Papua New Guinea! Today we were finally going to see what for me was going to be highly anticipated. Of all the countries on the trip, this was surely going to be the most remote. That we were flying ourselves there just increased the adventure. We knew between the two flight legs, exiting Indonesian immigration, entering Papua New Guinea, and filling up the plane that it was going to be a long day.
Johannes had rented a moped to do some sightseeing the previous day so we used that for a couple trips to get our bags from the hotel to Maggie
Flying low at 7000’ to make sure our car batteries didn’t fry, we soon lost radio contact with any of the approach frequencies. We were able to maintain VMC though so just flew a relatively direct path to Biak, Indonesia, where we’d be able to tackle the exit immigration formalities and perhaps get fuel. We weren’t banking on the avgas, but we were going to try since the last confirmation of avgas in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea was already more than three weeks old
The customs procedures in Biak were unnecessarily cumbersome. There was way too much paper-pushing and nothing was clearly laid out. If our "handling agent" had just come up with a checklist so we knew what to expect, or provided some coffee or drinks, it would have been a more enjoyable experience. As it turned out, we were all jammed in either the small air-conditioned office or left to melt outside. We had to show our GenDec (General Declaration form which basically is just our personal and plane information showing we’re not carrying passengers or cargo), fill out the new flight plan, fumigate the plane for insects (sham) to appease the quarantine officer, get a myriad of stamps from the immigration offer, and lastly have the customs officer check our plane and belongings
There was no avgas in Biak so we knew we’d be on our last gallons upon arrival in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea. We were still flying within safe limits to Vanimo, but once we arrived there we knew that we’d need more avgas to depart. That was it. No avgas, no fly. It was only going to a short, less than two-hour flight along the coast, with an alternate just on the Indonesian side at Jayapura. We’d even heard there was avgas in Jayapura. The only problem with stopping there, and the reason we opted to fly on to Vanimo, was that Jayapura didn’t have immigration. To play by the rules, we’d have to fly back to Biak for another exit stamp, more bureaucracy, and more expense!
The flight was pleasant and cloudless for the first two-thirds
The descent into Vanimo was fun. We knew where we wanted to go and what we needed to do, so it was perfectly safe and we stayed clear of clouds. It was just nice not to have to listen to the constant banter and frustration of all the pilots on the previous frequency. Vanimo Tower and the regional approach frequencies were just the opposite. There was no activitiy on these stations at all. Nothing. Until, that is, we heard from Hans, the owner of the King Air. He was giving approach instructions to Dietmar and Veronika in their Cessna 210, and gave us a heads-up on where they were. Here was someone from our group (albeit a former controller at Frankfurt Main himself) essentially playing tower controller in Papua New Guinea! He gave us wind information and told us upon taxiing to the apron to remain in the plane and not take pictures. Johannes nailed the landing shortly after the Cessna was done back-taxiing. We’d made it to Papua!
We were the fourth aircraft to arrive
One by one the rest of the planes in our group arrived, and we continued to sit around and attempt to make small talk to decrease the tension. The number of police and military on the field only increased. Finally our passports and GenDecs were taken and fuel orders were relayed. Some of the planes were searched thoroughly for any contraband but fortunately none was found. Patrick, who spoke English very well, was in charge of fuel orders and already told us right away that he only had jet fuel
The situation finally calmed once evidence was shown that indeed we had contacted the Papua transportation ministry about our arrival. From our end the group had done everything properly. That the ministry didn’t contact the overwhelmed airport officials wasn’t our doing. After more than a couple hours, the groups that had their planes refueled were allowed to leave. We though continued back and forth discussions with Patrick about getting avgas. Without it, we weren’t going anywhere. Patrick told us he would meet us in the evening at our hotel, so that was our cue to also finally leave the field.
Our hotel left lots to be desired as it was just a glorified hostel. Others in the group weren’t impressed. A few of us decided to go for a swim even if it meant going outside the gated compound
Dinner was interesting. Jan gave us a recap and debrief about what to expect the following day and then I went down to see if Patrick was indeed there. He was, along with the scary looking official from the airport. They wanted to collect the fuel and landing fee money. Their paperwork wasn’t well organized and there was lots of back and forth between them and some of the crews. Some folks tried to negotiate but at the end everyone felt they were getting ripped off. Then the representative from quarantine showed up and wanted an additional US$35 for each plane
Most importantly for us, after repeated calls from Patrick to friends and others, we still had no avgas. There were indeed two barrels at the airport, but they were empty! There was avgas at an airport 150NM east, but we didn’t have the fuel for that. And there was avgas just on the Indonesian side of the border in Jayapura. That was closer, but would still mean a drive and dealing with a border crossing.
Unsure of how the day would unfold tomorrow, we reluctantly realized there was nothing more we could do that night so went to bed.
A most tense reception
Monday, September 23, 2013
Vanimo, Sandaun, Papua New Guinea