Lined up for a Test Landing

It’s mid June now. A Twin Otter crew recently did a test landing at each of the two airstrips. With neither Remi nor the Flight Operations Manager being in country, another experienced pilot had to take on this task. With permission from the Flight Operations Manager (FOM), Twin Otter Captain Brad Venter got himself ready for this special mission; with him on board, First Officer Ryan Cole. Brad knew both airstrips from when he landed there a few years ago. However, back then he was the First Officer and only observed the landing from the right-hand seat.

As there had needed to be a few things lined up for the survey of the airstrips, so it was for the first landings. Brad explains, “We had to wait for a schedule that would take us close to the airstrips in order to operate at low cost. Also, we had to make sure that the weather was good and that each airstrip had been dry for a number of days. Not only that, there was a requirement that we had to go in with a light aircraft for the first landings. Both strips are class D strips, which in MAF PNG language means are most difficult. Kombaku is only 400m long with a 9% slope. Kanainj is 330m long with a 11% slope. Therefore you have to be well prepared.“

“Finally a day came where everything lined up.“ Brad continues, “We had a programme from Goroka to Dusin and then to Yomneki, both of which are close to Kombaku and Kanainj. We were doing a drop-off in Dusin and so would be light going to Yomneki. So, the schedule became Goroka-Dusin-Kombaku-Kanainj-Yomneki-Goroka.“

“At Goroka we got airborne at 8:40. Fortunately, once we were through the fog in the valley, all the mountains were clear and we could tell that this was going to be the right day. The flight to Dusin was uneventful and after departing there, we flew the two minutes to Kombaku. We had tried to obtain weather beforehand, but both Kombaku and Kanainj do not have radios. So, the best we had been able to do was get weather from nearby airstrips. They had all indicated good weather and dry conditions. As always, the final decision to land comes from an aerial inspection as you fly overhead. Looking at the airstrip from overhead, it seemed fine to land although the grass did look like it was getting long. It was hard to tell from the air whether it was boggy or not. The wind was reasonably calm and within limits and so we elected to land. The landing was uneventful, and we taxied up to the top of the runway. At that point it became obvious that there were some very boggy spots that were leaving deep wheel ruts, especially near the top of the runway.  The community was very glad to see us, and we spoke to them quite a bit about the condition of the airstrip. On take-off, as I lined up the aircraft, I was unable to hold it in position and we started to slowly slide down the runway. About halfway down there was a slightly firmer spot, so we turned around and taxied back to the top. We prepared everything beforehand and then were able to line up and do a quick departure before we started sliding. That was another confirmation that the airstrip needs more work. Before we are prepared to open Kombaku, the community needs to improve the surface on the top end of the strip with gravel and stone and ensure that it is firm and not slippery.“

The Twin Otter parked at the top end of the Kombaku airstrip

For now, Kombaku still remains closed for our MAF operations. The community will have to continue having all their supplies flown into other airstrips nearby and then carried for many hours to their villages. Sick people have to be carried out for hours to neighbouring airstrips to get to hospital. However, the people of Kombaku are still keen to keep working hard to eventually have their airstrip operational again.

For Kanainj the outcome was a different one. Brad continues, “It was another two minute flight to Kanainj. The weather was still good and as we flew over the top of the airstrip we could see that it was in great condition. Once again the landing was uneventful and we parked at the top of the airstrip to the greetings from a large crowd. The school children had been involved in the restoration of the airstrip with lots of gravel put down and the grass was really nice and short. Everyone was very happy when we gave them a positive report on the airstrip. It was the first time an aircraft has landed there in quite a few years. I have indicated to the community that we can open it and after discussion with our FOM this is official good news now.“

The hard work both communities put into the restoration of their airstrips testifies that they really want service again from MAF and other operators. Both communities also asked the Twin Otter crew to get them quotes for HF radios as they need them to communicate with MAF for weather reports and to make bookings.

It has been a number of years since landings have been made at either airstrip by MAF. “It was a privilege to get the chance to land there,“ concludes Brad. “Hopefully Kombaku will make some improvements to their airstrip and we will be able to open it in the future.“

At Kanainj, a very happy and excited community gathered around the Twin Otter P2-MFU after its successful test landing and with the assurance that their airstrip meets the MAF standards and will be operational again