Stranded PNG air travellers angered at government’s lack of intervention

Stranded passengers at the capital Port Moresby's Jacksons Airport
Stranded passengers at the capital Port Moresby's Jacksons Airport. Image: PNG Post-Courier

By Claudia Tally and Maxine Kamus in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s local airlines Air Niugini and PNG Air may be back flying again this weekend.

But passengers affected by the “no lift off” were incensed at the cancellations of their flights this week with calls by citizens that this should not happen again when many found themselves stranded at airports across the country.

Government finally intervened and with the release of foreign exchange by the Central Bank, aviation gasoline supplier Puma Energy has promised to fuel the planes.

All domestic flights were grounded on Thursday after Puma said it did not have the US dollars to buy and supply Avgas.

Prime Minister James Marape responded to the saga — in a statement after almost an entire day — by setting up a special team to meet Puma and sort out the mess.

“I will also set up a State team to look deeper into this saga between the Central Bank and Puma,” Marape said.

Many angry passengers called Prime Minister Marape and his government to intervene and address what is the second instance of flight cancellations due to fuel shortages following lack of foreign currency.

‘Sad reflection’ on economy
Simdei Kamgu, a passenger who was turned away, said the situation was a “sad reflection of the poor state of PNG’s economy” and urged Marape to come forward with a solution as the lives of thousands of domestic travelers across the country were affected by the indefinite flight cancellations.

Another disappointed customer, Andrew Bepi, who had spent more than K6000 on tickets for himself and five family members travelling to Western Highlands Province, appealed to the government to find solutions.

“Feel sorry for us the people, it is not our fault. We are traveling for business and other work and we need the government and airline operators to come out and explain to us why and how long the delay will go on for,” said Bepi.

People confirmed to fly domestic routes yesterday met with disappointment when they fronted up at airports only to find out that all flights were cancelled indefinitely.

However, by 4pm Thursday, Puma Energy country general manager Hulala Tokome confirmed that Puma Energy had lifted their fuel restrictions to Air Niugini and would supply Jet A1 to the airline after a temporary approval of their FX order were given to them by their FX supplier BSP Financial Group and ANZ.

Bank of PNG acting governor Benny Popoitai said BPNG supplied Foreign Exchange Currency (FX) to commercial banks and Puma Energy was not a client of BPNG but a client of commercial banks.

Orders from Central Bank
Despite this claim by the Central Bank, the Post-Courier understands that commercial banks get their orders of FX from the Central Bank and if the commercial banks cannot supply FX release to their clients, then this means that the Central Bank cannot or is holding back on FX orders put in by commercial banks on behalf of their clients.

In a public notice, Air Niugini advised that due to issues with Puma Energy accessing US dollars, Puma had decided to suspend the supply of Jet A1 fuel within PNG, including to Air Niugini and all other airlines effective yesterday.

Consequently, the national flag carrier announced the cancellation of all domestic flights starting on Thursday until restrictions were confirmed removed late in the afternoon.

This is the second time this incident has hit the nation within months and those stranded at the Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby on Thursday demanded the government to urgently resolve the crippling issue of inaccessibility to foreign currency with some concerned it will continue to occur despite the short term reprieve.

Among those stranded were those who had flown in from other provinces on connecting flights, and are now worried about where they will be lodged for the night until the matter of fuel supply and foreign currency is resolved between BPNG and Puma Energy.

Claudia Tally and Maxine Kamus are PNG Post-Courier reporters. Republished with permission.

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