Tongan businesses worried about air freight plans
Tongan businesses worried about plans to halt 767 cargo flights.
Tongan businesses say they are worried about Air New Zealand's plans to phase out the Boeing 767-300 planes on the Tonga to New Zealand route.
The planes have cargo space they say is vital for their exports.
While Air New Zealand says it can't confirm what planes will replace them, a private air freight service has been proposed.
Alex Perrottet reports.
Air New Zealand currently operates one Boeing 767-300 service and four to five A320 services to Tonga each week, but has plans to remove the 767 from its fleet. The Managing Director of Kool Fresh, Tricia Emberson, who says she has had a very good 25-year relationship with the carrier, says her fishery business could be ruined without the cargo space.
TRICIA EMBERSON: Primarily we export out of Tonga through New Zealand to the States, and we also import from New Zealand into Tonga, so if there is no 767 it really does hurt our business significantly. We would probably have to look at another option, and whether we would just cease our business completely.
Tricia Emberson says the only other route is through Fiji but Fiji cargo has priority and its cargo can be delayed in Nadi. The co-owner of Pacific Sunrise Fishing, Rosemarie Palu, says her company exports 10,000 tonnes of fish a week and the buyers rely heavily on the regular supply.
ROSEMARIE PALU: And because we have a fresh product we need to know that we can get it out at least weekly if not twice weekly to our overseas markets, so it would be extremely detrimental.
The Vice President of the Tonga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Aloma Johansson, says many businesses have experienced cargo difficulties and high costs in the past.
ALOMA JOHANSSON: It's been an issue for a very long time, particularly in instances where flights have been overbooked. And of course, to the detriment of the cargo that's supposed to be loaded on, getting offloaded and the huge costs of exporting companies, including fisheries.
Ms Johansson says she's interested in new proposed air freight services to and from New Zealand, as businesses can have their fresh produce guaranteed freight, but it will all depend on cost.
ALOMA JOHANSSON: It has a lot of advantages because you have a two-way traffic here and a shorter period of transit. The trading I think, it will enhance the trading between these island states.
But Tricia Emberson says she remains sceptical of the proposed service, as it has been planned many times in the past and could be unreliable even if it does start up. Some aviation commentators say Air New Zealand would never change its cargo service, and some have suggested that Tonga may extend the runway at Fua'amotu International Airport to allow for a 777-300 to land, however the airline could not confirm its plans, other than say it will always look to match capacity to market demand.
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