RPT Resumes in Arnhem Land

“I am in receipt of an: Air Operators Certificate allowing us to undertake RPT Operations here in Arnhem Land.” Chris De’Ath – Program Manager (16-11-16)

“The people of Arnhem Land have been asking MAF for this service daily for many years. It will make remote communities more accessible and further facilitate the spread of the gospel whilst also saving costs for MAF and the people we serve.” Roland VanDerVelde – Operations Manager.

WHAT IS RPT?

Regular Public Transport:

The MAF Arnhem Land program has operated for the past 8 years with an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) allowing carriage of passengers on charter operations.  Individuals and organisations wanting to use MAF services would have to charter a whole aircraft-making the cost often prohibitive even at MAF’s subsidised rates. With RPT and the ability to book a seat the cost is greatly reduced for those needing MAF’s air services to reach the remote communities and homelands of Arnhem Land.  Selling seats requires an RPT AOC, which means having the standard of operation, required by an airline.

WHY RPT IN ARNHEM LAND?

Arnhem Land needs RPT because it has become unaffordable for Yolngu to travel around by air using charter aircraft. Government departments and service providers are also feeling the pressure of reduced budgets and so being able to send one or two people from point A to point B at a fraction of the cost of chartering a whole aircraft enables them to do more to serve the Yolngu people of Arnhem land.  They can visit communities more often for the same travel budget or reduce their travel budget and put extra funds into the services that they deliver.

Yolŋu especially will now have more freedom and the ability to move around Arnhem Land in smaller groups, making air travel accessible to some that it was not accessible to before.

As a Yolngu elder said to us, “the single best thing that MAF could do for Arnhem Land is to re-launch the RPT service”. 

And with the help of our donors around the globe and a dedicated team of professionals, we have achieved just that.

VHMEP – THE AIRCRAFT OF CHOICE

After its long journey across the world from MAF in Uganda through to Australia, VH-MEP (Cessna 208 Caravan) underwent a major overall at the MAF Mareeba engineering base. The team worked very hard preparing the aircraft for use so that it could be then assigned to the Arnhem Land program. On Monday the 25thth of April, the aircraft was ferried across to Gove, welcomed by MAF staff and dedicated to the Lord. Since that day the Aircraft has been utilised in many ways and is a huge benefit to the Arnhem Land program.  And now VH-MEP is set to be the primary aircraft used for RPT. (To follow the story of this aircraft you can read it here: http://www.maf-arnhemland.org/the-yindi-aircraft/)

16th NOVEMBER 2016

This day will be remembered by MAF Arnhem Land for sometime! It was the day that the program received receipt of the official Air Operators Certificate allowing Regular Public Transport to actually commence.

This certificate represented more than just a piece of paper! It represented years of work, prayer, money, sweat and tears that had been put in by so many people across the organisation. At various times along the journey, some even doubted that the obstacles in the way of RPT commencing could be overcome, while others believed in faith that this is what God was calling the Arnhem Land program to rise up to and get past the challenges.  Despite the challenges faced, the program can now look back in thankfulness and now must look forward to the future of RPT having a prominent place once again in the work that MAF does in Arnhem Land.

22nd NOVEMBER 2016

On this day the Arnhem Land program celebrated with the rest of the MAF world and began its first shuttle service from Gove – Elcho Island via Lake Evella.

Program Manager Chris De’Ath shares his memories of this first day: “Good Morning Mr De’Ath, do you have any aerosols, lighters, flammable or dangerous goods in your luggage”?  “No”. “Great, here is your boarding pass for our RPT service this morning to Lake Evella and onwards to Elcho Island”.

As a programme manager I have many, many conversations with various staff members each day.  I must say, that this was been one of the best conversations to start my day with to date.  Tuesday 22 November 2016 will be firmly etched in the mind of many of us in Arnhem Land.  After a long period Arnhem Lands RPT service resumed.

IN SUMMARY

As an organisation we have celebrated the launch of the new Regular Public Transport service in Arnhem Land in November, after 5 years of complex negotiations, and it is already proving popular with local Yolŋu people. Chris Lukkien – MAFI CEO (Dec 16)

From its initial start date in November 2016, up until the middle of January the RPT service has managed to allow over 500 people to travel and over 35 organisations to make use of the service. This will only increase in time, as the service becomes more publicly known.

WHAT NEXT?

There is plenty of scope, need and demand for this service to expand into other ports and increase regularity.  The provision of an RPT service will not only help the people of Arnhem Land in a practical sense, it will provide more opportunities for MAF staff to continue being an effective Christian witness of the Love, Peace and Hope found through Jesus Christ.

MAF’s Purpose is to share God’s love through aviation and technology.
MAF’s Vision is to see isolated people physically and spiritually transformed in Christ’s name.

RPT IS INLINE WITH BOTH OF THESE.

Many people have worked extremely hard along the way, putting in long hours to make this a possibility.  Therefore we take a moment to acknowledge the following people:

  • Dean Giles (RPT Project Manager based in Cairns) – for an exceptional job leading the project over the past few years.
  • Lisa Curran (Chief Pilot based in Arnhem Land) – for many hours of tireless work with manuals, systems, grueling training, selflessness and leading our pilot team into this era.
  • Doug Miles (Area Director based in Cairns) – for continuing to believe in RPT operations here in Arnhem Land.
  • Craig Fulton (Previous Program Manager in Arnhem Land) – for moving the project forward during his time in MAF.
  • Cairns & Mareeba team members – Many hours have been put in by so many to allow this to happen – we really value our support departments.

The list could go on, so thank you to each and every person who has brought us to this point. This will have a significant impact for this next season of transformation here in Arnhem Land.

THE YINDI AIRCRAFT

(10 SEATER AIRCRAFT VH-MEP)

After its long journey across the world from MAF in Uganda through to Australia, VH-MEP (Cessna 208 Caravan) underwent a major overall at the MAF Mareeba engineering base. The team worked very hard preparing the aircraft for use so that it could be then assigned to the Arnhem Land program. On Monday the 25thth of April, the aircraft was ferried across to Gove, welcomed by MAF staff and dedicated to the Lord. Since that day the Aircraft has been utilised in many ways and is a huge benefit to the Arnhem Land program. The following are a few examples of some of the flights that the aircraft has done:

SPORTS CARNIVAL

Most Yolŋu children love sports, in particular Australian Football! Often MAF is called on to help move children from place to place to participate in sports carnivals. These sports events help create a sense of community with the Yolŋu children. There are often huge smiles on the faces of the children who are travelling on these types of trips.

On the 14th of June, MAF Pilots Rene Don and Matt Roediger flew three flight loads of children (27 in total) from Gove to Elcho Island to participate in the carnival. A few days later the plane was used to return a tired, yet happy bunch of children back to Gove.

Yindi Aircraft

HEALTH CARE FOR THE YOLNGU PEOPLE

MAF is regular carrier for health patients in and out of the communities. Remote community residents who need extra health care that the remote clinics cannot provide are transported into Gove to visit the main hospital. In the morning MAF picks them up. They are flown into Gove, where they see the doctor, receive further treatment and pickup required medicine. Often this all happens in one day and MAF helps return the patients to their respective communities in the afternoon. This is a vital service that MAF is able to assist with as it contributes to healthier and stronger families.

VH-MEP is a very useful aircraft for this type of work as it is big enough to bring a large number of patients into Gove to receive the care that they need.

NOAHS ARK FLIGHT

One particular day, MAF received a request to relocate a family from Darwin to Elcho Island. The special thing about this request was that there was to be a collection of animals needing transportation also. On the 15th of June, MAF Pilot Rene Don flew to Darwin and picked up the following:

Two large olive pythons, two lap dogs, 1 bearded dragon, 1 shingleback lizard, 1 goanna, 1 galah, 1 baby saltwater crocodile, 1 woomer python, 2 black-headed python, 2 carpet pythons, plus their owner and belongings!

All crawly creatures and their owners were safely delivered to Elcho Island thanks to the Cessna Caravan and the extra space in the pods to secure these animals.

Yindi Aircraft

SUPPORTING OUR PARTNERS

It’s not easy working in Arnhem Land. The remoteness, humidity and conditions make it hard especially for those living in remote communities. One of those communities is Gäwa, where a small Christian School is located. For many years MAF has supported the community by providing transport in and out of this remote place. Every so often the staff need time to revitalise themselves and MAF is often called on to either take them to Gove or Darwin so that they can simply have a break!

On the 18th of June, MAF Pilot Rene Don flew VH-MEP from Gäwa Island to Darwin with the Fletcher family (School Principal) on board. Excitement was in the air as the family touched down in Darwin. Gäwa Island community is often very quick to express thanks to MAF for the partnership and support given.

Yindi Aircraft

BANANAS FOR THE FUTURE

On the 6th of September, MAF Pilot Michael Beath flew VH-MEP loaded with banana suckers to start a new plantation at Gäwa Island community. Going back a few years this particular community was hit by a cyclone and as a result the banana plantation was wiped out. This particular flight was a great way to support the community by giving them opportunity to start again and grow food within the community.

Yindi Aircraft

RESOURCES FOR MAF

Due to the remoteness of Arnhem Land, obtaining bulky items such as furniture for homes is often expensive and time consuming. Operationally, aircraft are sometimes required to return to Mareeba to receive specialised aircraft maintenance. Whenever this happens, MAF grabs the opportunity to take freight from Gove and have freight transported to Gove. Therefore ferry flights are always full!

On the 11th of August, VH-MEP piloted by Matt Roediger returned to Gove loaded with office and home furniture, aircraft spares and parts, IT equipment, building resources, vehicle parts and much more.

Each kg on the manifest was carefully considered because of the limitations with the all up weight allowance. As always there was much more stuff that could have come but it was not able to fit in. Next time!

Yindi Aircraft

THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH

Since VH-MEP’s arrival in Arnhem Land, it has been a vital link in connecting different areas of the Church family together. The plane has been used to transport Bible Translators to one central place, so that they could spend time together, encouraging one another and brainstorm on how to move Bible Translation work forward. The plane has transported local people to Church rallies, dedications and events such as the Youth ministry week at Elcho Island, put on by ‘Generation Fire’, a visiting group from NSW. The plane has transported key Christian leaders around to encourage and build up the church in the homelands. MAF staff have been transported in the aircraft to encourage and build up the Yolŋu homelands under the Homeland Outreach initiative. There are many more flights, that are not mentioned but MAF can say with confidence that the church in Arnhem Land is growing with the assistance of VH-MEP.

Yindi Aircraft

GETTING PEOPLE FROM PLACE TO PLACE

One of the first flights that VH-MEP did in Arnhem Land was on the 30th of April. It was flown from Gove to Elcho Island, where eight Yolŋu from the Elcho Island NRCC Church Congregation were picked up. They were then flown to Jabiru, where a bus was waiting to take them to Katherine Christian Convention.

On another occasion VH-MEP was used to take two MAF families from Milingimbi and Ramingining to Katherine. Due to the remoteness of their locations these MAF families are required to do home-schooling. This means there is little connection with other children and therefore the trip to Katherine enabled them to connect with other home-schooling families who are doing the same curriculum. This was a week of fun, learning, and friendships, so vital!

VH-MEP has been used for a wide variety of purposes already. It has proved its usefulness and the Arnhem Land program is extremely grateful for the aircraft. In the near future the aircraft will be used in a somewhat different way. So watch this space!

Thanks to all those who have worked so hard to make this aircraft available for use and thanks to God for provision of finances and resources needed to keep this aircraft flying.

* In Arnhem Land the Yolŋu people identify the plane as being the ‘Yindi’ aircraft. The big one! After years of travel inside either a 206,210 or GA8 the step up to the Caravan is quite a treat.

Yindi Aircraft

THE WORKHORSE: MQR (Mike Quebec Rome)

There is one particular aircraft that is a common sight in Arnhem Land. It’s the 8-seater, single engine, high winged aircraft known as the Airvan. MAF Arnhem Land currently has eight of these aircraft in their fleet. The aircraft suits a range of needs whether it is passenger or freight transport. The seats can be easily removed to fit a fridge, coffin or a stretcher in the back and the storage pods below mean that the combination of people and freight makes it a popular aircraft to service the Aboriginal communities. This aircraft painted in the traditional MAF colours is well known throughout the region.

MQR is one of the newest Airvans to the program and is currently based at Milingimbi Island. MAF Pilots Aaron Rigg, Danny Gill, Sam Johnston and Scott Walmsley are the regular pilots of this aircraft. However in Arnhem Land an aircraft is never based in one place for very long due to operational requirements, so most pilots will eventually fly it.

For the past month, MQR has been serving the people of Milingimbi and surrounding areas by transporting them in and out of the island to surrounding homelands and major communities such as Ramingining, Elcho Island and Lake Evella.

Each Tuesday morning during school terms, MQR takes schoolteachers out to the homelands of Howard Island and Mooroongga Island, and then returns them back on Thursday afternoons. Having a teacher in these homelands is vital, as it has been proven that education helps to stop the cycle of poverty. Without the teacher coming the children don’t get an education. It is far better for them to stay in their traditional ancestral homelands where there are fewer harmful influences such as petrol and alcohol.

Vitally important to the Yolŋu people is the transport MAF is able to offer during funerals. Funerals often mean large numbers of people from various locations all gather at a particular place to perform ceremonial activities and to mourn. Fifteen minutes flying from Milingimbi is Mooroongga Island, which is home to a small community of people. Recently an elderly person passed away who had been associated with the Island. This meant a funeral needed to take place there and the island population would swell in size by three or four times.

A few weeks prior to the funeral, Aaron had taken the chief pilot and some members of the MOPRA (Milingimbi Outstation and Progress Resource Association) to Mooroongga Island. There they reassessed the runway dimensions to provide valuable information to pilots and enable them to provide the best service possible to the community. The team from MOPRA was hard at work in the hot sun, removing saplings and anthills as indicated by the MAF pilot team. After that visit the runway was deemed safe again for MAF flights to come in and out.

With the funeral in full swing during the first few weeks of March, MAF Milingimbi and Ramingining have been particularly busy transporting people and shopping in and out of the island. Sam Johnston, in two days, did 7 flights to the homeland and each experience was busy and challenging. Upon arrival the people always wanted to find space on the aircraft to get back to Milingimbi or Ramingining to pick up food and other supplies.

“I find the biggest importance is food. It seems that every flight is a grocery shop. One flight alone I loaded 140kg of groceries onto the plane and squeezed in as many people as I could. Multiply these numbers over a few days and one can see that MAF’s work is vital. The people of Mooronga are usually appreciative of the work and have a smile on their faces and they usually say thanks which is a bonus.” Sam Johnston – MAF Pilot from NZ

 With large numbers of people and low stocks of food and water, tensions can easily rise and for one MAF Pilot it was a surprise to arrive to see a lady walking round with a knife and then be greeted by a young girl with a baby begging to be taken off the Island because as she explained: “It’s a war zone here!” On this particular day the community had run out of food and the tension was extra high because MAF was not able to do enough flights to meet the demands.

MQR is surely serving its purpose in Arnhem Land. These are just three examples of the types of flights that the aircraft is being used for. There are countless others such as ALPA (Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation) shop flights, NT Christian school teacher transport, Homeland Support transport and the movement of Yolŋu people. The prayer is that this aircraft flown by MAF pilots will continue to be a beacon of light and hope to the people of Arnhem Land.

MQR-Workhorse#1  MQR-Workhorse#5

VH-MQI: A TOOL FOR THE KINGDOM

Ever since the beginning stages of MAF in Arnhem Land, planes have been used as tool to facilitate the movement of passengers and freight. Over the last 40 years a lot has changed in terms of the types of planes flown, the colour of the aircraft and uniforms the pilots wear. However there is one thing that remains the same. People and freight are still being moved. Countless numbers of passengers and their belongings are being transported from A to B.

One of MAF’s recent aircraft additions is MQI. MQI has been flying in the program for over a year now but it was one of the first aircraft to be refitted with v2track, enabling real time tracking of the aircraft movements, as well as Aspen. Aspen units simply improve cockpit instrumentation for the pilot, making it easier to get information about wind and ground speed.

Because of these additional features, MQI has been popular amongst the Pilots. It’s primarily based in Lake Evella but has spent time at all other MAF bases being used as a tool to serve all the major communities and surrounding homelands.

Recently the aircraft was involved in a special event that took place in the Ministry Support Centre. Three key things had occurred preceding this event:

Firstly, two years prior, MAF Arnhem Land had been instrumental in helping organise the Alliance conference that took place in Darwin. At this event both organisations and individuals involved in ministry throughout Arnhem Land, gathered to share their visions, to encourage one another, pray and brainstorm future ministry. This conference in particular was a great encouragement for the Yolŋu people from East Arnhem who attended.

As a result of this meeting there has been numerous discussions over the past two years with both Yolŋu and MAF staff on how to move forward. Each time discussion has occurred the same message kept coming back. This was the need to meet in smaller groups to study God’s Word on specific areas and to pray.

Secondly, a relatively minor event took place at the homeland of Gurrumuru in late 2015. Brett Nel had gone there on outreach and while he was there a small number of men sat down with him and began to talk casually. The conversation turned to spiritual matters and the fellowship grew between them. At that point God clearly spoke to Brett and said, ‘This is the future church’. Since this time these men have remained in contact with each other and MAF. They have actively looked to increase their understanding of the ways of God. There has been a desire to meet and discuss what it means to be a Yolŋu Christian in Arnhem Land.

Thirdly, it was therefore of no coincidence that James Marawili a local Yolŋu from Yirrkala joined the reservations booking team in February 2016. Over the past few years, James has been instrumental in attending outreach trips with MAF staff and has grown in confidence to share the Gospel with his own people. James was present at the small gathering in Gurrumuru in 2015 and ever since this event, it has been on his mind to gather together those who have a serious passion and desire to follow God.

Equally important is the vision that Program Manager, Craig Fulton and Ministry Coordinator Brett Nel, have had over the past two years to gather people together to study God’s Word and understand better how it speaks into one’s identity, culture, tradition and beliefs. Over the past few months Brett Nel has been visiting homelands and sharing with key people the idea of a gathering and all agreed the time was right. With the addition of James Marawili to the team, this was just the drive that Brett and Craig needed to move this event along. A date was decided, people were contacted and flights arranged.

Over three days roughly 20 people, a mix of Yolŋu, MAF staff and other individuals involved in ministry met together to have open discussion, to study God’s Word, to pray and worship. It was a special time together and as a result of this meeting people were encouraged to stand up for truth, to work together more and to see ministry in Arnhem Land move forward. To keep the momentum going another meeting is already in the planning and the word is spreading throughout family groups.

MQI played a vital part in this gathering, as it was the aircraft designated to pick up the Yolŋu attendees from the homelands of Gurrumurru and Gan Gan. On Monday March the 7th, MAF pilot Des Vautier had the privilege to fly these flights.

In a sense the aircraft served a vital purpose that day, as it was the tool used to further the kingdom of God in Arnhem Land. The effects of this meeting might not be seen immediately but MAF believes that things are changing spiritually in Arnhem Land and that a new wind is blowing. It is a wind of opportunity and challenge that both Yolŋu and MAF are rising to meet. As relationships grow within the Church as a whole, so too will the presence and power of God.

No doubt aircraft like MQI will continue to be involved in the transportation of people who have a similar desire to see change and the growth of God’s kingdom in Arnhem Land.

This in a sense is priceless…