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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 22) – It has to be the best Christmas present that the people of Niuafo'ou and Niuatoputapu in Tonga have ever hoped for - the resumption of commercial air services to their islands yesterday.

Air services to the two Niuas ceased nearly two years ago, in February 2004, with the collapse of the government-owned Royal Tongan Airlines.

An attempt by the government to resume the service by introducing a one-airline policy in May 2004, which gave Peau Vava'u Airways [owned by Crown Prince Tupouto'a] a monopoly to operate the Tongan domestic route, failed because Peau Vava'u was unable to service the unprofitable route to the remote Niuas.

Because Peau Vava'u has not been able to fulfill its obligation to fly to the Niuas, the Ministry of Civil Aviation on October 27 opened up the domestic service for bidding for a second airline to service the domestic air service.

On December 9 the Ministry issued Airlines Tonga Air Fiji a license to operate the domestic air service. The major shareholder is Teta Tours of Tonga with 51 percent and Air Fiji with 49 percent. They offer Internet booking.

The director of Civil Aviation, Viliami Ma'ake, said that the operation of the two domestic air services will be reviewed in March 2006 and the airline that fulfills its obligation and provides a service for the Niuas and also for 'Eua will then be given the monopoly status to operate the domestic air service.

The CEO of Airlines Tonga, Sialeni Vuetaki, said that they would start their operation by offering two flights a week to the Niuas, and a daily service between Tongatapu, Ha'apai and Vava'u.

He said that a service to 'Eua would start once they cleared the runway of stray pigs.

December 23, 2005

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