12 Apr 2024

Preliminary report into Lulutai Airlines aircraft incident released

3:46 pm on 12 April 2024
Lulutai Airline Saab 340 aircraft that slid off the runway at Tonga's Fua'amotu airport on Friday. 8 December 2023

Lulutai Airline Saab 340 aircraft that slid off the runway at Tonga's Fua'amotu airport on Friday. 8 December 2023 Photo: Facebook.xom/Paongo F George

A preliminary report into the Lulutai Airlines plane incident in Tonga has found a host of safety problems with the aircraft.

The aircraft lost control while taxiing at Fua'amotu Airport on Tongatapu last December, hitting a cement block on the side of the apron.

The SAAB 340 aircraft, carrying 35 passengers, was returning to Fua'amotu after aborting its trip to Vava'u due to a hydraulic leak, according to the crew.

There were no reported injuries.

A Civil Aviation Authority report said the source of the hydraulic leak has not been identified because of the damage to the undercarriage of the plane.

It also said the aircraft had no brakes as it approached the terminal, and that the flight recorder had no data from the flight, adding that "a deliberate action to disable the [flight recorder] system had been taken".

The authority said the cockpit voice recorder was working but inaudible due to an external source, and that there was no underwater locator beacon attached to the cockpit recorder.

"Within this report, there is no findings outlined nor provide analysis and therefore should be boldly highlighted that this preliminary reports only provides factual information derived from the investigation's initial evidence collection phase," Tonga's Ministry of Infrastructure said in a statement.

A final report will be released after the investigation.

More issues

RNZ Pacific's Tonga correspondent Kalafi Moala said this is not the only issue facing the airline.

"We are talking about a couple of weeks ago where they had a forced landing for our remaining plane, the Y12, because of, again, mechanical problems, which caused a lot of delays," he said.

"And then of course we are still talking about the other plane that was supposed to have already been bought, the Twin Otter plane, which is still to arrive in Tonga."

Moala said many travellers are going by boat but he said one of the biggest impacts is the disruption to tourist travel caused by the Lulutai plane failures.