him to Tonga last night, but he did not come with it.
He said they were now working to send it to Tonga tomorrow morning. He did not say why the passenger did not bring the part with him.
Asked why Lulutai did not pay to send the item as air cargo, he said the airline used to ask passengers at the airport to carry parts for the aircrafts because this was quicker than using the air cargo flights.
We asked Tei whether Lulutai airline could not afford to use air cargo costs and whether it was facing financial difficulties. However, he dismissed this, saying it had nothing to do with the costs.
“With the work we do, even when importing parts for an aircraft we look for the quickest way because of nation’s needs for flight services,” Tei said.
It is understood Qantas has direct flight from Sydney on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Air New Zealand has daily flights between Tonga and New Zealand as well as Fiji Airways’ daily cargo flights.
The source said there was no reason to claim that sending the part with a passenger was quicker than the air cargo and described the practice as “precarious.”
He claimed there were safety concerns and said if the part was lost the taxpayers would have to pay for it.
Lulutai airline’s apparent policy of looking for passengers at the airport to carry its aircraft parts to Tonga could best be described as precarious. It also raises issues of safety and who would pay for the part if it was lost. For the Prime Minister to have asked publicly if somebody might be travelling from China to Tonga so they could bring a part for the Y-12 raises the question of whether the government really has the resources to run the airline.