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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 22) - Tonga tourism operators have lost over $1.2 million pa‘anga worth of bookings since the Royal Tongan Airlines services collapsed on May 17 and a further $2.3 million worth of bookings is still at risk.

The failure of the domestic air service at the start of the peak season has also cost the tourist industry 261 jobs and a further 585 jobs are at risk, Tonga's Director of Tourism Va‘inga Palu said today. These figures presented to the Tongan Cabinet covered only 16 tourism operators surveyed by the department.

Vainga said the the Tonga Tourism Project and the Tonga Visitors Bureau had formulated a Recovery Program that could start once domestic air services between the island groups were restored. "It will be a four-nation program and it has gone to all aid donors for support. It will go to Cabinet on Tuesday. The cost has been put at $80,000 with the donors jointly asked to contribute $50,000. The rest of the money will come from industry assistance, mainly in airfares subsidies, and from the Tonga Tourism Project". However, he gave no other details of the program.

In the meantime, Vainga said that two fledgling airlines were ready to begin domestic operations.

The Air Waves Vava‘u DC3 plane had arrived in the Kingdom and the Civil Aviation was working with them on final certification.

Another company FlyNiu Airlines would bring in a 37 seater Dash 8 for the Vava‘u and Ha‘apai runs if it gets DCA approval. "It's tickets are printed," he said.

The Minister of Civil Aviation had met Jason Gray, the manager flight operations for the New Zealand charter company Air National, Carol Oakes, chief financial officer, and ‘Atu Finau the designated managing director and CEO of FlyNiu.

June 16, 2004

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