by Quinton Alomp – EM TV News, Port Moresby
Milne Bay’s Gurney Airport will start receiving international flights from Brisbane, Australia in the next 13 months.
The first direct flight from Brisbane to Gurney is scheduled to land on October 7, 2016.
The decision was announced by Tourism Zone Support Initiative (TZSI) and National Airports Corporation (NAC) Chairman, Mal Lewis, over the weekend in Alotau.
“Based on this resolution all partners will now work towards this deadline in terms of completing their allocated tasks to ensure that this and subsequent flights will continue smoothly,” Lewis said.
With just over one year to go before the inaugural flight, the challenge already mounts for government agencies such as Customs, Immigration, Quarantine Inspection Authority, the National Airports Corporation, Air Niugini and the provincial government to all be ready in time.
The airport officially opened 21 years ago, and due to its strategic location and tourism potential the national government has allocated K20 million in the 2015 budget to develop the airport to receive international flights.
Alotau MP, Charles Abel, said despite the government’s plan to get Brisbane flights into Gurney, and later Mount Hagen’s Kagamuga Airport, many vital requirements need to be fixed.
“The runway needs to be extended. We need to get Customs, Immigration and all relevant partners in place.
“We want to get it right, so we don’t waste the K20 million,” the local MP said.
Air Niugini will be given the first preference to operate this route, however should it decline, other international airlines could potentially take up the offer to service the new route.
“The flights will be subsidised by the national government at the initial phase,” Abel said.
Earlier this year, a similar arrangement was organised for flight out of Cairns to Tokua airport in East New Britain Province. However, the flights were deemed unsustainable and eventually ceased.
With this experience, the Brisbane-Gurney initiative will provide incentives for tourists to use this alternate route.
A visa on arrival system for Australian tourists to Gurney will be considered as an option, according to both local MP and the National Planning Minister.