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Longest-serving pilot retires after 45 years

Papua New Guinea and Air Niugini’s longest-serving pilot, who is also the country’s first Airline Jet Captain, Captain Paun Nonggor-r retired this week (30th June 2021) after 45 years and 21,000 hours in the air.

From inside the flight deck, Captain Nonggor-r watched Air Niugini grow from a few DC3s and F27s in a domestic operation, to a significant regional airline operating flights to Australia, Asia, and the Pacific. Now after four and a half decades, Air Niugini’s seniority number one pilot finally hung up his stripes.

Captain Nonggor-r operated his final flight, PX 004 from Brisbane to Port Moresby’s Jackson International airport on Wednesday afternoon, arriving at 2 pm to a traditional wash down or water salute to mark his final flight and retirement from flying duties. ANG Media/Facebook

He said “My flying duties on the larger ANG aircraft come to an end after 45 years. I am mentally prepared for this eventuality.”

“I am a product of late Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s vision in 1975. Somare wanted Papua New Guineans to be pilots and professionals in their own country and I was too glad to be a part of this vision, helped by the Australians. I was the first National off the block and I have stuck with Air Niugini instead of leaving for more money overseas.”

From Ramdi Tribe of Koepka village, Western Highlands Province, Captain Nonggor-r first made Captain on the Fokker Friendship (F27) in 1982 at the age of 26 after Minson Peni of New Ireland.

In 1983, Captain Nonggor-r became the first Papua New Guinean to command a Passenger Jet Airliner, the F28. From there, he progressed onto International wide-body aircraft, the Airbus 300, the Airbus 310, and then the Boeing 767 aircraft. He has been on the international routes on the wide-body jet aircraft since 1985, clocking 37 years.

Captain Nonggor-r attended NASA flying school in Cessnock, New South Wales, north of Sydney Australia in January 1975 where he also celebrated Papua New Guinea’s first Independence eight months later, in September. In June 1976, he attained his first Commercial pilot’s license and returned to PNG and Air Niugini where he was assigned to the F27 as First Officer (FO).

“ In July 1978, I returned to Cessnock to train as an Instructor Pilot. After qualifying as a Pilot Trainer, I taught Australian student pilots at Cessnock and later returned to PNG and worked at Douglas Airways, which was still seconded from Air Niugini, to build up my flying hours. After gaining the necessary hours required, I returned to Air Niugini and onto the F27 aircraft ” Nonggor-r said.

In 1982 when he turned 26, Nonggor-r was the second Papua New Guinean to become Captain on the F27. A year later in 1983, he attained his command on the F28, becoming Papua New Guinea’s first Jet Captain.

“I consider this as the greatest achievement/highlight of my career, becoming the country’s first F28 Jet Captain at a very young age.” Nonggor-r said.
Captain Nonggor-r recalled that flying the F27 and F28 was challenging as they were both analogue aircraft that required a lot of thinking, planning and skills.
He said “PNG being mountainous with localized weather patterns, it can be challenging, however, it was fun, exciting and I enjoyed the thrill of being in the cockpit,”

In 1985, Captain Nonggor-r moved onto flying the wide body aircraft, beginning with the iconic “Big Bird” Airbus A300 for four years prior to operating the A310, and later the Boeing 767 aircraft where he achieved his command as a fully-fledged B767 captain in 2003. He has since been flying the Boeing jet for 19 years.

“Although, it can be stressful at times, it’s a highly self-disciplined and regimented profession. The secret that has kept me flying all these years is fun and passion for the job.

“The international flying on larger aircraft, going to lots of places in the world, you get to experience and learn a lot about what’s happening out there and see how the rest of the world works. This kind of practical experience is superior to academics.”

Apart from flying, Captain Nonggor-r had a stint as General Manager, Flight Operations charged with management of Pilots, Cabin Crew, Aircraft Operations Control and others.

So much has happened during his 45 year flying career but Air Niugini’s longest serving pilot recalled two particular events that come to mind including the attempt to land at Sydney airport in windshear conditions where landing was abandoned and flight diverted to Brisbane, and the recent one being the diversion of an aircraft to Manila alone after the First Officer became unwell.

He said “ Successfully dealing with situations like these are a result of good training, coupled with pilot/crew experience. There is only one way of flying an aeroplane and that is by strictly adhering to the rules and procedures/processes that our Australian friends taught us.

You have to keep training and standards high – if you allow them to deteriorate, this could ultimately lead to accidents. There is no PNG way of flying an aeroplane – rules and procedures must be adhered to at all times.”

Captain Nonggor-r’s advice to young, aspiring Papua New Guineans who wish to become pilots one day is discipline and hard-work.

“Any average young Papua New Guinean can be a successful pilot as long as he/she is prepared to put in the time and effort. Not just to become a pilot but continuous dedication and discipline to remain one.”

He further encouraged parents to be supportive of their children’s education aspirations and dreams by giving children their time and attention.

“Parents are ultimately responsible for the upbringing of good, capable children.”

Captain Nonggor-r has three children, daughter Leilani and sons, Jason and Duece who are both pilots. Jason is a Fokker 100 Captain with Air Niugini, attaining his command two years ago. Captain Nonggor-r acknowledged his wife, Anna who is an ex ANG flight attendant for raising their children while he was always away working.

Captain Nonggor-r and son Jason. ANG Media/Facebook.

“I did not push my boys to fly. It’s a decision they made and I supported. My attitude is that if they wanted to be garbage collectors, that’s fine as long as they are happy doing it and doing it well. It’s their life, not mine and I only provide parental advice.”

Captain Nonggor-r is grateful to Air Niugini and all the airline’s employees for a colourful 46-year career.

“Air Niugini has been my whole life. On behalf of my family and I, we would like to thank the Air Niugini family from the domestic ports, the international airports, reservation centres, flight operations, head office, engineering, commercial, catering, traffic, cargo, porters, cleaners, tea boys like Martin and the rest for aiding and supporting me during my time with Air Niugini.” Captain Nonggor-r concluded.

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