Friendships in Papua New Guinea

By Merv Crowe


New Guinea is a huge island in the Melanesian part of the Pacific with large areas inaccessible due to vast jungles, high mountains and raging, non-navigable rivers. It is a country of beautiful birds and animals and tropical plants, no railways, roads only around the major towns and therefore it is very dependent on air travel. 

The island was discovered in the 16th century by Portuguese and Spanish seafarers and later colonized by the Dutch, British and Germans. After the First World War, Australia administered the eastern part of the island until it became independent in 1975, as the State of Papua New Guinea, colloquially known as PNG. Today the country still has strong cultural, social-economic and military ties with Australia and it is part of the British Commonwealth. The western half of the island was a Dutch colony until 1963, when the administration was transferred to Indonesia. This part is called Irian Jaya and very much like Papua New Guinea is largely uninhabited.

The first aircraft to arrive in New Guinea was in 1922 with explorers, and the discovery of gold led to an explosion of prospectors and mining in some of the most hostile areas. Indeed the first Fokker to arrive  was an F.111 in 1931 and there have been Fokkers in New Guinea ever since, with currently a fleet of F100 and F70 jet aircraft operated by Air Niugini.

I arrived in New Guinea in May 1970, from my home town of Belfast (where I had worked at Belfast airport for four years) and started with ANSETT – Airlines of Papua New Guinea in Lae, the second largest city of the country on the northeast coast. I worked in the traffic department which involved aircraft turnrounds, loadsheets and general all-round airport duties, just fabulous. At that time ANSETT operated six F27s (VH-FNA, VH-FNB, VH-FNG, VH-FNK, VH-FNM and VH-FNN) plus eight DC-3s, two Twin Otters, two Skyvans and three Piaggio P-166 aircraft. I was able to travel all around the network in that year with ANSETT, mostly in the jump seat, so incredibly exciting. After a year I was offered a position with TAA (Trans Australia - Airlines of New Guinea, the Australian government-owned airline), also based in Lae. The job included operations, crewing and load control, so I changed over in February 1971 and remained with them till October 1973, when I transferred to Melbourne.

During my time with TAA I clocked 99 F27 flights, as well as 240 between the DC-3 and Twin Otter, and on occasion operated as a flight traffic officer on the Twin Otter. I was also trained up to operate as second flight attendant on the F27 when we had cabin crew shortages and also on many occasions, on the DC-3.

The introduction of the F27 in 1967 was a huge advance from the DC-3. ANSETTs first F27s (VH-FNM and VH-FNN) and TAAs VH-TFI all arrived in early 1967 in New Guinea. By 1970 this number had increased to ten aircraft.  These were titled as New Guinea based (see Table 1), while additional F27s would operate on rotation from Australia as needed. The ANSETT Friendships were the 200 series, 40 seater, while VH-MMV was a 44 seater. The TAA aircraft were the 200 series too, with the 600 series as well, also in 40 seat configuration.

During my time in PNG, there was no night flying as Port Moresby was the only airport equipped for night operations, and flying round the highlands of PNG with its unpredictable weather patterns and high mountains, was very unsafe. In the early 1990s however, night flying was introduced along the coast between the coastal cities of Lae, Madang and Wewak.

I should add that prior to the main airlines operating in New Guinea, there were lots of missionary aircraft operating from very primitive airstrips (and still do to this day) and there were, and still are, a host of ‘’third level’’ air charter companies operating single and twin engine Cessna, Piper and Beech aircraft, that have upgraded to Dash-8 and Twin Otter types in recent years.

In 1972 it was decided that a national airline be introduced in the country and so Air Niugini was born, with its first service on 1st November 1973 with F27 VH-TFJ, from Port Moresby via Lae and Rabaul to Kieta on Bougainville. The core of the Air Niugini fleet was formed by eight F27s plus twelve DC-3s. ANSETT and TAA sold or leased four F27s each to the new airline. Over the next year or so, they were all repainted in the Air Niugini livery. In 1974 the P2 registration prefix was allocated to Papua New Guinea so as time went on, the aircraft were transferred from the VH to P2 registers.

Apart from the ones in table 1, Air Niugini operated five additional Friendships (Table 2): two were acquired in 1974 and 1975 from Japan and another two from Ansett, both in 1977. The F27 remained in regular Air Niugini service till 1984, when the last two were retired and sold. But eventually Air Niugini operated the very last F27 in New Guinea in 1994, when VH-JCC was leased for three months from Aircruising Australia. Meanwhile the F28 was operating the majority of domestic services in the country from 1977. In total Air Niugini operated 15 of these first-generation Fokker jets, which in the early 2000s were replaced by ten F100 and nine F70. Half of these are currently still in service, mainly on the domestic network.

For the sake of completeness it should be added that ANSETT had ordered three factory-new Friendships intended to operate with ANSETT – Mandated Airlines, the forerunner of ANSETT -  Airlines of Papua New Guinea. All three were repainted in ANSETT-ANA livery immediately after arrival in Australia in 1967 (VH-FNR 10317, VH-FNS 10318 and VH-FNT 10322, all 600 series aircraft). Only 10318 served in Papua New Guinea as P2-ANS after Air Niugini had bought it from ANSETT. And finally there is the lease of VH-TQT (10458) to Milne Bay Air that fell through in March 1996.

As a bonus of going to New Guinea, I met my future wife there, in August 1973 in Lae, when she was one of a group of school teacher trainees up from Melbourne, on a teaching experience round.  We kept in touch and when I transferred to Melbourne, I rang here up, and here we are, 50 happy years later !



Table 1: The initial group of Australian F27 Friendships operating in Papua New Guinea with titles indicating so. Six F27 originated from ANSETT, the other four from TAA.

Registration c/n Date in Date out Remarks
VH-TFI 10134 22-02-1967 01-11-1973 Named 'Post Moresby'. To Air Niugini as P2-TFI, later P2-ANB and P2-ANZ. In 1980 to British Midland (UK)
VH-FNM 10292 17-02-1967 01-06-1973 Back to Ansett
VH-FNN 10297 03-1967 01-11-1973 To Air Niugini as VH-FNN, later P2-ANM. Sold to Luxair (Luxembourg) in 1984
VH-TFJ 10135 03-1967 01-11-1973 Named ‘Rabaul’. To Air Niugini as P2-TFJ, later P2-ANC. In 1984 sold to Air UK (UK)
VH-FNK 10280 03-10-1969 01-11-1973 To Air Niugini as VH-FNK, later P2-ANL. In 1984 sold to Luxair (Luxembourg)
VH-TFA 10111 12-10-1969 01-11-1973 Named ‘Lae’. To Air Niugini as P2-TFA, later P2-ANA. In 1978 to Aviateca (Guatemala)
VH-TFK 10138 12-10-1969 01-11-1973 Named ‘Kieta’. To Air Niugini as P2-TFK, later P2-AND. Sold in 1979 to Connair (Australia)
VH-FNA 10133 07-1970 01-11-1973 To Air Niugini as VH-FNA, later P2-ANJ. Sold in 1982 to Rio-Sul (Brazil)
VH-FNB 10136 10-1970 02-1971 To Ansett Airlines of South Australia as VH-FNB
VH-FNG 10170 23-02-1971 01-11-1973 To Air Niugini as VH-FNG, later P2-ANK. In 1982 sold to Rio-Sul (Brazil)

Table 2: The second group of Friendships operating in Papua New Guinea after Air Niugini was founded.

Registration c/n Date in Date out Remarks
P2-BNF 10261 05-12-1974 05-04-1978 Re-registered in 1976 as P2-ANF. Sold to Aviateca (Guatemala) in 1978
P2-MNE 10179 25-01-1975 04-04-1978 Re-registered in 1975 as P2-ANE. Sold to Aviateca (Guatemala) in 1978
P2-ANI 10291 15-01-1977 22-02-1982 Sold to Rio-Sul (Brazil) in 1982
P2-ANS 10318 30-07-1977 15-07-1984 Sold in 1984 to Air UK (UK)
VH-JCC 10176 09-1994 27-12-1994 On lease from Air Cruising Australia. The last Friendship to operate in Papua New Guinea

PNG Friendship pictures

TAA Friendship VH-TFK (10138) carrying Airlines of New Guinea titles. (Peter Gates collection; Melbourne-Essendon, October 1970)


VH-FNN (10297) in the colors of ANSETT – Airlines of Papua New Guinea. (unknown photographer and location, 1973)


An early picture of the Air Niugini livery with an early P2-registration (P2-TFJ, 10135) in a tropical scenery. This aircraft flew Air Niugini's first service on 1st November 1973. (unknown photographer; Kieta, 1974)


For the short-term lease in 1994, Air Niugini titles were applied to the basic colors of Aircruising Australia VH-JCC (10176). (LRS747; Brisbane, 29 December 1994)