New Zealand will release about NZ$10.5 million in New Zealand aid grant to Tonga that has been withheld since 2013, the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Hon. Murray McCully announced in Nuku’alofa yesterday, 16 February, after the government had grounded its controversial MA60 aircraft.
The aid grant was withheld after Tonga ignored opposition by the New Zealand Government to the Tonga government’s decision to certify a Chinese made MA60 aircraft in July 2013 to service Tonga’s domestic air service.
The New Zealand government responded by issuing an travel advisory notice, warning New Zealand nationals of the risk of flying on the MA60 when they visited Tonga, and this has had a devastating impact on the flow of tourists to Tonga from New Zealand.
During the joint press conference between the Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Mr Murray McCully, ‘Tonga’s new Prime Minister was asked when the government’s proposed new airline would be in operation.
At first PM Pohiva said that it was “a rumour”, but then elaborated on a proposition by the Governor of Vava’u, Lord Fulivai for a new domestic airline with bigger aircraft to connect Vava’u to Suva, Auckland and Honolulu.
PM Pohiva went on to say that the issue relating to the MA60 was “too technical” and his government did not want to get involved. “All we ask is for New Zealand and China to talk it over,” he said. Then added, “Can Tonga continue to survive as a Sovereign State?”
The Tongan government grounded the MA60 on 8 February. Last week on February 13, the Chinese Ambassador to Tonga HE Mr Huang Huaguang, told Matangi Tonga that he was informed by Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni that the government’s decision to terminate its lease agreement with the Real Tonga Airline and take back the MA60 was “because of Real Tonga’s shortage of capacity, in management, technicality and operation etc.”
He said that the Pacific Aviation Safety Office PASO had found more than 40 problems that Real Tonga was facing in its operation.
Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni had told the Chinese Ambassador that the government did not want to ground the MA60, but they “wanted it back”.
The Ambassador said that the Tongan government had requested for a technical team from China to come and work on the MA60.
They were also aware that government was going to establish a new airline, but to set up a new airline could take months, and meanwhile the MA60 was grounded.
China gifted to Tonga two Chinese made aircraft, the MA60 in 2013 and a Y12 in 2014.