“It was emotional, it was exciting, thought drenching, brain leavening, quite historical in many respects. After almost 24 years in disuse, a revamped and upgraded Aropa airport was re-opened last Friday 12 December 2014. With its new terminal buildings it is now ready for business. As usual it was marked by celebrations of sorts – political speeches, hand clapping, chanting, lamenting, shouting, smiles and laughter and ecstatic joy all around.
If the thrill and joy of opening Aropa at this time is a Christmas gift, the naming of the aircraft is a spiritual lift for Kieta township and for Bougainville. It’s great, it is the stuff that marks and makes history that is worth remembering.”
From Simon Pentanu who was on the first flight into the upgraded airport
I am thankful for the opportunity get on the inaugural flight to be among wiser and much stronger and more power-wielding politicians and bureaucrats on the historic flight. There was no way I was going to miss this for the world. I wanted to return home and land on the same turf where I took the second last flight out and away to Port Moresby 24 years ago. And going back a little earlier in history the old Aropa airstrip is also where I took my first flight on a TAA DC-3 in 1965 to begin high school on Buka Island. I cannot forget, the old work horse was the fastest thrill I ever had then with a landing on the way at the Wakunai grass strip before arriving on Buka Island.
The inaugural flight F400 PX4354 flew direct Port Moresby – Aropa. We arrived on the west coast and made our way over the Crown Prince Range to the other side above Loloho and took a slow flight path southwards along the coast above Arawa, Kieta, over Pokpok Island and then made the landing approach from the Koromira end in south touching down at 10.39am on the newly paved new-look Aropa Aerodrome.
The opening of Aropa means Bougainville is probably the only Province/Region with two aerodromes, one in Buka and now in Kieta (Aropa). As part of the reopening and renewing ceremony the F400 Dash was named Kieta. This once thriving township name now becomes a very recognizable part of the aircraft’s livery on one of Air Niugini’s domestic fleet. If the thrill and joy of opening Aropa at this time is a Christmas gift, the naming of the aircraft is a spiritual lift for Kieta township and for Bougainville. It’s great, it is the stuff that marks and makes history that is worth remembering.
The name is conspicuously poised providing a respectful distance between the Prime Minister and the President who both unveiled and named the aircraft.
Part of the excited but orderly crowd that welcomed the inaugural flight and witnessed the naming of the aircraft after their township.
If the naming required baptismal or christening rites as part of the ceremony, The President, a former priest adequately fulfilled both the purpose and occasion for this. If the naming and ceremony needed any political validation, the Prime of PNG and who is also the Prime Minister of Bougainville fittingly occasioned this purpose.
As you might imagine I am – and I would think many Bougainvilleans would be too – still over the moon that a long last Aropa is open for business. Landing at Aropa means it will take me less than an hour to get to the village as opposed to three and a half to 4 hours drive from Buka to Kieta. I can prepare lunch in Port Moresby and eat it in my house on Pokpok Island whilst it is still warm. Or, I can bring the famed local dish tamatama within a few hours of being prepared in the village on the flight back to Port Moresby to share with family and friends in the city while the pudding is still warm.
So there, another Day in the life, trials and tribulations of a Paradise that lost its head, its charm and its way as a promising place with so much to offer. But never mind. The past is gone, the future is yet to come. The moment to live and savour is now. It is time to make the most of it.
Commercial flights will begin in the coming days or weeks. May be Air Niugini can make the two routes to Aropa and Buka quite profitable in the country if it offers no-frills travel and targets volume and bums on seats at affordable fares that’ll allow more people to travel.
Flying over this enchanted Island is truly a sight to behold. Landing back at Aropa after 24 years was redeeming. Seeing the multitudes that converged to celebrate and adorn the opening was reassuring.
WE praise God.