Real Tonga

Last updated
Real Tonga
Real Tonga logo.jpg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Ceased operations2020
Hubs Fuaʻamotu International Airport
Fleet size1
Headquarters Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Key peopleTevita Palu (CEO)

Real Tonga, stylised as "REALtonga", was an airline that operated domestic flights within Tonga. It commenced operations in March 2013, becoming the twelfth airline to operate domestic flights in Tonga since air services began. In 2020 the airline ceased all operations.



REALtonga's Xian MA60, Fua`amotu International Airport's apron, Tongatapu, Tonga REALtonga MA60.jpg
REALtonga's Xian MA60, Fuaʻamotu International Airport's apron, Tongatapu, Tonga

Real Tonga commenced operations on 4 March 2013, [1] taking over services previously operated by Chathams Pacific, a subsidiary of New Zealand-based airline Air Chathams. The airline was started up with funding from the owner Tevita Palu, as well as the gifting of several aircraft from China to the Tongan government, including a Xian MA60, which were then leased to Real Tonga. [2]

The use of the MA60 generated controversy in both Tonga and New Zealand due to the type's safety record, and the New Zealand government issued a travel advisory, warning against air travel in Tonga. As a result of this, tourist numbers dropped, particularly on the outer islands, where the reduction in the number of tourists had a significant impact on the local economy. [3]

In June 2014, Real Tonga announced that it had purchased two British Aerospace Jetstream 32 aircraft from Australia. [4]

On May 12 2020 Real Tonga was not operating after the MA60 lease was terminated, the Y-12 lease expired and the Saab 340 was out of service after a birdstrike incident. This occurred amid issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the laying off of staff and pilots. [5] [6]

Two weeks later, on May 27, the Tongan government announced they were cutting support for Real Tonga in favour of a new airline to be called 'Lulutai'. [7] It was reported that the airline had been running at a loss for seven years since inception in 2013. [6] This would make the Real Tonga the fifth Tongan domestic operator to cease operations since Royal Tongan Airlines collapsed in 2004. (See also: List of defunct airlines of Tonga).

Safety record

Attempts have been made to verify that the MA60 flown by Real Tonga is safe. Pilot Rodger McCutcheon said the MA60 is an excellent aeroplane. Ex-Air New Zealand pilots with over 15000 flight hours have offered to recertify the plane. [8] [9] The chief executive of Samoa Air added that he didn't believe the MA60 aircraft, gifted to Tonga by China, is a significant safety issue. [10]

However, on March 6 of 2015, the airline decided to ground and return the MA60 turboprop, due to pressure from the New Zealand government. By doing this, the Pacific island nation triggered a release of NZ$10 million in aid to it. [11] A 68-seater ATR 72-600 was leased from Fiji Airways to operate a number of charter flights. [12]


'Eua EUANFTE 'Eua Airport
Ha'apai HPANFTL Salote Pilolevu Airport
Niuafo'ou NFONFTO Niuafoʻou Airport
Niuatoputapu NTTNFTP Niuatoputapu Airport
Tongatapu TBUNFTF Fuaʻamotu International Airport [base]
Vava'u VAVNFTV Vava'u International Airport


The Real Tonga fleet comprises the following aircraft (as of August 2016):<ref>{{cite journal|title=Global Airline Guide 2016 (Part Two)|journal=Airliner

Real Tonga fleet
Saab 340B Plus 132

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  1. "Tonga Businesses Worried Over Local Air Services". Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved April 18, 2015.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. "Delegation reassures stakeholders of Real Tonga airlines | Pacific Islands". 2013-02-22. Retrieved 2015-04-18.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. "Tourism operators suffer as MA60 debate drags on". Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved April 18, 2015.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. "Tonga dumps MA60 | Radio New Zealand News". 2014-06-11. Retrieved 2015-04-18.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. "Lack of Govt support adds to Real Tonga's woes". Matangitonga. 2020-05-12. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  6. 1 2 "Questions emerge over future of Tonga's domestic airline". RNZ. 2020-05-07. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  7. ""Lulutai" name of Tonga's new domestic airline". Matangitonga. 2020-05-27. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  8. "New Zealand pilot says China may wade into NZ-Tonga dispute | Dateline Pacific, 3:03 pm on 15 May 2014 | Radio New Zealand". 2014-05-15. Retrieved 2015-04-18.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. "NZ pilot says Tongan plane safe, and NZ should approve | Radio New Zealand News". 2014-05-14. Retrieved 2015-04-18.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. "Tonga validation team member says aircraft not a major safety concern | Radio New Zealand News". 2013-09-16. Retrieved 2015-04-18.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. Moores, Victoria (2015-03-06). "Real Tonga rejects MA60, secures aid | Airframes content from". Retrieved 2015-04-18.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. Paylor, Anne (16 April 2015). "Real Tonga leases Fiji Airways ATR 72 to plug MA60 capacity gap". Air Transport World. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)