National Aviation Safety Officer Hugo du Plessis recently joined a team of WFP Aviation staff and engineers to inaugurate a newly rehabilitated airstrip in the small village of Lukutu, DRC with the arrival of the first flight, UN25W. Hugo describes the impact this airstrip will have on surrounding remote communities, and the reaction of locals upon the flight’s landing near their home.
“On 8 April 2014, I had the privilege to be on board flight UN25W, headed to Lubutu/Katinga, DRC. Ours was the first aircraft to land at this newly rehabilitated airstrip, which kicked off professional reconstruction works by WFP-contracted engineers in December 2013, and has now just recently been completed.
It was very heart-warming to see perhaps more than a thousand children, youths and adults whom had gathered around the runway to witness this occasion. Since this is a very remote village where television or media is not widely accessible to most villagers, it dawned on me that this was most likely the very first time that most of them had ever seen an aircraft, or even knew that such a thing existed. I am fascinated by what they must have been thinking at this sophisticated marvel of technology that had descended upon their village.
The crowd was very disciplined and quiet, and remained well clear of the runway; however, when the village chief approached us, as we were standing next to the aircraft to present himself, applause and cheerful ovation erupted the moment we shook hands. The aircraft's commander took the chief into the cockpit, and the cheers further intensified. A bit later, one of the village elders cautiously approached us to ask for a photograph to be taken of him next to the aircraft. Cheers again erupted as the camera clicked away.
With the UNHAS aircraft now being able to reach such a remote village such as Lubutu and others, it is exciting to realise that soon we may be able to start serving these communities to uplift and develop all those in need. It is moments such as these that we are reminded of the enormous potential that aviation has to improve the lives of people in desperate need of assistance, who may have suffered more otherwise.”