16 Sep 2013

Samoan pilot to certify controversial Tongan plane from China

7:33 am on 16 September 2013

A veteran pilot who will take part in the validation process of a controversial Tongan plane says the dispute between New Zealand and Tonga over the aircraft is a "storm in a teacup".

Chris Langton, who is also the CEO of Samoa Air, told Talamua Online he is looking forward to confirming the safety of the MA-60 aircraft gifted by China to Tonga.

The New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully has suspended more than $8 million US dollars of tourism aid until the MA-60's safety is certified to an international standard.

But China has been adamant the plane is strictly verified by it's own aviation standards and satisfies requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The plane began flying the Nuku'alofa - Vava'u route on August the 10th.

Mr McCully says he expects to talk to the Tongan authorities at the UN meeting in New York this week, but says the onus is still on Tonga to prove the safety of the plane.

The ICAO says New Zealand is within its rights to question the safety of the plane, and it cannot act as an arbiter between the two countries.