A New Zealand aviation commentator, Peter Clark, says he raised the alarm about a new addition to Tonga's plane fleet after a spate of incidents involving the aircraft in Myanmar and Indonesia.
Tonga's airline Real Tonga took delivery at the weekend of the MA60, which was a gift from China, but New Zealand's Foreign Minister has reportedly suspended millions of dollars in aid until the plane is internationally certified.
Mr Clark says lives have been lost in a recent spate of incidents involving the China-made turboprop, and Zimbabwe's leader has ordered his family not to fly on them.
PETER CLARK: To me, the MA60 has proven already that it is a very unsafe aircraft in the skies, with the problems it's had in Myanmar and in Indonesia, where there's been a series of accidents recently with this aircraft and recently the loss of life on this aircraft in Indonesia.
MARY BAINES: You were the first to raise the alarm, so did you approach the minister?
PC: What I did initially, I followed this way back when the Chathams airlines were going to be removed from flying domestically in Tonga. And I wrote a story then on the loss of that. That's when I saw the situation, that aircraft were going to be donated by China to the Tongan government. So I've been following it through and I saw it was the MA60, and then progressively there's been a series of accidents with this aircraft. Then, about a week ago, it alarmed me more to see that the Myanmar government had gone to China and suspended all operations of their aircraft in their country, wanting the Chinese to come up with answers to why this aircraft was giving them so many problems. So the aircraft was basically grounded. That then motivated me in going, 'Hey, we're going to have one of these aircrafts very close to New Zealand, in Tonga, and it's already starting to prove that this aircraft is unsafe to fly on. So after further research, I found out there's been an incredible number of losses on this aircraft, there's been lives lost. And it even got to the situation where I found out that in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe has said that his family himself and the government are not to fly on this.
MB: So there is a real risk, then?
PC: Well, I think it's a situation. We have an aircraft that is not certified by the NZ Civil Aviation Authority and they will probably not certify it. It is not certified by the FAA through their regulatory authority in the United States, and it is also not certified by the UK. So the two major powers will not certify it. And normally the NZCAA here would certify it, and that could flow on into Pacific Island nations that adhere to our rules, and Tonga is one of those. And it won't be certified in NZ 'cause it is considered to be an aircraft that has a risk involved in travelling on it.
MB: So the ministry of tourism in Tonga have refuted that there are any problems with it?
PC: As an aviation commentator and very concerned about aviation safety, there is no compromise when it comes to aviation safety. And that's what alerted me to this, and I did not want to see any people from our part of the world flying on that aircraft or an aircraft that's got an elevated risk. And if something goes wrong we could lose our people from New Zealand.