Tonga Rushing To Meet International Civil Aviation Demands

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Government works to remedy failings of past administration

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 12, 2015) – A desperate move by the Tongan Government to address demands by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for Tonga to upgrade its Aviation Safety Regulations resulted in the grounding of the MA60 aircraft and a restriction on the size of aircraft for its outer islands domestic air services.

The suspension of the MA60 came into force under a new Civil Aviation Act on 8 February. The new legislation formally adopts the New Zealand Civil Aviation Rules as the standard rules by which airlines must operate.

The threat of a disruption to the domestic air services has been building up after Tonga’s Civil Aviation Division ignored demands by ICAO in a letter on 15 July 2014 to the then director of Civil Aviation, Viliami Cocker, for Tonga to upgrade its aviation safety certification legal frame work and to address its lack of aviation engineering competency.

Tonga was to address these demands by December 2014.

Instead of Tonga addressing ICAO’s demand, the Civil Aviation Division in early August 2014 went ahead and certified another aircraft, a 12-seater Y12 aircraft, a gift from the People’s Republic of China, the second gifted Chinese-made aircraft to be certified by the Tonga Civil Aviation Division.

In July 2013 the Civil Aviation Division certified the first Chinese made aircraft that the People’s Republic of China gifted Tonga with, a 56-seater MA60 aircraft.

The Tongan government certifying of the MA60 aircraft though it has not been certified by either New Zealand or Australia raised some concern over Tonga’s aircraft certification process.

New Zealand issued a public advisory notice for New Zealand nationals to be aware of their concern over safety issues relating to the MA60.

The Tonga government, however, finally responded to ICAO’s demand in a letter from the then Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano on 27 August last year. He had also taken over the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Civil Aviation Divison among his portfolios. The CEO of the Ministry of Infrastructure Fa’oliu then became the Director of Civil Aviation.

The Prime Minister’s letter was based on Cabinet Decisions of 21 August, which included the key points:

By September 24, 2014 there has been no response from ICAO to the Lord Tu’ivakano’s letter.

The Tonga government also did not revoke the Air Operator Certificate of Real Tonga.

The Tonga Government pushed on with its effort to meet the ICAO’s demand and on 28 August 2014 the Tonga Parliament unanimously passed the Civil Aviation Safety legislation. King Tupou VI gave his assent to the legislation on 16 December to come into effect 30 days later, on 8 February.

With the new Civil Aviation Safety legislation Tonga addressed the demand by ICAO by adopting the New Zealand Civil Aviation Safety Rules.

When the Minister of Infrastructure who is also responsible for Civil Aviation, Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu was asked yesterday, 11 February, if the Tongan government had addressed the two specific demands of the ICAO, he responded "No".

Hon. Lavulavu however was confident that Tonga was on the right track to upgrading its Civil Aviation Safety certification legal framework and to address its lack of aviation engineering competency.

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