Ferry flying – Papua to Borneo

Occasionally, there’s a need to move an aircraft from one part of Indonesia to another. There are many reasons to do this, and due to the time and cost involved it’s something that’s only done if absolutely necessary.  Our normal Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) based aircraft in Malinau has been suffering problems that eventually necessitated it being grounded, leaving the base without an aircraft. The normal backup aircraft is still undergoing it’s big 3500 hour inspection, so the only option was to take the spare Papua aircraft half way across the country to fill in. But what’s involved with planning and flying a ferry flight?

Flight planning

First thing I do is get a chart out and draw a straight line between where the aircraft is and where it needs to go. For this ferry flight the aircraft was not fitted with ferry tanks, so I was restricted to the maximum endurance of the Porter of just over 4 hours. At the average groundspeed of 120kts, that left a fuel tanks empty range of just under 500nm. Indonesia’s a big country and airports with fuel are quite spread out. You want to have decent reserves when arriving at each airstrip, so I don’t plan any leg to be much more than 300nm.

Route from Timika to Balikpapan

The route I picked out required tracking north for a bit before going south again due to the locations of the airports. The more direct route via Ambon would have required a leg of over 3 hours assuming nil wind conditions which would be pushing it in my opinion. So, the route was to be: Timika – Nabire – Sorong – Ternate – Luwuk – Palu – Balikpapan. Over-night in Ternate and if conditions are good on the day we can miss out the Palu refuel stop and continue to Balikpapan.

Islands west of Papua, Indonesia

Once the route is worked out, I then email our operations department in Jakarta with the details, including any diversion airports I might need to land on. They then apply for the various security clearances as well as arrange handling, refuelling, parking for the various airports and let me know all the details. Meanwhile I print off all the various Jeppesen landing plates for each of the airports. For those airports that don’t have instrument landing facilities I use the information provided by IndoAvis.

Parked up in Ternate, Indonesia

As Indonesia is in the tropics, the weather is always better in the morning, so I much prefer to get airborne as early as possible and be finished for the day before the larger cloud build-ups and thunderstorms start. Of course things don’t always go to plan and delays happen along the way so the plan has to be fairly flexible. Sorong was always an overnight option if we couldn’t get to Ternate in time.
The other thing you have to watch is time zone differences. It’s not such an issue going west as you’re always gaining an hour or two but heading east you have to remember you’re loosing time. I very nearly got caught out once in the past by thinking I was arriving at 4pm local time to an airport that closes at 5pm, only to realise I’d forgotten the time different so was actually arriving at 5pm.

Ternate volcano, Indonesia

This particular ferry flight went very smoothly and we had a handy tailwind that allowed us to miss out the Palu refuel stop. This ferry was actually a training flight as part of our survey operation so I was sitting in the right hand seat for the flight, mentioning a fellow pilot. All new pilots on survey must have completed a 500nm flight with another pilot who’s experienced in doing them which is where I came in. It was actually nice to do one of these flights with someone else to talk to as in the past I’ve usually been by myself.

This trip took us exactly 10 hours flying which was pretty good going I reckon. The Porter’s certainly not a long distance machine with it’s lack of autopilot, slow pace and fairly uncomfortable seats but we got it done and the Kalimantan crew picked up the aircraft from Balikpapan for the final leg up to Malinau leaving our newest pilot to continue with his survey training and myself to head to Jakarta for my bi-annual medical before checking out of the jungle for a few days on holiday.

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. Hi Matt. How did you then get back to your base? Did you get back as a passenger on another flight or did you fly yourself?

  2. pilot_ngb says:

    Just found your blog via a link on FB. Very much looking forward to checking it out over the coming months.

    My blog is – http://getmyppl.blogspot.com

  3. Darrin says:

    Hi Matt Found your blog from the Flightaware post on the shortest commercial flight. I’ve been wasting lost of the companies time checking out your videos and posts and enjoying them. I think you may know my old instructor from YMMB days, Rohan, Caravan driver up there for the same company??. Cheers Darrin

    • Matt Dearden Matt Dearden says:

      Hi Darrin, not sure I’ve met anyone called Rohan yet and pretty sure he doesn’t work for our lot. There’s lots of operators out here in Papua though so I’m sure I’ll run into him eventually.

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