Papua flight ops up and running again

I’m back! Finally after nearly a month off on holiday and weeks of very little flying during the first couple of months of this year, our Papua operation is back up and running again properly. As per usual here in Indonesia, all the government subsidised flight contracts finish at the end of December and it takes a few months to get them all re-organised for the upcoming year. And what a start to being back flying again; Timika greeted me with this most beautiful sunrise the other day:

Sunrise over the Papuan mountains north of Timika

Although I’ve only been back flying for a few days, it’s been really good fun to be back in the saddle. It’s amazing how much I missed it when not flying, and with the weather lately it’s been pretty much pure pleasure without any of the hard work involved with negotiating nasty storm cells and winds.

The local people are of course very grateful that we’re flying again. The aircraft are such a lifeline to them, so there’s now a huge backlog of passengers wanting to travel to/from Timika and their villages in the mountains. Although due to communication difficulties, many of the flights from the villages have been fairly empty because they didn’t know we were coming in! Currently, each time I go to a airfield I let them all know we’ve restarted the subsidised routes and what days we will be coming to their village. Hopefully over the next few days the message will spread and people we start using the service we offer again.

Local child in Alama learning future skills
Weather clearing up in Kilmit, Papua
One advantage of empty flights is that it allows me the chance to drop into other airstrips en-route that we don’t usually go to. One such airstrip I popped into the other day was Gisilema. It’s been under construction for about a year now and being located just 4nm away from Kilmit, I decided it was worth a look on the way back to Timika. I’ll be covering landing on new and unknown airstrips in an upcoming blog post but suffice to say for now, Gisilema is an excellent new airstrip and hopefully we’ll be able to start a new route there soon. (Check out my Facebook page for a sneak preview of how Gisilema looks)

Locals at Gisilema look on at my aircraft

Just before last weekend I had a medicine supply charter from Ilaga to Agadugume. It’s a flight I’ve done a few times before and it’s always satisfying to know you’re helping the locals just that little bit more than the normal passenger loads. The local villagers in Agadugume were very excited when I arrived with a plane load of medical supplies and all hurried to help offload the cargo. Even the older villagers were pitching in!

Koteka wearing local helps to unload medical supplies for Agadugume, Papua

Now that Wangbe is finally open properly again, it’s been the one we seem to be going to most at the moment. I guess all those months of not having any aircraft land there have made the locals rather keen to make the most of their new and improved transportation links to Timika. We had closed Wangbe months ago due to the condition of the airstrip which was progressively getting worse with each landing. As is often the case in Papua, the local villagers can get a little complacent with having an airstrip and neglect to maintain it properly. Sometimes closing an airstrip is the only way to force them to work on it.

Wangbe had gotten to the point of being too bumpy and boggy to operate into safely, so we instructed the locals to improve drainage by digging ditches down either side and smooth off the surface. Thankfully they’ve done a really good job and they’ve even removed the tree that used to be encroaching into the final approach path. It’s now back to being a decent enough airstrip for PC-6 operations and it’s nice to be back flying there again.

Village elder in Wangbe, Papua
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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3 Responses

  1. CaptDaags says:

    Thanks for the post. Good to hear that you are logging hours again. Stay safe.

  2. Rachel says:

    Hi Matt, I’m a journalist in Indonesia and I’m interested in learning more about your story. Could you email me at rachelewill(at)gmail(dot)com ? Thanks and looking forward to chatting.

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