Air Fiji to Fly Around Tonga

Air Fiji has been granted permission to operate a domestic air service in Tonga. Since the bankrupcy of the national carrier Royal Tongan Airlines in May, 2004, Tonga's air services have been in a state of mild chaos. Last month Pacific Blue, part of the Virgin group, began operating no frills flights from Sydney and Auckland to Tonga, belatedly replacing Royal Tongan's international services.

Immediately after the bankrupcy, a group of ex-Royal Tongan employees set up a new domestic airline called fly NiU Airlines. They used a fast Dash 8 aircraft to run an efficient service from Tongatapu to Eua, Haapai, Vavau, Niuatoputapu, and Niuafoou, just as Royal Tongan had done before them.

The fly in the ointment was that Crown Prince Tupoutoa, successor in waiting to His Royal Highness King Taufaahau Tupou IV, had set up his own domestic carrier called Peau Vavau Airlines. Of course, competing with a member of the royal family is a non-starter in Tonga, and it wasn't long before the Tongan aviation authorities came up with a previously unknown "one airline policy" and closed fly NiU Airlines down.

Unfortunately for Tonga, the prince's planes were ancient DC3s only half as fast as fly NiU's Dash 8, and the airline's service was unreliable. Peau Vavau never did keep its promises to reestablish the air links to Eua, Niuatoputapu, and Niuafoou, preferring instead to concentrate on the more lucrative Tongatapu, Haapai, Vavau route. So with popular discontent on the rise, it seems the king's men have decided to allow someone to compete with Prince Tupoutoa's company, for the time being at least.

UPDATE: Air Fiji and Peau Vavau no longer serve Tonga. The service is now operated by Real Tonga.

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