Damaged computer sensor identified as cause of Twin Otter grounding; Lulutai CEO says airline looks for quickest way to import parts

Lulutai airlines’ Twin Otter was grounded by damage to a computer sensor, Kaniva News can reveal.

ADAHRS was purchased from  Honeywell International Inc in Olathe, Kansas, USA

The data sensor was part of the aircraft’s  Air Data Attitude Heading And Reference System (ADAHRS).

The recently acquired Twin Otter was grounded recently without the airline specifying the issue.

The new part arrived in Tonga on Friday night a day after the passenger luggage in which it was packed was withheld in Brisbane airport for re-assessment. 

The Twin Otter was fixed on Saturday and returned to services the same day.

As Kaniva News reported recently, when Lulutai buys parts for its aircraft overseas it asks passengers at airports if anybody is available to carry them to Tonga.

The report caused outrage, but Lulutai chief executive Poasi Tei defended the practice.

“With the work we do, even when importing parts for an aircraft we look for the quickest way because of nation’s needs for flight services,” Tei said.

Asked why Lulutai did not pay to send the item as air cargo, he said the airline asked passengers at the airport to carry parts because this was quicker than using the air cargo services.

We asked Tei whether Lulutai airline could not afford to use air cargo costs and whether it was facing financial difficulties. However, he dismissed this, saying it had nothing to do with the costs.

A source has told Kaniva News that the passengers who carried the part were concerned they might be held liable if anything went wrong while the new part was in their possession, so they took pictures of the parcel.

Questions were also raised about whether the Twin Otter was bought with a warranty which obliged the manufacturer to pay for any defects or damage as well as labour services for maintenance. We have asked the Lulutai chief executive to comment on this.

Documents seen by Kaniva News appeared to show the ADAHRS was purchased from  Honeywell International Inc in Olathe, Kansas, USA.  

Honeywell makes aerospace and automotive products as well as engineered materials.

The processor is sometimes referred to as MARG (Magnetic, Angular Rate and Gravity). AHRS are designed to replace traditional mechanical gyroscopic flight instruments.

Failure of the AHRS may cause loss of the stabilised magnetic heading information.

It is unclear whether the part on the Lulutai aircraft that failed was sent to the Honeywell for repair or whether a replacement part was purchased.

Kaniva News has been unable to confirm the cost of the part and the costs related to its installation.

Practise criticised

The revelation about Lulutai aircraft parts passenger carry-on practice had triggered criticism  on social media.  Critics described the Lulutai practice as “precarious.”

We were reliably told that the passengers who were asked to carry the new part to Tonga were worried about what was inside the parcel so they asked the women who brought it to them to open it so they could check for themselves.

People who are familiar with aircraft cargo told Kaniva News it was unsafe for people not familiar with aircraft parts to touch or open it on their own without knowing how delicate and fragile the part was.

They said delivery of aircraft parts was of paramount importance to international airlines and there were several options available for customers like Lulutai to choose from to make sure their parts reached their destination as soon as possible.

This including using the rush Aircraft On Ground(AOG) logistics label. This was meant for the rapid transportation and delivery of essential parts or services to grounded aircraft due to technical reasons.

Another source said Honeywell should have an international airline delivery service which allowed it to deliver the part directly to the airline without Lulutai having to find a passenger.

As Kaniva News reported previously, the Prime Minister, who is the chairman of the Lulutai board of directors, asked during a live press conference last month whether a passenger coming from China to Tonga could carry a new part for the Harbin Y-12 aircraft.

As we reported last week, the passengers who carried the Lulutai part, a father and daughter, arrived in Tonga and discovered that the piece in which the part was packed was allegedly missing. Kaniva News contacted the daughter and asked about the missing piece. She did not deny it, but declined to comment and hung up the video call messenger.

Our source claimed the passengers had been advised to submit a missing report of the piece so that Fiji Airways could trace the luggage.

As we reported previously, Lulutai chief executive Poasi Tei denied the part was lost and gave us a different explanation for what had happened.

He said the part was given to the passengers to bring with them to Tonga on the night in question, but they did not come with it.

He later told his Facebook followers in an apparent response to Kaniva News’ article that the part was removed in Brisbane to be “re-screened,” causing it to miss the flight.

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