The Logistics of Getting to the Edge of PNG
It’s no easy task—getting people like Jessica Thiessen to Western Province. From Aiyura, our home airport, it’s a 650-mile round-trip to Kiriwo where Jessica’s language group is working on translating the New Testament. I’d like to share what it takes to provide transport for people and other cargo to the farthest reaches of Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Before the first Kodiak came into service with our organization in PNG eight years ago, we might have flown to Kiriwo in a Cessna 206, the workhorse of our fleet at that time. The 206 was perfectly sized for many operations like this one. We could get up to five people and limited cargo to any location in the country. But the 206, like most piston-driven aircraft, uses avgas, a leaded aviation fuel also known as 100 Low Lead (100LL). And in PNG, like most countries other than the US, avgas was becoming more expensive and very difficult to find. Most countries are switching to Jet-A, a more available, kerosene-based fuel, used by the Kodiak and most turbine and some diesel aircraft.
With the cost of maintenance and the lack of affordable avgas in country, it was time to move to the Kodiak. However, the larger Kodiak is more expensive to operate than the 206. All of our translators must pay for their flying, so our goal is to provide them with reasonable prices that are well below ‘commercial rates.’ So how do we make a trip to Kiriwo affordable for our translators like Jessica?
One way is to look for additional passengers to carry along the route that we plan to fly. With up to nine seats in our Kodiak—instead of the five in the 206—we can offer more space to other mission or commercial customers. Even though the Kodiak may appear to be more expensive to operate, that extra space enables us to quickly recoup that cost and better serve the people of PNG.
For our trip to Kiriwo, our operations manager, Erik, received an urgent call from MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) asking us to carry commercial customers to several airstrips—Kawito, Daru, and Kamusi—along my route. Since MAF was short-staffed, both with personnel and aircraft, we were happy to help the passengers who needed transportation. Expanding our one-day Kiriwo trip to two days covered MAF’s commercial needs and helped cover our expenses.
The result? Along with my missionary customers, I flew more than twenty commercial passengers throughout Western province. We not only covered the costs of flying to Western province, but we earned money that will go right back into our budget for meeting the transportation needs of our mission customers.
As a side note, many of our long-term missionaries remember a time when flying in the 206 was quite a bit cheaper. Today, this isn’t a fair comparison because of the rapid increase in the cost of avgas in countries like PNG. It’s entirely possible that operating the 206 today would cost as much as, or even slightly more than, flying a Kodiak, which has almost double the load capacity.
Without the extra load capacity of our turbine Kodiak, a trip like this wouldn’t be profitable or even feasible. Then our translators would have to pay more, and the people of PNG wouldn’t have access to the safe transportation that we provide. My passenger may not always be a Bible translator, but every passenger and person we interact with is a chance to serve.
Flight route: Aiyura-Bosavi-Kawito-Kiriwo-Kawito-Daru-Kawito (Day #1), Kawito-Daru-Kawito-Kamusi-Mount Tawa-Mount Hagen-Aiyura (Day #2)
Flight hours: 9.4 hours, 0.3 hours in the clouds