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AIR NIUGINI CLARIFIES ON FLIGHT DISRUPTIONS

Following recent flight disruptions Air Niugini released an apology to the traveling public ensuring to provide some clarity on issues being faced by the national carrier contributing to the predicament.

Air Niugini was expecting to receive four Dash8-Q400 turboprop and two Boeing 737-800 aircraft by September 2023, however the Air Niugini’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Gary Seddon stated that the Q400s had been cancelled on.

“we discovered that the Q400s that had been previously selected were not to standard, we cancelled the arrangements and went back to market. I will not risk our operations with aircraft that cannot be relied upon to improve our position.” He explained.

“Air Niugini operates aircraft to one of the highest standards of aviation and airworthiness in the world. This is a very good safety benchmark to have. This means that we will not cut corners on our interim aircraft acquisition program,” he said.   

Air Niugini is currently negotiating with aircraft vendors in North America and in the meantime has accelerated heavy maintenance programs on its existing fleet.  

“We hope to be able to add to our turboprop fleet in the very near future, but for now we are investing in engines and heavy maintenance to return our existing fleet to service.”

Air Niugini has stated previously that due to its aging fleet, the airline often struggles to operate more than 55% of its aircraft (13 planes) on any given day.

This the airline stated is because there has been little investment in maintenance repair and overhaul over the past decade, and this retooling takes time and capital.

The Acting CEO said more qualified staff had been recruited leading to improvement in productivity, but the age of the fleet continues to hamper operations.

‘We will not place profits and schedule ahead of safety, and an unserviceable aircraft will not be operated regardless of the cost and inconvenience of disruption,” said the Acting CEO.

“attracting more pilots and crew to operate additional aircraft has been challenging also. There is a worldwide shortage of pilots. They are being attracted to larger operators around the region, who are paying very high rates and one-off joining bonuses.” Seddon elaborated.

Air Niugini recently recommenced the pilot cadet training program and has received over 1,500 applications from school leavers to licenced pilots looking to develop their career.

The airline also noted it relies on airport infrastructure to ensure a successful execution of flights.  

This year the Air Niugini noted having to modify its operations to accommodate failing runways in Mt. Hagen and Rabaul.  

The runway in Mt. Hagen is being repaired for the second time this year, meaning that Air Niugini is unable to operate a conventional jet service to the city which represents one of the busiest sectors in PNG.

“We are forced to operate aircraft that can take 50 passengers, as opposed to 115. We must fly 3 aircraft instead of one. This means more flying time, more pilot hours. It is very costly and very inefficient. We will inevitably suffer a disruption and my staff are verbally abused as a result. This is not acceptable,” Seddon stressed.  

“Air Niugini is operating under very trying circumstances,” he added.

In addition, the fuel supply has been threatened on several occasions.

Air Niugini raised concerns that runway infrastructure at several airports is not to a standard that meets the airline’s current and future investment program, and the lack of landing lights are reducing the operating hours in the day.

There is also a growing problem with wildlife at airports. The airline noted that flight cancellations recently were exacerbated by bird strikes on aircraft.

“All of these issues are being addressed through a collaborative approach by relevant agencies, but the progress is slow.” Seddon reiterated.

Air Niugini recently recommenced operations into Wapenamanda, Enga Province, and increased the number of jet services in to Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province.  

The airline assured that it executes more than 70 domestic and international flights every day. Presently, 47% of those flights are on time and approximately 12% are cancelled.  

The Acting CEO noted that 65% of disruptions are technical in nature with the aircraft having an issue, but but he added that  flights are also disrupted due to last light conditions, falling visibility, and weather.  

“Despite these challenges, year to date September 2023, Air Niugini has safely transported just over 1.02million passengers,” Seddon said.

Air Niugini is expecting additional fleet and the return to service of aircraft on heavy maintenance programs.

 “In the lead up to the peak busy period, Air Niugini expects to have three widebody aircraft meeting international schedule requirements. Two larger narrow body aircraft performing domestic and international duties and a combination of fourteen regional jets and turboprops delivering domestic missions.”Seddon assured.

“I hope that we can rely on the runways opening to full operations (and staying open) in November and that we see landing lights and other essential facilities.”

As Air Niugini notes its 50th Anniversary in operation, the Acting CEO shared the concerns of the traveling public.

“it is difficult to celebrate this momentous milestone, when service levels are still below an acceptable standard.” Seddon expressed.

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