A small guesthouse operator at PNG’s highest peak, Mt Wilhem, is excited that the local airstrip that has been closed for 30 years, will soon be fully restored and made operational by the Rural Airstrips Agency.
Josephine Moro, who owns and operates the small Kegesuglo guesthouse with her family said that once the airstrip opens, more tourists will travel by air to climb Mt Wilhelm, providing income for the local community.
Currently her guest house receives between 3 – 4 tourists a month, who make the arduous journey up the highlands highway and across the boulder-littered Kundiawa to Kegesuglo -Mt Wilhem road in Chimbu.
She expects that once planes start landing, the number of mountain climbers will increase to ten-fifteen mountain climbers a week, especially from the major cities of Port Moresby, Mt Hagen, Kokopo, Goroka, Madang and Lae.
“A lot of tourists complain about the road, they don’t like to come by car, because it is very rough and because of security on the roads sometimes. When the airstrip opens, there will be a lot of tourists coming by plane. Most of the tourists come to climb Mt Wilhem, however a good number also come to do birdwatching. We are very excited.”
As well providing her guest house service, Josephine and her husband Arnold Umba, also farm rainbow trout, produce fresh mountain honey and strawberry jam. She is happy that once the airstrip is completed, she can sell more of her amazing products to a larger market who will appreciate organic, chemical free foods.
“RAA must work full time to finish the airstrip.” She added.
The Kegesuglo airstrip is the highest airstrip in PNG, at 8530ft. It is 670 meters in length and 54 meters in width, with an inclination of 6 degrees. RAA is expecting to lengthen and widen the airstrip to facilitate better performance by modern aircraft.
The airstrip was built by the Catholic church to service the mission station there. It was cemented and was highly used by the organisation. When the church moved to Kundiawa, the airstrip lost its significant operational status and fell into neglect and disrepair.
RAA began restoration work on the airstrip at the start of this year. The restoration of the airstrip is expected to be completed this year.
RAA has allocated a maximum of K250,000 to the airstrip restoration while an initial K100,000 was provided by the local government and its MP Tobias Kulung.
RAA CEO John Bromley said that the RAA mission is to have 90 airstrips across PNG on a supervised maintenance program by the end of 2018. Many of these airstrips are like Kegesuglo, important yet forgotten.
“Industrious and resourceful Papua New Guineans like Josephine, live near many of these airstrips. They provide jobs and support for their local communities. Often times, the airstrips are the only way for them to access goods and services, and more importantly, markets. Access to markets is an important goal for the national government. We believe that restoring, maintaining these airstrips, will add significant opportunities for many of these communities to grow their incomes and their local economies”.
RAA has sourced light and strong equipment from Europe that can be easily transported by air to remote locations that have no roads, and get the job done on the rural airstrips in PNG. These are being put to use in Kegesuglo.
The airstrips altitude means the equipment engines are also given a good test, and at the moment thy are performing just fine. RAA has two tractors, one excavator and one crusher at the airstrip restoration by RAA staff and local volunteers.
After the restoration of the Kegesuglo airport is complete, that airstrip will be moved into the RAA maintenance program after a final survey.
Two people from the local community will also be identified for further training as Airstrip Maintenance Officers. They will look after the airstrips with RAA and represent the local community involvement.
Rural Airstrips Agency Ltd was established with the sole purpose of facilitating and conducting maintenance and restoration of rural airstrips in PNG. The RAA is a private-public partnership initiative with the Papua New Guinea Government.
Image Josephine: Josephine and her family under the Guest House Signboard
Rest of images: RAA workmen with light equipment on the Kegesuglo airstrip