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Defending Peau Vava'u

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Dear Editor,

I too have been an avid reader of comments regarding the two airlines in Tonga. Before, I lay down my comments in regards to this issue, I would like to state that my company works closely with Peau Vava'’u by means of facilitating bookings that originate from overseas. I wanted that to be clear so people who read the following comments understand the source and whilst I will write as accurately as possible, people need to be able to make up their minds on the validity of my comments.

First of all, I would like to answer some of the questions posted by other readers:

The Comments:

Sioasi Vanisi asked whether or not the DC-3 operation was a safe operation and whether it was FAA approved. Well, the answer to the latter part of the question is no, it is not FAA approved. The FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) is the governing body for U.S. carriers and will also approve international carriers that fly into the United States.

The answer to the question of Peau Vava'u being safe is yes. The Ministry of Civil Aviation in Tonga, has over the last few years, adopted the safety regulations of New Zealand. In fact, it is New Zealand Civil Aviation that is contracted to look after the safety oversight for Tonga. Therefore, the Ministry here in Tonga not only adopts the safety standards of New Zealand, but also contracts the qualified resources of New Zealand Civil Aviation to ensure safety in Tongan Aviation. Both Peau Vava'’u and Flyniu were evaluated under the same rules by the same evaluators and both airlines passed all of their safety requirements prior to flying.

Another related opinion I suppose, is that of Mr. Roy Bruce who commented on the 60 year old wiring etc of the DC-3. Whilst it is true that the DC-3 was first commissioned about 60 years ago, the nature of the stringent safety regulations in civil aviation today mean that all aircraft components are changed within fixed time or utilisation periods. Therefore, you would be hard pushed to find any physical component on the DC-3 or any other aircraft for that matter that would be any older that at the most, 7 years. The nature of the DC-3 is such that whilst it is an older design, it has a proven track record and most importantly, it has undergone and passed the same stringent safety requirements as a Dash-8 or for that matter, a B737/747 or an A330. What is the safe cut-off period in terms of aircraft ages? Did you know that the Boeing 747 made its first flight 35 years ago in 1969? The DC-9 started in 1965 and the DC-10 in 1969.

With safety out of the way, I would like to remark at this point that I noted that 100% of the negative comments regarding the DC-3 have come from people who have not flown on this service. Understanding that the aircraft is as safe as any other commercial plane, would lead me as a passenger to then look at the comfort of the aircraft. The Peau Vava'’u DC-3 would have to go down in my book as one of the most comfortable aircrafts that I have ever flown in. The configuration of the aircraft is such that with its...’ 27 seats, the leg room and seat pitch is comparable (and exceeds in some cases), that of the Business class seats of any airline in operation today. The design of the aircraft also makes the DC-3 a very smooth ride even in bad weather.

Viliami Tiseli asked if someone could answer his question as to any other country that uses the DC-3 for passenger services. Well, the United States (Delta Airlines), New Zealand and Australia are a few that I can mention.

One comment that came from Fafa and which was also mentioned by Viliami Tiseli was the fact that Flyniu was the airline of choice for tourists. I would have to disagree totally with that comment. Whilst the majority of Fafa...’s clients may have indicated that, it should be noted that since the inception of both airlines, Peau Vava...’u has actually carried the vast majority of total tourist traffic (over 2,000 tourists between July and September of this year). Furthermore, feed back from passengers on the DC-3 has been nothing but complimentary (with one major complaint lodged within their first week of operation).

The Policy:

The other major issue of debate regarding the two airlines has been that of the sole operator policy. One thing should be made clear here from the beginning. Peau Vava...’u had absolutely NOTHING to do with the sole operator policy that was recently introduced by the government. Furthermore, a little known and even less publicized fact is that the airlines were advised that this policy would be implemented even before they commenced operations. At a meeting chaired by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the New Zealand CAA (9th June 2004 at Fua'amotu Airport), and attended by approximately 8-9 prospective airline operators (I also attended this meeting as an observer), each prospective airline was advised that a new economic framework policy was being created by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and that the policy may well limit the number of carriers for the Tongan domestic market and that parties interested in setting up domestic airlines would have to take that into consideration.

For those readers who are unaware, the demise of Royal Tongan Airlines (the former national carrier for Tonga) left the Kingdom without any domestic air services for many weeks. The economic framework policy, written in conjunction with ICAO and implemented by government, had an aim to ensure that the domestic market for Tonga was run on an economically viable basis. The fact of the matter is that the Tongan domestic air network cannot sustain two carriers as they will both lose money and the country then runs the risk of losing all air services again.

Several readers have then taken the stance that Flyniu should have been awarded the sole operator status instead of Peau Vava'’u, who they say won the award due only to the fact that HRH the Crown Prince owns Peau Vava...’u. Well the facts pertaining to this issue are simply that Flyniu could well have been awarded the right to be sole operator, but they chose not to even apply for it. At the date and time that the Ministry advised the airlines to submit their applications for review, Flyniu decided that the best course of action for them to take would be not to apply. Therefore, when the government had to make a decision, it was very simple for them as they only had one applicant (Peau Vava'u).

For those of you that are more interested in getting a clearer picture on the policy and how ICAO and the government of Tonga came to the conclusion that only one carrier could provide the domestic services on an economically viable basis, you should take an actual look at the policy which can be read and downloaded from the Ministry's web-site, which provides details of the domestic market in Tonga.

The Choice:

Many of the comments posted to Matangi have been very derogatory about Peau Vava'’u and I note again that this seems to stem from the fact that people no longer have a choice of aircraft. Well, again, a little known fact is that since Peau Vava...’u were nominated as the sole domestic carrier for the Kingdom, they have been taking on board all the comments of their prospective passengers and to that end, they have entered into an agreement with an international carrier that will provide a Dash-8 aircraft on an economically viable basis that will assist in the servicing the domestic network, thus giving passengers a true choice in regards to what type of aircraft they fly on. They are also finalising negotiations to purchase other smaller aircraft so that they can recommence services to '‘Eua and the two Niuas. The Dash-8 will be made public in the next few days (hence my deliberate omission of the finer details) and is scheduled to commence operations in Tonga in October.

Lastly, there is one comment that I deliberately passed on commenting on earlier, which is the comments posted by Andrew Fifita, who stated that the solution to Tonga'’s air issues would be to bring back Royal Tongan Airlines and Flyniu. Well, as an ex-employee of RTA and one of the many that were made redundant because of it's decline, thanks for the support! However, please believe me when I say that it was comments and politics very similar to those being spread about Peau Vava'’u that truly brought RTA down. When politicians and the public were writing terrible (and in many cases untrue) comments about RTA, there was no such support (as yours) for RTA and in fact we read many many articles stating how it should be closed down. One comment that I really appreciated from Andrew was the fact that he was looking at a proactive solution to the issue which really focused on the development of the tourism sector in Tonga. I totally agree that this will be the viable future for our Kingdom.

So the facts are as follows...…Safety; Yes Peau Vava'’u is safe. Choice; yes, Peau Vava'u are providing choice in aircraft; Policy; Had nothing to do with Peau Vava'’u; Politics; As far as I have seen (and welcome any evidence to the contrary), Peau Vava'u have not been involved in any of the politics (and you will note, not a single derogatory comment from them about Flyniu).

So in light of the above, why don'’t we turn our collective attention to how we can make a better airline for our Kingdom. One of the best ways to do this is to continue providing valuable feedback on the service of the airline in regards to their service standards and their product...…These are the only things that we can and should hold them accountable for.

Pacific Travel Marketing

Tourism & Aviation Marketing & Consultancy

Tele Faletau



Taking the Tongan public for a ride - Semisi Tonga:
Judging from the length (of the above letter) the writer went through to defend little minute details from other readers' previous letters, one starts to wonder why? Is it because Mapa Faletau is his brother - the very one who crafted this so-called 'one-airline' policy that we keep hearing about? Or is it because his company makes $25.00 per passenger he books with Peau, on top of his 9% commission? Please let me shed some light on some of the things mentioned in Mr Faletau's most humourous letter:

Sure the NZCAA passed PionAir's DC3s and gave it the green lights to operate in Tonga - but as a non-regular operator! “Non-regular” meaning exactly that - non regular. So why was it that Peau Vava'u chose to ignore this fact and operate their aircraft over and beyond these restrictions? Was it overlooked by Peau Vava'u? Or was it Civil Aviation Tonga's failure to recognise the potential risks this may have carried - MCA Tonga being the very body that is responsible for “safety oversight” in Tongan aviation.

There is no doubt that the DC-3 is a good aircraft, and I'm sure all its 60-yr old components have been replaced. But the fact remains, it is an old design with old technology - even with brand new components. It is a well-known fact also, that the DC3 is grossly underpowered. Numerous accidents have occurred due to the fact one engine cannot keep the aircraft aloft with a full load - new engine or not! So you say this aircraft is safe for our people? I say NOT.

But is it the right aircraft for the current market? As it is, since flyNiU was forced out of business, as understand it - Peau Vava'u cannot cope with the back-log of passengers. And not being able to carry out any flights last Saturday meant that the problem is just getting worse. Mr Faletau went on to describe the comfortable seats and leg room and so forth. What he forgot to mention was that, although the aircraft is fitted with 27 comfortable seats, 7..even more of those seats will be wasted comes summer. The performance of these aircraft will be so poor in hot days I will be surprised if they could carry 18 Tongan adults! And speaking of comfort, have you sat in the back of a DC3 on a warm day on the tarmac Mr Tele Faletau? Well, I have and it feels like an oven. You should try it some time.

Mr Faletau also related to Mr Tiseli's question regarding other DC3 operators around the world? What Mr Tiseli meant was 'scheduled passenger service'. It is true there are lots of DC3 operators around the world, but mostly as charter flights (non-regular), freights and crop dusting - none as a scheduled operator accept Peau Vava'u. And Delta airlines? Sure, they used DC3s on scheduled flights - back in the 1960s. And in NZ Mr Faletau, only PionAir and Warbirds operate DC3s, both on charter basis. So don't try to insult our intelligence by trying to lead us astray with your little knowledge of DC3s.

A simple analysis of tourist traffic figures provided by Mr Faletau…'over 2000 passengers between July and September' found that on 2 daily flights to Vava'u between July and August alone, from Tele's figures, they would have an average load of 19 tourists per flight! Anyone with half a brain will have a good chuckle at this because we all know the loads Peau Vava'u used to carry…definitely not 19 passengers per flight!

And then Tele Faletau went on to talk on the 'Policy' and the fact Peau had NOTHING to do with this policy? Well, this is a legal matter as we understand it and apparently there are tons of evidence to suggest otherwise. Just a little food for thought…why was it that when the policy was first released, flyNiU Airlines fought hard to keep BOTH airlines flying, and Peau Vava'u fought hard to support the one-airline policy? Think about it. Furthermore, why were you, Tele Faletau brother of Mapa Faletau (Secretary for Civil Aviation) offered 100% backing for Peau Vava'u and not flyNiu…or both for that matter? Did you know something the poor people of flyNiu didn't? Think about it.

While we're on the policy, the very same policy that grounded flyNiU, have not been fulfilled by the surviving operator. I took the time Tele Falekau to look up the policy on MCA's website, as you suggested, and I find it funny that Peau have not attempted nor indicated when exactly are they looking to meet the required three daily flights to Ha'apai and Vava'u as stated clearly on this policy. Not to mention the flights to 'Eua and the two Niuas. You say Peau is 'negotiating' a smaller aircraft for 'Eua and the Niuas? Didn't Mosikaka on a press conference held (with your presence), state that an Islander was coming next week? That was 4 weeks ago! How much longer are you going to lie to us; how much longer are you planning on taking the Tongan public for a ride (pun intended)?

Last but not least, I believe flyNiu had just cause not to apply for the sole operator status - which the outcome of which was already predetermined as flyNiu had claimed?

And to say that the main reason for the implementation of this policy is to save the “two airlines” from losing money and from going into bankruptcy simultaneously, leaving Tonga without airline again, hahaha! thanks for the joke. Data obtained from the last five years regarding the market, indicated the market was small to start with. Both airlines and certainly, MCA knew this before embarking on setting up the airlines. We didn't need ICAO to tell us this. But, isn't this where marketing comes in? Stimulating the market by providing better and more efficient service? The market can always be improved, not act as a restricting factor to any business? You should know this Mr Tele Faletau its your field isn't it? The “market” should have been given the opportunity to choose (or eliminate) the better or more preferred airline. This would've been the more civilised way, and not by some made-up, unilateral policy!

Oh, before I forget. Tell me please, where is the economic logic in shutting down an established Tongan airline (flyNiu) because the “domestic market was too small”, and yet at the same time inviting an 'international airline' to fly their Dash 8 on domestic routes which flyNiu was already providing service on? Is this to say that the market is big enough after all? Is this to say that the Dash 8 was the preferred aircraft after all? Or is this to say that the market was not enough for two “Tongan” carriers…only for one Tongan and one 'international airline'?? I hope you can answer that Mr Faletau because it makes no sense to me! Was this one of your deals with Polynesian maybe? Keep up the good work Mr Faletau, and keep collecting your $25.00 per head. Bear in mind Someone from above is watching! - Semisi Tonga