Overcoming differences isn’t easy, but neither is living in isolation. That’s why one community came together after 20 years to re-open an airstrip.

Yalum reopneing

Singing people, dancing in their most festive clothing, and expressing their joy was the scene that welcomed pilots Paul Woodington and Richie Axon as they brought the first aircraft into Yalum after 22 years of isolation. Yalum is located in the Enga Province and has around 12,000 people living in the surrounding area. Without flight access, it takes a full day of driving from Goroka to reach the closest town, and then a further 7-8 hours of walking to reach the Yalum airstrip.

Changing history

The airstrip was closed due to ongoing civil unrest 20 years ago, when a group of armed men attempted to storm the aircraft to attack a passenger that they felt was their enemy. But the need and longing for an open door through aviation caused the people to come together in peace talks, and step in to clear the runway so that MAF once again can serve the community. They worked together to clear the airstrip of grass, trees and to put up a fence.

It was a sunny morning as the pilots prepared the test landing in Yalum. The airstrip with its 450 meters and 2.4 % slope is a huge challenge, which limits the load of the aircraft and demands certain safety measures. The RAA (Rural Airstrip Authority) carried out a survey a month before, but the pilots needed to confirm the length and that the runway was free from obstacles by carrying out a low pass fly over to evaluate.

Yalum reopening

God’s servants

When MAF landed this test flight the community was waiting with a large singing group.

”We were greeted with handshakes and smiles by some of the community and church leaders. It was obvious that a lot of work had gone into preparing and the community leaders kept saying how much they appreciated the airstrip being reopened”, says pilot Richie Axon.

With the challenging, short airstrip which limits the amount of people and cargo that can be flown in and out, the village was encouraged to work with RAA to try to extend the airstrip which could then open up more possibilities.

Richie greeted the people with a short speech.

“It’s a privilege to reopen the airstrip. We appreciate the effort you have put in to improve the airstrip to a level that we can operate again. But don’t look at MAF as your lifeline, please see us as God’s servants to you. I hope our coming here will remind you that you are not forgotten.”

Yalum reopening

STORY by Annelie Edsmyr with PHOTOS by Paul Woodington