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The Nightmare

02/10/2011

Without a doubt and I am sure I have alluded to it on more than one occasion in this blog – Papua is the most dangerous flying environment in the world. It’s not just something one might say to blow smoke up one’s ass, so to speak, it is a simple reality of the flying environment, one that has been forged with the death of all too many people.

That reality hit home all too suddenly recently when I had just returned from a really great holiday with a couple of mates and the absolute worst happened – a missing aircraft. From that moment on and up to now the days really have been just a hideous blur.

We lost two great colleagues, one of which I feel very privileged to call a mate. There is much to be learned and I am very much involved in that process but nothing will ever be the same in so many respects. In order to do justice to our lost colleagues much will change, it has to, and for the better. I know that I won’t rest until we have answers and learn from them.

Life will carry on but we will never forget.

Rolling The Dice With Merpati

10/05/2011

Merpati Nusantara Airlines last experienced a fatal accident on the 2nd of August 2009, in the interim there have been a few close calls culminating in the latest fatal accident on the 7th of May.

Aviation in Indonesia is largely self-regulated due to the highly corrupt and inept regulator and therefore generally incredibly dangerous. Indonesia is one of the least safe places to fly in the world. VIVAnews don’t quite understand that point given this recent article suggesting the aircraft in this latest accident is inherently unsafe.

Merpati Nusantara Airlines are a state-owned airline whom recently received their last bailout to fund their operations. Apparently a Boeing 737 has recently been repossessed by the leasor due to non-payment. A protracted battle was had with the Chinese Government for some time over the purchase of the Xian MA60’s, the aircraft type in this latest crash.

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Australia (Part 1)

19/02/2011

In January I was asked if I would like to ferry one of our aircraft to Cairns for an engine change. It was planned to coincide with my scheduled holiday so naturally I said yes.

The PT6 engines found in the Grand Caravan have a standard time before overhaul (TBO) of 3600 hours. With the installation of an engine trend monitor as in our fleet TBO extensions can be granted allowing the engine to be flown for many hours over the standard TBO. The engine in this particular aircraft while over the standard TBO had not yet reached our companies approved extension limit but because it was not performing fully the call was made to err on the side of safety and install a new engine.

Our central maintenance base in Papua is now on the island of Biak utilising WWII-era hangars so a couple of days prior to departure for Australia I flew over to Biak for preparation. Non-scheduled international flights it turns out can be quite the headache. I have flown to Singapore from Padang in West Sumatra and return before on a charter but that was a 4 hour return trip. From Biak to Cairns is 7 hours one-way. We were originally planning on crossing the Arafua Sea and Torres Strait to Horn Island with a couple of New Zealand helicopters that had finished their contract in Papua. However, they were having difficulty getting their final Indonesian paperwork. This was actually of great help to me as it gave me more time to plan.

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Mountain Upgrade

07/12/2010

Turn-around at Ilu

Well after much promising I guess it’s time to post on my mountain upgrade training.

The way we generally operate now is to start flying in what is termed the lowland areas of Papua. There are still numerous risks involved, even over and above flying in the rest of Indonesia but it is not technical flying like the highlands. After flying in the lowlands for a period an offer is generally made to progress to the mountains and begin mountain upgrade training. Our company classifies the airports/strips we fly to according to required skill level, degree of difficulty and strip condition among many other factors. The pay scales are tied not only to seniority but to the level to which you have been checked out also.

I transitioned to the highlands back in July. Due to operational requirements it can often take some time for that initial mountain training to be completed. My initial mountain training was completed not long after I got back from my holiday in New Zealand in November.

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Qantas

07/11/2010

A Qantas A330-200 landing at Sydney's Kingsford Smith International Airport

Recently I have just got back to Papua after a 2 week holiday in New Zealand. Only six months after my last trip home it was of course a fantastic holiday and this time a little less hectic as I spent nearly all the time in Gisborne.

My preference is usually to fly with Singapore Airlines because they are just so good and I’m not too far off reaching silver status in their frequent flyer programme KrisFlyer. But when I was checking prices there were only the more expensive tickets available and they were quite expensive indeed. Qantas was significantly cheaper by US$500; problem is after my last trip with them I wasn’t too keen to fly with Qantas again.

Sometimes it does seem like Qantas really don’t want you to fly with them and in truth this could all be part of their strategy to shift the bulk of their business onto the low-cost carrier JetStar. One significant barrier to flying Qantas out of Indonesia is that when doing an online booking with a Credit Card you must show up to one of only three offices in Indonesia (Jakarta, Surabaya or Denpasar) to show your credit card before the payment is processed and ticket issued. This must be done within two days of booking so unless you happen to be in one of those three cities then it is near pointless attempting to book with Qantas. Fortunately last holiday I was in Jakarta for a few days, so given the huge price difference between Singapore Airlines and Qantas I decided to give them one more chance and go through with the booking.

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Yikes

12/10/2010

Well it’s been a while since I last posted. I can’t even say I have been particularly busy either so I guess it is just general laziness.

Since my last post on the Hong Kong and Macau trip I have been to Bangkok for a nearly two-week break. That was a good chance to recharge as I was by myself and stayed in a really nice 4-star hotel in the middle of Bangkok. At some stage, possibly when the internet allows I will post a bit about that trip with some photos.

Work has been good, I have been undergoing mountain upgrade training in our Sentani base. But unfortunately due to not always having enough pilots and training captains it has been going a bit slowly. Still getting in plenty of flying to the places I am checked into and it has been enough to push me through to 2000 hours flying time as of today.

I did say I would wirte a post on flying soon, I guess I will save that for once I am fully checked to line on our main mountain routes.

In the meantime I am counting down to a trip to New Zealand for a couple off weeks. Departing Papua on Sunday I first have to renew my Indonesian pilot medical, always a pleasure every 6 months (not!) and then re-currency at our company training base before departing Jakarta with Qantas.

My last flights with Qantas were less than satisfactory (so civilised I am) and I would much rather fly with Singapore Airlines. But I decided that the US$500 difference between ticket prices was enough for me to give Qantas another chance. Not that they really seem to want customers. Just trying to book and get tickets issued with them is a performance. I swear I find Garuda Indonesia far more pleasant than Qantas but we shall see in a couple of weeks time.

Hong Kong & Macau

13/08/2010

In June I opted for a short trip to Hong Kong, a city that I have heard nothing but good things about and so have long been keen to visit. This time I was thinking of making it a more relaxed solo trip after the exhausting albeit enjoyable Vietnam trip. Not to be however, my holiday was aligned with a couple of other Papua Captains who were also keen to go to Hong Kong. With these two it was bound to be a good laugh so we started thinking about planning.

In truth we really didn’t do much planning at all but the first thing we did was book our airline tickets. This we decided was going to be a ‘high-roller’ trip so we booked with Singapore Airlines from Jakarta to Hong Kong via Singapore. The Singapore to Hong Kong leg was scheduled on an Airbus A380 – a suitability extravagant aircraft.

Getting out of the Jungle

The day of departure fast approached, myself and one of the other Captains were heading from Sentani to Jakarta and would meet the other Captain on our transit through Singapore. From Sentani we flew in one of Garuda Indonesia’s new Boeing 737-800’s which uses nice brown/beige tones and has seatback screens all through economy. One day I might even feel like the possibility of dying with them is incredibly low, but alas the back-seat pilot in me only seems to get more vocal.

Because of the flight timings in order for us to connect to the A380 we would have an overnight in Jakarta and get the early morning flight to Singapore the following day. We decided to try the Jakarta Airport Hotel which sits atop the International Terminal (Terminal 2). Even with a discount as holders of residency permits it was quite pricey at just over 1 million Rupiah (NZ$155). However, the rooms were very nice and comfortable and amazingly you could hear nary a mouse outside at what is Indonesia’s busiest airport. Despite having just a night at the airport, we felt it necessary to still head into town and get some first world food. So we headed to Senayan City, one of Jakarta’s newer and trendy malls. They didn’t actually seem to have our much beloved Sushi Tei so after pottering about we then headed to the newest and trendiest (theme developing?) mall, Central Park. There after what seemed like an eternity (3 months of Sushi Tei deprivation) I had my usual Tuna Salad Crispy Mentai roll washed down with free-flowing green tea.

After a fairly good night’s rest it was necessary to get up painfully early and get ready for the departure to Singapore. Although Singapore Airlines catering is pretty good and we would be served breakfast on the short 1 and a half hour flight, I decided to have the hotel breakfast seeing it was included in that fairly steep price. After that we met up and headed downstairs for check-in. I won’t bore you with mundane details of the short flight to Singapore.

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