NZ's Air Chathams now also Tonga's second airline

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New Zealand carrier Air Chathams has started operating domestically in Tonga at the behest of Tonga’s Government in a move that comes after local airline Peasu Vava’u shut down and the other domestic carrier, Airlines Tonga, downsized considerably.

Air Chathams quality manager Murray McPhail says the carrier recently became the country’s second domestic operator after being approached by the Tongan Government.

The incumbent carrier is Airlines Tonga but McPhail says: “Air Chathams was approached by the Government of Tonga because the performance of Airlines Tonga was not what the Government thought it should be.”

Airlines Tonga has “had difficulty maintaining a schedule” because it has scaled down to one aircraft, an Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante, whereas previously Airlines Tonga also had two Harbin Y12s.

He says Airlines Tonga would sometimes call in Air Chathams to operate some domestic services when the Bandeirante got behind in its schedule but now Airlines Tonga and Air Chathams are competitors.

Air Chathams is operating domestically using a Convair 580 and a Fairchild Metroliner. It also uses the Convair 580 for a service from Tonga to Tuvalu via Suva in Fiji, he adds.

Later this month it plans to add a Britten-Norman Islander for domestic services, adds McPhail.

This Islander will be on a four-month lease from New Zealand carrier Great Barrier Airlines and after that Air Chathams plans to replace it with another Islander it will be buying from Great Barrier, he says.

The Islander is needed for grass airstrips in the north of the country that the Convair and Metroliner are unable to land on, he adds.

Tonga used to have another airline, Peasu Vava’u, that operated domestically using a Douglas DC-3 but last year the aircraft was grounded in the need of maintenance, says McPhail.

The aircraft has yet to undergo maintenance and that airline’s air operator’s certificate has since expired, he adds.

Air Chathams is based in and derives its name from New Zealand’s Chatham Islands. The carrier’s fleet comprises four Convair 580s, one Cessna 208 and the Metroliner.