Tonga Transport Sector Review To Include MA60 Aircraft

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Controversial Chinese aircraft hurting tourism, international relations

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 8, 2014) – A review of the safety of Tonga's Transport Sector, to be led by the World Bank and supported by the New Zealand government, could end a stand-off between the two countries over the safety of a Chinese MA60 aircraft that has been operating in Tonga since August last year.

Following a meeting in Auckland during the past week, the New Zealand Foreign Minister Hon. Murray McCully and Tonga's Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano on Wednesday March 5 in Auckland agreed for a review of Tonga's transport safety to be carried out by the World Bank and supported by New Zealand.

According to a statement by the Hon. Murray McCully, the agreement is for a sector-wide review of Tonga's transport safety, "including land, marine and aviation safety …" with "safety first" as the priority.

MA60 included

A spokesperson for McCully, Stephanie McKay, confirmed on Friday March 7 that the transport safety review would include the MA60 Aircraft.

New Zealand, the USA and Australia are among countries that have not certified the MA60. After China gifted Tonga with the 52-seater MA60 aircraft in July, the Tongan government certified the aircraft, and it started flying domestically in August.

The New Zealand government reacted to Tonga certification of the aircraft by withholding an aid project worth USD$8 million for the development of Tonga's tourism industry, and called for the aircraft to be certified by International recognized certification authority.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs also put out a travel warning for New Zealanders who were visiting Tonga, over its concern over the security of the MA60 aircraft.

Damaging for tourism

A majority of tourists to Tonga come from New Zealand and the stand-off between the two neighboring countries has been very damaging to the Tongan tourist industry.

The review of the safety of the Tonga Transport Sector by the World Bank was scheduled to be completed before the end of the year.

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