The people of Mihabika community in South Epi, recently witnessed a test flight on their first ever airstrip, the result of manual labour using hand tools and a tractor.
Mr John Supo, the man behind the construction of the airstrip told Daily Post it was the first time for some of the old folks in the community to see a plane up close.
It took the members of the Mihabika community several months of felling, uprooting and, burning trees as well as leveling the soil that enable a test flight by a small private aircraft to take place.
“It had cost us over Vt1 million to complete this airstrip so far with the test flight,” Mr Supo said.
“The population of around 2,000 in south Epi are all excited about their achievement and the result, but we need to further upgrade the airstrip with the help of the Vanuatu Government through the Ministry and the Department of the Infrastructure and Public Utilities, and to the Civil Aviation Standard, so that we can have regular commercial flights to and from South Epi.”
He said the people have proven they are capable of committing themselves to taking the first step in making the dream a reality.
“Now that we have proven that we can do the basic work ourselves using only hand tools and a tractor, we are satisfied but need the final upgrade by the government to the Civil Aviation Standards, and that’s one of the reasons I am here in Port Vila,” he told the Daily Post.
Mr Supo said he will approach the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities to upgrade the airstrip to Civil Aviation Standards so that it will become a commercial airstrip to service the vast population of South Epi.
“We had to do something ourselves, to prove that we are serious about wanting an airstrip for the national government to come to our aid hence the construction of the airstrip using manpower by the people of South Epi that saw the first phase completion of the airstrip and the test landing,” he said.
“We know the island of Epi already has two airfields at Lamen Bay and at Valesdir, but these are a long way away for the population of South Epi.
“It would cost me around Vt26,000 to travel to one of the existing airfields, plus the airfare to Port Vila.
“It is always unsafe to get pregnant mothers to one of the nearest hospitals on Epi by land transport or by sea transport. South Epi is one of the largest kava, peanut, island taro, cattle, pig, and poultry and fish supplier in Vanuatu and yet it does not have an airstrip until now.”
He said the South Epi community has four primary schools with Kindy classes and a junior secondary school accommodating over 500 students, a dispensary, and needs banking facilities but is still ‘backward’ because the past and present governments are not addressing the needs of the people as they should.
“We don’t get government public servants around our community a lot because they know it is difficult to travel by air or ship and land,” Mr Supo said.
“The lack of banking facilities and police posts make it more that difficult for our people. We hope that our community-driven airstrip will raise awareness with the national government to step in and assist, as we produce and supply huge quantities of kava, island food, beef, fish and other products that goes into the local markets in Port Vila by sea freight.”