Inside the engineering hub that keeps MAF flying
Mareeba, a town on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland, flies under the radar in many ways, but the MAF hangar there is strategically positioned to serve several MAF country programs.
In the Australian countryside, surrounded by farmland, is a hangar that feels a long way from the activity of MAF programs in Arnhem Land, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.
But the maintenance hub at Mareeba plays an important role in keeping MAF planes flying and sending skilled engineers to support our mission to bring hope, help and healing to isolated communities.
“If you can use human resources well and have an engineering station in a place like Mareeba,” said Phil Sproul, Director of Technical Operations, “You can send people out on a tour of duty for a week or two weeks to help out, and then bring them back. And that is the most efficient way to utilise people.”
Ed Hawthorn, the interim Head of Maintenance in Mareeba, also sees people as one of the key aspects of the facility.
“The two main aspects of the Mareeba facility are providing touring support to other programs, not just here but around the world if needed, and the main work of doing maintenance on aircraft or preparing aircraft that we purchased to go to other programs like Papua New Guinea or Arnhem Land or Timor-Leste,” he said.
“In Timor-Leste, for example, we have two aircraft, but we don’t have engineering staff on site yet. But we have a hangar there and tooling and spare parts and approved data, so we can fly engineers in from Mareeba when needed.”
Phil Sproul characterises Mareeba as a knowledge centre whose services can support the amount of engineering resources needed in the field.
“There’s a lot of expertise here, and engineers can put their heads together,” he said. “With the scarcity of engineering resources in the Asia-Pacific and the world, we want to do more specialist maintenance with the team in Mareeba, and then out in the field just do required line maintenance to keep the aeroplanes flying.”
In her role as Engineering Administrator, Faith Blanch is in the thick of the action at the hangar.
“2023 was a productive year for us,” she said. “We had planes from Arnhem Land, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the MAF Training Centre here in Mareeba, and we had engineers from other country programs around the world join the team here to share their experience and expertise.”
In 2023, 15 engineers conducted 38 maintenance jobs on 17 different aircraft originating from Arnhem Land, Papua New Guinea, Papua, and the nearby MAF Training Centre in Mareeba. Their work was supported by six hangar support staff working in stores, specialist sheet metalwork, tech records and painting.
Some of the larger-scale projects were the fitting out of a float plane from Bangladesh for future use in a MAF country program and the full repainting of PK-MAD, a MAF US plane from the Papua program.
“PK-MAD was probably the main event of the year,” Faith said. “It was an ambitious job, with everyone from MAF US engineers, pilots and an externally contracted painter joining in and contributing to complete the project.”
Vast amounts of technical resources, supplies and data flow through the Mareeba facility each year, but the core mission of MAF is firmly at the centre of operations.
“Mareeba is quite strategic to the whole mission as it is,” Phil said. “What they are doing back here is making a tremendous difference to those people in isolated villages and towns and islands in Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.”