To the people of Papua New Guinea, Air Niugini is more than just their national airline – it’s a symbol of their country’s astonishing progress. Not only has Air Niugini provided a massive boost to trade and tourism over the years, but it has also helped bring diverse local communities together – creating a more unified nation.
One airline for one nation
The idea of creating a single national airline for Papua New Guinea was formed in September 1972 when the country was still under Australian rule and their skies dominated by Australian airlines. But in December that year Labor’s shock victory over the liberal coalition in the Australian elections threw the entire project into doubt.
Australian airline companies, the Papua New Guinea government and various interested parties all vied for a stake in the new airline. After several months of discussions and strong pressure by opposition members in the Australian parliament, an agreement was reached.
Initially the Papua New Guinea government was given a 60% stake, with TAA and Qantas taking a 12% stake each and the remaining 16% being accepted by Ansett. Qantas agreed to provide top management with the new airline absorbing all Ansett and TAA staff who requested employment.
And so Air Niugini was born. Named after the Tok Pisin word ‘Niugini’ which translates into ‘New Guinea’, Papua New Guinea finally had a national airline to call its own.
Air Niugini took to the skies in 1973, taking over Papua New Guinea’s established domestic routes and opening up previously inaccessible areas to locals and tourists.
A growing number of passengers began to use the service and new local destinations were rapidly added.
In its first year alone, Air Niugini carried 350,000 passengers – massively exceeding initial forecasts. By 1975 more aircraft were added to the fleet, bringing the total number to ten.
At the end of that year, Air Niugini went global – opening up a route to Brisbane, and a weekly service to Manila and Hong Kong.
In March 1976, new manager Bryan Grey took the helm and oversaw a period of rapid expansion – adding destinations like Hong Kong and Kagoshima to the airline’s international routes. Plans were made for a new building, cargo terminal and computer system at Jacksons Airport in Port Moresby.
In 1979, Air Niugini opened up East and West routes to Honolulu and Singapore via Jakarta. That same year the new facilities were implemented at Jackson’s Airport and new sales offices opened in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Europe and the United States.
A local makes good
1980 marked the beginning of a new era at Air Niugini. Joseph Tauvasa, the former Director of Civil Aviation, made history when he was the first Papua New Guinean to be appointed to the General Manager role.
Wasting no time, Joseph got to work expanding the fleet with new, more efficient aircraft. He extended the airline’s network to include Rabaul and introduced a new service linking Auckland, Port Moresby and Hong Kong in a multilateral agreement with Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific.
On November 25, 1982 a management agreement was signed with Dutch airline KLM to help boost the airline’s performance.
Under the agreement, KLM provided a team of four executives for a period of three years from February 1, 1983. Former KLM Director of Operations and Boeing 747 pilot Leen Van Ryswyk led the group from Holland and took up Air Niugini’s Deputy General Manager position.
By 1983, Air Niugini was able to provide an all-jet service to the New Guinea Islands region and opened up services to Tari – another Highlands port in Papua New Guinea.
With the airline’s rapid expansion came investment in new technology. On May 5, the Chairman of the National Airlines Commission officially activated the new computer system and acknowledged Air Niugini’s proud position as the leading state-owned corporation in Papua New Guinea.
On the up and up
In 1984, Masket Iangalio replaced Joe Tauvasa as General Manager and increased the fleet to help improve international services.
Following Mr. Inangalio’s resignation, Dieter Seefeld was appointed to the General Manager position. He brought with him 18 years of marketing experience at Lufthansa and set about updating Air Niugini’s corporate image.
Over the next six years, Air Niugini continued expanding its services by adding new aircraft to its fleet and introducing a new passenger reservations, departure control and ticketing system. This advanced computer network provided direct control over the management of flights, information on nearly 10,000 hotels worldwide and the up-to-date regulations of over 200 countries as well as their passport, visa and vaccination requirements.
Pride of Papua New Guinea
After more than 32 years of operation, Air Niugini still plays a crucial role in Papua New Guinea’s economy and basic transport needs. With no road to link the capital Port Moresby to other towns, the airline provides a vital service to the local communities and the tourist industry.
Today Air Niugini operates a domestic network from Port Moresby and Lae, as well as international services in Asia, Oceania, and Australia.
Aircraft facts and figures
1973: In its first year, Air Niugini’s fleet of eight Fokker F27s and DC3s flew more than 27,000 hours.
1975: Two more F-27 Fokker Friendships were added, bringing the size of the fleet up to 10. Air Niugini began leasing Boeing 727s from Ansett and TAA for services to Brisbane, and a Boeing 707 from Qantas for a weekly service to Manila and Hong Kong.
1976: Four Fokker F28-1000 pure-jet aircraft were purchased. A Boeing 720B was leased from Tempair to replace the Boeing 727 and 707 aircraft.
1979: Air Niugini continued its fleet upgrade when it acquired another two Fokker F28s from Transair in Canada and grounded all DC3s. It relinquished the Tempair lease of the Boeing 720B and purchased two Boeing 707s.
1981/82: Three De Haviland Dash 7 aircraft were purchased and because of their S.T.O.L capabilities, these aircraft were expected to open new airports and take over all services operated by Fokker F27s.
1983: The Fokker F28 flew into Hoskins in West New Britain, heralding another milestone – Hoskins was the eleventh domestic port to get jet transport. At the same time, Dash 7s opened up services to Tari – another Highlands port.
1984: The two 707s were sold. An Airbus A300 was leased from TAA to operate the international services and added to Air Niugini’s fleet, which now consisted of five Fokker F28s-1000s and three Dash 7s.
1984-90: Air Niugini once again expanded its services by introducing additional Fokker F28s to its existing domestic fleet of eight F28s and two Dash 7s. A new Airbus A310 was purchased to replace the Airbus A300 leased from TAA – opening up the opportunity for the further expansion of routes.
Present day: Today the Air Niugini fleet consists of Boeing 767 and 737 jets for international routes along with Fokker F-100 aircraft while the Q400 and Dash 8 aircraft for the challenging terrain. The Fokker F-100 also flies to Cairns in Australia, Honiara, Solomon Islands and Port Vila, Vanuatu. The B737 operates some domestic flights to Manus and Lae.
Simon Foo – Air Niugini CEO
“Beautiful, rugged and steeped in a rich history, Papua New Guinea is like no other place on earth. Since its inception in 1973, Air Niugini has made it possible to experience the best that this breath-taking country has to offer.
We can show you the spectacular Highlands regions, take you down the mighty Sepik River and into the coastal villages that remain virtually unexplored. Over 7 million people call Papua New Guinea home, yet there are more than 850 tribes on this island nation with over 800 languages spoken here.
Air Niugini is proud to welcome you to Papua New Guinea where truly incredible adventures await you – ones that you will never forget.”