Part 1: An Interview with Joseph Tua
Interview by Mandy Glass. Photos by Joseph Tua (JT), Andrea and Joël Rominger (AJR)
Hello, I’22-year-old old Papua New Guinean and I just finished all my flight training at Nelson Aviation College in New Zealand.
Could you give me the contact details to which I can hand my CV to?
I really wanna start off my career by flying for MAF as that would be me saying thank you to God for helping me thus far in my flight training.
About two years ago, on 19 August 2017, this message was received on our MAF Papua New Guinea Facebook page. The inquiring person was referred to MAF Australia’s website (https://maf.org.au/transformation/) for more details about a career as a pilot with MAF in PNG and encouraged to take it from there, to hand in his CV paired with a letter of interest and to file an application. The response ended with good wishes, “All the best and God bless – and maybe you’ll soon become part of our MAF PNG team!”
And now, in September 2019, Joseph Tua, from Pangia in the Southern Highlands Province, is indeed part of our MAF PNG team!
Joseph spent most of his life growing up in Port Moresby and has been accepted to join MAF PNG as a low hours pilot. He is currently being trained by pilots Volkher Jacobsen and Simon Wunderli from the Queensland based MAF Mareeba Aviation Training Centre to fly in Western Province, specifically for the Aerial Health Patrol Programme.
At the end of 2018, Joseph successfully completed the MAF standardisation programme at Mareeba which was the last big hurdle before being accepted as a MAF pilot. In January 2019 he completed the conversion training for the Cessna Caravan C208 as this was going to be the aircraft he would fly in Papua New Guinea.
By July 2019, Joseph had finished the MAF PNG orientation programme and his initial operations training at the Mt Hagen base and hangar. Now he was ready for take-off!
What does it mean for you finally to sit in the left-hand seat of a Cessna Caravan, beginning your training to become an MAF PNG Pilot? Share a bit about your history of how you started to become a pilot.
I didn’t expect to be flying an aircraft as big as the Caravan so soon, to be honest! At the flight training school, we were used to flying the smaller, lighter ones and then to go from that to a relatively bigger and heavier aircraft was quite something. I was a bit nervous at first – not sure if I would be able to fly the Caravan – but then I was also excited! I’m someone who loves a good challenge and this felt like a good challenge – hehe – and I mean, everything happens in its own timing and if this was the time, then bring it on!
To be sitting in the left hand seat of a Caravan and starting my training to become an MAF Pilot is a big privilege and a huge honour! I don’t think many people get a chance like this and I am just blessed. But at the same time it is stressful – I feel the need to perform to a high standard and sometimes I question myself if I am able to do this or if I am worthy to be doing this, you know?
But my biggest drive right now is to serve God and the people of Papua New Guinea. And so far, flying around the Western Province bringing medical staff from the Aerial Health Patrol Project to villages, doing medevacs, and shuttling people in and out of various isolated places has just been a joy.
What’s the biggest difference between your previous training experience and now flying with MAF in PNG, flying as a pilot–in–command under supervision (ICUS), but also already being involved in flight operations?
The biggest difference so far is that now you actually have passengers on board that you have to manage and be considerate about, as well as dealing with the MAF Agents at the airstrips we fly to. So it’s not so much of a difference in terms of actually flying the aircraft but more on the side of dealing with people, loading cargo and, oh my goodness, the paper work! Haha! But in terms of flying it’s getting out of that training mentality, where your instructor tells you what to do and you do it without questioning, and you actually make decisions and either sticking by them or making new decisions and dealing with the consequences of those decisions, being in command of the aircraft and making it work for you.
In these past weeks of ICUS training, was there a special Aha or Wow–effect, a training lesson you won’t never forget?
Hahahaha, aahhhh, where do I begin???? I swear, my mind has been blown so many times by so many different wow moments I’ve seen so far! I think the one that sticks out so far is our flight to Dahamo. We had two PNG missionaries on board that were bound for Dahamo and the Dahamo area was just covered with cloud and isolated showers here and there and it seemed like we weren’t going to get there. We had tried the day before already, but could not make it in due to rain so we were trying again the next day. The instructor was flying and so he slowed the plane down and navigated past the showers and low clouds. We stayed within our limits the whole time but even flying close to the limits made me nervous! So anyway, I was sitting in front observing from the right hand seat and we worked our way around the clouds and showers and guess what? There was Dahamo – in sunshine!!! Like what??? It was literally grey all around except for where Dahamo was!!! It was magical! Beautiful! Divine! The approach followed the tree line down to the threshold and the instructor flew it down perfectly! But the weather was changing fast and so we landed – and oh, the strip was wet and slimy and short! We dropped off the two missionaries and were back up in the air and out of the grey as safely and quickly as we could. But wow! What an experience! What motivation! I was just overwhelmed!
What are the challenges of flying in Western Province?
The main challenges of the Western Province would be weather and the airstrips themselves. We are in the wet season, so there’s always low cloud and isolated showers here and there, everywhere. And judging how wet the airstrips are and whether they are safe to land on or not? And if you do land, just trying to manage the aircraft on the ground and not get stuck is another challenge.
You are a fully trained Commercial Pilot, as your licence says; would you rather just go flying on your own or are you glad to have an instructor pilot sitting in the right hand seat now that you’ve seen quite a bit of the country and MAF’s operations already?
I am very, very, VERY happy to have our instructor pilots sitting in the right hand seat and teaching and guiding us through the different types of operational situations and pouring their knowledge of weather and navigation and their experience of flying the Caravan into us. Especially their knowledge of weather and navigation around PNG. The stuff they know and have taught us so far is just amazing!
What was the most joyful experience you had flying in Western Province so far?
It’s just flying the people around and seeing how grateful they are to be going home or to be receiving their supplies. The smiles on their faces – I live for that.
What was the most challenging interaction at a remote community/with passengers?
The remote communities are all very welcoming and we haven’t had any challenges with them so far. With passengers, my most challenging interaction was handing a passenger the sick bag while they were throwing up and then cleaning up after. It was a huge mess! I feel like throwing up just thinking about it as I’m writing. That day was honestly not the best day for me, but then, what could you have done and who else would clean it up? It’s part of the job so I didn’t mind. I still felt like throwing up though.
What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to getting to know the aircraft and reading the weather and navigating around the Western Province and the rest of Papua New Guinea a whole lot more and a whole lot better. Because then can I go all out in serving the isolated people all over this beautiful country.
Joseph, being a Papua New Guinean flying in your own home country for people living in remote communities – how does that feel?
It’s an honour! A privilege and a joy! You can see how much these people rely on air services and just how grateful and appreciative they are when you land and park up. It’s more than just flying – it’s about the people. PNG is more than just the province I come from, it’s everyone from the Highlands to the Coast and we do our small part by providing an air service and I hope – sooner rather than later – that proper roads and services reach these isolated communities. Some of these communities are just so isolated you get taken back to the past when you land and see them.
How do you manage being a bachelor living on your own and training, studying, being away from family to focus on your flying career?
Well, I have to cook for myself because mama is too far away (Port Moresby), haha. But it’s not so bad. This part of the journey helps or trains me to be independent and take care of myself; and it’s a chance to find out which path I want to take as life progresses. And like living on your own, you start to notice all your habits – the good ones and the bad ones – and sort of discover yourself. You have the chance to fine tune yourself and build yourself with a little less influence from your friends and/or family. You kind of learn to survive and stand on your own two feet and make your own decisions and figure out that life won’t end if you make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes, just as long as you clean up after yourself and learn and grow from it. You notice a lot about yourself when you live alone – your thought patterns, emotional triggers, what motivates you, what sparks your interests. The new interests that you develop along the way can sometimes surprise you, haha. Yes, I miss my family – but this time away from them is necessary so that I can become more capable of taking care of them and I am sure (well, I hope haha) they understand this.