The Real Tonga Airline controversial MA60 aircraft operates as normal amid reports its license expired and cancelled on January 20, 2015, the company has confirmed.
The Director of the Airline, Tēvita Palu told Kaniva News today, reports by local media quoting the Minister of Infrastructure as saying the MA60’s license expired on January 20, 2015 was “not true”.
He said the aircraft is operating “as normal everyday” from Tongatapu to Vava’u.
Infrastructure minister, Hon. ‘Etutate Lavulavu was also quoted by a local newspaper as saying his ministry was working on the licensing of the plane urgently because the Chinese Embassy wrote and requested the Tongan government not to terminate the aircraft’s license to operate in the kingdom.
The paper also quoted the minister as saying there was a problem with processing of the renewal of the MA60’s license as Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) has warned the license given to the aircraft did not meet all necessary legal requirements expected by the international aviation authorities.
The aircraft was given to Tonga by the Chinese government as a gift in 2012.
We were unable to obtain comments from the Chinese Embassy.
When we called and spoke with Hon. Lavulavu today he asked to call him back in 1-2hours as he was in a meeting in Vava’u. When we called him for the second time the minister’s phone was answered by another man. He told us the minister was in a meeting. We sent Hon. Lavulavu a text message asking for comments but he did not return it in time for publication.
The Chinese made aircraft involved in a number of fatal incidents recently. In May 2011 an MA60 went into sea only 500 metres from the runway in Kaimana Airport in Indonesia. All passengers and crew were killed.
New Zealand authority said the Chinese-built MA60 was not certified to fly in New Zealand and was not certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency, the US Federal Aviation Administration or the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
New Zealand withheld more than $10 million aid for Tonga’s Tourism industry because of concerns over the aircraft.
In September 2014 , the former Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano vowed to ground the Chinese made aircraft after he received a letter from the International Civil Aviation Organisation warning his government about how the MA60’s license was processed. It was later revealed the MA 60 continued to operate after a number of meetings between its manegements and the former government.
The airline authority as well as the former Tongan government’s Minister of Infrastructure, who was instrumental in brining the plane to Tonga, insisted the MA60 aircraft was safe to operate in the kingdom.