How to Build a Remote Airstrip

A remote village wants to open an MAF airstrip. How exactly does this happen in in the middle of dense jungles, rugged mountains, or deserts?

Members of the Wano tribe working on the airstrip at Mokndoma, Papua. Photo by Tim Ingles.

Members of the Wano tribe working on the airstrip at Mokndoma, Papua. Photo by Tim Ingles.

  1. A request is made by either the villagers themselves, or by another mission organization or church that wants to reach a specific people group.
  2. An initial interview occurs with the villagers. Do they have the heart to do this? It is a sacrifice to not only build the airstrip but to maintain it. If they aren’t motivated to build it, they won’t be motivated to keep it up.
  3. MAF pilots do a flyover to survey the potential site. To land on any airstrip, a pilot must have the information in the acronym “Wind LASSO”: Wind, Length, Altitude, Slope, Surface, and Obstacles. This is also the rubric for a new airstrip. Before a plane lands on it, the airstrip must meet specific standards for each of those criteria.
  4. The villagers get to work building the airstrip. Sometimes this can take as little as two years, but often it is much longer. Because heavy machinery typically is not available, much of the work is done by hand with wheel barrows, pick axes, and shovels. The villagers cut down trees and remove rocks, boulders, stumps, and other obstacles. They also must smooth the surface of the airstrip. This is sometimes done by diverting a spring or small stream and letting the water flow over the airstrip to even out the ground.
  5. A final inspection is done once the building process is complete. The chief pilot hikes in or takes a helicopter in to give a stamp of approval before an airplane lands on the new strip.
  6. Ongoing maintenance is essential for remote airstrips. Villagers must constantly work to keep the strip clear of brush, rocks, and livestock.

The process of building and maintaining remote airstrips involves a partnership between MAF and the isolated people. This partnership is essential so that MAF can meet needs and open doors for Christ’s love to be shared.

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