The Ultimate Oceania Travel Guide

Tonga flies into the future

Plans are afoot to replace Tonga’s largest airport with an energy-efficient terminal to provide greater tourism and trade opportunities with Australia.

The ageing building will make way for an 8,000sq-metre international terminal and cargo facility that will accompany an extended 2.7-kilometre runway that is capable of welcoming long-range overseas aircraft in an historic first.

The cornerstone for the $A170 million Vavaʻu International Airport refurbishment will be a multi-megawatt renewable energy plant that will harness solar and wind to power for the airport but also for nearby residents of the Vava’u island group that is made up of 40 additional smaller islands.

The energy plant will reduce emissions, working towards eliminating the need for imported diesel that supplies 90 per cent of power to Tonga.

The new terminal will also allow Australians – for the first time – to fly direct to Tonga’s main tourism hub.

Vavaʻu International Airport Tonga
Arrival at Vavaʻu International Airport in Tonga. Picture: Tonga Airports Limited

One in every five foreign visitors to Tonga are from Australia, which is the Pacific island’s second largest tourism market.

Australia’s two-way trade with Tonga is also valued at $A21 million per year.

The proposed airport promises to be one of the world’s first designed to meet the needs of the post-Covid market, considered a key component of regenerating and developing higher quality tourism for the small island nation.

Air freight that is first transported via Tongatapu, which increases the cost of food prior to export and impacts the freshness of the products, will also benefit from the Raw Mana construction of the airport.

“While the capacity constraints of Vava’u’s cargo infrastructure limit the majority of agricultural exports to less perishable produce such as vanilla, squash and yams, when the new international airport comes online in 2024 it will open up a range of business opportunities for trading partners and will lead to the diversification of Tongan producers into more high value raw and processed exports,” Raw Mana chief executive Havea Gatti said.

“The direct flights would make it possible to land fish caught in Tongan waters and other fresh local produce on the tables of Australian restaurants the next day.”

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