16 Sep 2013

Tonga validation team member says aircraft not a major safety concern

1:33 pm on 16 September 2013

The chief executive of Samoa Air says he doesn't believe the MA-60 aircraft, gifted to Tonga by China, is a significant safety issue.

Chris Langton, also a veteran pilot, is part of an independent group that is seeking to begin a safety validation process of the MA-60 aircraft in China.

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.

The aircraft has been flying domestically between Nuku'alofa and Vava'u since August, and China is adamant the plane is strictly verified by its own aviation standards.

The chief executive of Samoa Air, Chris Langton, says the MA-60 has been in service for quite some time, just not in this part of the world.

"I don't think it's a significant safety issue, I mean the aeroplane has proved itself in a number of very difficult locations, places like Nepal and Central Africa. These are areas where flight operations are fairly testy, so it doesn't necessarily mean that much in terms of some of the incidents that have been quoted in the press."

Chris Langton says the validation process will take about 3 and a half months, and he expects New Zealand will accept the findings.