Landowners of the Kunaye Airport in Lihir Island, New Ireland Province, have condemned yesterday’s sudden announcement by Lihir gold mine developer, Newcrest Mining Limited, to suspend all Air Niugini flights into and out of the island.

Kunaye Airport landowner and board chairman of Kunaye Investments Limited Augustine Tukas said the sudden announcement was not in the best interest of the airport landowners and their business entity. “We were of the understanding that the cancellation of Air Niugini services will only affect charter flights … not our commercial domestic runs.
“This sudden change of events now calls for an urgent meeting with Newcrest to iron out any related issues as far as the airport landowners and our businesses are concerned,” Mr Tukas said.

“Kunaye Investments Ltd has also tendered for a business contract with Air Niugini and, while awaiting the result of our bid, any such moves will jeopardise our chances. So, we will need to meet with Newcrest immediately to chart a way forward and reach an understanding.” Newcrest Mining Ltd, on September 16, 2014, also awarded Kunaye Investments Ltd additional business contracts to carry out grass-cutting and airport turnaround services.

Kunaye Investments is the business arm of the airport landowners. Meanwhile, reacting to the flights’ suspension notice yesterday, Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association (LMALA) acting General Manager Mr Dennis Zeriga-Gati warned Newcrest Mining Ltd Manager Sustainable Development and Environment Nick Bainton: “This is a serious issue and we must manage it well before it gets into the hands of the Kunaye SIC (specific issues committee).

“The repercussion is detrimental to all public concern.”
In reply, Mr Bainton agreed with these concerns and said “I am following up with management/corporate to get a response on this”.

As of yesterday mid-afternoon, Mr Bainton was still working around the clock “to try and get some more clarification on this issue”. Questions posed via email to Illan Kaprangi of Air Niugini Corporate Affairs Department came back with this response: “I take note of your email. Will take it up.

“FYI … the airport at Lihir is owned by Newcrest.” LMALA chief financial officer John Melvin said: “There are a lot of safety issues surrounding the APNG service in PNG, rated at 3 out of 7 in safety stars is scary.

“I am due for my field break tomorrow (Friday, October 3, 2014) and this morning (October 2, 2014) Air Niugini called me to let me know of the suspension and I had no choice because my life is more important.

“I just paid K150 to travel by boat on Risingstar tomorrow (Friday, October 3, 2014) to Namatanai then by road to Kavieng to board the Saturday am flight to POM.

“I have unnecessarily incurred cost due to the concern for my safety,” Mr Melvin said in his email. “I do hope this issue is sorted out quickly.”

It was understood that four Air Niugini staff who were supposed to be uplifted yesterday morning (Thursday, October 2, 2014) to POM at 11am were left waiting and were now stranded in Lihir. Reports said they were yesterday (Thursday, Oct 2, 2014) trying to negotiate assistance from Newcrest. Failing that, they would have to join Mr Melvin and the others on the boat trip to Namatanai tomorrow (Friday, Oct 3, 2014) to board the Saturday flight to Port Moresby. “There could been a better transition plan and checklist or, could we say, a lack of foresight if that is the better way to put it,” Mr Melvin said in response to the current situation on the island.

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