Real Tonga airline investigated after emergency landing

Tonga has suspended its national airline’s permit to operate a Jetstream 32 after the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at Fua’amotu airport today.

Tonga’s Minister for Infrastructure, Hon. ‘Etuate Sungalu Lavulavu said he was notified this morning the aircraft had been required to make an emergency landing due to engine failure.

The cause of the incident has yet to be confirmed but the minister said one of the aircraft’s double engine failed to operate. An investigation was underway he added.

For precautionary measure, when the engine failure was known just after the plane left Vava’u this morning January 7 the two New Zealand pilots, Simon Peter J. Butler and Athol Aaron M. Isaac along with 19 passengers on board endured more than two hours flight bypassing  the Ha’apai airport and headed straight to Tongatapu.

The incident was the third within 12 months after the airline’s B-65 Queenair crash landed at ‘Eua’s Kaufana Airport in April 2014. None of the seven passengers or the pilot were injured.

On Thursday last week January 2 the Real Tonga’s Chinese-made Harbin Y12’s brakes failed to operate while taxiing causing it to slide off the runway. The plane was scheduled to depart for ‘Eua.

New Zealand -Tongan Olympic shot-put champion Valerie Adams boarded the plane after she attended a double celebration at her mother’s hometown in Tongatapu. .

A caption of a photo she posted after the incident read: “…the Real Tonga Airlines on their way to ‘Eua only to find out the breaks [sic] don’t work as the plane started to slide off the runway…thank goodness everyone was safe and no one got hurt.

Adams also wrote on her Instagram account and said: “Back in Tonga cause [sic] problems with brakes haha so waiting on eta for our flight zzzzz.”

Hon. Lavulavu said he spoke with the aviation CEO and also Tevita Palu, CEO of the Real Tonga Airline after the incident and they agreed to ground the plane.

He said full report of the incident must be submitted to him by the airline before further decision can be made.

In 2012, the New Zealand government warned New Zealand tourists they would be flying at their own risk in Tonga because Real Tonga was using an MA60 aircraft, which did not meet New Zealand air safety standards. The MA60 has been involved in a number of incidents in different parts of the world.

New Zealand’s Foreign Affair Minister Murray McCully withheld a large grant meant to help the kingdom’s tourism industry to pressure the Tongan government into taking action over the MA60.


In September last year Kaniva News published a confidential letter Tonga’s former Prime Minister Lord Tuʻivakanō sent to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on July 15, 2014 in response to two Mandatory Information Requests concerning the certification of the MA60.

In the letter the then Prime Minister promised to revise Tonga’s civil aviation rules and regulations within 60-90 days and committed the kingdom to meeting New Zealand aviation standards.

Lord Tuʻivakanō undertook to review certain areas in Tonga’s aviation system like the Air Operator Certificates, Foreign Air Operator Certificates, Maintenance Organisation Certificates, Aerodrome Operator Certificates, Airworthiness Certificates, Aircraft Certificate of Registration and Type Acceptable Certificates.

The letter was apparently written to please the ICAO after it was reported the international body was not satisfied with how the Tongan government treated its demand to review its aviation system following the arrival of the controversial aircraft in 2012.

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