Civil Aviation Minister, Davis Stevens, says the government will be looking at subsiding fuel for smaller airlines to make air travel more affordable to rural airstrips.
The announcement comes with the launch of the newly formed Rural Airstrips Authority.
Stevens made the announcement at the weekend at the Bulolo airstrip which recorded the highest number of airlifts in the world in the 1930s.
In the Gold rush years of the 1920s and 1930s, Bulolo Airstrip, was the busiest on the planet. It was here that aviation history was made with the most airlifts between Bulolo and Salamaua. Mining in the Wau Bulolo area made air travel viable with the area producing an average of three tons of gold every year.
Today, this airstrip privately owned by Bulolo forest products, sees very little action. While this airfield is well maintained, the same can’t be said about rural airstrips in other parts of the country.
Many have not been maintained and planes have stopped going there because the cost of air transport has risen considerable. At the weekend, civil aviation Minister, Davis Stevens said the government is looking at making air transport cheaper by cutting taxes and subsidizing fuel.
Papua New Guinea used to have more than 1000 operational airstrips. In the 60s and 70s, we had among the highest number of third level commercial flights into rural areas. Today, there are a little over 200 airstrips.
Since taking office, the civil aviation minister has found that the government doesn’t have a working policy on rural airstrips. That’s meant that while funding was allocated, there has been no clear direction on airstrip maintenance and upkeep.
North Coast Aviation is one of the few airlines still operating in Morobe province. Their planes go to places like Kabwum and Garaina that have no road access.
It’s a vital service. The airline’s management wouldn’t comment on camera but said fuel costs make travel to rural areas as expensive as Air Niugini flights to Port Moresby.
Fuel subsidies and the recently created rural airstrips authority, will bring much needed attention to places once forgotten. But funding remains the biggest problems for the authority.
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