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By Philip Kepson

RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (October 5, 1998 - The National)---Three more airports will be upgraded to international status, Prime Minister Bill Skate announced here on Friday.

Speaking at the opening of the upgraded Tokua Airport, Mr. Skate said the government planned to improve Kavieng, Manus, and Madang airports along similar lines.

He said Tokua was now an international facility capable of taking the bigger B737 and F28 4000 standard aircraft.

Mr. Skate also reiterated the government's plan to set up a new commercial entity called the Port Moresby Airport Management Authority to run Jacksons International Airport while allowing the provincial governments to administer provincial airports.

Currently the country's six international airports are Port Moresby, Vanimo (West Sepik), Mount Hagen (Western Highlands), Nadzab (Lae), Gurney (Milne Bay), and Wewak (East Sepik).

Mr. Skate said the upgrading of three more airports to international status was part of a major Civil Aviation initiative to improve airport facilities through its Master Airport Maintenance and Upgrading Program.

Tokua, Mount Hagen, Gurney, Nadzab and Momote airports can now handle B737 and F28 4000 type aircraft while Madang will be capable of taking the much bigger B767 and A310 type jets.

Under the same program, he said, Jacksons International Airport will be upgraded to cater for wide-body B747 400 type jets. Mr. Skate said the program to upgrade airport facilities will help to promote tourism and trade through efficient and high quality transport.

He also acknowledged the contribution of overseas donor countries and organizations in the program.

"I acknowledge the enormous efforts put into the airport projects by the governments of Japan, Australia, Germany, and the World Bank," he said.

The Tokua Airport was constructed with a K 32 million $US 14.32 grant from the Japanese government through its overseas funding agency, Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA).

Referring to the plan to set up an airport authority, Mr. Skate said: "My government is taking this direction in the operation and maintenance of our Civil Aviation infrastructure because we are concerned about our limited capacity in the public sector to reliably manage such prestigious and essential assets."

More than 4,000 attended the opening of the new Tokua Airport. The ceremony featured spectacular performances by 15 traditional dancing groups from the four districts of the province, Pomio, Rabaul, Gazelle, and Kokopo.

Tokua landowners, led by principal landowner Joseph Roman, presented Japanese Ambassador Yasuhide Hayashi and Police Minister Thomas Pelika traditional money and other tokens as a sign of peace and appreciation to mark the end the five-month dispute with the government on land benefit related issues, which partly delayed the opening.

According to DCA technical staff here, the new Rabaul airport features modern weather monitor and control tower equipment, a snack bar, and a VIP lounge.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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