26 Apr 2004

Tongan MP calls on King to bail out airline

4:06 pm on 26 April 2004

A pro-democracy MP from Tonga, Akilisi Pohiva, is calling on King Taufa'ahau Tupou the 4th to stand up and accept the blame for the current crisis facing the national carrier.

Royal Tongan Airlines has had to ground its only international plane because of mechanical and financial problems.

This left passengers stranded in New Zealand, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

The airline has now also ended its lease of the Boeing 757 plane and returned it to Royal Brunei Airlines.

Mr Pohiva says the move to lease the plane was always seen as risky.

"I recall that representatives of the people in parliament strongly opposed the project and even the ministers who carried out a feasibility study on the project and the outcome clearly indicated that the project was not feasible. However when the king returned from overseas he made a royal command to get the project the go-ahead."

Mr Pohiva says the King should use his own money to bail Royal Tongan out of its financial strife.

The Travel Agents Association of New Zealand says the latest grounding is another example of the need for a fund to protect travellers when airlines fail.

The Association's chief executive, Peter Lowry, hopes to meet ministers by the end of May to push for a trust fund from an extra surcharge on airline tickets.

We want it accepted conceptually and then we'll sort of work through the principles of how to put it in place but it certainly needs government support and legislation in order to get the levy. And if you get the levy in place, a small levy, most consumers would support it they would go in and they would get protected.

Peter Lowry says people can no longer buy insurance against an airline collapse.