It wasn’t until Independence was in the air, in 1973, that a new national airline was inaugurated with the name Air Niugini – Niugini being the accepted Pidgin spelling of New Guinea. Initially, the Papua New Guinean government took a 60% stake, with TAA (now Australian Airlines) and Quantas taking a 12% stake each and the remaining 16% being accepted by Ansett Airways. Top management was originally provided by Qantas with the new airline absorbing all Ansett and TAA staff in PNG who wished for employment.
Air Niugini’s inauguration marked the beginning of a period of rapid growth as the demand for traffic, both passenger and cargo, far exceeded all prior estimates. In its first year alone Air Niugini carried 350,000 passengers – 85,000 more than the task force had forecast and more than the number carried in the previous year by TAA and Ansett combined. That same year Air Niugini’s fleet of eight Fokker F27s and 12 DC3s flew more than 27,000 hours – some 5,000 more than was projected.
Demand for more international services was not long in coming. By the end of 1975, Air Niugini began leasing Boeing 727s from Ansett and TAA for services to Brisbane. It also leased a Boeing 707 from Qantas for a weekly service to Manila and Hongkong. In 1979 new routes were opened up both east and west, to Honolulu and to Singapore via Djakarta.
PNG is a developing country, and a comparatively small one, so you might well expect to see the national flag carrier flying a few big jets to neighbouring countries a few times a week. That’s a common pattern. But would you believe 70 flights a day to 20 internal airports? Would you believe regular international services in an A310 Airbus to Sydney, Brisbane, Manila, Hongkong and Singapore? Would you believe a profit-making record which has been continuous since 1973? Well that really is a national flag carrier – and the name is Air Niugini.And because one of the A310’s isn’t quite busy enough, they’ve already filled ten charter flights for 1995 for Japanese tourists from the new airport at Osaka to Port Moresby’s Jackson’s Airport, which, some enthusiasts claim, is only fifteen minutes from some of the best scuba and snorkel diving on the great Barrier Reef.
However this tourist potential is not what makes Air Nugini into a successful and sophisticated “niche” airline, as the jargon calls it. With no road linking the capital to places in the central Highlands, nor one linking up the north coast, with the very considerable time and distance constraints associated with shipping, few airlines in the world play such a crucial role in the country’s economy and basic transport needs as Air Niugini. Fewer still have played so significant a part in opening up previously inaccessible areas.
The gold rush of 1922 was a real one and an extraordinary story in itself. An Australian prospector discovered gold on Koranga Creek in Morobe Province. A further more important find followed four years later at Edie Creek. The subsequent demand for transport to the area could only be satisfied by commercial aviation and, by 1927, long before major world powers had really woken up to the importance of the aeroplane, four air transport companies were servicing the gold mines from Lae, using a bi-plane, six pilots and six engineers. Gradually the skies filled with the planes of one company after another right up to 1973 and the inauguration of A ir Niugini itself.The early eighties saw the purchase of new and more efficient aircraft, including De Havilland Dash 7s which, because of their short-take-off-and-landing (STOL) capability, were particularly suited to operations in the Highlands where short airstrips are the rule. The route network was extended to Tari in the Highlands, to Rabaul in New Britain and later to Hoskins.
In 1987, the position of General Manager was advertised world-wide and Dieter Seefeld was appointed, after 18 years marketing experience with the German national carrier Lufthansa. Not surprisingly he was soon the driving force behind the airline’s modernisation, introducing a new corporate image which included an up-dated and stylised version of the country’s national symbol – the Raggiana Bird of Paradise. It has been adopted as the company logo and now perches unmistakably on the tail planes of all the corporation’s aircraft.
Over the last six years, A ir Niugini has once again expanded its services and added additional F28s to its fleet, which now comprises eight of these Fokker jets, two Dash 7s and two A irbus A310s. Recently the airline unveiled its new reservations, ticketing and departure control system, known in the field as ‘Gabriel’. This computer controlled network, used world-wide by many airlines and travel-related organisations, provides improved, direct control of the management of flights, as well as offering information on fare quotations. Basic rates at nearly 10,000 hotels world-wide are quoted and there’s a detailed data-base reference to entry and health requirements (that is passports, visas and vaccinations), for more than two hundred different countries.Looking back over Air Niugini’s record since Independence, Dieter Seefeld says that major events really stand out, like the introduction of new aircraft and new equipment and the opening of additional routes. “But there’s also the steady success of our annual profits, our safety record (unblemished), and the training of our pilots. We spend over K3 million each year on training to ensure we meet international standards.”
“The pride of our people in their airline is obvious,” he says, “not just in the way they watch aircraft arrive and depart, but in the competence of staff behind the traffic counters at numerous terminals, at the controls of high technology equipment, in sales offices, in cargo terminals, in catering departments and engineering workshops.” “The pride is unmistakably there, throughout the airline and the country. Air Nuigini is looking towards the 21st century equipped with experienced staff to continue its success and service, and to continue a job well done.”