Will king stay clear of Lulutai airlines controversy and decline to launch new aircraft?

KANIVA COMMENT: Will the king launch Lulutai airline’s new Twin Otter?

King Tupou VI

It is normal protocol for the king to launch new aircraft or big government projects.

Kaniva News understands the airline has bought the eight years-old 19-seat DeHavilland Canada Twin Otter for about US$6.5 million.

It is understood that in May this year Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade awarded a contract to support a Twin Otter in Tonga.

But will His Majesty be happy to launch the aircraft? Relations between the palace and the government have not been good. He is yet to appoint Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku’s proposed Cabinet Ministers.

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The government’s involvement in the private sector was one of the things the king mentioned when he chastised the Tu’ionetoa government in 2021.

Critics believe the king is still unhappy with the government’s continued involvement with the airlines while at the same time private companies have been vying to operate it, including Fly Niu.

His Majesty may also wish to distance himself from the controversy that has surrounded the airline since it began operations. The purchase of the Twin Otter has been the latest episode in that controversy.

It appears the Twin Otter is dependent entirely on Australian aid and support. It is not entirely clear whether the purchase of the aircraft was organised or subsidised by Australia. We have previously asked  Lulutai’s CEO, Poasi Tei, to confirm of who funded the purchase of the aircraft.

Having sat in China for several weeks, the twin engined passenger aircraft  arrived in Australia at the end of October and was due to fly to Tonga last Friday.

The Australian government had provided the Tongan government with Aus$1.25 million to help with transporting the aircraft, training staff and ensuring its entry into service.

Since 2022 Australia has organised a wet-lease arrangement with Fiji Airways to operate regular flights while Lulutai’s fleet is grounded.

Australia has been working with Lulutai Airlines to develop a long-term sustainable business plan, but full  details are yet to emerge.

Lulutai has faced continual pressure from the Tongan public during the past 18 months, since technical problems affected flights from Tongatapu to the outer islands of Ha’apai and Vava’u.

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