After Delayed Launch, Helicopter Service Departs Tonga For Samoa

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Rescue, tourism flights would take too long to be certified in Tonga

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 15, 2016) – A rescue and tourism helicopter service offered to Tonga by Rodger McCutcheon, a New Zealand pilot, has moved to Samoa after Tonga delayed the start of the service earlier this year.

In a statement, Mr McCutcheon said he was looking forward to being a valued member of the Samoan community.

"I am delighted to have made the decision to move the helicopter to Samoa from Tonga, where we were told we could not fly for at least three to four months because Tonga has higher aviation safety standards," he said.

Tonga’s aviation has been criticized in the past concerning the MA-60 aircrafts from China used for domestic services, which were deemed as having low safety standards.

As a result, Tonga's Civil Aviation Act 2014 was enforced last year to be in line and in compliance with New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Rules.

Samoa’s Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Luesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi welcomed the new helicopter service which will provide medical evacuation and search and rescue operations.

"When it comes to private investments where lives will be saved than government must take decisive action," said Tuilaepa. "It is utter nonsense and ridiculous for any government to discard a service of this nature."

"You have the government’s blessing and support. And I urge you to proceed with full speed," he told McCutcheon.

According to McCutcheon, two highly regarded Eurocopter AS350 helicopters, made by Airbus, will be used in Samoa and were chosen for safety, reliability, passenger comfort and versatility.

"It can perform rescue and medical emergency work, and also a very comfortable tourist and VIP transport helicopter with great views from any of the five passenger seats, it has 3.5 hours endurance," he said.

Samoa’s Simple Solutions Aviation Consultant, David Tohi, said "The investor’s safety record and quality of presentation and maintenance meets the very highest standards, and they are bringing this standard to Samoa in the hope of making a successful valuable contribution to Samoa’s transport and tourism infrastructure."

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