The article by Peter Clark in Travelmemo 5 July 2013 titled “Concern over Tonga’s new plane” is poorly researched, factually inaccurate and therefore misleading. As the article is very damaging to Tonga’s tourism industry, the Government of Tonga submits its response to clarify and correct the inaccuracies in the article by Clark.


The article outlines aviation safety issues relating to civil aviation and airline operating procedures in Indonesia and Burma, as they relate to the MA 60 aircraft. Operations in these countries have nothing to do with Civil Aviation policy and regulations in Tonga, which are based on International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations applied in New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and other countries in the region.


The MA 60 aircraft which has been gifted to Tonga by the Chinese Government will not be allowed to fly in Tonga until it fully complies with international aviation standards including safety requirements established by the ICAO. The General Manager for Tonga’s domestic airline, Real Tonga, Mr. Tevita Palu, stated that “Real Tonga is committed to upholding international aviation standards including those for safety. We have not yet signed a deed of lease for the M60 aircraft but when we do sign such an agreement, the MA 60 aircraft, like any other aircraft, would be required under Tonga’s aviation regulations to go through the necessary civil aviation checks before the aircraft is allowed to fly in Tonga.”


Real Tonga has operated since March 2013 and currently operates four aircraft. Three aircraft are leased from New Zealand company Chathams Pacific, and are the same aircraft which Chathams Pacific operated in Tonga until February 2013. The aircraft are flown by Tongan and New Zealand pilots, and engineering services are provided under contract to Real Tonga by Chathams Pacific. One aircraft operated by Real Tonga is leased from Air Vanuatu and has been certified in accordance with international aviation standards.


The Ministry of Commerce, Tourism & Labour, through its responsibility for promoting tourism, wishes to ensure that safety of transport access to Tonga and its outer island destinations is first and foremost and a subject of scrutiny by the appropriate authority. The same scrutiny also applies for the new MA60 Aircraft which is part of Government effort to upgrade and modernize its aviation sector through its official development cooperation with the People’s Republic of China.