NZ warns Kiwi travellers on new Tongan aircraft


New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs &amp; Trade (MFaT) has warned Kiwis travelling to Tonga about using a new Chinese-made domestic aircraft that has recently been brought into service in the country.<!--more-->

Earlier this year, the ministry had also stopped NZ$10.5 million in tourism funding, which was to be disbursed across three years, until such a time that it is satisfied about the safety of the aircraft.

The Government believes that the MA-60, a twin-engine turboprop that can carry up to 52 passengers, has a questionable safety record. A second aircraft, also a donation from the Chinese Government, is scheduled to join service later this year.

“The MA-60 has been the subject of serious concerns amongst aviation experts," Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told media recently. It was not certified to fly in New Zealand, Australia, Europe or the US and the Government was obliged to draw people's attention to that, he said.

Mr McCully said the MA-60 had been involved in a significant number of accidents in the last few years. In 2011, for instance, a MA-60 crashed in Indonesia killing all 27 on board.

However, Tonga's Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Labour has termed the move “misleading and damaging to Tonga's tourism industry.” The MA-60 would only be allowed to fly in Tonga if it complied with International Civil Aviation Organisation regulations for the region.

Earlier in the year, the announcement of the arrival of the MA-60s on the Tongan aviation scene was blamed for ending operations of the New Zealand-owned airline Chatham Pacific, which had flown within the country since 2008.