NEW ZEALAND AIRLINE APPLIES FOR TONGA ROUTES

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Air Chathams would replace defunct Peau Vava’u

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 19, 2008) - Air Chatham will most likely replace Peau Vava΄u as Tonga’s second domestic air operator starting in April, the Minister of Transport, Honorable Paul Karalus revealed this afternoon.

Air Chatham is taking over as the second domestic airline to replace the Peau Vava΄u, which Paul said surrendered its Air Operator’s Certificate in January, and brought to an end their interest in operating a domestic air service.

[PIR editor’s note: Air Chathams is a New Zealand airline company that operates between the Chatham Islands, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Peau Vava’u, owned by former Tongan Crown Prince Tupouto'a, now King George Tupou V, had leased several aircraft from Air Chathams.]

The Peau Vava΄u has been out of service since the November 16 riots in 2006, which destroyed their office at the Pacific Royale Hotel. Following 16/11 their only aircraft, a Jet Stream 41, was flown back to New Zealand, and the Peau Vava΄u staff were laid off.

Since then the domestic air service has been serviced solely by Airline Tonga, a Fiji Air-Teta Tours joint venture.

Paul said that Air Chatham representatives were in Tonga and had formally lodged an application for the domestic air service. There was also a local operator who had indicated an interest, "but has not formally applied, nevertheless both operators are being looked at."

Air Chatham is not new to Tonga, because in the past it leased a 16-seater aircraft to Peau Vava΄u.

Paul said they have received much public interest regarding the domestic air service but because they have strict requirements for applicants such as the submission of a comprehensive business plan and evidence of strong financial backing, some backed off in the first phase.

Paul anticipated that by Friday, February 22 Government should finalize its decision on the new second domestic airline for Tonga.

The Minister said that it has been Government’s plan to improve the quality of the domestic air service since domestic flight schedules have been unstable for over a year since 16/11.

"Nevertheless we are thankful for Airline Tonga for catering for the domestic service for this long," he added.

Meanwhile, the new ΄Olovaha inter-island ferry is expected to arrive in Tonga in late 2009.

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