Fuel crisis impacts remote corners of PNG

While MAF Papua New Guinea’s team works hard to find solutions to an ongoing fuel crisis, the impact of necessary fuel surcharges is felt far and wide when normal community service flights must be constrained.

MAF Kiunga fuel storage area - mostly empty of JETA1 200L fuel drums during the current crisis

A recent shortage of JETA1 aviation fuel in Papua New Guinea has affected all aviation operators including MAF’s fleet of Cessna Caravans based at various locations across the country.

“We’ve recently had to say ‘no’ to some flights due to restricted fuel availability,” Wilfred Knigge of MAF’s Booking and Operation Centre explained. “We are asking all flight enquirers for their reason to travel and then using a ‘mission impact flight programming list’ to help us prioritise flights that are medevacs, or church and mission, education or health related.

Pilot Wilfred Knigge, MAF PNG

“Unfortunately, when fuel is limited we have to say ‘no’ to flying vegetables and coffee to market, which means that isolated people are missing out on revenue that they use for their children’s school fees. We also have to say ‘no’ to body charters that return deceased persons to their families in the bush, and also to shuttle flights for general persons just wanting to get from A to B.”

A 200-litre drum of fuel that previously cost around USD 350 will now cost over USD 700 if MAF has to import drum stock from New Zealand. Whilst there has been some signs of progress with the local supplier in recent days, supply is still insecure and fuel costs will remain high as the crisis continues. Wilfred highlighted that “it is the continuation of the supply that concerns us.”

Nancy Ikate, also from the Booking and Operation Centre, explained that “while a fuel surcharge is in place, we’re seeing that people are not able to afford to travel to or from places like Simbai, Kiunga, Telefomin, Balimo and Wewak. Agents in the bush are telling us that the people cannot afford to fly anymore.”

Nancy Ikate, Booking and Operation Centre, MAF PNG

MAF PNG’s Fuel Coordinator, Paul Kaia, continues to help look for solutions to the crisis.

Due to the essential nature of MAF flights, the programme has recently secured agreement with the national energy company Puma to receive fuel directly from tanker trucks, but that provision does not include drum fuel.

MAF uses outlying bases and refuelling stops at Telefomin, Tabubil, Balimo and Tari to effectively reach isolated communities in those regions of PNG. With no access to drum fuel to supply those sites during the current crisis, MAF needs to import drums from New Zealand at a higher cost.

Paul Kaia, Fuel Coordinator, MAF PNG

“I like to serve the people through our MAF ministry,” Paul said. “Serving people is the heartbeat of God, I would like to work hard and keep my focus and vision right doing what is best for our people’s sake to see services reach the isolated people through our ministry. If you love your God, your will serve your people because they are God’s image, suffering in the remotest places.

“I wake up every morning seeking God’s wisdom and strength to keep me working hard. I want to be on top of everything regarding the fuel issue.

“People in the remote areas depend heavily on our aircraft. If we do not have fuel to go into the remote areas, lots of people will be affected, like Health Centres will close, due to no medicine. Schools will close due to no school material, teachers and medical officers not present in the remote places. Very sick people won’t make it to nearest hospitals, basic services won’t reach people and missionaries and church pastors won’t reach to remote places. For us the people in the remote areas, MAF is our lifeline.”

This lifeline is illustrated in a message MAF recently received from a school in a remote mountainous area between Telefomin and Tari.

The message said they are “very very honoured with tearful heart for your kind hearts of serving the people in rural and rugged areas of Papua New Guinea, specifically here in such a time like this.

An empty section of MAF Goroka fuel storage yard

“Therefore, with my deepest broken heart, I now thank you for your kindness in delivering my teacher’s rations today… at this time of suffering. Because no other third-party airlines were willing to provide such service at this very point of country’s fuel crisis time but only you MAF have done this to hear our cry of help. Thank you MAF for serving the rural people through the name of God which accomplish your real mission and vision of MAF operations in Papua New Guinea.”

MAF’s interim Country Director in PNG Doug Miles said the agreement with Puma had eased the immediate pressure on the programme, but it was still essential to source drum fuel to enable flights to reach remote areas.

“It has lessened, but the crisis is still very real,” he said. “The programme has already faced significant costs to import fuel due to the uncertainty caused by the crisis.

“Even with the improved supply at airports served by tankers, we still need to bring in drum fuel to areas such as Balimo, Tari, Telefomin and Tabubil.

“These refuelling stops allow our aircraft to access a spider’s web of other remote communities – they are important hubs for us. If we were to carry enough fuel from places like Mount Hagen, the extra weight would mean we would have to significantly reduce the supplies that those communities need.”


Story by Matt Painter

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