Will Air Chathams take over air services? Lulutai CEO promises statement tomorrow

Lulutai CEO Poasi Tei says the airline will make an announcement tomorrow (Friday, June 20) morning about the long-rumoured return of New Zealand-based Air Chatham to Tonga.

Poasi Tei

Kaniva News has reliable information that Air Chatham is expected to arrive in  Tonga some time this week or next week and start operating the domestic services.

We asked Tei for an update on the reported deal between Lulutai and Air Chatham, which we have previously reported.

We asked him how long Chatham was expected to operate temporarily in Tonga

We also asked him how many aircraft Chatham would bring to Tonga.

Responding to our questions this afternoon, Tei said: “We plan to issue a press release tomorrow following the completion of plans for considerations for this project”.

We have information that Air Chatham and Lulutai has been negotiating for the New Zealand airline, which previously operated Tonga’s domestic air service, to take over Tonga’s domestic flights on a four-month  wet lease.  

A wet lease means a leasing arrangement whereby Chathams can provide a Saab 340 aircraft – the same type operated by Lulutai until it was damaged in December – with air crew and maintenance.

Chathams could not be reached for comment. There was no announcement on its web site last night.

Meanwhile, Lulutai is expected to buy another Saab 340. This was recently mentioned in Parliament, with the Opposition saying money for the purchase had been allocated in the 2024-2025 budget. There was no further information available to us on the new aircraft. It has been claimed that they can be bought for as little as US$1 million.

The Saab is bigger than Lulutai’s recently purchased DeHavilland Canada Twin Otter, which the government bought for US$6 million.

Asked about the difference between the prices and why the Twin Otter was more expensive, our source said it depended on the negotiations between the buyer, in this case the Tonga government and the seller. He said the government should have got a better deal and bought a  cheaper Twin Otter for about US$3 million.  

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