14 Sep 2005

New airline to start flying between Australia, NZ and Tonga

11:33 am on 14 September 2005

The Australian airline Virgin Blue is launching flights to Tonga from New Zealand and Australia in spite of recent political unrest in the kingdom.

The three-day-a-week Auckland to Tonga service will compete with Air New Zealand's historic dominance on the lucrative route and starts next month.

The chief executive of Virgin Blue, Brett Godfrey, says including Tonga is part of a South Pacific expansion plan which already includes the Cook Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.

A spokesman for the airline says it has a long term plan to build tourism in Tonga, and, as such, its interest is the destination, not the politics.

Air New Zealand won't comment on Virgin's latest move which follows last week's announcement of new services to the Cooks from Auckland.