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Today begins the ‘Black Christmas’ for Bougainville travellers as the airport on Buka Island closes and Aropa Airport on Kieta remains closed until next month.
Operator of Buka Airport, National Airports Corporation, has given notice to the Autonomous Bougainville Government that the Buka Airport will be closed to aircraft operations for an indefinite period following law and order issues.
Aropa Airport, which was supposed to be open to public this week but due to several issues, would stay closed until January 8 next year.
“The reason for the closure is the heightened safety and security risk that is imposed on aircraft operating into and out of Buka with no fencing,” NAC boss Richard Yopo said in a statement.
“Interfering with and damaging PAPI lights, pedestrians and animals crossing, vehicles driving on the runway and the runway strip being used as a playground by the nearby village and Buka town residents has been a norm.
“Many incidents have been reported by aircraft on landing and taking off, of pedestrians, animals and vehicles crossing the runway during aircraft operation.
“Based on all that has happened, ABG authorities have been given notice that in five working days, commencing Monday, December 17, Buka Airport will be closed.”
Yopo said that in order for the airport to be reopened, the NAC would require that all the highlighted issues to be resolved by the Bougainville Government.
He also said that commitments and strategies must be put in place to ensure law and order was maintained so the contractor could continue without hindrance. In addition, violations of the airport boundaries must be eliminated along with any interference to Airport Operations,Yopo added.
“All the reported incidents, Compliance Audit reports by NAC, airlines and regulator resulted in securing funds for fencing of the airside of Buka Airport. Current fencing project under ADB funding is the second attempt which should have been completed in December 2017.
The first attempt was funded under a program called AMUP (Airport Maintenance Upgrading Program) in early 2000. This project could not be carried out due to former landowner issues and half of the fencing materials, rolls of mesh wire fence with posts were stolen from the airport.
The fencing project had gone over its time line by 12 months due to various reasons, including:
*Constant interference and stoppage of work by former landowners on the project;
*Constant threat against employees of the contractor and NAC plus theft of fencing materials;
* Lack of intervention by ABG authorities to resolve former landowner issues;
*There is lack of law and order presence at the airport to avert issues as they arise; and
* Hijacking of NAC and contractors’ vehicles by former landowners, the first done during the year and the latest on Monday, December 10.
Yopo said that despite the project going over the time line by 12 months, only 80 per cent of the fence is completed. It is costing the National Government huge sums of money to repay this ADB Loan.
“Not only that, with the constant disruption, threats and intimidation by former landowners, the c ontractor has indicated they want out of this contract leaving 20 per cent of work unfinished,” he said. In the latest incident was on Monday, December 10, the former landowners commandeered two project vehicles, one of which was being used by NAC to inspect the runway including assisting the static guards to be placed at the edge of the runway strip to stop pedestrians crossing when aircrafts are landing or taking off at Buka Airport.” NAC staff on the ground approached Buka police for assistance and one of the vehicles (safety) was retrieved and is parked at the police station until a meeting is held to sort out some landowner issues.
This latest hijacking and commandeering of contractor vehicles adds to all the other incidents.
Aircraft operations into Buka has always been and still was a very high safety risk with many reported and documented security and safety occurrences by aircraft operating into Buka, Yopo said.
“With no vehicle to assist along the edge of the strip in managing pedestrians, animal and vehicle infringements of the runway at Buka, it is now deemed dangerous for continued aircraft operations into Buka Airport,” he said.
SOURCE: POST COURIER/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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