I HAVE now flown Air Niugini (airline code PX) more than most Americans ever will. The thing is no one I knew remotely well enough at the time worked for Air Niugini, which is rare for me.
However, I did know plenty of people who work for their fiercest competitor –Airlines PNG (code CG). Clearly I needed to take a flight.
After a week of in-country planning, I had selected a destination – Goroka, a small town in the highlands of central PNG. It is one of the highest airports in the country at 5,200 feet. It was also a reasonable airfare and crewed by people who were extremely friendly to an American journalist.
At the moment, Airlines PNG operates a fleet of eleven Dash-8-100s, with another soon to enter service. The Dash that I flew on had non-standard livery, in that it carried a split-cheatline.
This was probably because its previous operator in Bangladesh (United Airways of Bangladesh) had a livery close enough to Airlines PNG that repainting was not worth it.
Much like Air Niugini, Airlines PNG’s hub is also Port Moresby’s Jacksons International Airport. Airlines PNG no longer does any scheduled international flying and one will never hear their call sign “Balus” used on the radio.
Balus, if you were wondering, is not only the local word for airplane, but also Pidgin for er, pigeon. Commercial airlines refer to their aircraft by their registrations rather than flight numbers. And for some reason they have decided that callsigns are a purely for international services.
After a brief tour of the airport operations office, it was time to pass through domestic security once more into the Heathrowesque domestic departures area. I believe there may actually be an Air Nuigini lounge immediately after security, but I was not 100% sure if it was open. Moreover, I was flying Airlines PNG – no one would let me in.
Boarding was done through the one door, Door A, except rather than turning right to an even-numbered gate, I turned left to an odd-numbered gate. NAC, the National Airports Corporation of PNG, does love to keep things simple.
Ordinarily, when one boards a Dash-8 through the front door, one turns right and walks into the cabin.
Not today. Today, I turned left. One could call it seat 0A — the jump seat.
Was it a comfortable seat? Surprisingly, yes! Does it have much leg room? No. Also, you only have back support when the door is closed, but who cares?
My favourite part about MSN 41′s flight deck was not the classic positioning of the weather radar, nor the single FMS that makes GPS approaches of questionable legality. It was the checklist holder.
My first demonstration of this was during start up. Only the number one engine required the full checklist, but it was still fun to observe the pilot monitoring by sliding black plastic over the completed items.
Taxi was brief, though we did have to hold for a few other Dashes to get airborne. That is one of the problems with POM; it needs more taxiways. An airport of its size should not be so inefficient.
Once we were airborne, there was a quick ring on the little intra-aircraft phone. The captain, almost immediately asked me if I would like anything to eat or drink. Airlines PNG catering is pretty standard and I was not hungry – if anything, I was more thirsty than normal. I asked for a bottle of water. It was deftly delivered.
Unfortunately, most of the flight was through cloud. Not wispy high clouds or towering cumulus clouds, just endless typical wet-season nimbostratus. It was not turbulent, just difficult for photographs. That is until we got to the final check-in point and commenced our descent into Goroka.
Surprisingly, there was no crosswind into Goroka. I thought, for a moment, we had ended up in a different country or perhaps an alternate timeline.
Goroka is not a busy airport, so the station manager was absolutely thrilled to see me out there. She told me she wished she had heard that I was coming in sooner. If she had, she would have had her extended family show up dressed in traditional highlands costume,
Everyone in PNG is extremely friendly – it’s still rather hard to believe. Imagine landing at an American airport and having the airline station manager come up to talk to you. It’d never happen.
After she had to go back to her business, I wandered over to the cargo hold. I was shocked. Airlines PNG had removed two rows of passenger seats to accommodate additional cargo. This is PNG and cargo is king!
I then had to get back into the aircraft before general boarding commenced.
The flight back to Port Moresby was much the same as the flight out. That said, we flew a slightly different track to stay within the minimum safe altitude at all times.
I would like to extend a huge thank you to Airlines PNG for making this possible. It was an amazing experience to fly on one of the oldest Dash-8s still in service, and an epic experience to see more of PNG.