NZ plane's nosewheel failed because of corroded bolt

A tiny New Zealand-based airline, Chathams' Pacific, has been cleared by Tonga's Transport Ministry to resume domestic flights with its two 50-seater Convair aircraft -- but its small planes remain grounded.

The Ministry's deputy secretary, Sione 'Akau'ola, said civil aviation authorities still required some technical work and information from the airline, following last week's forced landing of its Beechcraft Queen Air plane at Fua'amotu International Airport, when the nose wheel failed to lock and collapsed on landing.

Tongan authorities had grounded about 20 flights over the weekend, affecting about 200 passengers.

Mr 'Akau'ola said that the airline had been asked to provide a proposal plan on resuming services to the Niuas islands and Chathams Pacific had responded that another smaller plan now being serviced in New Zealand will arrive in Tonga on June 5.

The 50-seater Convair aircraft service the Vava'u and Ha'apai routes, while the smaller eight-seater Queen Air planes are used to service the Niuas and 'Eua islands, as well as Ha'apai, the destination of the plane which was damaged.

Chathams Pacific general manager Noel Gillespie said in a statement that a Pacific Aviation Safety Office inspector found that a bolt in the nosewheel had failed due to internal inter-crystalline corrosion.

"The inspector said the airline could not have detected this with the approved routine inspection," he said.

Chathams Pacific chief executive Craig Emeny said he understood the concern Tonga's civil aviation authorities had and the grounding of his planes.

"Passenger safety is absolutely paramount," he said.

The airline looked forward to working more closely with the Tonga's civil aviation department.

Mr Emeny saw the emergency landing on the main island of Tongatapu, which involved keeping the nose off the tarmac to the last possible minute, and afterwards praised the crew of the plane, which was carrying six passengers. There were no injuries.

Chathams Pacific's parent company, Air Chathams operates scheduled passenger services between the Chatham Islands and Auckland, Napier, Wellington, and Christchurch.



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