Profile of PNG’s Transport Sector

Transport Sector Institutions

Figure 1 illustrates the general structure of the institutions in the transport sector at national level. Moving from left to right in this diagram there is a progression from public to private sector and from a Government departmental structure, through statutory authorities to state owned transport enterprises and private companies. The functions of the agencies also progress from policy, planning and development of transport legislation under Department of Transport (DOT) through to the delivery of regulatory and infrastructure services and finally to private service providers including transport operators, construction firms and others.

Figure 1 – Institutional Structure of the Transport Sector

The Department of Transport has the primary policy and legislative responsibility for the transport sector, headed by the Secretary for Transport, who also has a number of other roles as a member of various statutory authorities, boards and committees. Within the Department of Transport there are divisions for policy development, planning and monitoring of sector expenditure, liaison with and assistance to the provinces, and modal divisions for land transport, maritime, air transport regulation and air services licensing, aviation security and maritime security. The National Weather Service also currently falls under the Department of Transport.

The Department of Works has responsibility within the Government for managing the national road assets, in particular contract management for road construction and maintenance. It also has responsibility for engineering standards, for some engineering technical services and maintains a capacity for direct engineering works for emergency reinstatements and in remote areas.

There are four statutory authorities in the transport sector, the National Roads Authority (NRA), which has management responsibility for some national roads, the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) responsible for road safety promotion, The National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA) responsible for maritime safety and marine pollution control, and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) responsible for aviation safety. Whereas NMSA and CASA are regulatory agencies, the NRA is in fact closer to an state-owned enterprise (SOE), being responsible for provision of road network services for which it will, in future, receive funding through a system of road user levies. CASA reports to the Minister for Civil Aviation, the NRSC and the NMSA to the Minister for Transport, and the NRA to the Minister for Works and in respect of certain financial matters, to the Minister for Treasury. The Accident Investigation Commission (AIC) is currently located within CASA.

Outside of the transport agencies, the Independent Consumer and Competition Commission (ICCC) has responsibility for ensuring that there is fair competition in the markets for goods and services, and does so through powers to declare price regulated industries and services, where there is evidence of monopolistic practice. At present, the government owned ports under PNG Ports Corporation are price controlled, and there is a degree of price control in coastal shipping as well as in PMV and taxi fares.

There are five SOEs in the transport sector, of which three (PNG Ports, Air Niugini and MVIL) fall under the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC), Government’s holding company for SOEs. IPBC reports through the Minister for State Owned Enterprises. NAC and PNG Air Services Ltd report through the Minister for Civil Aviation.

The SOEs are expected to operate on commercial lines, deriving their revenue from charges made for the services that they provide. In practice there is a degree of reliance on Government financial support for capital works and operations for most of the SOEs, as full cost recovery is not currently achieved. In part this is due to the expectation by Government that the SOEs responsible for port, airport and air services will support non-commercial parts of their operations by internal cross-subsidy, as an informal community services obligation.

The private sector is responsible for supplying almost all road transport (PMV, taxi, road freight), shipping and air services (apart from Air Niugini). Government has recently become involved in the purchase of workboats and landing craft under the Border Development Authority and for use by the PNG Defence Force. Depending on their size, private companies may be owner/operator enterprises, small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) with a single owner or closely held shareholding, up to larger private and public companies with a board and executive management (such as Steamships and Airlines PNG).

The Transport Network

The Papua New Guinea transport network comprises three main transport modes: the road system, ports and airports. The Government owns and operates the national network, comprising national roads, the 22 declared ports and 21 airports. It also owns and operates the air and marine navigation and communications infrastructure. Other non-national transport infrastructure is owned and operated by provincial and local level governments, communities, charitable institutions and private interests.

The Road Network

The roads in Papua New Guinea have developed around the provincial centres of population, many of which are on the coast and linked nationally by coastal shipping. Local road networks have been developed from these coastal centres, along the coastal plains where these exist and along river valleys to penetrate inland. The Highlands Region is landlocked, with the main centres connected by air, and this spurred the development of the Highlands Highway, connecting the five inland provinces with the coast and PNG’s main port at Lae.

This pattern of development has resulted in twelve separated road networks plus roads on the smaller islands, linked together by sea and air. There has been a long held aspiration to link the networks on the main island of New Guinea together, although making these linkages often involves long lengths of high cost road through less populated parts of the country and over difficult mountainous or swampy terrain. The travel time and cost for some of these missing links, if constructed, will not always compare favourably with coastal shipping, and the economic rationale for making the connections needs to be weighed against other priorities, so only those links that can be shown to have good economic and social benefit in relation to cost are constructed.

The public road network in PNG comprises declared national roads, the responsibility of national government and other sub-national roads, the responsibility of provincial and local level government. National roads are currently classified into national routes (NR), the main inter-provincial connecting routes, national main roads (NM), national district roads (ND) and national institutional roads (NI – access roads serving state institutions).

Land Transport Services

All land transport services are owned and operated by the private sector without any public subsidy. Commercial passenger transport services are provided by urban and rural PMVs (public motor vehicles, typically 15 seat minibuses) and taxis, mainly by individual owner/operators and small transport companies under a system of transport service licensing. For PMVs the licensing includes the routes and service frequencies to be run. Public passenger transport services are also price controlled, administered by the ICCC.

The PMV services are recognised to be substandard, many vehicles being old and poorly maintained, and operators often fail to meet their timetables and to complete their routes.

This situation has come about through a combination of lack of enforcement capability and fare box revenues that do not provide sufficient profit to allow operators to invest in new vehicles.

Commercial goods transport services are provided by the private sector and are regulated by a system of permits administered by the National LTB for inter-provincial routes and by the Provincial LTBs for routes within provinces. The licences can specify the routes to be run and nature of the service, and the legislation provides for price control, although this is no longer actively administered.


PNG Ports Corporation is the agency delegated with the responsibility for maintenance and development of the government-owned port facilities and for the general management of activities within the defined port limits of the declared ports under the Harbours Act.

There are 22 declared ports, of which 16 are operated by PNG Ports Corporation, either directly or through agents (Aitape and Samarai). Lae is by far the most important due to its position at the end of the Highlands Highway, serving the five inland provinces, and handles almost half of all cargo across PNG wharves (about 3 million tonnes). Port Moresby serves the capital and Central province and handles half as much as Lae. Kimbe, which trades mainly palm oil, together with Lae and Port Moresby make up the three fully commercial ports, in that they are self-sufficient from revenue earned.

The next tier of national declared ports, carrying between 0.4 and 0.2 million tonnes are Rabaul, Madang, Wewak, Oro Bay, and Alotau, followed by Kavieng, Buka, Vanimo, Kieta and Lorengau (70 to 40,0000 tonnes). Daru and Aitape carry very small volumes and there are four ports that are not currently operational – Kerema, Kinim (Karkar Island, Madang Province), Siassi (Morobe Province) and Kupiano (Central province). The ports of Lihir (New Ireland) and Misima (Milne Bay) are also declared ports under the Harbours Act but are developed and operated by the mining industry.

There are also leased and privately owned port facilities within the declared ports, in particular Port Moresby which includes Motukea Wharf developed to carry LNG cargo and for ship servicing and Napa Napa oil terminal.

There are several ports that have been developed to serve the mineral and petroleum industry, including Kiunga which serves barge transport for Ok Tedi mine and the new Basamuk Bay port constructed to serve Ramu Nickel. In addition there are many coastal landings created for log exports, often of a temporary nature.

There are several hundred small jetties and landings for village access around the Papua New Guinea coast, islands and along the navigable river systems, in particular the Sepik, Fly and Ramu. Many of the jetty, ramp, wharf structures and reef channels, are in a poor or dilapidated condition. They are under a variety of provincial, local level government, village, mission and private ownership.

International Shipping Services

Papua New Guinea is comparatively well served by international shipping lines mainly in north-south services between Asia and Australasia. There are approximately 3,000 voyages per year and 300 voyage rotations between PNG, the Australian east coast ports and Asia which provide over 100,000 teu container capacity. The traffic is mainly general/container cargo vessels and bulk carriers for petroleum, mineral and log exports. The size of international container vessels is typically between 600 and 1700 teu capacity, 120 to 200 m length and 6 to 10m in draught.

Many shipping lines use Brisbane as a hub port where they centralise containers for other Australian and NZ origin ports. Similarly the larger Asian ports such as Singapore are used as hubs for linkages with services to South Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. Alliances between international carriers are subject to constant adjustment to suit market conditions.

Up to 2010, none of the PNG ports operated quayside container cranes, and most of the container vessels serving PNG have been self-supporting (ship-mounted cranes). PNG Ports Corporation Ltd has recently acquired rubber tyred gantry cranes (RTGs) for port operations at Lae.

Coastal Shipping Services

Three companies, Consort Express Lines, Steamships Shipping/Laurabada Shipping and Bismark Maritime Ltd provide scheduled (liner) coastal shipping services on primary routes between main ports, carrying containers and break-bulk cargo. A further three operators, Hub Line PNG Ltd, Rabaul Shipping Limited and Lutheran Shipping provide scheduled and semi-scheduled services with some route flexibility to a mix of main and minor ports.

An emerging trend has been to grant permits to international shipping operators for coastal services between PNG ports of call on their regular international liner routes for carriage of both their own and third party cargo. Hub Line (PNG) Limited, MBf Carpenters Shipping, ANL Container line Limited, Swire Shipping and Sofrana Unilines Limited all operate these international/coastal “cross-over” services.

A number of mainly regionally-based companies provide shipping services either as part of their own business or to industry as specialised shipping operators on a regular or charter basis. They include petroleum distribution, logging, mining, construction, towage and salvage companies, agricultural product transport and storage, commercial and tourist passenger services. Some also carry third-party cargoes on a commercial basis where this fits with their core activity.

The rise of project-related coastal shipping has been the major contributor to a recent increase in applications for restricted and unrestricted coastal trade permits. Tugs and barges operating under permit shuttle between the anchored ocean carriage vessel(s) in Paia inlet (Gulf of Papua) to Kopi landing. The Government has granted special access to permits for such activity for foreign flag vessels engaged in the LNG project. There are similar examples of project activity that have been given special access to coastal permits in mining exploration and coastally located industrial projects.

Government agency, provincial and NGO-sponsored non-commercial organisations are another emerging category of shipping and provide free or subsidised passenger and freight services. They include the vessels recently introduced by the Border Development Authority (BDA) and operated by their business entity PNG Maritime Transport Limited. In addition, there are several workboats of greater than 10 m length built and funded by Provincial governments under the direction and oversight of the Department of Provincial and Local Level Government Affairs.

The Community Water Transport Programme (CWTP) manages a subsidised franchise shipping scheme (FSS) designed to provide waterway transport to remote and disadvantaged communities, restore water transport infrastructure, improve small-craft safety, and induce the ability of the affected communities to maximize the benefits of the transport provided. Currently, there are two CWTP franchise routes in operation with plans to introduce further franchise routes in the near future. The CWTP is designed to induce services to small non-commercial ports of calls by offering a contestable top-up payment.

At a local level, small work boats (banana boats) provide carriage of passengers, agricultural production to market and transportation of essential supplies to and between villages sustains the livelihood and social network of PNG’s coastal communities.

Coastal scheduled passenger services are provided by Rabaul Shipping (Starships PNG) and Lutheran Shipping (Luship). Some vessels have a restricted trading range, typically limited to sheltered waters but engage on longer port-to-port coastal routes when the weather conditions are suitable. The coastal passenger sector is an industry that delivers essential services to remote locations and communities sustaining social and economic activity.


The National Airports Corporation (NAC) is responsible for 21 of the 27 airports recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Three of the other six airports have been divested to provincial governments from the national government and the remaining three are privately owned and associated with resource development.

Port Moresby International Airport (PMIA) is currently the only airport in Papua New Guinea supporting international regular scheduled passenger services, although both Daru and Wewak are denoted as international airports and, outside of PMIA, Mount Hagen receives the most international passengers associated with international direct charters for the mining ventures. PMIA currently accommodates aircraft up to B767-300 size, the second tier of airports F-100, although only designed to F-80, and the third tier supports Dash-8.

PMIA and a further 20 national airports are operated by the National Airports Corporation (NAC). A further six airports are certified in accordance with ICAO Annex 14 and PNG Civil Aviation Rules; these include three airports associated with mining (Ok Tedi – Tabubil and Lihir – Kunaye) and oil &gas (Kutubu – Moro) and three ex-national airports now operated by provincial governments (Milne Bay PG – Kiriwina and Misima, and Gulf PG – Kikori).

Apart from the 27 ICAO certified and licensed airports, there are a large number of smaller airports, ranging from strip lengths as long as 1,700m down to small rural airstrips as short as 450m. Some 400 of the original more than 600 are still active, although many are in poor condition and used only at the operator’s risk. Over 90 airports are the responsibility of provincial governments including a number that support scheduled services by the second level operators.

Air Traffic Management, Communications and Navigation Services

PNG Air Services Ltd (PNGASL) provides air navigation services to international and domestic air transport operators within the PNG sovereign airspace utilising terrestrial and satellite infrastructure. These services include aeronautical communications, surveillance and navigation aids to facilitate smooth and safe air traffic management.

International Air Services

The main international carrier is the government-owned airline Air Niugini (ANG) which operates the bulk of international services and routes using PMIA as its hub. ANG currently operates B767-300AR, Fokker F100 and Bombardier Q400 aircraft on its international services. ANG codeshares with Qantas on some routes and Qantas also operates a link service between Cairns and Port Moresby. Pacific Blue (Virgin Australia) operates four times a week from Brisbane to Port Moresby and Airlines PNG operates four times a week to Cairns. In the past other airlines have flown into Port Moresby, including Cathay Pacific and Philippine Airlines.

Domestic Air Transport Operators and Services

Air Niugini and Airlines PNG operate domestic services primarily hubbed from Port Moresby.

ANG flies point-to-point services to 11 main domestic airports, two loop services to the Islands and Momase regions covering a further 9 airports and some interconnecting services from the region airports of Lae, Hoskins and Madang.

Airlines PNG operates both on first and second level services using mainly Dash-8, competing against ANG but also serving smaller airports from hubs at Daru and Port Moresby covering Western and Central Provinces using DHC-6 aircraft. Airlines PNG also flies on-demand and charter services to a number of smaller airports, about 50 destinations in all.

A new entrant, privately owned Travel Air, based in Madang, was certified to commence operations in November 2011 using up to seven Fokker F50 turboprop aircraft. Initially operating daily scheduled flights between Madang and Port Moresby, Hoskins, Rabaul it has signalled its intention to operate to a number of other main centres and secondary airports. The Government, through DNPM, provided startup financial assistance to Travel Air in the 2011 budget allocation described as an air freight subsidy. The Airline fills a gap left by the closure of Airlink in 2007, also Madang based.

The largest third level operator is Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), a church-sponsored airline, based in Mount Hagen, with a fleet of 16 mainly DHC-6, Cessna 206 and GA8 Airvans with which it serves remote rural airstrips throughout Papua New Guinea, but concentrated in the Highlands, for community support, mission, and emergency relief purposes, as well as commercial passengers and freight.

Other small fixed wing and helicopter charter operators include Central Aviation (Mt Hagen), Hevilift, Islands Nationair, Niugini Helicopters, North Coast Aviation (Lae) Pacific Helicopters and Tropicair (Port Moresby). Much of their work is in support of the resource sector but also general charter, flying into small airfields and remote worksites.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.