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Papua New Guinea’s PNG Air to the rescue of country’s remote communities

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February 1st 2021

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The struggle to defeat the pandemic is tough enough in the Asia-Pacific’s developed countries. Read More » Their population centres are well connected by air, road and rail links and their populations served by sophisticated medical facilities. But there are some parts of the region that are hard to reach and where combatting the virus is a major challenge.

This is precisely the case in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where many people live in remote communities across the country’s mountainous, densely forested terrain where there is limited road and sea ferry infrastructure to provide essential services and supplies. In many cases, the only access they have is by air, provided by operators landing at small and often dangerous airstrips.

It cannot be said the pandemic is rampant in PNG. At press time, 833 cases and nine deaths had been reported, but as remote as they are, small communities in the country’s West New Britain and New Ireland have not been immune to COVID-19 and this is where local airline, PNG Air, has proved to be an invaluable ally in PNG’s fight against the virus outbreak.

The airline has seven Pratt & Whitney powered ATR 72-600s and seven Pratt & Whitney powered De Havilland Canada Dash 8-100s. One of the Dash 8-100s has been converted to a dedicated freighter that transports medical supplies, building materials and perishable goods to communities isolated in mountainous terrain.

“We have been transporting personal protective equipment (PPE), medicine, test kits and pathology samples throughout the country,” PNG Air general manager MRO, William Kalipa, said.

“We also have ferried defense force personnel who are helping to prevent the spread of the virus at our borders with Indonesia, Solomon Islands and Australia. This is important because PNG has numerous traditional border crossings.”

Kalipa said the government had called in the airline to help because air travel is the only practical way to access remote PNG settlements. It is the only scheduled airline that flies to the southeastern islands of Misima and Kiriwina. Also, many of the airports it serves are unpaved requiring its ATRs and Dash 8s to be equipped with 3M aircraft belly protectors. Some of the airports, including those on the islands of islands of Lihir, Misima and Kiriwina, require the Dash 8-100 because of its shorter takeoff and landing capability.

“The Pratt & Whitney Canada PW120 on the Dash 8 and the PW127 on the ATR have great dispatch reliability. They have been easy to maintain and also to manage because they are a ‘series engine’,” Kalipa said. “Our engineers’ licenses cover both the PW127 and PW120.” He added PNG Air uses the engine data for predictive maintenance. “We download the data for engine condition trend monitoring.”

PNG Air is continuing to receive requests from local governments to fly to more airstrips in remote PNG, which the carrier is considering. Risk assessments must be done on these runways. The airline relies on the authorities to develop and maintain them so its aircraft can land safely.

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