Ques­tions Emerge Over Fu­ture Of Tonga’s Do­mes­tic Air­line

Fiji Sun - - INTERNATIO­NAL BUSINESS -

Tonga’s only do­mes­tic air­line, the pri­vately-owned Real Tonga, is re­port­edly on the verge of bank­ruptcy.

The Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, Te­vita Lave­maau, made the rev­e­la­tion in a gov­ern­ment press state­ment.

Owner and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Real Tonga, Te­vita Palu, con­firmed the sit­u­a­tion but also gave his rea­sons for the air­line be­ing in debt for mil­lions of dol­lars.

Real Tonga’s in­debt­ness

Mr Lave­maau said most of Real Tonga’s in­debt­ed­ness was to the Gov­ern­ment.

This is said to have been made up of the dry lease of two planes and land­ing fees that had not been paid.

China gifted Tonga two planes, a Y-12 and a MA60, to be used for do­mes­tic air ser­vices.

Since the Gov­ern­ment did not have its own air­line, an ar­range­ment was made with Real Tonga for the lease of the planes.

Te­vita Lave­maau sug­gested the gov­ern­ment could wind up the air­line and claimed it had been oper­at­ing at a loss since its in­cep­tion seven years ago.

The COVID-19 lock­down and sus­pen­sion of air ser­vices dur­ing the state of emer­gency had made things worse for Real Tonga.

Laid off staff

A num­ber of staff, in­clud­ing pi­lots, had been laid off, and Te­vita Palu in­di­cated his other busi­nesses had helped to fund Real Tonga.

If Real Tonga ceased ser­vices there would be no air links to the outer is­lands of ‘Eua, Ha’apai, Vava’u, and the Ni­uas.

Real Tonga had started weekly ser­vices to Samoa last year.

It also flew from Nuku’alofa’s Fua’amoto In­ter­na­tional Air­port to Suva’s Nau­sori In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

Fares on Real Tonga

There had been com­plaints that the fares on Real Tonga to the outer is­lands were too ex­pen­sive, and there had been calls for an­other air­line to com­pete with Real Tonga.

Do­mes­tic ser­vices

Ear­lier, New Zealand’s Chatham Pa­cific Air­lines had pro­vided do­mes­tic ser­vices, but when Real Tonga was ac­cepted as a sec­ond ser­vice, the for­mer de­cided to leave.

Real Tonga had been the sole do­mes­tic op­er­a­tor over the past seven years.

New air­line

Prime Min­is­ter Po­hiva Tu’i’one­toa told Ra­dio 88.1 a pro­posal had been sub­mit­ted to Cabi­net on start­ing a new air­line.

This pro­posal was sub­mit­ted by a group in­clud­ing for­mer pi­lots and staff from Real Tonga.

The Prime Min­is­ter said no de­ci­sion had been made on the pro­posal. In the mean­time Real Tonga and the gov­ern­ment were con­tin­u­ing talks on pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

Prime Min­is­ter Tu’i’one­toa in­di­cated there were two pos­si­ble op­tions.

Firstly, that Gov­ern­ment would set up its own air­line or reg­is­ter an­other air­line com­pany; or se­condly there could be a joint part­ner­ship be­tween gov­ern­ment and Real Tonga to pro­vide do­mes­tic ser­vices.

The is­sue had been hotly de­bated on so­cial me­dia, with the talks com­pli­cated by both Te­vita Palu and gov

Real Tonga launched flights to Samoa in 2019

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