18 August 2016
MA60 to return to Tongan Skies
A controversial aircraft that has been grounded in Tonga for over a year is due to take to the skies again this month. The MA60 was gifted to Tonga by China in 2013 and it started flying domestically in August of that year. However the New Zealand government called for the aircraft to be certified by an international recognised certification authority, suspending some aid and issuing a travel advisory for Tonga over safety concerns. Koro Vaka'uta has the latest...
The CEO of Tonga's domestic carrier Real Tonga, Tevita Palu says the MA60 is finally ready for operation. Mr Palu says his company has signed a four-year contract with the Tongan government to operate the 56-seater aircraft which has now been issued an Air Operator Certificate by local authorities. He says in 2015 the Civil Aviation Act was changed to be more acceptable internationally. "The new change to Tonga legislation, they have now adopted to New Zealand laws. I believe what they have done is very much in line with their requirements, their laws, in the Tonga Civil Aviation Act." Mr Palu says the government should communicate with New Zealand to ease any concerns they might have over domestic air safety. "The Government of Tonga should do what they are supposed to do and clarify these issues, if they have any issues or clarify any concerns. I think that's a role that government should confirm what's been done but from the airline's point of view, we go through the process as required." New Zealand's foreign ministry website says safety standards can vary and should be closely monitored. In a statement, their Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said he was aware of the new certification. "My understanding is that the process which led to the recent certification of the MA60 did not involve the Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) or New Zealand Authorities. I have continued to reinforce with representatives of the Tongan Government, the New Zealand Government's commitment to aviation safety standards and our readiness to assist in this regard. However, we also accept that Tonga is a sovereign nation and entitled to make its own decisions in such matters." The acting CEO of Tonga's Ministry of Infrastructure, Kisione Taufa, admits that New Zealand and PASO were not a part of the certification process. "We were going to organise a four party agreement, unfortunately China didn't turn up and it didn't make it happen to have the four party between PASO, Tonga, New Zealand civil aviation, but because this thing has been delayed a long time, I think in the end we just agreed to go ahead with China and do it." Mr Taufa says six Chinese inspectors examined the MA60 twice this year before passing it in July, leading to the certification. He says the aircraft is safe. "We believe so but at the same time, just to make it clear for the public, it is just like an annual examination for a car. We do it once and at the same time the maintenance and operation will be a job for the operator but if there is an issue we step in and check whether it's OK and safe for the public." Real Tonga is now working on insuring the aircraft before using it for flights between Tongatapu and Vava'u within the next few weeks.
Posted by Steve L at 6:21 AM