The history of civil aviation as it has developed in Papua New Guinea couldn’t be more extraordinary. On first encounter it sounds like a sequence of Amazing Facts, which you might stumble on only in popular magazines. Some of the elements, which indeed date back to the ’20’s, are stories of enterprise, endurance and even heroism. But a little study makes it crystal clear that this is classic country for using the aeroplane as a specialised form of transport and that those who see this and grasp the opportunity it offers, reap rich rewards and deep satisfaction.
The founder of MBA (in full, Milne Bay Air, after the province where it began) was a private architect who happened to be a flyer and to own an aeroplane. John Wild, a naturalised citizen of PNG since Independence, happened to fly an amphibian. Milne Bay Province governs many island communities scattered over thousands of square miles of water, just the place for an amphibian, so they asked him to provide a service to remote villages.
In the eleven years that followed, Wild built a business which is today a fully-fledged commuter airline, operating 22 aircraft, flying 25,000 kilometres a day to 170 destinations each week and offering a charter helicopter service to corporate clients. A jet Medevac service run by the company was used 26 times last year and the comfortable, indeed luxurious, Cessna Citation Jet used for this service is also available for internal and external flights by senior executives and VIP’s.
Lady Luck, in the shape of the sudden closure in 1993 of another, similar airline, played her part. The presence in PNG of large corporate clients like oil and mining companies makes for a steady demand for charter flights. But, without enterprise, serious hardwork and a passionate addiction to efficiency and service to the customer, the airline just would not have happened.
Every plane stationed at a base outside Port Moresby is recalled to MBA’s hangar there every 50 flying hours for special maintenance. And outstation aircraft are also rotated regularly.
PNG’s rugged terrain and harsh climate and its adventurous, short runway airstrips make great demands on the planes and on the men and women who fly them. To increase passenger safety, MBA operate dual-pilot flights with one captain and one first officer. All newly recruited staff start off in the co-pilot seats of the six Dornier 228’s and the 328, before they are promoted to captain one of the eight Twin Otters. Pilots accumulate experience steadily, but the difficult flying conditions and the rigorous commuter schedules provide ample justification for the old saw – one year’s flying in PNG is worth ten in any other country in the world!
Of course you can fly for fun in PNG. MBA is seriously concerned with tourism via the office it maintains in Cairns, Australia. MBA runs a weekly ‘Mountain Explorer Tour’ of remote airstrips. In addition there’s a growing number of package tours run in conjunction with various guesthouses and lodges round the country.
Corporate charter work, however, is the backbone of the company and looks likely to increase, as mining and oil-drilling gather momentum. During the construction and development of the Kutubu oil field MBA was solely responsible for the movement of no less than 70,000 passengers and 620,000 kilos of cargo.
The regular transport of commuters and cargo to southern ports and to central highland destinations, as well as to many of the island provinces, now means that the general public sees MBA as an accomplished second level airline. It will not have escaped their notice that 15 of the 68 pilots are PNG nationals, nor that the first woman national to become a First Officer in PNG, works for MBA.