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Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa has denied rumours the government has passed a resolution to set up its own airline.
But Hon. Tu’i’onetoa confirmed he had been in personal talks with Real Tonga’s owner about the airline’s future.
He said pilots from Real Tonga who had been laid off following a dramatic drop in revenue following the Covid-19 crisis and subsequent restrictions had approached the government and asked them to run an airline.
He said the government was still reviewing the proposal.
“It is important for the nation to know that the government does not take this lightly,” the Prime Minister said.
“The expense for operating an airline is huge and none of the previous airline operators in Tonga made any profit whatsoever.
“However, the service is required for the people.”
He said after seven years in business Real Tonga still faced problems and had approached the government for help.
There were contractual difficulties arising from the leasing of the Chinese-made Y12 and MA60 aircraft from the government.
He said a Cabinet committee had been set up to look at the best option for the future.
The committee had offered two options; one for the government to keep operating Real Tonga either on its own or in partnership with the existing management; or with somebody else.
“The second option was not really supported by the committee’s report, but the other option still has problems,” the Prime Minister said.
He said it still had to be determined which would be the cheapest option.
Other questions to be answered included whether it would be profitable if the government ran it, whether the government would have to financially support Real Tonga if they kept flying and whether anybody else would be interested in running an airline in the kingdom.
The Prime Minister said Cabinet also had to consider whether an air service could cover the cost of flights to Eua, Ha’apai and Vava’u and the Niuas or whether they would need a government subsidy.
The same question applied to flights to Ha’apai, ‘Eua and Vava’u.
Like every airline in the world, Real Tonga has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Border and airport closures and internal lockdowns have eliminated many markets. The International Air Transport Association is predicting a fall of almost 50% in passenger traffic this year.
Apart from internal services, Real Tonga operates a service to Samoa and there have been promises of a service to Auckland.
However, it has faced complaints over its prices. In 2017 Palu hit back at criticisms of Real Tonga’s ticket prices by the then Prime Minister, the late ‘Akilisi Pohova, who said the kingdom needed two airlines.
He said the amount charged for aircraft leases by the government were more expensive than normal commercial lease compare to similar capacity aircraft type.
Hon. Pohiva’s comments came after his government refused an operating license for Tonga Airlines.
Palu said airfares in Tonga could be reduced by having lower fuel prices, localisation of pilots and engineers, better airports and weather forecast systems, fewer taxes and better regulatory support from the government.
The main points
- Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa has denied rumours the government has passed a resolution to set up its own airline.
- But Hon. Tu’I’onetoa confirmed he had been in personal talks with Real Tonga’s owner about the airline’s future.
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