Tonga MPs debate on domestic airline licensing

A heated discussion between members of Tongan parliament over a request of endorsement from REALTonga Airlines went nowhere on Monday this week.

The discussion began when Tongatapu 5 People’s Representative, Hon. Dr ‘Aisake Eke, brought to attention that a private company, REALTonga airlines had requested an endorsement from the government to process their license to resume the domestic air service in Tonga.

The new Tongatapu 7 PR, Piveni Piukala agreed with Dr ‘Aisake Eke that the air service would be beneficial for the people of Ha’apai, ‘Eua and the Niuas.

The Minister of Infrastructure, Tongatapu 9 PR, Sevinitini Toumo’ua and the Deputy Prime Minister, Vava’u 13 PR, Samiu Vaipulu argued that there were certain requirements that needed to be met by the company before their license could be issued.

They pointed out that there are tests that should be performed for the aircraft before it should be allowed to fly, and there are safety laws to comply with.

Hon. Vaipulu said that the Islander aircraft to be used by REALTonga has disadvantages, and is limited to only 6-7 passengers per flight.

Toumoua said that the application from Palu Aviation for an airline’s request for a license on December of 2022 was put on hold because the application was not complete, although he wanted everyone to understand that the ministry is working on the issue.

The Acting Chairman of the Whole House Committee Tevita Puloka summed up the quandary. 

The chairman said he understood that the representatives for Tongatapu 5 and 7 were speaking on behalf of the airline, for the airline to be endorsed by the government, thereby allowing them to request for a license which was due 07 February.

The government had replied that the requirements needed to process their license had not been completed.

However, the Tongatapu 7 PR insisted that the government’s endorsement was required to process the license.

The Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni then said that the government could not endorse anything that they had not accepted.

“There’s a process and we can’t endorse anything because if we endorse it here and the Minister looking after Civil Aviation says that the requirements aren’t met, what else can we do?”

The discussion got heated when a representative said that one of the government’s problems is: “That the government is the regulator and does business, coaches and plays in the game”

“We are informed that the government has shortcoming when it comes to the field of business because they basically control and have the last say.” Then Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku, cleared up the air saying that actually, the regulator does not get the final say and if one does not agree with their decision they have the right to take it to court and that the court will have make the final decision.