Papua New Guinea’s airline orders Airbus planes to replace aging fleet

Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby
Papua New Guinea’s airline orders Airbus planes to replace aging fleet A visitor walks past a screen displaying a passenger plane from Papua New Guinea airline Air Niugini at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on Feb. 19, 2016.

Papua New Guinea’s floundering state-owned airline Air Niugini will acquire 11 new Airbus planes in a possible boost for economic development in the most populous Pacific island country.

Air Niugini has ordered six A220-100 jets from Airbus and will lease another two A220s and three larger capacity A220-300 planes from third-party lessors, according to statements Wednesday from Airbus and Papua New Guinea’s government.  

The deal is a milestone that will “support the growth of trade and tourism” in Papua New Guinea, the airline’s acting chief executive Gary Seddon said. At list prices, the aircraft are worth about U.S. $900 million.

Air Niugini, according to its own statements, struggles to operate more than half its planes at any given time due to the age of the aircraft and inadequate investment in its heavy maintenance division over the past decade. 

Nationwide flight cancellations are frequent due to the carrier’s lack of maintenance capacity and also because of disruptions to jet fuel supplies and the failing condition of runways at some domestic airports.

The new planes will replace aging Boeing 737 and Fokker 100/700 planes on domestic and some international routes from 2025 onwards, according to Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape

He said the Cabinet signed off on the deal because of the urgent need to replace Air Nugini’s fleet and to equip the airline for expected growth in the economy and air travel. 

Marape said he has “great optimism” that Air Niugini will improve its service and make traveling “both cost and time effective” after the new planes are delivered.

Papua New Guinea, with more than nine million people, is the largest Pacific island country and endowed with significant mineral and other resources, but has struggled to develop economically because of corruption, poor infrastructure, frequent tribal violence and a deep level of inequality for women.

Anton Sekum, the acting general secretary of the PNG Trade Union Congress, said the Airbus order is welcome news for the public and businesses.

However the country’s airports also need to be improved, he said, to meet safety standards and reduce the problem of canceled flights.

“Whilst our leaders attract fanfare in announcing this milestone taken by Air Niugini it must not slip their mind that our airport infrastructure and facilities too need an upgrade to meet safety standards,” Sekum said.

The single-aisle A220-100 aircraft seat 100-135 passengers and the A220-300 can accommodate up to 150. Airbus says the A220, in commercial use since 2016, is used by 17 airlines worldwide and more than 800 have been ordered.


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