Interview: Richard Yopo

What is your assessment of Papua New Guinea’s airport infrastructure in the run-up to hosting the APEC conference in 2018?

RICHARD YOPO: Our primary goal is to work with the APEC committee to assess what needs to be achieved in the coming year to successfully host the summit in 2018. Not a lot of new infrastructure needs to be constructed, aside from an additional holding facility. The rest is largely operational, ensuring that coordination of the services and partners runs smoothly throughout the event.

One of our biggest challenges is space for parking aircraft. We have a good understanding of how many aircraft we can accommodate, and we are working to make arrangements to ensure that all scenarios can be handled. We are consulting with specialists from the Asian Development Bank, who have assisted in previous regional APEC events, and we are incorporating their feedback to ensure that we learn from others’ successes and mistakes. We also have a lot of support from regional allies, like the Australian government, who are assisting us in training and protocol issues. Together with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and the PNG-Australian Partnership, we are building a new police station at the airport. Through this partnership, we are recruiting and training additional airport police in preparation for the APEC event. We need to be smart and make use of what we already have. The recent work on the international terminal totalled PGK180m ($57m) and is more than adequate to accommodate expected arrivals. Small changes and alterations can go a long way in increasing efficiency without spending too much.

What is NAC’s role in developing the aviation industry to best support growth in key sectors of PNG?

YOPO: We operate a total of 22 airports nationwide, and until recently aviation infrastructure was widely viewed as a top investment for the country. Tourism and agriculture are currently the top priorities of the government, which also makes them top priorities for NAC. In order to support these sectors, we are currently upgrading airport facilities in Aloutau, which is a developing tourism area, and in Goroka, which is an important agriculture centre. From runway facilities to warehousing facilities and terminals – it all fits into the government’s larger development plan.

For tourism, we are working with Air Niugini to attract more passengers transiting through Jacksons International Airport (JIA) in Port Moresby. Considering the growing number of passengers either traveling to PNG or transiting through the country, our main priority is to make JIA more accessible. These are not huge improvements, but small things to make the passenger more comfortable. From there, we will gauge the potential for more airlines to call at the airport, developing a huband-spoke approach where international airlines bring the bulk of travellers to JIA, enabling Air Niugini and PNG Air to easily service the domestic routes. The biggest challenge to overcome is access to tourism areas in PNG. Over time, with the introduction of more airports and routes, accessibility and affordability will increase.

How could the private sector extend its role in the domestic aviation industry?

YOPO: Our future plan is to concession JIA out to an airport management company. We are currently working with the Asian Development Bank to conduct a feasibility study on the viability and impact of offering the airport for concession. The board believes it is the correct course of action, but we have a way to go in getting approval from the government and completing the transition. It is difficult for a government entity to manage 22 airports effectively, especially with a large asset like JIA. If we are able to let this one go, we can shift our focus to developing the rest of the country’s regional airports in a meaningful way. To utilise our assets in the most efficient way, it is prudent to get the most out of our biggest asset while freeing up resources to develop the smaller facilities.