“Foreign tourists come into this country only by air,” said the new Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation to explain his dual ministry.
Minister Michael Nali was somewhat aghast at the size of his task, “they are really two different animals. Each is an industry on its own. But it makes sense to keep some overall link”. Whatever plans there are for tourism will involve civil aviation.“It doesn’t matter where you bring the tourists in, whether it is Lae, Port Moresby, Mount Hagen or Rabaul, the tourist will always want to go to the Sepik because of the art and the river. We should be able to fly them straight in. They don’t want to see some semi-desert when they arrive. They want to see an attractive environment, fast flowing rivers, green fresh grass, nice gardens and the beauty of the people living in old ‘primitive’ houses.” Such a plan for tourists would have to involve extending the runway at Wewak or one of the other northern centres. But the minister has other ideas for improving the infrastructure for tourists.
“The first thing to do is to publicise the good things about PNG”, says Michael Nali. “We have a problem with the media, especially certain Australian media, giving us a bad press.” PNG should not be a fearsome place for tourists. The law and order problem is generally restricted to inter-clan or inter-gang disturbances. The high hotel prices and the high cost of airfares are much more likely to keep the tourists away.
Amongst the Minister’s other ideas are training schools for waiters and licences for taxi drivers. The taxi drivers should have their own school. Every taxi should have a meter and they must use them. “We must have some controls, get the fares like those in America or Europe. But also, right throughout the world there are things that tourists like. We have Big Rooster here, but the tourist, if hungry wanting something quick to eat, wants something they already know, like MacDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken. We must have them here too.” The future of tourism in PNG must, it seems, involve some international standardisation.
And the future for civil aviation? “Really Papua New Guinea has scarcely opened up. There is no road to the Highlands from Port Moresby. We have four regions who do not even know each other very well. I think there are a lot of people living in isolation and civil aviation has a job to do providing much needed services. There is no way that civil aviation should be totally privatised,” thinks Minister Nali. “If we try and privatise aviation, communities in the remote areas will be neglected. People are desperate for airstrips. They are still building them, legally or illegally. In Morobe Province there are two airstrips only 8 to 10 miles apart. That is how desperate people are. The country is rough. People have to take to the air.”There are 459 aerodromes in PNG. The Ministry is responsible for them all, though only 47 are operated and maintained by the Department of Civil Aviation of which 7 have full air traffic services. The provincial governments maintain and operate about 160 aerodromes and the remaining airports and airstrips are owned, operated and maintained by community and private authorities. For operational safety and compliance with established standards, the Department inspects every one of the 450 airports or airstrips twice a year and issues applicable licences and certificates.
There are facilities for night landings at Port Moresby, Madang, Wewak, Kavieng, Momote and Nadzab. Port Moresby, has, since April 1995, a state of the art instrument landing system on the main runway. System 4000 comes from Italy. It is the most modern procedural control system in the world, only Malaysia and China have it at present. Papua New Guinea nationals went to Rome to train on the system and are now beginning to train the people under them.
In co-operation with Germany, modern navigational aids (VOR) have recently been installed at Nadzab, Gurney, Kavieng and Wewak . There are a number of less sophisticated navigation aids and distance-measuring equipment which have been replaced under an on-going programme and with Australian grant aid. The Department hires an Australian Civil Aviation Authority aircraft twice a year to maintain, calibrate and flight test the navaid equipment.
Air Traffic Services, Search and Rescue and A eronautical Information Services are provided within the PNG Flight Information Region (FIR). This airspace extends from the equator, along the Indonesian border, halfway across the Coral Sea and to the boundaries of the Solomon Islands and Nauru. PN G also provides aeronautical meteorology with the FIR’s of the Solomon Islands and Nauru. Air Traffic Control Radar is not yet available.There are 275 aircraft on the PNG register. A great proportion of these are operated by third level operators. Currently Air Niugini operates international services to Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila (Philippines), Honiara (Solomons), Jayapura (Indonesia) and Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney in Australia. These operations are carried out under Bilateral or Commercial Arrangements in most cases based on a 50/50 profit sharing agreement with reciprocal rights. A ir Service negotiations are under way with several governments which may result in additional destinations from Papua New Guinea.
On the domestic market, Air Niugini is the only licensed airline operating Regular Pubic Transport (RTP) to 21 destinations while the major third level operators, Milne Bay A ir, Islands Nationair, A ir Link and MAF provide scheduled services on the same network with a few additional feeder routes. In addition there are a number of charter operators and specialised services such as helicopter operations in support of the mining industry. T he domestic market has seen an average 30% growth for passengers and 7.8% for cargo in the last ten years. Passenger traffic is forecast to increase at the past rate but cargo traffic is expected to increase more substantially because of additional demands generated by the mining and petroleum industry.All the companies do their own training and the Department checks them out and issues licences. The only place in PNG where a young person can learn to fly, get a private license and then progress to a commercial licence is with MAF (Missionary Aviation) in Mt. Hagen. MAF is proud to have a second woman candidate on the commercial course. Hagar learnt to fly on MAF’s dual control Cessna and she is now ahead of the men on her course. Like all the students at MAF she will have to complete her licensing exams at the Department’s centre at Port Moresby. If successful she will join the other 522 pilots in PNG, of which 69 are nationals.
As passengers gather in the departure areas of airports around PNG they frequently look up at the sky and comment on the weather. At Independence Papua New Guinea became the 131st member of the World Meteorological Organisation. The Department is responsible for the National Weather Service. Pilots and airlines are given constant updates of the weather situation.
Given the rugged topography, the number of islands and the low density of population in PNG, civil aviation is the most natural and essential mode of transport. Minister Michael Nali could well be right when he declares: “For PNG, aircraft are the only key to civilisation right now”.