The last Puma Energy fuel stocks will keep MAF PNG going until April 2024 (credit: Mandy Glass)
Conflict, Security, Peace and ReconciliationMAF Operations

MAF’s biggest programme increases fares due to fuel cuts

10th March 2024

The last Puma Energy fuel stocks will keep MAF PNG going until April 2024 (credit: Mandy Glass)

The last Puma Energy fuel stocks will keep MAF PNG going until April (credit: Mandy Glass)

A 15% fuel surcharge with effect from 11 March 2024 will be added to MAF PNG’s seat fares and charters, given the ongoing shortage of JetA1 fuel across Papua New Guinea. MAF is importing fuel from New Zealand, which is incurring additional costs. This follows recent outbreaks of violence, with Prime Minister James Marape facing a vote of no confidence

A national shortage of JetA1 across Papua New Guinea has left MAF and other air operators with a dwindling supply of aviation fuel (source: Post-Courier).

MAF’s Gilbert Vincent & Nicholas Koke refuelling a MAF plane at Mount Hagen, PNG (credit: Mandy Glass)

MAF’s Gilbert Vincent & Nicholas Koke refuel at Mount Hagen (credit: Mandy Glass)

For the last two years, PNG’s only aviation fuel supplier, Puma Energy, has been experiencing financial difficulties and in February advised customers that once current stocks run out, their operation will have to close. MAF’s fuel stocks from Puma are expected to last until April.

This country-wide disruption has resulted in MAF reducing its operations and prioritising medevacs and critical, high-impact flights involving health and education.

MAF is prioritising critical flights like this medevac in Madang Province, PNG (credit: Ashley Leyenhorst)

MAF is prioritising medevacs like this one in Madang Province (credit: Ashley Leyenhorst)

In order to continue serving isolated communities effectively, MAF PNG’s most viable option is to import aviation fuel from New Zealand. However, this is double the price of local Puma stocks, resulting in the inevitable increase of seat fares and the cost of chartering a plane.

Brad Venter, MAF PNG’s Flight Operations Manager, hopes for a swift, cost-effective and sustainable solution:

‘We recognise that this will place an extra financial burden on our customers, particularly those in remote communities. MAF is doing everything possible to minimize the effects of this and are looking at all options to source cheaper fuel.’

Brad Venter, MAF PNG’s Flight Operations Manager

Should the fuel situation stabilise and fuel prices return to their previous levels, MAF’s surcharge will be removed.

The perfect storm

Puma Energy is also PNG’s main supplier of regular fuel, but after they released a statement in February saying, ‘no further supplies of fuel will be available for sale until further notice’, households, businesses and drivers were plunged into chaos (source: ABC News).

Unfortunately, the national fuel shortage is not the only challenge facing Papua New Guinea.

In January, there were protests over police and public sector pay, with workers facing up to 50% less pay than usual. As a result, the police went on strike.

In the absence of police presence, hundreds of opportunists attacked government buildings, looted supermarkets, torched shops, stole cars and ripped ATMs out of walls.

Rioting in the capital Port Moresby and Lae – PNG’s second largest city in the east – left at least 15 people dead, triggering a state of emergency in the capital (source: BBC).

Tensions have been brewing since the 2022 elections, where many people across the country have been suffering from widespread unemployment and the impact of high living costs.

Rioting and violence has spread

MAF pilot Andy Symmonds endured a delayed departure from Goroka due to the riots (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

MAF’s Andy Symmonds endured delays at Goroka due to riots (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

Rioting spread to other towns in the Highlands including Kundiawa and MAF base Goroka where MAF pilot Andy Symmonds had to delay a flight because a large crowd had run onto the runway.

Shop staff nearby had to close and lock their stores. When looters were unable to break in, they scaled the walls and got on top of the buildings instead. MAF also locked their office doors for safety.

MAF was forced to close their offices when rioters ran onto Goroka Airstrip (credit: Mandy Glass)

MAF had to close its offices when rioters ran onto Goroka Airstrip (credit: Mandy Glass)

Shops further into Goroka town however were looted leaving three people dead and over 20 people hospitalised (source: The National).

Eventually, Andy was able to depart but instead of returning to Goroka he was instructed to divert to MAF’s other base in Mount Hagen to avoid the risk of damage to the aircraft.

The police (not on strike outside of Port Moresby) contained the situation and order was restored. No MAF personnel were hurt, neither was any MAF property damaged in the incident.

Andy and other staff were able to return to MAF’s Goroka base later that same day.

An influx of illegal firearms

In February, violence involving up to 17 tribes also escalated in Enga Province in the Highlands, leaving dozens of people dead and villages razed to the ground – a situation described as ‘the worst in years’ (source: BBC).

A recent influx of illegal guns has made fighting over land and wealth ‘more deadly’, with innocent bystanders like 12-year-old Ruth getting hurt.

12-year-old Ruth from Yenkisa in Enga Province nearly died from bullet wounds (credit: Landen Kelly)

Ruth from Yenkisa in Enga Province nearly died from bullet wounds (credit: Landen Kelly)

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, a third of schools in Porgera, Enga Province, remain closed due to persistent violence since the 2022 elections. They estimate that at least 400 people across the Highlands have been killed and over 20,000 displaced since the elections.

The UN is calling on the PNG Government to address the escalating violence, seize all arms and to find lasting peace.

Later that same month in the Highlands, an Australian helicopter pilot and two local telecoms workers were kidnapped by an armed group near Mount Sisa in Hela Province, further compounding security issues. Following negotiations, they were released unharmed (source: Reuters).

Flying is safer than driving

Although Auwi has a road link, people are too afraid to use it due to ongoing violence (credit: Jonny Watson)

Although Auwi has a road, people are afraid of it due to violence (credit: Jonny Watson)

Unlike many villages in the Highlands, Auwi in Hela Province has access to a road, which links to the provincial capital of Mendi. However, due to ongoing violence and crime in the region, most people are simply too afraid to use it.

Auwi also boasts its own airstrip, but when it fell into disrepair, landing became unsafe forcing the airstrip to close.

The people of Auwi feel much safer using MAF than their nearby road (credit: Jonny Watson)

Auwi villagers feel much safer using MAF than their nearby road (credit: Jonny Watson)

For years, people lived in fear and some took their chances on the road, which put them in danger explains local health worker Lucas Andu:

‘Although we have road access, many refuse to travel on it because of issues along the highway link. It’s also difficult to bring in medical supplies via road because they’re frequently hijacked by robbers. Too many commuters are robbed most of the time, which left Auwi isolated and deprived.’

Lucas Andu, Auwi health worker

Determined to get their airstrip up and running again so MAF planes could return, the community joined forces with MAF’s Rural Airstrip Agency (RAA) to fix their airstrip. Their years of hard work finally paid off continues Lucas:

‘Seeing a MAF plane land on our upgraded airstrip after many years, ignites joy in our hearts as we know that Auwi people will immensely benefit from MAF services without being afraid for our safety.’

Due to the fuel crisis, Auwi villagers will have to pay 15% more for their MAF plane seat (credit: Jonny Watson)

Due to fuel crisis, passengers will have to pay 15% more for their seat (credit: J.Watson)

The RAA re-opened Auwi Airstrip in January. However, the current fuel crisis will impact anyone who wants to fly to or from there.

At a time of unprecedented crisis in Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister James Marape faces a vote of no confidence in the coming weeks (source: ABC News).

In the meantime, MAF continues to monitor the situation and implement contingency plans to minimise disruption to both its operations and the isolated people it serves.