Tonga Acting PM Defends Local Airline Competition
NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan .18, 2013) – Tonga's Acting Prime Minister Hon Samiu Vaipulu said today that Government's move to introduce two new aircraft from China to operate the domestic service was to provide competition and offer cheaper inter-island airfares.
The Acting PM and Minister for Infrastructure in a press conference held at the Prime Minister's Office today said it was government's intention that the management of the new aircrafts would be tendered out while government maintained a regulatory role and ownership of the two aircraft.
"It is unfortunate that Chathams Pacific has decided tocease its services in the coming months", he said.
He said government had yet to announce plans for the management of the new aircraft but would remain independent of its operation.
In the meantime, he believed that a local airline company called Real Tonga operated by Palu Aviation would be leasing two Y-12 17 seater aircrafts from Vanuatu to service the outer islands.
Samiu said the first leased aircraft would start flying on March 4, immediately after Chathams Pacific ceased service on March 2. A second aircraft would arrive a few weeks afterward.
He said the first M-60 aircraft from China was now expected to arrive in April. The aircraft are 50 seater turboprop-powered commercial aircraft.
Government was now making preparations to send crew, including pilots and engineers, to be trained for two months in China and return on the aircraft, he said.
He said that an airline from Samoa had also expressed interest to provide domestic service in Tonga.
"The aircraft from China is to provide competition and give people access to cheaper flights because at the moment fares costs around $365 to Vava'u. Even I can't afford it, it's too expensive," he said.
Government did not terminate Chathams Pacific services but it was a business decision they made, he said.
Chathams Pacific has been Tonga's sole domesic carrier since 2008.
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