By HELEN TARAWA
THE announcement by the Government recently to upgrade Tufi airstrip to a secondary airport for Northern under the Civil Aviation Development Investment Programme Phase 2 (Cadip2) is overwhelming good news for the province.
Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel after so many years of waiting. Not only will there be more development as a result but Tufi will become the township of the third district in Northern in the event that Ijivitari is split.
This was revealed during a small ceremony at the Tufi station on Thursday, Oct 1 to mark the inaugural Link PNG flight to Tufi attended by Members of Parliament, heads of government departments and agencies, and key stakeholders.
And the icing on the cake that day was the announcement that Tufi would become the exit and entry point for the Musa nickle project once it’s approved to be a fully-fledged operational mine.
This a double bonus for the people of Tufi whose only means of transport had always been by boat or by aero plane to their nearest town Popondetta.
Captain Lekwa Gure, Member for Rigo Open who was part of the ministerial delegation that participated in the inaugural flight said Link PNG the subsidiary of Air Niugini would now promote Tufi as a tourist destination.
Speaking in his capacity as former Minister for Civil Aviation, Gure said air transport was an important social and economic link between towns, cities and the rural masses.
“Today the Civil Aviation Industry in PNG marks another important milestone with this inaugural flight where in the national flag through its subsidiary Link PNG had landed at Tufi in addition to its regular flights to Northern provinces primary airport Girua.
“There are few other provinces where Link PNG can and does land at more than one airport including Western, Daru, Kiunga and Tabubil, for Milne Bay its Gurney as well as Lusuia on Kiriwina Island and the Autonomous region Bougainville, we have Buka and Aropa airports.
“With the other provinces the link PNG lands at the airport that’s usually associated with the provincial headquarters except for Gulf, Jiwaka and Central where there were no direct Link PNG services,” he said.
Gure said Link PNG’s presence in Tufi today is its international connections.
“With its overseas offices, link PNG through Air Niugini can help to promote Tufi as a tourist destination.
“Given the mountainous terrain and the delta areas of Gulf and Western and extensive river systems in many parts of the country, we must accept that air transport will continue to be an important social and economic link between our provincial towns and cities and the rural masses,” he said.
Gure said Tufi had fulfilled all the criteria and therefore would be developed into regional airport under the Cadip2 to be upgraded as a secondary airport to Girua in Northern.
The criteria include:
- The critical aircraft should be a Dash 8 or its equivalent;
- Minimum length of the runway should be sufficient to suit the critical aircraft with all the safety margins;
- Airport Federation Aviation Administration capability – non positon approach to define minimum altitudes;
- Selected airstrip should support some economic activities, for example agriculture, fisheries and tourism;
- These airports should be considered as secondary airports to the main provincial airports.
- The selected airport should not be served by other two modes of transport (land and sea), for instance by the Connect PNG road programme.
Transport and Infrastructure Minister William Samb who led the delegation to Tufi announced that Tufi would be included on the Cadip2.
He said the Government had an overall Connect PNG programme in place.
“The three modes of transportation are currently in our medium term transport development plan.
“For air transport, we have partnered with Rural Airstrips Authority to progress the partnership with Mission Aviation Fellowship and Civil Aviation and regional airports to support the main airports.
“Asian Development Bank in its wisdom and based on their study had included Tufi as one of the regional airports to be featured in the Cadip2 programme,” he said.
Samb also said the Government’s commitment of K2 million which he announced during the official ceremony of the inaugural flight to Tufi, would go straight to Ijivitari district so the District Development Authority would partner with Civil Aviation to get their early works on major upgrade including the sealing, lighting system and fencing of the airport.
Samb also said there was budget for development of jetties which Tufi would be included for the upgrade of the existing jetty.
“We will send our technical team together with the Ijivitari DDA team to assess the jetty to see how we can improve that facility to support the Tufi airport,” Samb said.
Health and HIV/Aids Minister Sir Puka Temu said PNG had an enormous tourism potential.
Sir Puka who was overwhelmed by the beauty of the coastline said:“No wonder Tufi has a world record name. Tufi, Alotau and Abau can form a viable tourism triangle.
“The enormous potential for the tip of PNG, Tufi, Alotau and Mailu in Central are important signatories,” Sir Puka said.
Lands and Physical Planning Minister John Rosso said tourism was critical for Tufi.
He said Tufi was very popular but needed good infrastructure.
“Unfortunately, Tufi does not have road networks but the airlines connect it to the world.”
Rosso who had been to Tufi in his younger days when his uncle worked at the Tufi Dive Resort, was happy to be back.
“Our people have to ensure that safety remains paramount when tourists arrive in Tufi,” Rosso said.
NCD Governor Powes Parkop urged the people of Tufi to use the opportunity of the Link PNG flight to market their vegetables and fish to Port Moresby.
He said it was a win-win situation as tourists would arrive in Tufi on Link PNG and on the return trip, they must take food for the markets in NCD.
Alotau MP Charles Abel said the Link PNG flight would create more opportunities to develop and market the tourism products in Tufi.
He acknowledged Ijivitari MP Richard Masere for working with relevant government agencies to enable Link PNG into Tufi.
Masere said the inaugural Link PNG flight to Tufi was a symbolic affirmation signaling a new era of potential in tourism in Ijivitari district.
“It is important to upgrade the infrastructure in readiness to develop and grow tourism in Tufi,” Masere said.
He said the district recently partnered with two fishing agents in PNG to establish their fishing depots in Tufi station.
Masere said the partnership would pave the way for sustainable fishing, providing an opportunity for income generation for the people from the sale of marine products.
“We have also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Rural Airstrip Authority to progress the opening of the Wanigela Airstrip.
“We have built the capacity of agriculture in Wanigela and Ajoa stations with the delivery of tractors and equipment.
“The Ijivitari DDA is making every effort to move our people from poverty to riches, laziness to competitiveness, from labourers to entrepreneurs and from dependents to being independent.
“We just launched our Tufi Tapa Tattoo festival video to promote it in the second weekend of November,” he said.
Ministers and MPs on the inaugural Link PNG flight to Tufi were Transport and Infrastructure Minister Willam Samb former Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Puka Temu who is now the Minister for Health and HIV/Aids, Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations Lekwa Gure who was formerly Minister for Civil Aviation, Minister for Lands and Physical Planning John Rosso, NCD Governor Powes Parkop, Western Governor Toboi Awi Yoto, Alotau MP Charles Abel and North Fly MP James Donald.
Others officials included Secretary for Transport Roy Mumu, executives from the National Airport Corporation, Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Link PNG.
Tufi is known internationally as a tourism hotspot and the introduction of the Link PNG Dash 8 flights is expected to bring in more visitors. The famous fiords of Tufi are just a 30 minutes’ flight over the Owen Stanley Range and tourists would love it.
The developments that have been earmarked to follow will make Tufi one of PNG’s most popular tourist destinations opening more doors of opportunities for economic growth for Ijivitari district, Northern and the country.