Polynesian propliners

The Chathams Pacific story

Commercial aviation has been a difficult nut to crack in Tonga since the first domestic flights took off in 1972. Bernd Sturm recalls a visit to the South Pacific kingdom and the brief period when Chathams Pacific connected the island nation with Convair classics

Tonga has always proved itself a challenge to its airlines. Although the country’s aviation authority has often enforced a strict one-airline policy to avoid competition, no fewer than 11 airlines have come and gone over the past five decades. Chathams Pacific Airlines was no exception, operating for just five years from 2008-2013.

However, the carrier’s brief reign marks a very special chapter in the nation’s aviation history – having connected the kingdom with a fleet of vintage aircraft rarely seen operating elsewhere. 

Tonga is a small Polynesian sovereign state with a population of around 100,000 inhabiting 36 of 169 islands. Remarkably, the country was never colonised, although it was a British protected state between 1900 and 1970. As of 2010, the island nation is a constitutional monarchy. Its many islands can be divided into three groups: Tongatapu, the country’s port of entry and administrative and financial centre; tourist hotbed Vava’u, which offers excellent sailing and diving opportunities; and Ha’apai, sandwiched between the two. Additionally, there are two remote islands further north, Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou, which receive infrequent air links. 

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