New Zealand stops Tonga tourism funding over Chinese-made aircraft

New Zealand has halted $NZ10.5million in tourism funding for Tonga because a domestic airline is flying a Chinese-made aircraft with a questionable safety record.

New Zealand stops Tonga tourism funding over Chinese-made aircraft

New Zealand has halted $NZ10.5million in tourism funding for Tonga because a domestic airline is flying a Chinese-made aircraft with a questionable safety record.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also issued a warning to travelers about Real Tonga’s use of the MA-60, a twin-engined turboprop which can carry as many as 52 passengers.

A second aircraft, also donated by the Chinese government, is expected to arrive and enter service in the kingdom later in the year.

“The MA-60 has been the subject of serious concerns amongst aviation experts,” NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said.

It was not certified to fly in New Zealand, Australia, Europe or the US and the government was obliged to draw people’s attention to that, he said.

The government had put on hold its $NZ10.5m funding over three years for the Tongan tourism industry until it was satisfied about the safety of the aircraft.

The funding halt was flagged earlier this year when the New Zealand government became aware the MA-60 could start flying inter-island routes.

Tonga’s Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Labour called the criticism “misleading and damaging to Tonga’s tourism industry”. The MA-60 would only be allowed to fly in Tonga if it complied with International Civil Aviation Organisation regulations for the region.

The MA-60s were blamed for ending the venture of New Zealand-owned airline Chatham Pacific, which started flying in Tonga in 2008.

The Tongan government said it needed the new aircraft to provide a cheap air service for Tongans. In 2011, a MA-60 crashed in Indonesia killing all 27 on board.

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