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A Trip On The MA60 With Real Tonga Airlines  
User currently offlinerineanna From Ireland, joined Jan 2007, 880 posts, RR: 12
Posted (10 months 3 weeks 3 days 7 hours ago) and read 10098 times:

Airline: Real Tonga
Routes: TBU-VAV-TBU
Aircraft: MA60, A3-RTL


Background

As I approached nearly three years living in New Zealand, it was time enough for me to make my first trip to one of the many neighbouring Pacific islands located just a couple of hours flight time from AKL. Earlier this year, I picked up the travel section of the New Zealand Herald and was enchanted by an article describing the author’s experience of swimming with humpback whales off the coast of the Vava’u island group in Tonga. I knew then that Tonga would be my next holiday destination.

Not being as popular a tourist destination as its Pacific cousins of Fiji, Samoa and The Cook Islands, it was clear that flight options to Tonga were more limited. I would also need to take a domestic flight once landed from the main island of Tongatapu to Vava’u where most of the whale tours originated.

I booked to fly with Air New Zealand from AKL to Fuaʻamotu International Airport – Tonga’s main airport. I found out that Real Tonga were the sole option, aside from a day-long ferry journey, to get to Vava’u. With no other option, I booked an expensive (nearly as expensive as the AKL-TBU return sectors) return flight with Real Tongan Airlines.

Drama begins to unfold

Drama began to unfold in the weeks leading up to my trip, with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) engaging in a diplomatic spat with Tongan authorities regarding a single MA60 aircraft gifted from the Chinese government to their Tongan counterparts, who on-leased the aircraft to Real Tongan Airlines for domestic operations. The NZ authorities suspended all tourism aid to Tonga and issued an official media advisory warning NZ citizens about the patchy safety record of the aircraft and its past record. This escalated with tit-for-tat remarks from both sides, and with the Chinese diplomats even weighing in. This wasn’t the build up to the holiday I had hoped for, and friends of mine who would also fly on the MA60 started to question whether we should fly with them at all. Holiday time arrived and we decided to throw caution to the wind and we decided to experience the MA60 in all its glory, which Real Tonga had dedicated to the Tongatapu-Vava’u route due to its increased capacity over the rest of the fleet. Some news coverage of the issue:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-1...ng-over-plane-safety-fears/4878170
http://www.radiolive.co.nz/Tonga-Cer...d/506/articleID/37123/Default.aspx

After an uneventful sector to TBU with Air NZ, and a wonderful first two days in Tonga, I was due to fly to Vava’u the next morning at 11.30am. I happened to chat to an Australian couple the night before who had flown to/from Vava’u the previous week. They advised that there was no 11.30am flight and showed me a picture they had taken on their return flight the previous day of a whiteboard outlining the week’s flight schedule, which had an 8am and 1pm flights displayed. They also advised that the airline were known for changing the flight times without warning. I contacted the airline later that day, and, sure enough, I had been moved to the 8am flight without even an email notification. Sweet.

Check in

I rocked up to Nuku’alofa’s domestic airport, located adjacent to the international airport.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295083_zps093fb9fd.jpg

I found the one and only check-in desk, where the check-in agent and other airline employees gathered around the desk. There were no computers, with hand-written boarding cards and a lot of paperwork being worked on by the check-in agent.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295081_zps399a2d06.jpg

After checking in my bag, I received my hand-written boarding pass and hung out outside the terminal (there was no departures lounge). I walked around the side of the terminal and spotted the source of the earlier international spat.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295082_zps814d6196.jpg

Flight time

As excited as I was to be boarding a rare MA60, the safety questions around the aircraft had given me some doubts about whether I should actually get onboard. Throwing caution to the wind, and knowing swimming with humpback whales awaited me on the other side, I boarded and took my seat. I wasn’t encouraged by the flat-looking tyres or the ‘Cut here in case of emergency’ markings on the side of the aircraft.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295086_zps7599bea3.jpg

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295085_zpsabe46b7a.jpg

Every normal sized person, plus the many tall Tongan locals, had to bend over inside the aircraft due to the surprisingly low ceiling.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295104_zps966ed952.jpg

I took my seat in the 5th row from the front, and was impressed by the great leg room – probably the best I’ve had for a non emergency row seat.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295091_zps71681337.jpg

The Chinese pilot taxied to the runway, and shut down and re-started each engine before beginning the take-off roll. Noisy as anything, the MA60’s short-field performance was on display as we quickly took to the air and climbed into the blue Tongan sky. We reached cruising altitude and the two FAs began the in-flight service, which consisted of a choice between water, water and water. I chose a tasty little water and enjoyed the view from the window as we passed over Tonga’s beautiful island groups.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295092_zps43557765.jpg

I also took the time to enjoy the entertaining MA60 safety card. I was upset I couldn’t use my Gameboy in flight  

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295087_zpse091c641.jpg


http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295088_zps3ce068b9.jpg

The flight time of 50 minutes past quickly, and we began our preparation for landing. The descent into Vava’u was uneventful and smooth and we touched down on the 1,705m runway. The beauty of airports this small is the short taxi length and speed of disembarking.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295102_zps8e082e59.jpg
http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295103_zpsbdd2f520.jpg


Not to mention the quick arrival of our baggage through the window

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/P8295107_zps2f165eb1.jpg

I spent two nights in Vava’u enjoying the friendly local hospitality, good food, amazing scenery and snorkeling with two majestic humpback whales.

http://i822.photobucket.com/albums/zz143/cormie55/1174667_10153183014660223_1367950288_n_zps0a083520.jpg

My return flight was uneventful, aside from a one hour delay and some turbulence, and a harried-looking check-in agent trying to resolve some overweight baggage issues with his smartphone calculator. I arrived into TBU and breathed a sigh of relief that the slightly dramatic build up was the only dramatic part of the experience!

If you ever get the chance, drop into The Kingdom of Tonga - a beautiful country.

[Edited 2013-09-01 02:03:14]

[Edited 2013-09-01 02:04:21]

7 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineFallap From Denmark, joined Jan 2009, 280 posts, RR: 0
Reply 1, posted (10 months 3 weeks 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 9603 times:

Nice little trip report!   The MA60 is definately on my list of aircrafts I'd like to fly with!

User currently offlineyp6370 From Germany, joined Apr 2000, 197 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (10 months 3 weeks 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 9548 times:

Lol nothing has changed there - except the airlines which are changing every now and then  

Thx for the report. Flew the same route on Peau Vava'u a couple of years ago. It was a Convair then operated by Air Chathams.


User currently offlinelychemsa From United States of America, joined Oct 2009, 1156 posts, RR: 3
Reply 3, posted (10 months 3 weeks 2 days 23 hours ago) and read 9243 times:

Very interesting. Do you have any more pictures of Tonga?

The hotels don't look too nice on Tripadvisor.

Thanks.


User currently offlineTupolevTu154 From Germany, joined Aug 2004, 2178 posts, RR: 28
Reply 4, posted (10 months 3 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 9058 times:

I went out of my way to fly on an Okay Airways MA60 in China almost a year ago. I must've had a particularly dodgy copy of the aircraft as I have never flown on an aircraft with such horrendous vibrations in my life. I was genuinely worried at points it was going to shake itself to pieces.

A rare aircraft type indeed and at least you weren't on one in Indonesia  



Atheists - Winning since 33 A.D.
User currently offlineWidebodyroga From United States of America, joined Sep 2008, 613 posts, RR: 16
Reply 5, posted (10 months 3 weeks 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 8013 times:

Thank you so much for sharing this with us rineanna. An unknown carrier in a rarely reported nation. What a treat!

Quoting rineanna (Thread starter):
Drama began to unfold in the weeks leading up to my trip, with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) engaging in a diplomatic spat with Tongan authorities regarding a single MA60 aircraft gifted from the Chinese government to their Tongan counterparts, who on-leased the aircraft to Real Tongan Airlines for domestic operations. The NZ authorities suspended all tourism aid to Tonga and issued an official media advisory warning NZ citizens about the patchy safety record of the aircraft and its past record. This escalated with tit-for-tat remarks from both sides, and with the Chinese diplomats even weighing in. This wasn’t the build up to the holiday I had hoped for, and friends of mine who would also fly on the MA60 started to question whether we should fly with them at all. Holiday time arrived and we decided to throw caution to the wind and we decided to experience the MA60 in all its glory, which Real Tonga had dedicated to the Tongatapu-Vava’u route due to its increased capacity over the rest of the fleet. Some news coverage of the issue:

What an absolute mess. I had no idea this was going on. Quite an interesting story.

Quoting rineanna (Thread starter):
I found the one and only check-in desk, where the check-in agent and other airline employees gathered around the desk. There were no computers, with hand-written boarding cards and a lot of paperwork being worked on by the check-in agent.

Wow, that's quite old school. To be expected in such a small airport though.

Thanks again, this was a treat.

Stojan



Visit my aviation page: http://widebodyroga.weebly.com/
User currently offlinebritjap From Japan, joined Aug 2006, 280 posts, RR: 2
Reply 6, posted (10 months 2 weeks 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 7235 times:

Hi Rineanna

Many thanks for this report. What a little gem. Rare aircraft and interesting route in a wonderful part of the world.

Quoting rineanna (Thread starter):
diplomatic spat with Tongan authorities regarding a single MA60 aircraft gifted from the Chinese government to their Tongan counterparts

Fascinating little story going on here. Certainly didn't know that China are giving MA60s out!!?

Quoting rineanna (Thread starter):
The Chinese pilot

I guess the Chinese are supplying the pilots. Are they also supplying the maintenance and spares? All gifted?? I wonder what sort of leverage they are hoping to gain?

Quoting rineanna (Thread starter):
choice between water, water and water.

Mmm... bit of a tough call.... think you made the right choice.

Quoting rineanna (Thread starter):
If you ever get the chance, drop into The Kingdom of Tonga - a beautiful country.

I think I might just have to take your advice sometime!!

Cheers


User currently offlinetexan From New Zealand, joined Dec 2003, 4272 posts, RR: 52
Reply 7, posted (6 months 2 weeks 12 hours ago) and read 3657 times:

I did the same routing as you a few months prior and was on the Y-12. Smooth, albeit slow, flight, beautiful views, and we loved our time in Vava'u. Definitely recommend Vava'u: uncrowded, beautiful, easy to get around (we kayaked from our hotel to town--a mistake as the headwind on the way back made for a long and tiring row!), and extremely friendly.

Texan



"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."
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