As a youngster growing up in the Lutheran Mission headquarters in Ampo in Lae, Thomas Kimbun Keindip, saw the struggles of his father, Kimbun Keindip who served for many years as a missionary.
At the end of every year, Thomas and his siblings were taken home to Komba in the Kabwum District of Morobe Province on small planes that provided the service essential for the missionaries and other workers who served in those areas.
“The interest obviously grew from there and you want to explore and you think about wanting to do that,” he says. “This was one of three things I set out to achieve earlier on… and I achieved it.
“I always wanted to fly for the bush people and I’ve always been doing that ever since.”
After leaving the University of Technology, Thomas enrolled at the Missionary Aviation (MAF) Flight School in Mt. Hagen and never looked back since then. As the son of a missionary family, his choice of airline came as no surprise. Thomas Keindip began flying with MAF in 2001 and spent close to six years flying into some of the most difficult landing strips near the Sandaun Province.
“Tekin, Oksapmin… Telefomin are one of a kind places in the world where it is very rugged.
“On a good day, flight time can be up to 15 minutes to 20 minutes. On a bad day, you can take up to 35 minutes for the same spot because you have to trek around the top.”
Keindip makes no secret of the fact that quality of training he received from flight instructors at the Mt. Hagen MAF flight school has served him well over the last 16 years. Sitting in the small hanger office he says, MAF maintains some of the highest standards in the world and that it was a privilege to have worked with the company.
In 2008, Keindip joined the North Coast Aviation (NCA), the only third level airline in Lae that services up to 60 airstrips in Morobe, Eastern Highlands, Gulf and Oro province. He is one of few Papua New Guinean pilots flying into rural areas.
“Over the years, I’ve had offers from various companies which I’ve turned down,” he says. “I felt I had a purpose with bush aviation. I have found a purpose.”
Compared to other airlines, NCA is quite small and a survivor battling high fuel costs and unfriendly economic environments while continuing to provide an important service to people in rural areas.
As chief pilot, Thomas Keindip, has seen a lot. He has ferried severe burn victims, women with pregnancy complications and has saved countless lives just by doing his job with distinction. But when asked about it, he brushes aside the somewhat heroic, lifesaving aspect of his job that many people thank him for. He says he is rewarded by some of the simplest things in life.
“Most of the time, I get a real joy of satisfaction just to see passengers being dropped off in the villages and seeing their relatives come and hug them because they haven’t seen them for a while.
“That makes me see that it is really worth the effort I put in.”
“Or seeing the teachers being brought into a new area and being welcomes by the people. It gives me joy to see that at least we are doing something for our country.
“This is what I get from this job and I am passionate about it.”