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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Chathams Airline To End Local Flights In Tonga
CEO cites government-subsidized competition

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan .16, 2013) – Tonga's sole domestic inter-islands airline, the Chathams Pacific will discontinue its scheduled air services in Tonga on Saturday 3 March 2013, after less than five years operation, due to a loss of business confidence, after the Tonga government moved to procure aircraft from China.

Craig Emeny, the CEO of Chathams Pacific Airlines has told Tonga's Prime Minister: "I have now lost business confidence in Tonga due to the government's attitude towards my airline, and I won't continue providing the domestic air services."

He made the statement in a letter to the Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano earlier this month, pointing out that the government’s decision to sponsor air service competition by giving a donated aircraft from China to an airline that had yet to be established, would make Chathams Pacific operation unsustainable in the future.

He wrote that early in 2012 they found out that the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Civil Aviation Division (CAD) were: "heavily involved with procuring Chinese aircraft and facilitating a competitor to operate in competition to my airline.

"We advised the Minister and the Director of our concerns regarding the Director being involved in commercial activities. It is not an acceptable or a healthy situation where the CAD is involved with introducing aircraft to compete with an existing airline."

In the letter Craig expressed his disappointment with a change in the mood of government officials today, compared to when they were invited in 2007 to set up an airline in Tonga because of the failure of another national airline at that time to provide a reliable service for the whole of Tonga, including 'Eua and the Niuas.

He expressed his frustration over not getting any response from the Prime Minister’s office for his request to discuss their concerns, "and the poor relationship with the Civil Aviation Division has also motivated my decision to withdraw."

Charter offer

Noel Gillespie, the General Manager of Chathams Pacific and Air Chatham told Matangi Tonga today that he met the Acting Prime Minister and the Minister for Infrastructure, and the Minister for Finance yesterday, Tuesday, 15 January and outlined their position.

He said that Chathams Pacific had offered a charter service, to run an interim inter-islands air service until the new inter-islands airline comes into operation in mid-June.

Noel said there was no firm response from the two Ministers, and a decision on their offer would be made when the Prime Minister returned to Tonga in the weekend.

Noel said the only way now that might change their mind and stay on in Tonga would be for government to issue Chathams with a "SOE- State Owned Enterprise" notification.

Domestic air service

Meanwhile, the Acting Prime Minister Hon. Samiu Vaipulu told Matangi Tonga Online this afternoon, that a 52-seat aircraft would arrive from China in April, two months earlier than was initially anticipated, and the aircraft would service the outer islands of Tonga.

He said that a new airline company had not been formed but the management of the new 52-seater aircraft would be tendered out.

He did not think that the domestic air-service would be disrupted after Chathams Pacific discontinued their operation in Tonga, on 2 March. He said that a local company Palu Aviation had stepped in and would service the outer islands with a leased 17-seat aircraft from Vanuatu.

"This aircraft is expected to arrive in Tonga on February 25 and will start operation on March 4," explained the Acting Prime Minister.

Chathams Pacific commenced operations in the Kingdom Of Tonga in April 2008 and have a fleet of six aircraft servicing six ports ('Eua, Tongatapu, Ha'apai, Vava'u, Niuatoputapu and Niuafo'ou). The aircraft include a fully restored Vintage DC3 to a classic era 50 seat Convair 580 as well as more modern aircraft. According to its website, Chathams Pacific have an engineering unit based in Tongatapu and also rotate the Convair 580 and Metroliner to its New Zealand base for scheduled heavy maintenance.

Matangi Tonga Magazine: www.matangitonga.to/home/
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