TONGA – Prime Minister Pohiva Tu‘i‘onetoa said asking whether the Tongan government was going to start its own airline was the wrong question.
“It should be asked whether a domestic airline will fly again in the kingdom or not,” Tu’i’onetoa said. “And if it flies how long before it is bankrupt just like the airlines in the past?”
The Prime Minister’s statement came after Real Tonga airline CEO Tevita Palu told Kaniva News the government had confirmed it would be starting its own domestic airline.
The Prime Minister did not explicitly deny Palu’s statement.
He said Real Tonga’s 33-seat Saab 340 had been damaged in a bird strike and replacing the damaged engine would cost US$3 million. It would take three months for it to reach Tonga. Palu had asked for the government to guarantee a US$3 million loan from Tonga Development Bank.
The China-built Harbin Y-12 and Xian MA60, which were given to Tonga by China in 2013 and leased to Real Tonga, will be returned to the government.
“The MA60 cannot be operated because it has been stationary for a long time and Real Tonga cannot afford to pay for its Certificate of Airworthiness to allow it to fly,” the prime minister said.
It was estimated it would cost millions before it could fly again. It could not fly in the next 12 months.
The Y-12 had 18 or 19 seats, but only 11 seats could be used. It needed parts from Australia before it could fly. It needed two to three weeks for parts to arrive.
“You asked me what is the government’s plan for its airline?” the Prime Minister said. “After you look at the conditions, do you think someone would be willing to be involved in operating an airline if he had a sensible mind?”