Aircraft have been particularly important in the development of PNG. Almost all inland centres began as small outposts established where it was possible to build a light aircraft landing strip. Light aircraft continue to be important where roads have not been constructed, mainly in mountainous country. In most cases, airstrips close once a road has been made to an area. About 490 airstrips existed in PNG in 2006; only 4% were sealed and about 80% were less than 900 m long.
International airports offer opportunities for niche marketing of fruit and flowers to Australia and Asia. International services operate from Port Moresby only, and all international air cargo has to be transhipped through Port Moresby, although international flights are possible through Alotau, Mount Hagen, Nadzab (Lae) and Rabaul. Other provincial centres with airstrips capable of handling Fokker F28 jets are Hoskins, Kavieng, Lorengau, Madang, Vanimo and Wewak. Twin engine aircraft, such as the Dash 8, fly into Daru, Goroka, Kerema, Kiunga, Kundiawa, Lihir Island, Mendi, Popondetta, Porgera, Tabubil, Tari and Wapenamanda. Daily flights occur from Port Moresby to some of these centres.
Of greater importance are the large numbers of light aircraft landing strips in remote and isolated areas, where they serve as the only means of access other than walking. Following the fall of the kina relative to the US dollar in 1997, the cost of fuel and air travel has increased sharply. This has resulted in the withdrawal or reduction of services by light aircraft operators, including missions, to a number of places where passenger traffic is light or where people cannot afford to pay the increased cost. Some coffee was transported by light aircraft to provincial centres, but the cost of air freight relative to the price of coffee is now generally too great for coffee to be moved by air economically.
A recent review of the PNG Air Transport Industry by PNG’s Independent Consumer and Competition Commission concluded that PNG’s airports are below minimum standards. Lack of finance to maintain runways, terminal facilities and navigational aids; poor management through the Civil Aviation Authority (including an inefficient organisational structure and poor accounting practices); increasing fuel prices; decreasing numbers of customers; and law and order problems that contribute to increased operating costs for airlines are the main factors causing operating inefficiencies and posing safety concerns about the air industry.