09 October 2014

Real Tonga to keep flying...

The Tongan Government has reversed its earlier decision and agreed that it “will not revoke or suspend Real Tonga’s air operator’s certificate” to run the domestic air service in Tonga. In a jointly approved statement released yesterday by Real Tonga, the Ministry of Infrastructure confirmed that it will not engage a foreign air operator to run the domestic service and, instead, will work toward raising the standard of the existing Tongan air service. The statement said that government intended to make a commitment to improve aviation safety “to ensure that the safety and regulatory framework will be developed to a higher and acceptable standard in line with ICAO standard.” There was no mention of the standards of the New Zealand Civil Aviation Regulations in the statement.

The announcement follows concern over the domestic air service raised in September, after a decision by Tonga’s Civil Aviation Authority to certify a Y12 aircraft without addressing demands by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for Tonga to upgrade its aircraft certification system. Cabinet had decided on August 21 to revoke the current Air Operator Certificate of Real Tonga, and for the airline to reapply for an Air Operator Certificate and certification in accordance with the Standards of the NZCAR’s (the New Zealand aviation certification standard). A New Zealand operator was to be brought in to provide the domestic service during a 90-days transition period, as part of measures to ensure that a “Serious Safety Concern (SSC)” is not issued on Tonga.

Specific issues
However, yesterday’s statement said that a dialogue between the Ministry of Infrastructure and Real Tonga on September 30, had considered improving domestic aviation safety “through objectively addressing specific safety issues, and ensuring minimal impact on the public service that the airline provides.” They statement also promised a closer collaboration between the Ministry and PASO, which is recognized by ICAO as a credible regulatory oversight entity within the Pacific region. “It is expected that PASO or another ICAO recognized oversight entity will perform a full review of Real Tonga’s operational exposition, including detailed audits of the company’s operations, aircraft airworthiness and maintenance activities. “However, the revoking of Real Tonga’s operating certificate would not be a pre-requisite to this process. Individual aircraft will likely be scheduled out of service for a number of days as part of the review process … Real Tonga has reassured Government of its commitment to safety as its first priority.” The statement also said “Government does not deem it necessary to engage a foreign air operator to be brought in. It is of the view that it can assist Real Tonga by strengthening certain areas within the organization, by providing better communication channels and direction between the two entities and ensuring the provision of an ICAO acceptable safety oversight provider; as well as formalizing and adopting the necessary legal and regulatory framework to support local aviation.” “Government understands and recognizes the critical role that the domestic carrier plays within the local economy through trade, tourism and social aspects of its transport services and it is prepared to work together with Real Tonga to objectively and effectively address the issues raised by ICAO and PASO, in a timely manner, whilst ensuring that safe air services are maintained.” the statement said.

International standards
Tonga’s Civil Aviation is under the Ministry of Infrastructure. The two specific areas of concern expressed by the ICAO in its letter to the then Director of Tonga’s Civil Aviation, Viliami Cocker, on 15 July was for Tonga to upgrade its aviation safety certification legal frame work, and for Tonga to address its lack of aviation engineering competency.

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