29 Apr 2004

Australian expert asked to help Tongan airline

6:32 am on 29 April 2004

Australia is to offer help to rescue Royal Tongan Airlines.

Tonga's national carrier halted international services this week.

The plane was repossessed by its owners, Royal Brunei Airlines, leaving up to 500 passengers stranded.

A spokesperson for the Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, says Canberra is sending an expert to help the airline through its difficulties.

He told the Australian Associated Press agency it was in response to a request from the Government of Tonga for further assistance.

Australia, through its international aid programme, would provide expertise in company restructuring, leasing and commercial management of air routes.

But Australia's unlikely to offer any money to the airline.

The spokesman says Australia will help out, on the condition that Tonga commits to finding a commercially sustainable solution.

Australia last year funded a Pacific Islands Forum study to examine the rationalisation of regional airlines and shipping.