A Chinese-built regional aircraft operating in Tonga is at the centre of an ongoing diplomatic row between the island nation and New Zealand.
The MA60 – a derivative of the Antonov 24 regional turboprop – has been cited by the New Zealand government as being unsafe and has pulled tourism aid to Tonga until the aircraft is grounded. New Zealand travellers to Tonga have also been warned not to fly on the aircraft.
While the MA60, flying for Real Tonga airlines, has not had an incident in the kingdom since it was introduced to service this year, the New Zealand foreign affairs minister Marray McCully told ABC News: “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.”
McCully based his decision on the MA60’s safety record, which has seen 11 incidents involving the type since 2009. Three of those were in the last two months alone and forced the Myanmar government to ground the aircraft after two accidents there.
McCully further said he fact the MA60 had not been certified for use in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the US.
“We will not be spending taxpayer money promoting tourism in Tonga until we are satisfied with the safety and reliability of this new air service,” he added.
Coincident to the New Zealand announcement, the Tongan government earlier this year invited a Chinese company to operate domestic air services, forcing incumbent New Zealand-based Chathams Pacific.
Real Tonga is expecting a second MA60 later this year.