CEO of Real Tonga and Palu Aviation Tevita Palu said today any profits Lulutai airline made since it began operating were due to the investment made by Palu Aviation over 20 years.
Speaking to Kaniva News, Palu said the government had not released a full set of costs for Lulutai, including comparative costs with previous airlines.
Real Tonga stopped trading after it ran into financial difficulties and was unable to obtain government financial help.
Instead, Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’ionetoa announced the government would operate its own airline, Lulutai.
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In his New Year address to the nation, Hon. Tu’ionetoa said the government-owned airline was making money, although he did not provide any figures to show the level of profit being generated.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said there were times when the company’s aircraft were full.
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s statement, Palu said it was possible the airline was making money.
“It was a result of Real Tonga’s blood, sweat and tears for many years,” Palu said.
“It is just the names that have changed,” Palu said.
“The equipment, staff and resources were Real Tonga’s investment for many years.”
He claimed the government had used its political powers to end Real Tonga’s operations during the Covid-19 pandemic so that Lulutai could be set up.
“I am thankful to God for the opportunity for me to see the work that has been done in many years became useful for the country despite the way of how it was taken away.”
He said many of the set-up costs for Lulutai had been absorbed by Real Tonga and claimed the government had not released real figures for the airline’s operational costs.
Costs that had initially been borne by Real Tonga included training of staff who were now working for Lulutai airline including the pilots, engineers, operational staff, commercial staff, airline accounting and marketing staff.
The two aircraft operated by the government had been upgraded and test flown at a cost of several million pa’anga by Real Tonga before the government took over the airline.
The government had not declared the flexibility schedule or commitment and capacity required for travel public relative to the past carriers.
Palu also said the government had essentially subsidised the airline.
Ministries and departments had supported Lulutai by allowing leases and rents of their government offices to Lulutai at cheaper prices.
He said the government used charter flight journey for the government’s hospital and other needs.
“This is a quick and easy way of collecting huge amount of money by the airline,” Palu said.
“With charter flights an organsation can pay huge amount of money for only a small number of passengers to fly in the aircraft. “
Expatriate staff needed to help operate Lulutai were already in the kingdom working for Real Tonga before they were employed by the government. Recruitment and relocation costs had already covered by Real Tonga.
Palu claimed that salaries and other entitlements, including accommodation subsidies paid to Lulutai employees were lower than what has been paid by Real Tonga.