Lots of work in progress

As time marches on, the airstrips and villages of Papua are ever more being slowly modernised. It is an inevitable certainty that with more and more native Indonesians mixing and living with the native Papuan people in the mountains, they will want to bring with them a more modern way of living to the remote tribes. And in order to speed up this modernisation, the village airstrip is one of the first things to be improved.

Workers grinding rocks into gravel in Beoga

Rock grinding in Beoga

In the past year here in Papua, I’ve seen at least four airstrips we regularly go to extended or improved in the hope of allowing larger aircraft types easier access to the airstrip. Whilst Beoga hasn’t changed in length, it is now a sealed runway and currently they’re enlarging the apron and sealing it to allow two aircraft to park and unload there at the same time. Once complete I can only assume there will be an increase in the amount of traffic they see. Currently I go there at least once a day from Timika but I don’t see or hear of any other operators going there that frequently. The runway is now perfectly suited to larger types like the Cessna Caravan or de Havilland Twin Otter.

Alama is also undergoing the lengthening process. It’s nearly doubled in size now from around 400m to around 700m which again will allow larger aircraft to go there. They’re still finishing up the extension but it can’t be long before it’s complete. Mapnduma has just started to fly in machinery to allow them to realign and extend their airstrip too.

Stuck again, this time in Kilmit

Kilmit has been extended a hundred or so metres but sadly for them, the work they’ve done isn’t quite suitable for aircraft just yet. The usable section is still around 300m as the extension is just too soft to support a 2 tonne aircraft; as I discovered by sticking a main wheel on it turning the Porter around the other week. I’m not sure how they’re going to resolve that issue as there’s a small stream flowing either side of the airstrip, so it’s almost always going to be boggy in that section.

Of course, in addition to all the current airstrips being improved, there’s plenty of new ones being built as neighbouring villages see how they can improve their standard of living by having aircraft land at their village. The latest one I’ve see that’s nearing completion is Gisimou which is in the next valley over to the west from Kilmit.

Overflying Gisimou airstrip’s work in progress

As a bush pilot, I relish the challenges of landing somewhere new. Whilst every landing at a mountain airstrip presents unique challenges, going somewhere you’ve not been before is always that little bit more interesting. It’s also a good way of ensuring your flying skills don’t get stale by going to the same places all the time and following a set approach pattern. It’s all too easy to get over-familiar with somewhere and then cock it up by not staying on your toes. Just because it’s long and sealed, doesn’t mean there’s not potential for something to go wrong.

That said, the lengthening and sealing of current airstrips is one of those things that saddens me a little. Although of course it makes things safer for everyone, I enjoy the challenges of landing on silly short dirt/grass airstrips perched on the edge of a mountainside. I suppose it’s what I signed up for and what I get paid to do; but I suspect in most normal peoples’ eyes, they probably think I’m nuts…

Cool pax
Matt Dearden

Matt Dearden

English born professional pilot, writer, blogger and columnist. Currently flying the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter in Papua, Indonesia.

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6 Responses

  1. Sergi Rincon says:

    It amazes me ,how, in the middle of nowhere, you can even find an airstrip…
    I truly envy you Matt, you’re very lucky to do what you’re doing. I really appreciate you sharing your feeling and thoughts related with this beautiful world of aviation!

    (Sorry for my english..)

  2. Craig Bailey says:

    i guess I am not normal, cuz it seems like alot more fun and definitely keep your skills up doin’ the short/slippery/helicopter size “runways”.

    • Matt Dearden Matt Dearden says:

      Even the larger ones can test your skills at times, especially if the weather is poor. But nothing quite compares to the satisfaction of landing safely on something most folk would consider little more than a length of dirt on a mountain side ;o)

  3. eat-blog-fly says:

    Its a shame that the traditional culture of NG is being lost to Indo

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