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Fuel Crisis Impacts Remote Corners of PNG

Story by Matt Painter

While MAF Papua New Guinea’s team works hard to find solutions to an ongoing fuel crisis, the impact of necessary fuel surcharges is felt far and wide when normal community service flights must be constrained.

A recent shortage of JETA1 aviation fuel in Papua New Guinea has affected all aviation operators including MAF’s fleet of Cessna Caravans based at various locations across the country.

“We’ve recently had to say ‘no’ to some flights due to restricted fuel availability,” Wilfred Knigge of MAF’s Booking and Operation Centre explained. “We are asking all flight enquirers for their reason to travel and then using a ‘mission impact flight programming list’ to help us prioritise flights that are medevacs, education or health related.

“Unfortunately, when fuel is limited we have to say ‘no’ to flying vegetables and coffee to market, which means that isolated people are missing out on revenue that they use for their children’s school fees. We also have to say ‘no’ to body charters that return deceased persons to their families in the bush, and also to shuttle flights for general persons just wanting to get from A to B.”

A 200-litre drum of fuel that previously cost around USD 350 will now cost over USD 700 if MAF has to import drum stock from New Zealand. Whilst there has been some signs of progress with the local supplier in recent days, supply is still insecure and fuel costs will remain high as the crisis continues. Wilfred highlighted that “it is the continuation of the supply that concerns us.”

Nancy Ikate, also from the Booking and Operation Centre, explained that “while a fuel surcharge is in place, we’re seeing that people are not able to afford to travel to or from places like Simbai, Kiunga, Telefomin, Balimo and Wewak. Agents in the bush are telling us that the people cannot afford to fly anymore.”

MAF PNG’s Fuel Coordinator, Paul Kaia, continues to help look for solutions to the crisis.

Due to the essential nature of MAF flights, the programme has recently secured agreement with the national energy company Puma to receive fuel directly from tanker trucks, but that provision does not include drum fuel.

MAF uses outlying bases and refuelling stops at Telefomin, Tabubil, Balimo and Tari to effectively reach isolated communities in those regions of PNG. With no access to drum fuel to supply those sites during the current crisis, MAF needs to import drums from New Zealand at a higher cost.

“I like to serve the people through MAF” Paul said. “I would like to work hard and keep my focus and vision right doing what is best for our people’s sake to see services reach the isolated people through our work. I wake up every morning seeking wisdom and strength to keep me working hard. I want to be on top of everything regarding the fuel issue."

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