By ZACHERY PER
CHIMBU native Henry Nilkare grew up with a dream to become an airline pilot.
So when his education and career path veered away from that dream while he was in Australia, he quickly readjusted his plans.
“It took me a while. It was an expensive exercise but I always had that dream, always been a driving force. So I went to a pilot training school because to give up on it would mean my education meant nothing to me. I had to push and pursue it.
“There were challenges but through sheer determination and perseverance, I came through.”
Today, Captain Henry Nilkare, 35, is a pilot for the North Coast Aviation transporting farm produce from remote areas, unreachable by road, to the markets in urban centers.
Henry is from Gumine district in Chimbu, born in 1986 to Peter Kupia Nilkare and Jennifer Nilkare.
“ So I went to a pilot training school because to give up on my dream would mean my education meant nothing to me. I had to push and pursue it.”
He started school in 1993 but returned home. He tried again in 1995 at the Dirima Primary School, then attended Boromil Primary School from 1998 to 2002 before moving to Gumine High School for Grade Nine.
“My marks were quite good so my aunt who is married to an Australian took me to Australia to continue secondary education in Darwin, Northern Territory.”
He completed Year 10, Year 11 and Year 12 before enrolling at the Charles Darwin University, pursuing programmes in Science and Nursing.
After university, he started working. But his dream of becoming a pilot remained. So he saved money to pay for his training at flying school.
“I could not find sponsorship. So I had to work to save up money for training at a flying school.”
In 2015, he completed pilot training in Adelaide and started flying single-engine planes. He worked in the Northern Territory for three years building his experience and flying hours.
He returned home and was employed by North Coast Aviation based in Lae, flying to rural airstrips. He moved to the Highlands, serving Chimbu, Eastern Highlands and Western Highlands, transporting coffee, cocoa, cardamom and other commodities.
“There are millions of kina in rural areas sleeping. It used to be the foundation of the economy in the 80s and 90s when Talair was around. But Talair is gone, àirstrips are closed and the rural economy is dormant.”
He is doing all he can to wake everyone up.
“The Government needs policies to revive the dormant rural economy. If all remote airstrips are reopened allowing planes to fly in and out, the millions of kina will wake up to boost the economy.”
Since he started operating in the Highlands six months ago, 10 closed airstrips in remote Karamui were reopened – seven on the eastern side and three on the western side of the Waghi River.
“We are doing what we can do at our level now. Imagine if we have 10 planes flying around. Cash will flow back to rural people who have stopped farming.
“Roads do not reach 80 percent of our population but PNG is slowly developing. It will take time.
“People love to live in their villages where they belong.
“One has to live with them to feel what they feel. Those of us who have reached them already feel what they are feeling.”
It is making Captain Henry more determined to help them. Maybe his dream of becoming a pilot is also a calling of a divine kind.