Air Nuigini Acting CEO Gary Seddon talks his love for PNG, future plans for the airline and more
Since Gary Seddon took the reigns at Air Nuigini and was appointed as Acting Chief Executive Officer in March 2023, he has big plans for the airline — whilst manoeuvring through common aviation challenges (rising cost of capital, recovering supply chain networks due to Covid and staff shortages) — the airline plan on introducing 13 new impressive Air Nuigini aircraft, arriving in 2025.
Interviewed by Andrew Kidu, Principal at Kidu Lawyers, Mr. Seddon talks about what he loves most about PNG, what his typical work week is like with Air Niugini, and how he would like to see Pacific aviation develop over the next 5 years.
Gary Seddon - Acting CEO Air Nuigini
How did you first come to be associated with Papua New Guinea?
My parents came to Papua New Guinea in 1983. We arrived on an Air Niugini Boeing 707, at the old International Terminal. My father worked for the late Sir Iambakey Okuk, when he was Minister for Civil Aviation and DPM. My father established Hertz Rent a Car across PNG and my mother started a Stationery Business. I left for the UK in 1986 for further studies and employment and returned in 1998.
What do you love most about Papua New Guinea?
"Papua New Guinea is a tremendously diverse, exciting, vibrant, unpredictable country. The people are, on the whole, kind hearted, passionate and proud."
Papua New Guinea has often been described as a fast follower, to its neighbours in the Pacific. But it should not be compared to these neighbours – Fiji does not have 850 different languages shared by 10m people living across a landscape of 460,000 km2 , with staggering wealth in minerals and fossil fuels. We have mountain ranges, and coral seas with volcanic atolls. We have beauty and ferocity. We have more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity. We have the 3rd most significant rainforest habit after the Amazon and Congo. This is a big, beautiful country, and not for the feint hearted.
What is your typical work week like with Air Niugini?
I am most appreciative of the opportunity to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of Air Niugini.
This is an iconic institution; I never underestimate the substantial trust that has been placed in me. Papua New Guinea has been explored and built on the shoulders of aviation. And Air Niugini has a preeminent role within this industry. We have 23 aircraft from widebody international fleet, to narrowbody jet and turboprop regional commuters. We serve international ports such as Singapore and Sydney, and domestic destinations such as Lae, Mt Hagen and Kavieng. We safely transport 2m people to their destinations each year. We operate on average 65 flights per day, across international and domestic missions. We expend around 40,000 hours of engineering every month and prepare and serve over 1,000 meals every day.
I am very fortunate to have the support of a hardworking team of professionals. Between them they have over 100 years of aviation experience spanning international carriers from British Airways to Etihad and Emirates Airlines. My typical week is split between the day-to-day operations and improving productivity and reliability to build schedule integrity, to the numerous activities associated with our K3b fleet replacement program. We are actively recruiting, training and promoting across the business. We engage with multiple stakeholders from regulatory bodies to suppliers.
Global aviation is a challenging industry; from the rising cost of capital, to the recovering supply chain networks affected by Covid shutdowns. Staff shortages, flight disruptions are common place not only across the south Pacific, but in Europe and North and South America.
Our challenge is to build and expand our airline, whilst continuing to meet the Papua New Guinea government’s expectations of providing competent, affordable and accessible air transport services. And with the recent announcements of 13 new aircraft (2 new Boeing 787 widebody and 11 new Airbus A220 narrow body fleet) our workload increases immeasurably as we decide on everything from new cabin configurations to the new sectors (such as Port Moresby to Chennai or Dubai or Los Angeles).
What are you planning to do with Air Niugini’s 13 new aircraft arriving in 2025?!
The new aircraft will substantially assist Air Niugini to achieve medium to long term sustainability goals to realise a net reduction in the company’s carbon footprint. Air Niugini remains committed to achieving climate change targets, including improved carbon capture, reduced green house gas emissions and expanded recycling across the business.
The Airbus A220 is a very versatile aircraft. It can fly further than our existing fleet and carry more, in greater comfort and efficiency – the aircraft uses 30% less fuel than the Fokker. We will be able to increase our domestic fleet operations through frequency of sectors as well as expanding range of international destinations – such as a Port Moresby to Melbourne or Auckland).
The Boeing 787 Dreamliners will meet the existing widebody obligations as well as allow Air Niugini to consider expanding to destinations such as Shanghai, Beijing, Delhi, and Dubai. The aircraft will be able to do a lot more for a lot less – considering the fuel burn is 27% less than current.
The Fokker fleet and Boeing 767s have been terrific workhorses, however its time for them to retire as we welcome the new generation of aircraft. The arrival of the A220s coincides with Papua New Guinea’s 50 years of independence.
This will cement Air Niugini’s future for the next 15 to 20 years.
How would you like to see Pacific aviation develop over the next 5 years?
I would like to see greater collaboration and cooperation. I would like to see improvements in infrastructure to accommodate the increased demand for aircraft across the region. The principles of 6th Freedom traffic should continue to be obeyed. Because of its unique placement between Asia, Australia, NZ and the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea will become a transit hub – infrastructure must be fit for purpose and match demand with supply.
I am reassured by the significant steps being undertaken to promote safe aviation operations through constant assessment of regulations and standards. The adoption of the Pacific Regional Aviation Strategy to promote systems toward safe, secure and sustainable aviation.
What is your favourite spot in PNG that you would recommend to visitors?
My wife is Motuan, so I have a bias toward her coastal villages and people – particularly Tubusereia Village in the Hiri district of Central Province. Loloata Island is nearby.
I do love East New Britain, there is so much to see and do in Rabaul – from the dolphin swims to the volcano exploration and WW2 historic tours. The clear air of Rondon Ridge above Mt. Hagen is a particular favourite, as are the crystal blue waters throughout Milne Bay.
Image: Air Niugini aircraft