16 Jan 2013

Free aircraft from China forces NZ airline out of Tonga

4:54 pm on 16 January 2013

The general manager of Chathams Pacific airline says the company is disappointed it has to pull out of Tonga after four and a half years but says it couldn't compete with a free aircraft gifted from China.

Noel Gillespie says they found out about the 60-seat aircraft which the government plans to operate in competition with the New Zealand-owned airline via the media.

He says they've advised the government they will be ceasing flights on March 2nd but have offered to lease their fleet until the aircraft arrives in June.

Mr Gillespie says it's a shame the company has to pull the pin after building the trust of the tourism industry but says the government wasn't willing to offer a level playing field.

"We would have been more than happy to meet competition on a level basis. We always knew that Tonga had a two-airline policy and we fully expected that one day we would have to meet competition but we expected that competition would be on a commercial basis."

Noel Gillespie says Tonga has also asked China for a smaller aircraft to service the outer islands but says with only two aircraft replacing its fleet of five, there will be fewer flights.