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PNG having difficulty retaining professionals

Bernard Oberleuter maintains a close and active interest in the affairs of PNG and has now turned his attention to the leaching of well educated professionals from PNG to greener pastures elsewhere.

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the exodus of Papua New Guineans pilots to overseas airlines but Bernard also suspects that the same is happening to professionals such as doctors, mining engineers, geologists, plant operators and quantity surveyors.

Bernard attributes the migration not only to the pull of a better quality of life - material benefits such as better pay, working conditions and housing - but to push factors such as family security, law and order problems and, as Bernard puts it, “na inogat wantok system”.

“Air Niugini has got to lift its game,” says Bernard. “They are the stomping ground for pilot training and, once trainee pilots clock up enough flying hours and secure their commercial licence, they go offshore.

“Air Niugini does not have in place an indentureship to retain trained pilots on the payroll for a maximum of five years after they receive their wings.”

Bernard has some thoughts on how this problem may be addressed and he’d also welcome other comments as he formulates a policy paper on this issue. You can contact Bernard here.

And here’s an interesting list of just some of the PNG pilots who have found overseas jobs:

Capt Ted Pakii [Wabag] - recently appointed Chief Pilot of Skystar Airways

Capt Peter Ansphil – Captain of a Boeing 767 with Skystar Airways

Capt Granger Nanara [Dobu] - flew with Emirates for 15 years before moving to Abu Dhabi to take up his current position as Vice President Operations for Etihad

First Officer Terry Togumagoma [Trobiands] – Etihad

Capt Timothy Nanara [Dobu] - resigned from Air Niugini to join his elder brother and is currently a Training Captain with Emirates

Capt Locklyn Sabumei – Etihad

Capt James Makop [Mt Hagen] – flew with Emirates for eight years and fo the alst two years a Captain at Jade Cargo Airways based in China

Capt Samuel Siaguru - resigned from Air Niugini in 2005 and also a captain at Jade Cargo

First Officer Mark Neah [Wabag] - has been flying with Cathay Pacific for the last seven years

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? And it seems to indicate that the education system (at least in the past) was able to deliver top quality professionals.

There is also a hint that PNG's management (and political) capability does not exist to the the extent required to build the kind of society in which such people can live, work and prosper in the way their professionalism justifies.


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Mike Yapis

This is the 21st century. PNG should produce enough professionals for ourselves, other Pacific islanders, and also for overseas markets.

PNGeans are intelligent, though some of our attitude needs adjustment. Having worked overseas, PNGeans are more experienced and intelligent with good work ethic, unlike some other countries.

I suggest PNG produce more with good quality and allow other disciplines like nurses, carers, pharmacists, military and other technical jobs to be exported to countries like Australia where there is huge need.

The foreign currency earnings from these people sending money back to PNG can be huge.

Ross Wilkinson

The RAAF has been trying to deal with this problem for many years and went so far as to offer a $100,000 gratuity for trained pilots to re-sign once their initial commitment was completed.

The cost for the Australian Defence Force to train pilots in all aspects of military aviation is tremendous, and the offered gratuity to re-sign is small fry considering the return on investment.

Not only is there a potential financial loss, but the knowledge drain is immense.

There are a number who have a sense of loyalty and there are those that just don't want to get out from under the umbrella.

Whilst my knowledge of the PNGDF is long outdated, I imagine they have similar problems.

Reginald Renagi

Many military pilots around the world clock up their flying hours in civil airlines before flying the big birds, and the PNGDF pilots are no exception.

The PNGDF's loss is the country's gain when they are employed in civil aviation or go offshore. This is a fact of life that the PNGDF has learnt to cope with like other armed forces in the world.

The government of PNG needs to address the aspect on which Bernard Oberleuter is trying to write a policy paper. Apart from just criticising, Jeff Smith should try and offer some good positive suggestions as to what we should do to address the challenges he has mentioned in his comments here.

His comments are noted but are not very helpful in PNG.

What did Jeff Smith's 23 years in PNG aviation teach him and can he help Bernard Oberleuter and other like-minded PNG Attitude readers to improve the situation in PNG.

Reginald Renagi

What does Fred Smith mean by a PNG standard? Is there a PNG standard? The reader`s sense he is saying that PNG standards are low?

Let me assure all here that military flying training is very exacting and includes many forms of operationally disciplined flying operational experiences that civil pilots in PNG do not experience and would not know.

In the middle-east, especially, military pilots are sought after by big airlines as their civil aviation managements` prefer pilots with a disciplined military flying background.

There are major differences between military flying and flying for PX. Jeff Smith knows this, but our blog readers do not.

So he could have explained the differences, though both take discipline to fly military aircrafts and big aeroplanes (without insinuating that the PNGDF pilots are inferior in whatever way, he does not say); or other local pilots in many third-level airlines.

They are just as professional and passionate in what they do (if not better) as those pilots who fly for Air Niugini.

Air Niugini pilots do not fly in the same disciplined and operationally hazardous conditions qs our military aviators in the PNGDF exception for those who were with the PNGDF or had other military flying experience elsewhere before joining our national flag carrier.

The PNGDF pilots assumes operational risks as part of their daily modus operandi; something that civil pilots in Air Niugini would not be allowed under their SOPs for obvious reasons.

I have hqd many flying experiences with our PNGDF pilots and I am very proud of their safety record, like our national flag carrier.

Reginald Renagi

This is the same with all military in the world. The Defence hierarchy recognises this and tries to get the optimum service out of the military aviators before these highly-trained and skilled officers leave for civvy street.

Like Air Niugini pilots, our military/PNGDF aviators are also trained to a strict Australian military standards early in their flying careers.

The PNGDF pilots` operational flying training experience is further sharpened in a variety of actual operational, combat, SAR, medivac, reconnaissance etc experiences; unlike most civil counterparts.

Many highly skilled PNGDF pilots have left to fly for big civil airlines in PNG and overseas, as nearly all the pilots listed above are former PNGDF military aviators.

Reginald Renagi

Fred Smith sounds very cynical about PNG and its management enviroment, yet he spent 23 years here. I guess he must have enjoyed what he was being paid and certainly enjoyed his time flying for PX.

The situation he describes is very similar to a lot of countries, whether developed or still developing. The government can only pay so much for its professionals and besides the pay there are other employee incentives that will eventually compel our professionals to go offshore for the reasons he stated, and the government is well aware of it.

This situation is the same for any military, big or small, whether in PNG or overseas.

In our military, there is a 'return of service obligation' (ROSO) that pilots put in the required service after their flying training overseas (mostly in Australian military flying schools).

Once they complete ROSO they have a choice to remain and progress up the promotional ladder, or leave to work in civil aviation.

After the rank of squadron leader (Army Major or Navy Lieutenant-Commander equivalent), the junior Air Element officer is posted to Defence HQ for staff assignments.

Here he works his way up the defence executive in all streams, and is encouraged to go as far as his potential will take him.

At this point, many air element officers of the PNGDF leave to join civil aviation. These officers leave for many reasons, similar to the world's military aviators, and many operational pilots do not relish driving the desk like their superiors.

As they want to maintain their flying currency they transfer from the military to civil aviation, and are not only for the attractive remuneration package, but other incentives as well.

Fred Smith

What you folks simply fail to understand is that professionals i.e Doctors, Pilots, Engineers and the like all want to work in a professionally managed environment that is efficiently and competantly run, adequately funded, recognition for efforts is awarded and prospects for advancement are available and corruption is unheard of!

All this chest beating about "I'll work for my country" is absolutly ridiculous!

Every person wishes to advance their skills and experience whilst getting the best salary and conditions available. When your efforts are detrimentally effected by incompetance, corruption, inexperience and plain stupidity then only the most naive of people would say they are happy to work under such conditions.

Sadly PNG is now riddled with all the above attitudes and once the professionals see an opportunity to leave for a country where these attitudes are not prevelant then they will of course do so!

This is the same in every third world country and not peculioar to PNG. All such countries educate their own people to a reasonable standard and the first thing they all do is to get out as fast as they can.

Have a look at Africa and Southern America if you doubt this statement.

PNG now ranks in the top ten most corrupt countries in the world. Throw in gross incompetance, abuse and misuse of Australia Aid and local assets and you have a country that nobody wishes to stay in!

The reason many supposadly "professional PNG nationals" remain in the country is that PNG qualifications and standards are NOT readily recognized anywhere else in the world! I have seen Nationals pushed through with barely minimum standards and then thrown into jobs well beyond their abilities. University and school "pass" standards are dramatically less than most other developed countries and this is unfair to the persons themselves and their employers!

Fact, they remain in PNG because they cannot get a job elsewhere - not always but usually!

My company (in PNG) recently interviewed a University Graduate in engineering who could not pass a test in the Grade 10 education standard for Australia. Some pass standards in PNG are as low as 25% and if enough students do not pass the course then the level is simply lowered to get more through - that is why not all get jobs overseas and thus have so stay in PNG!

Air Niugini pilots are trained to a strict Australian standard and thus will always be recognized overseas for jobs. Contrary to what is said, the PNG Defence Force Pilots train to a PNG standard and I can assure are NOT sought after when looking overseas for a job!

On the contrary they usually try to get employment in Air Niugini to improve their flying skills!

Fred Smith

Having been a pilot with PX for 23 years, I can assure you all that the greatest problem with the retention of pilots - both National and Expatriate - is the never ending incompetance at all levels, inexperience, corruption and queue-jumping that has been there from Day One (1973).

Management has always attracted second class persons from either failed or third world countries/airlines who are woefully underskilled and with the never ending interference from many corrupt and/or plain stupid Politicians, the Pilots, Engineers, Cabin Staff and Ground Staff continue to suffer severe moral issues - this results in their leaving for greener pastures.

Great to see some Nationals here saying they wish "to serve their country" but sadly once you get into the Company and see what a basket case it is in terms of management, you very quickly lose your allegiance to it!

We had a few good management people over the years but they eventually succumbed for the above reasons and all left to go overseas for better pay, superior management, better maintained aircraft, better promotional chances and simply being appreciated more.

PX has massive potential but whilst Politicians are allowed to freely interfere and SriLankan, Indondesian, Phillipine and other assorted third world managers are "imported" to take the place of many first class National and Expatriate personnel, the airline will contiue to crumble as is now evident.

Back in the "good old days" of 1973 on, we had TWO (2) expatriates running the entire Flight Operations department to a very high level of efficiency. When I left in 1998, there were something like 34 Nationals doing the same job - and doing it poorly!!

Pushing uneducated and inexperienced Nationals into positions well beyond their capabilities has and will always be the major stumbling block for not only the airline but the entire country!

Dreadful shame!

Roseanne Wale

I really don't understand why these pilots are leaving. I mean, I get that it has it's benefits, but why leave your home country?
I am a Year 12 student this year and am interested in becoming a pilot, and if I am fortunate enough to become one would not dream of leaving Papua New Guinea! I would rather contribute towards my country's economy and fly the national airlines than leave just for monetary gain. I am proud to be a Papua New Guineanan and would love nothing better than to fly for my country!

Reginald Renagi

Former Defence Force Pilots are now High Flyers in Civil Aviation

I refer to Bernard O's comments and could not agree with him more about the loss of our professional pilots from Air Niugini. It's the same with the PNG Defence Force pilots who have the best military related pilot training only to loss them to civil airlines both in PNG and overseas.

The PNGDF's loss is a gain for civil aviation and looking at the list Bernard has, I am proud to say here for the record that I knew them all whilst they were still junior flying officers in the PNG Defence Force (military). The following civil pilots were in their initial first jobs as military pilots and proud members of our PNGDF Air Elements:

Capt Ted Pakii [Wabag] - recently appointed Chief Pilot of Skystar Airways

Capt Peter Ansphil – Captain of a Boeing 767 with Skystar Airways

First Officer Terry Togumagoma [Trobiands] – Etihad

Capt Timothy Nanara [Dobu] - resigned from Air Niugini to join his elder brother and is currently a Training Captain with Emirates

Capt James Makop [Mt Hagen] – flew with Emirates for eight years and for the last two years a Captain at Jade Cargo Airways based in China

Capt Samuel Siaguru - resigned from Air Niugini in 2005 and also a captain at Jade Cargo

There are also other pilots in other civil airline companies after leaving the Defence Force.

The Ministry of Defence and the Government needs to have a good policy in place where these highly qualified pilots can still give some service back to their country when their time is up with overseas companies, or during vacation to fly for the defence force on special operations as members of PNG's Reserve Force aviators.

Reginald Renagi
Port Moresby

Paulus Ripa

Dear Doctor Boi,

I am sure you had your reasons for leaving the country. The problems you mention are real but somebody needs to sort them out.

Therefore I am more interested in those doctors who have stayed behind to do something about those problems (and they cant be fixed overnight).

That is why in my previous I am not interested in postings about people like you and your reasons because that sort of thinking is counterproductive.

Even giving massive pay rises to doctors working here has not improved their work ethic.

What encourages me are the ones who improvise and work with what tools they have to make a difference. And it may take a long time but I believe these are things worth doing.

That is not to say that things are fine. Things are grossly wrong but if we can right some wrongs ......


Doctor Boi

This article is quite interesting. As a PNG doctor serving overseas, one of the reasons causing me to leave the country was because I could not help the very people that I was trained to serve.

I had the skills but no medicine and equiptment, and other discouragements also which was due to government cash flow problems.

Medicines were wasting away in the warehouses while hospitals were running short because no one could secure the release of these drugs to the grass roots that needed it.

I see recent strikes by the government nurses and other health professionals and I tell myself that this is the reason why I left; because the govt could not get the basics right to sort out the cash flow and drug flow problems to help the people.

A doctor or nurse is only as effective as the drugs he dishes out to patients.

But different people leave the country for various reasons.

Paulus Ripa

I suggest you are looking at the wrong list.

Why dont we look at a list of equally competent professionals who choose to remain in PNG and work here rather than seek greener pastures. They would be the ideal role models for the younger generation.

Migration is a common phenomenon globally and historically and nothing will stop people from moving.

There are also people who are committed to doing things about problems(rather than talking about them or jumping ship)and remain to do that. Sr Francois is clearly such a person and there are Papua New Guineans who are also doing that.

I think it is counter productive to be obsessed about people who leave for greener pastures because of perceived problems in their homeland.

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