An incident that almost claimed the lives of passengers on board a Real Tonga Airline flight at Ha'apai airport was told that pilot and assistant pilot had differences in interpretation of the aircraft airspeed indicator last Monday.
The Hon. Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism ‘Etuate Lavulavu reported the latest report from the airline in Parliament on Thursday.
He said the airspeed indicator instrument in front of the pilot indicated it’s time for the plane to take off yet the co-pilot’s same instrument indicated otherwise. Their differences caused the plane to swerve to the side before it came to an abrupt halt and almost hit the fence at the airport.
The airspeed indicator is an instrument used to display the craft's airspeed in order to maintain airspeeds specific to the aircraft type and operating conditions.
It was reported in Parliament after much concern raised by Ha’apai 13 MP Veivosa Taka that the incident almost claimed the lives of passengers on board the Real Tonga Airline’s flight last week.
Taka claimed one of the passengers on board that flight Dr. Mohenoa Puloka said it was a terrifying moment to see the plane landed only 20 feet away of Koulo’s cliff.
Lavulavu informed Parliament on Thursday that investigation is underway to ensure it’s not happening again. He said that Cabinet has also requested assistance from Pacific Aviation Safety Office (PASO) in probing further into the matter.
He also denied Taka’s curiosity the pilots were intoxicated for mishandling errors of the airspeed indicator reading.
Earlier, when the incident was raised in Parliament, it prompted an uproar from Vava’u number 2 Noble Representative Lord Tu’ilakepa who called for immediate suspension of all Real Tonga Airlines' flights.
He claimed it was a serious matter that Government must act promptly to avoid further aviation accident from happening. Tu’ilakepa said Government should use their conscience in dealing with the issue. He also gave reference to an incident where an Israel’s plane urgently requested landing rights in Tonga yet it was a Sunday.
Tu’ilakepa said God gifted man with sound mind to make the right decision and that was exactly what the previous Government did.
“Government at the time put aside the laws and use their conscience and sound mind to do what was right back then,” explained Lord Tu’ilakepa.
‘Eua Noble Representative Lord Nuku was also concerned with confirmation the same aircraft that almost had an accident in Ha’apai is still flying.
In response Government said it has no authority to immediately suspend flights of Real Tonga Airlines since there are due process it must adhere to before making any decision. First a report must be submitted from the airline and further investigation will be carried out before the Government makes the final decision.
Cabinet was also concerned with whoever responsible for issuing the direction for the aircraft to fly, especially it was a really bad weather last Monday (August 24).
Lavulavu said the Government was taking the matter seriously for the safety of people and also because it is an ongoing problem.
“One incident involved a Real Tonga’s flight crashed landing at ‘Eua airport and punctured one of its tyre. Another incident involved a brake failure of Real Tonga’s 12-Harbin Y12 aircraft that caused the aircraft to veer on the runway. And the latest report from Ha’apai is a concern,” said Lavulavu.
He added the reported incident at Ha’apai also questioned the potential management of local domestic operator to provide continuous air service domestically.
Lavulavu said that’s always Government’s initiative when seeking assistance from overseas to ensure reliable and people safety air services.
Vava’u Number 2 Noble Representative Lord Tu’ilakepa also argued it is the Government’s responsibility to check the airworthiness of Real Tonga’s aircraft, check the actions of pilots and suspend all its flights. He also asserted MPs that the Government should use their conscience in dealing with the matter and not wait for death to come and then further action.
Vava’u 15 constituency MP, Samiu Vaipulu moved the Government’s decision and called on Cabinet to get an independent audit check of the aircraft for air safety procedures.
Meanwhile Ha’apai 13 MP said Dr. Puloka maintained their safety is not because of the pilot’s expertise but it’s God’s love.
“He hears our cries and prayers during our ordeal,” explained Dr. Puloka.
Puloka called for immediate Government action in addressing the problem to avoid further mishap from happening.
When Real Tonga Airlines was issued with the required certification to operate domestically in Tonga they pledged a reliability and people safety as their top priority.