31 May 2014

Talks try to clear use of MA60 plane

11:09 am on 31 May 2014

Aviation officials from Tonga and China have met in the Tongan capital to try to resolve a feud between New Zealand and Tonga over a Chinese-made passenger plane.

In 2012, New Zealand pulled its tourism funding to Tonga and issued a travel advisory, after China gifted the MA60 plane to Tonga.

The foreign minister, Murray McCully, says Tonga did not certify the plane properly.

A recent World Bank review concludes the same.

But Tonga says the plane was certified in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which will also have representatives at today's meeting.

The CEO of Tonga's Civil Aviation Division, Vili Cocker, says Tonga followed the rules and guidelines from the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Mr Cocker says ICAO has not issued a significant safety concern notice and agreed at two previous meetings that the plane was legitimately certified.

"They would have already issued one, because they are very aware of the MA60 because we raised it in 2012, in Montreal, and once again, when we were there last year in the 38th assembly, and obviously the regional office in Bangkok is very aware of the MA60 project in Tonga."

An MA-60 plane crash in China in February led China to ground all its MA60s for days, and Tongan Transport Minister Samiu Vaipulu said Tonga did the same and carried out checks, according to its agreement with China on air safety.

Like the China planes, the MA60 returned to the air, and Mr Vaipulu says that if passengers look at all plane crashes, there are plenty of other planes with worse records, and most crashes came down to pilot error.

An experienced New Zealand pilot says China may have to offer mediation over a new plane it gifted Tonga.

The pilot, Rodger McCutcheon, says he has pilots ready to test fly the plane, and China has cleared them to do so.

He told Radio New Zealand International that former Air New Zealand pilots were prepared to go to Tonga and fly the MA60.

He proposed they go to China and be type-rated - certified as trained to fly that specific model - then go put the MA60 through a re-certification, to satisfy Mr McCully.