World Bank looks set to backtrack on Tonga's plane
A new report on a controversial Tongan plane could see New Zealand accept it.
The World Bank looks set to backtrack on its draft report recommending Tonga ground a controversial plane.
The report, sent to Tonga last month, said there was nothing to prove that Tonga had properly validated the MA60, gifted from China.
But now an independent New Zealand inspector says the MA60 was correctly validated and Tongan authorities are optimistic New Zealand will change its position.
Alex Perrottet reports.
The Tongan deputy prime minister, Samiu Vaipulu, and the chief executive of the Civil Aviation Division, Vili Cocker, say they were surprised and upset the World Bank didn't approach them to see their paperwork on the plane's validation. New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, has maintained a travel advisory over the plane and suspended tourism funding for Tonga when Real Tonga began flying it and New Zealand company Chathams Pacific was edged out of the Tongan domestic market. Peter Clark, a New Zealand aviation commentator, strongly believes the plane is unsafe because the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, and other western authorities, haven't certified it. He says the onus is on China to prove it's safe and certified according to the authorities.
PETER CLARK: If China wants to sell aircraft into our market and those markets they have to meet those requirements and prove certification to those regulatory authorities. If they can't, that aircraft is not certifiable.
But the plane doesn't fly in New Zealand, and according to the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, there's no reason for New Zealand to validate it. In exceptional circumstances, New Zealand may have an issue with a plane New Zealanders are flying on in foreign countries, but the MA60s fly in Indonesia and China, and Mr McCully has not issued travel advisories for those countries. The International Civil Aviation Organisation, or ICAO, allows small countries to validate planes if they are type certified by countries with the resources to do so, and Tonga has always maintained it has done this. An experienced New Zealand pilot, Rodger McCutcheon, says he is interested in resolving the matter, and arranged last month for New Zealand pilots to test fly the plane, if that would help. He says Mr Clark's position means New Zealand shouldn't trust any plane that China is flying.
RODGER MCCUTCHEON: Are we doubting, are we saying that the Chinese aviation industry is not capable of, you know do they really put an aeroplane back in the air that may be unsafe? Well I don't think they do. I think China are trying to establish a multi-billion dollar aviation industry and the reason why they are overly cautious and why they are sensitive is because they want to be seen to do the right thing and do the right thing.
China has an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration and says it follows the guidelines of ICAO, and it has a bilateral agreement with Tonga. The Chinese manufacturer, AVIC, strongly criticised the World Bank report and now it seems set to withdraw the references to the MA60. Chinese officials have been in Tonga last week, and Mr McCutcheon says they are not happy it has come to this. A New Zealand aircraft inspector, Peter Williams, reviewed the validation process on the weekend and says he sees no issue with the way Tonga accepted China's type certification. He read out part of his report over the telephone.
PETER WILLIAMS: I've reviewed the certification process for the MA60 based on the documents supplied. I believe the aircraft was correctly certified by the manufacturer and the type acceptance that was correctly issued by the Tongan CAD. Since the aircraft has been operating in Tonga there's been no cases of incidents or maintenance defects.
The New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, has met Samiu Vaipulu in Tonga and Mr Vaipulu raised the issue of the travel advisory, as says it has hurt tourism business in Vava'u for the last two years. Mr Key is expected to raise the issue with Mr McCully on his return, and the chief executive of Civil Aviation Authority, Vili Cocker, is hopeful that there's a light at the end of this tunnel.
VILI COCKER: You know we'll take it step by step but right now at least they are acknowledging the facts about the type certification and once we settle that I am sure we'll be able to address the travel advisory soon after.
The World Bank says it won't comment until the report is published in mid-June, but should the bank retract its original position on the MA60, it may be enough to keep the plane in the air, and convince New Zealand to say that it's safe.
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