Tourism operators suffer as MA60 debate drags on

By Robert Matau

October 2013

Pacific Update
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Aviation employees who adhere to the utmost safety standards will tell you that the industry has no room for trial and error.

One error can come at a huge cost—human lives and safety of passengers and crew.
This is what New Zealand is trying to tell the travelling public when it comes to Tonga’s MA60 aircraft—a gift from the Chinese Government.
But one cannot help but feel that while New Zealand is quoting safety issues, the origins of the aircraft could play some part in the aggressive travel advisory issued by the Kiwis, which Tongan tourism operators are claiming is crippling its industry. The advisory was accompanied by a decision to hold New Zealand aid for tourism development in Tonga.
Shane Walker, who owns Moorings and Sunsail Yacht Charter companies, Mango Restaurant, Boathouse Apartments and Tongan Beach Resort—all based on Vavau Island—told ISLANDS BUSINESS they were looking at their legal options on the issue.
He said the advisory was certainly having a major impact on businesses in the outer islands in Tonga.
“The cost to outer islands operators is now in the millions—but time will tell just how severe and how long the effects will be felt,” he said.
“I am concerned that there appears to be a lack of consistency on the part of New Zealand. I note that they have not issued the same advisory to 20 other countries where the MA60 is operated.
He said he had cited a copy of an agreement between the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority and the Civil Aviation Administration of China last year, which is a technical arrangement on design approval, export airworthiness certification and post design approval activities.
“It’s is basically a reciprocal agreement between New Zealand and China for aircraft parts and components including engines and propellers and each country agree to accept the other’s certification processes subject to certain conditions,” he said.

Travel advisory
Walker says while New Zealand issued its travel advisory, Australia had initially not followed suit but it has now included a sentence in its own travel advisory stating that New Zealand had issued an advisory on the issue.
He said the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs posted on their Tonga site that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had assessed the government of Tonga’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Tonga’s air carrier operations. At the same time, he said FAA had not issued their “Type Certification” for an MA60 as they are only responsible for aircraft operating in US territorial airspace.
“I believe no one has ever tried to take an MA60 and use it in US airspace,” Walker said.
He said he had been told the MA60 aircraft had recorded eight accidents—one air related and the other ground related,” he said.
“The eight accidents involved only four fringe airlines who, between them, had racked up dozens of air accidents on a variety of good, well known aircraft.”
Walker said at the same time New Zealand has had over 90 fatal air accidents since 1998 but Tonga has never had one.
“It is encouraging to know that the Tonga Government is making moves on this, but what the outcome will be, no one knows,” Walker told ISLANDS BUSINESS.
“I do believe there is a case to answer for the losses that we as operators suffer.”
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully’s updated the New Zealand travel advisory posted on August 10 saying “the plane is still a subject of concern for aviation experts”.
“It is not certified to fly in New Zealand and would not be allowed to do so without a thorough certification process under civil aviation rules.
“The MA60 is not certified by comparable jurisdictions such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EU), the Federal Aviation Administration (US) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Aus),” McCully says.
“In the absence of an internationally respected certification process for Tongan conditions, it is the government’s obligation to draw the attention of the travelling public to these issues and our Tongan travel advisory has been updated accordingly. The New Zealand Government has put support for the Tongan tourism industry on hold, and we will not be spending taxpayers money promoting tourism in Tonga until we are satisfied with the safety and reliability of this new air service.
“We are in discussions with the Tongan Government on this issue. I reiterate my offer of support to Tonga to assist them in ensuring aviation safety, a critical component of tourism in the Pacific islands,”McCully says.

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