28 May 2020

Real Tonga Turbulence

It's been a while since I have posted on REAL Tonga... here is an updates of joys but bigger sorrows...

2 July 2018 - Real Tonga Airlines starts twice weekly service to Samoa

Real Tonga Airlines has made its first flight to Samoa's Faleolo Airport, starting a twice weekly flight service between Tonga and Samoa. Its chief executive Tevita Palu told the Samoa Observer that they chose Samoa as their first international destination because of the love for the country. The airline has been servicing Tonga domestically since its inception five years ago. Polynesian Airlines, now Samoa Airways, used to fly between Apia and Tongatapu in the 1980s and 1990s. Mr Palu said there hasn't been a direct service from Tonga to Samoa for almost ten years and the only way to get to Samoa was to go via Auckland or Nadi. Real Tonga flights from Tongatapu and Vava'u to Apia are on Mondays and Fridays.

Source : https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/360887/real-tonga-airlines-starts-twice-weekly-service-to-samoa

30 July 2019 - REAL Tonga Airlines Flights To Nausori International Airport To Be A Hit Say CEO

The arrival of the inaugural REALtonga Airlines flight to Nausori International Airport yesterday, presented an exciting new chapter and new possibilities. In terms of mutual collaboration to develop trade and tourism partnership between Fiji and Tonga. The flight serviced by a REALtonga Airlines Saab 340B brought in 12 VIPS and 12 other passengers from Fua’amotu International Airport, Tonga. The airline will service the route every Monday. Chief executive officer of REALtonga Airlines Tevita Palu said: “This is an inaugural flight, we enjoyed the flight today. So instead of going via Nadi which used to take one day of travel, people can now opt to travel via Nausori which will only take one hour 40 minutes. “This flight will operate every Monday morning. We are already looking to have a second service to Suva sometime soon. We are looking forward to offering a good service for the people of Fiji and Tonga.”
Rosie Travel Group general manager Eroni Puamau while welcoming the Tongan delegation said: “This mutual interest in commerce between our nations was forged way back in the early 1800s when Tongan traders would visit our islands to trade their stunning tapa and fine mats for our Fijian handicrafts and ocean canoes. The arrival of this inaugural REALtonga Airlines flight is an exciting new chapter of new possibilities in our mutual collaboration to develop our trade and tourism partnership. Chairman and Reverend Palu, we congratulate you and your team for your courage and determination in making this dream a reality not just for your REALtonga Airlines but also for the people and the Kingdom of Tonga! I have found….that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks! We admire your courage and most of all, your faith in believing in your mission to connect Tonga to Fiji and the world through your airline,” said Mr Puamua. REAL Tonga is planning to expand its service even further to Nadi through its wet-lease arrangement with Nauru Airlines. Under this the Nauru flag carrier will provide a Boeing 737-300 wide bodied aircraft for flights from Tongatapu to Nadi to Auckland International Airport, New Zealand. These flights will be introduced by late October and it will include 2x weekly flights, with the intention to increase to 3x weekly as soon as possible. REALtonga already operates a weekly Tonga-Samoa-Tonga flight as well as domestic services between Tonga’s main islands. Mr Palu stated this new arrangement with Nauru Airlines introduces the start of broader international operations for Tonga which to date have been dominated by foreign carriers. The inaugural flight fare Nuku’alofa -Suva-Nuku’alofa was $800 return but would revert back to $900 soon. The Tongan delegation was led by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Kingdom of Tonga, Lord Fatafehi Fakafanua, accompanied by the chairman of REALtonga Airlines,  Vainga Palu, REALtonga Airlines managing director Reverend Tevita Palu, Executives of REALtonga Airlines. Also in attendance were the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Fiji  Airports personnel.
In July, 2015, REALtonga and Fiji Airways had entered into a codeshare partnership which saw our national carrier extend its services from Nuku’alofa to Vava’u, Tonga. This codeshare arrangement provided vital connections between Vava’u and Nadi (weekly) and Suva (twice weekly) via Nuku’alofa. 
Meanwhile, Rosie Holidays is very excited to be working with REALtonga Airlines to develop a tourism partnership programme that will look to create joint opportunities to market our mutual destinations throughout our international distribution network. Mr Puamua said: “Rosie has been working directly with tourism operator partners in the Tongan tourism industry for a number of years and we see this collaboration with Real Tonga Airlines as a significant step up in our focus in building our Pacific partnership program. “What is exciting about Tonga is the authenticity and uniqueness of your experiences, the friendliness of your people and your proximity to Fiji which makes for the perfect combination of island experiences with Fiji. “Access to market is an important factor for success and this is something we are very keen to build on our mutual promotion with your REALtonga Airlines to bring new markets to your shores. “We also believe that tourism is a force for good! “Beyond the exciting opportunities for market development, we see tourism as a key generator of much needed foreign exchange and employment to both our economies and especially for Tonga. “And this is why we need this new service to succeed! “We look forward to working with your Government, with Tevita and the team at REALtonga Airlines and your tourism industry in Tonga to develop and grow our mutually rewarding partnership so that we can all realise this dream of making our nations great through tourism and trade,” Mr Puamau said.

7 May 2020 - Questions emerge over future of Tonga's domestic airline

Tonga's only domestic airline, the privately-owned Real Tonga, is reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy. The Minister of Finance, Tevita Lavemaau, made the revelation in a government press statement. Owner and CEO of Real Tonga, Tevita Palu, confirmed the situation but also gave his reasons for the airline being in debt for millions of dollars. Mr Lavemaau said most of Real Tonga's indebtedness was to the government. This is said to have been made up of the dry lease of two planes and landing fees that had not been paid. China gifted Tonga two planes, a Y-12 and a MA60, to be used for domestic air services. Because the government did not have its own airline, an arrangement was made with Real Tonga for the lease of the planes. Tevita Lavemaau suggested the government could wind up the airline and claimed it had been operating at a loss since its inception seven years ago. The Covid-19 lockdown and suspension of air services during the State of Emergency had made things worse for Real Tonga. A number of staff, including pilots, had been laid off, and Tevita Palu indicated his other businesses had helped to fund Real Tonga. If Real Tonga ceased services there would be no air links to the outer islands of 'Eua, Ha'apai, Vava'u, and the Niuas. Real Tonga also started weekly services to Samoa last year. There had been complaints that the fares on Real Tonga to the outer islands were too expensive, and there had been calls for another airline to compete with Real Tonga. Earlier, Chatham Airlines had provided domestic services, but when Real Tonga was accepted as a second service, the former decided to leave. Real Tonga had been the sole domestic operator over the past seven years. Prime Minister Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa told Radio 88.1 a proposal had been submitted to Cabinet on starting a new airline. This proposal was submitted by a group including former pilots and staff from Real Tonga. The Prime Minister said no decision had been made on the proposal. In the meantime Real Tonga and the government were continuing talks on possible solutions. Prime Minister Tu'i'onetoa indicated there were two possible options. Firstly, that government would set up its own airline or register another airline company; or secondly there could be a joint partnership between government and Real Tonga to provide domestic services. The issue had been hotly debated on social media, with the talks complicated by both Tevita Palu and government officials talking separately to media outlets. Real Tonga Airlines flights from Tongatapu and Vavau to Apia are on Mondays and Fridays. 

12 May 2020 - Lack of Govt support adds to Real Tonga’s woes

While Tonga’s only airline, Real Tonga, struggles with the impact of ongoing CoVid-19 restrictions, the private sector company faces another tough challenge, a lack of government support and government's attempts to set up a new airline. Meanwhile, Real Tonga is not flying after the SAAB 340 serving the domestic route, suffered engine problems in a bird strike in Vava’u last week

27 May 2020 - “Lulutai” name of Tonga's new domestic airline

The name of Tonga's new domestic airline will be “Lulutai”, the Prime Minister Hon. Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa, told parliament today. The Prime Minister had just returned from the Palace Office before he made the announcement in the House after lunch today. His comment was made during the continuing debate on the budget statement. The Minister of Finance has announced there will be a deficit budget for the coming year. No further details were forthcoming about the new airline to be set up by the Government. 
Real Tonga
Tonga's privately owned domestic airline Real Tonga, which was branching out into Pacific islands international services, has been struggling with the CoViD-19 restrictions. Its leased domestic aircraft was grounded this month after a bird strike in Vava'u. There were problems also with two planes Real Tonga initially leased from government, the Y-12 and MA60, that were gifted to Tonga from the Chinese Government. Tevita said the MA60 lease was terminated and the Y-12 lease expired and had not been renewed. The government-owned planes were grounded with parts issues. CEO Tevita Palu said in an interview with Matangi Tonga in May, that instead of offering support to Real Tonga at this time, the government had asked if they could set up their new airline's office in his hangar at Fua'amotu Airport.

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