WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- New Zealand has warned its nationals in the Pacific island country of Tonga against flying in a Chinese-made aircraft recently acquired by Real Tonga airline.
New Zealand also suspended millions of dollars in tourism aid until the safety issues surrounding the aircraft are addressed.
The New Zealand Herald reported the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade posted a travel advisory saying the aircraft type "has been involved in a significant number of accidents in the past few years" around the world.
The turboprop MA60, built by Chinese-government-owned Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corp. in Xi'an, isn't certified to fly in New Zealand, the ministry's travel warning said.
"Travelers utilizing the MA60 do so at their own risk," the ministry advisory said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully also said aviation experts have "serious concerns" about the MA60 aircraft.
He said the MA60 isn't certified by comparable jurisdictions such as the European Aviation Safety Agency, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in Australia.
"In the absence of an internationally respected certification process for Tongan conditions, it is the government's obligation to draw the attention of the traveling public to these issues and our Tongan travel advisory has been updated accordingly.
"The New Zealand government has put support for the Tongan tourism industry on hold, and we will not be spending taxpayer money promoting tourism in Tonga until we are satisfied with the safety and reliability of this new air service,'' McCully said.
Reliable air transport is important for Tonga's economy, in particular for bringing in tourism dollars, because of the Polynesian kingdom's geographic spread.
The archipelago country, with a population of 103,000, is 500 miles long.
But its land surface of 290 square miles is scattered over 176 islands -- of which 52 are inhabited -- in 270,000 square miles of ocean.
TVNZ reported China "gifted" Tonga the one MA60 for its Real Tonga airline to use for domestic flights.
Since 2009, there have been 11 serious incidents involving MA60 aircraft, three of them in the past two months. Most of the crashes were caused by technical or system failure, TVNZ reported.
"We will not be spending taxpayer money promoting tourism in Tonga until we are satisfied with the safety and reliability of this new air service," McCully said.
He also said New Zealand is in discussions with the Tongan government to resolve the issue.
The high-wing aircraft first flew in February 2000 and in June that year was certified safe by China's Civil Aviation Administration.
But safety concerns have dogged the aircraft, although orders have kept coming in, mostly from Chinese and Asian airlines.
In June, Channel NewsAsia reported that Myanmar had grounded its MA60 aircraft for safety checks following two landing incidents within a month.
An aircraft with 60 passengers skidded off a runway at an airport in southern Myanmar and an MA60 overshot a runway at an airport in Myanmar's eastern Shan state, injuring two people.
"I think the accidents happened because of system failure," Tin Naing Tun, director general of Myanmar's Civil Aviation Department, said.
"We will check all the systems. That's why we stopped the operation of the planes."
A report by the Indonesia's Jakarta Post in May 2011 said critics were questioning the quality of a Merpati Nusantara Airlines MA60 after it crashed in West Papua province, killing all 27 people on board.
A month after the fatal Indonesian crash, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Herry Gumay, director general for air transport at Indonesia's Transport Ministry, said an investigation found the MA60 aircraft were "good and airworthy."