Political urgency gives rise to a new (air) cargo cult
Kevin Rudd's new "get them to PNG" policy has unleashed a frenetic wave of activity among airline and transport companies.What the government needed urgently in advance of the looming federal election was physical proof of its tough new line being implemented. Photos of planes disgorging the contents of their bellies onto the tarmac in Port Moresby couldn't come soon enough for Canberra.
So it was no surprise that within hours of the policy being announced, a lightning-swift series of chain reactions down the chain of cargo contractors and subcontractors was being played out.
Lynden Air Cargo PNG, a charter company in its second week of shuttling cargo from Moresby to Manus Island, provided a glimpse of just how rapidly the process unfolded.
President Greg Vaughan revealed that just six days after Rudd's shock announcement of July 19, his company was already in the air and delivering to Manus under subcontract to Melbourne-based transport giant Toll Holdings.
Toll began its latest mission by pulling in Russian company Ruslan to get cargo from Sydney to Port Moresby using its heavy-lift Antonov aircraft, the world's largest cargo plane, big enough to carry 10 20-foot shipping containers.
Loaded with tents, marquees, poles and building equipment, the Antonovs flew to Port Moresby's Jacksons Airport. From there, the problem was getting them on to Manus.
The island's airstrip is a former US bomber base from World War II, and while it has been upgraded over the years, it was in no shape to handle the Antonovs.
This is where Lynden stepped in. The charter company, which is PNG's only all-cargo airline, is a subsidiary of an Alaskan company that goes by the same name. Lynden also happens to have three out of only a dozen civilian models of the C130 Hercules available worldwide, each capable of carrying up to 20 tonnes of cargo.
The planes are designed to land on short, narrow strips, using fully reversible propellers that bring them to a rapid stop if required.
By the middle of this week, Lynden was already halfway through a hasty, 14-flight contract.
"We are under contract with Toll on behalf of the Australian government to ferry supplies from Port Moresby to Manus Island," says Vaughan, who is based in Port Moresby.
"I am assuming [the government] would have contacted several of their contractors - I think [Queensland air-charter broker] Adagold and Toll would have been on the shortlist. In this case, Toll has the contract. That is the sort of time frame this one appears to have come together in."