Indonesia, Papua

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Papua, Indonesia

A Cowboys Guide to Flying in Papua province, Indonesia

The Indonesian province of Papua is a place where many aspiring pilots find their 1st opportunity, as much as many more experienced pilots find a place to practice their skills in an often extremely challenging environment. It is no place for the faint-of-heart. Remuneration levels range from abysmal for the new hire in the right seat of a Caravan, to really quite good for the experienced pilots in the more senior, challenging roles. Certainly the experience gained is invaluable, whatever level you are at. Companies you may be interested in can be found here.

Getting there:

Whenever you do an Internet search of Companies that you may be considering working for, you'll find an incredibly diverse range of opinions. As always, the negative opinions are the most strident, the most often voiced. If you are going to base your decision upon those opinions, expressed anonymously and sometimes by those with an axe to grind (perhaps failed applicants or those who couldn't cut it?), then Papua is almost certainly not the place for you. However, should you decide to proceed in spite of what you read on PPRuNe and other places, send a résumé, take the 1st step! No one will do it for you! Having said that though, if you know someone in-country or someone that has been there recently, they can be a tremendously valuable source of information, advice -and if you're lucky, may even be able to assist the progress of your application! There have been some that have taken a chance, paid their own way to Jakarta and gone door-knocking, with success! Your personal circumstances will dictate your approach to this, but expect to be buying your own return ticket to Jakarta, whether or not you have a positive response from the company you are seeking a start with, or are just travelling "on spec". Applicants are usually expected to hold a valid ICAO CPL, current Class 1 medical and Command/Single-Pilot IFR. One word of caution: your 1st point-of-contact with an employer -and likely the most enduring method of contact- will probably be email. Throughout all your correspondence with Indonesian organisations, you should expect several other individuals to be copied-into the conversation, sometimes even those you particularly do not want to be party to the discussion, or those you think have little need or right of inclusion. There seems to be little to be done to prevent this, it is just a fact of life.

Paperwork:

Documents you will need to have before your application can proceed include:

  • A current passport with a minimum 6 months validity beyond your arrival-date in Indonesia. 12 months minimum is better, as most of your required Indonesian documents will be issued for a year,
  • An ICAO CPL,
  • A current Class 1 Medical Certificate,
  • A Letter of Validation from the Regulatory Authority that issued your Pilots licence,
  • A copy of the Endorsement for the aircraft you are applying to fly,
  • A copy of your Aviation English qualification certificate,
  • Copies of your logbook, and
  • Your current Aviation CV.

If you have worked in Indonesia previously and/or changing companies, you will also require:

  • A copy of your Passport page which indicates the documents returned and your Exit visa,
  • A letter of LOLOS BUTUH (release letter) from your previous employer, and
  • A copy of your original Indonesian Certificate of Validation which was issued against your ICAO Pilots Licence and allowed you to fly in Indonesia.

All of these documents should be copies of the originals and prepared in the PDF format before being emailed to Indonesia. You will need to include an ID photo of yourself, passport photo format and size, against a plain RED background. Save this photo in the JPG format and include it with all the other files and documents you are sending.

Some email servers may balk at the size of the attachments you need to send to Indonesia. You may find it helpful to just save all the necessary files in a folder on a cloud service like DropBox or iCloud and then simply share the links to the folder/files as necessary in the email. I certainly do.

Expect the whole process of approval -before you see a contract- to take a minimum 3-6 weeks. Also you will have to receive from Jakarta a letter of recommendation from DGCA and the same from the Immigration Department. Receipt of these documents does not constitute your visa! All they allow you to do is then apply for the necessary visa to be attached to your passport at the nearest Indonesian Consulate office, which has recently cost me AUD$165 in Sydney. At the Consulate visa section, they will indicate which form you need to fill-out for the visa application. This form must be accompanied by:

  • A recent passport photograph,
  • A letter of invitation from your prospective employer,
  • A copy of your DGCA approval, and
  • A copy of your Indonesian Immigration Department approval.

Then you get to wait 5 working days for the issue of your visa and the return of your passport.

On Arrival:

Just follow the stream of bodies getting off your aircraft when you arrive. You'll get where you need to be.

Visa on Arrival VOA:

1st stop will be the Visa on Arrival desks, which will be either side of the stream of bodies. Don't go past here in the initial headlong rush. It's where you need to be for the rip-off's to begin. This one is not so painful -only USD$10 or so. Check This Site for the list of approved countries and up-to-date costs. If your company has all their shit in the same sock (good luck with that!), it's the last time you'll need to do this. You should be issued with a Multiple Entry Visa and KITAS pretty smartly once you've started. You will be charged Rp.150,000 every time you want to get out of the country however... At the Visa on Arrival desks, you will be processed through the immigration formalities as well as paying their taxes, so once you're through that stage, proceed directly to the baggage claim area. Don't be surprised if another uniformed official (they're Big on uniforms here) pulls you aside on your way there to recheck your passport, visa and other documentation. Nothing unusual at all and you're usually on your way again in a minute. Indonesia has the Death Penalty for drug offences too, by-the-way... if you're stupid enough to live a lifestyle that involves that sort of activity, you're on your own. You get pretty much what's coming to you, one way or another I reckon. Once you reach the baggage claim area, it's a free-for-all. Get used to people pushing past you or just pushing you out of the way -it's just Indonesian SOP. Harden up, get into the fray. You'll probably find Porters there to whom you may choose to surrender your baggage claims. They'll get your bags off the carousel onto a trolley and take all as far as the taxi for you -for a cost, of course. Personally I just do it myself. Less hassle and cost in the long run. Once you have your bags, expect to be pulled aside by another uniformed official, who will check your baggage claim tags match your bags -so keep your Boarding Pass! Then proceed directly to the customs area. Once through there, assuming all the preceding is in order, it's Welcome to Indonesia!

Transport:

As you make your way out of the terminal, you'll see hordes of people hanging over the barrier looking for their arrivals. Keep going. As you proceed to the outside area, you'll notice it's 32 degrees Celsius, 96% humidity with a strong likelihood of TSRA late afternoon. Or within a bulls-roar of that. Again, get used to it... Shortly after you notice that, you'll hear "hey Mister!". Yep, it's you they're talking to. That'll be the taxi-pimps looking to rip you off. There's a lot of them. Your response will probably be fairly polite initially, but after 50 or so "hey Mister!"s, may be considerably less so, depending on your temperament. Keep walking past them. They are thieves looking for an easy mark, the cars are private cars without a meter, moonlighting as unofficial taxis, with drivers that have little to no idea of how to get you where you are going. To get into Jakarta, you want to be getting on one of Bluebird, Silver Bird[1] or Express Taxis. No one else. There will be a clearly marked queue for their services. Do yourself a favour: get in it. The cars are tidy, seem to be well maintained, drivers generally courteous and knowledgeable and will get you to your immediate destination with minimum fuss. Expect to pay minimum Rp.120,000 to a maximum of Rp.200,000 for most city destinations, on the meter, depending on the time of day and traffic situation. You will also be expected to pay for the Expressway (yeah, right!) Tolls also, but they are only Rp.10,000 - Rp.12,000 anyway. Be prepared for a shock when you first see Indonesian road behaviour! You wouldn't believe me if I laid it all out here anyway, seeing is believing. Remarkably for all the chaos, I have seen very few accidents/incidents.

Telephones and Internet:

Generally speaking, cheap, pretty widely available -and notoriously unreliable. Indonesian Telecoms infrastructure misses the mark by a wide margin. You'll want to be buying a cellphone SIM-card, pretty much as one of your 1st purchases on reaching Indonesia. The arrivals area (before you go outside or through customs, adjacent to the baggage carousels) is a pretty good place to start. Quite likely you will have been approached by the touts selling phone cards as you left the aircraft anyway. Assuming you were smart enough NOT to buy a card from them, the arrivals area is your best bet. There, if your phone requires anything other than a standard SIM-card size, they can at least prepare the card properly for your phone and will most likely activate the new SIM-card for you too. Simple. I use a TSEL SIM-card which is plenty adequate for my needs with full call features and 3G/4G Internet access also. Recharges (everything here is prepaid) are by SIMPATI cards, which are available everywhere, even in Papua. They're available in Rp.50,000 and Rp.100,000 denominations. International calls are blindingly expensive in comparison to domestic calls and will blow your available credit in a heartbeat. There is a prefix (01017) that helps though! If for example you were dialling, lets say NSW, Australia 5555 1234. The number you would usually dial from here would be: +61 2 5555 1234. That'll blow your credit real fast. Try instead adding the prefix so the number you dial is: 01017 61 2 5555 1234. I reckon you'll be pleased with the results. No guarantee that that is going to work for everyone or from/to everywhere... but it's worth a crack, yeah? Your hotel will most likely provide WiFi Internet access -as will your employer, when you get that far- but do not expect great things. Most likely it'll be as slow as a wet week, particularly at peak hours, prone to regular drop-outs which may last from minutes to weeks in my experience and you will not have the freedom to surf wherever your fancy takes you in most cases. This is the most populous Muslim nation on the planet after all, so best you expect some censorship.

Jakarta:

It's an eye opener! Your 1st impression will likely be of the scrum at the airport. 2nd, the incredible traffic behaviour. But it won't be until you have had your feet on the ground a few hours that you'll start to develop a notion of the city and the people. I'm not writing a travelogue, so make your own decisions of the city.

Precautions:

Water:

A few cautions however: best you don't drink tap water -at all. Brush your teeth with bottled water and keep your mouth closed in the shower. Drink only bottled water. Even Jakarta residents will tell you not to consume tap water at all. There are always water coolers and bottled water available, everywhere you go. Bottled water is also provided daily in Hotel rooms, city-wide.

Food:

It can be difficult to find anything that resembles what you're used to. Supermarkets tend to be pretty abysmal, with the stench of decaying foodstuffs likely to be the 1st thing you'll notice. There are good ones about -other expats are likely to be you best source of information for that. Street food: very widely available and cheap -but definitely at your own risk. Restaurants vary from street stalls to some quite good. Carry plenty of stomach upset remedies, especially those that have the ability to be used as a preventative. And use them! Hygiene, cleanliness, care for the environment and safe food preparation would generally not be considered Indonesian long-suits in any context. Be appropriately prepared. The usual range of travellers' cautions apply at least as much here as anywhere else too. Generally speaking, Indonesians are warm, open, friendly and accommodating people, certainly individually. In a group, they may become quite intolerant, ignorant, rude and pushy. Best to stay well away from large, organised groups of locals as far as possible. Extreme Muslim fundamentalism is on the rise, you don't need to be getting mixed up in that. Another challenge you will face a some point is entrenched corruption at all levels of society. It is as much a part of life here as breathing. More on that later.

Processing:

Whilst in Jakarta, you will be expected to go through the whole Indonesian recognition of foreign qualifications, work permit and certification process, as well as an Indonesian medical. You'll be guided through the whole process by your company and they will cover any expenses incurred through the process. It's a proper dog-and-pony show and will probably take a minimum couple of weeks, during which time you will undergo whatever additional training your company and DGCA require. At the end of it all, you will have:

  • A multi-entry visa in your passport,
  • An Immigration Control Book,
  • A Certificate of Validation showing specific aircraft type-rating approvals,
  • A Limited Stay Permit card
  • A Certificate of Police Registration, and
  • An Indonesian Medical Certificate.

Best you assume it is necessary to have all that documentation with you at all times -and keep it safe!

Medical:

It's not like anywhere else in the world. You will be taken to the Flight Crew Medical Centre[2] where everyone is processed. There you will undergo:

  • Dental
  • Blood
  • Eyes
  • ENT Ears, Nose, Throat
  • ECG -on the treadmill
  • General Medical
  • X-Ray

Once you have completed all the necessary processes, you wait downstairs with everyone else until your name is called. That'll probably be between 12:00-13:00, when you'll sign the register and be handed your new Indonesian Class 1 Medical Certificate.

Validation

A couple of visits to DGCA will happen somewhere in the process too, for you to sit the Indonesian Aviation Law exam, and be processed for your Indonesian Validation of your mother licence. It's likely you will be issued a 30-day Validation initially, with the balance of the 12 month Validation being issued at or close to the expiry of that document.

Singapore

You will have to make a day-trip to Singapore too, to get your Multiple Entry Visa in your Passport, which is valid for 12 months from issue. This wee excursion is at your Companies expense. There you will visit an office where you will (temporarily) surrender your Passport. Fret not, I've done it 5x already and it's never back any later than 16:30, giving you plenty of time to catch the late flight back to Jakarta. On entering Immigration this time, you can safely ignore the VOA desks, similarly ignore the General Arrival queues and should have a quick & painless process through the KITAS queue, which will be much shorter.

Immigration

Once your Singapore trip is done, you will need to visit the Immigration offices and have your photo and fingerprints recorded in their systems. A matter of days later, You're All Set!

Once you have ticks in all those boxes, it's off to Papua. Almost every time I've travelled from Jakarta to Papua, it's been a late evening departure (23:00L or later) for the journey to Papua. Expect cattle-class, at least 1 intermediate stop en-route (maybe as many as 3!) and arrival in probably Timika at around 06:00 or Jayapura/Sentani around 07:00L. There is a 2 hour time difference from Jakarta to Papua. Most likely you will have had the shit kicked out of the back of your seat by the dickhead behind you all the way down, so expect to arrive knackered. You will need someone to be there to meet you in Jayapura on arrival, to show you around and get everything sorted. Most companies are pretty good like that, but not all. If your base in Papua is other than Jayapura/Sentani, you'll need to catch a connecting flight. That can be an act. Good luck with that. Other bases may include Wamena in the Central Highlands, Timika on the South Coast or Nabire in the West. Biak is another base for one company and is an island North of Nabire.

Bugger me, all this writing and we ain't even established in Papua yet...

Papua Ops:

One thing I can flat-out guarantee you is, you ain't seen nothing like this before. Leave all your pre-conceptions, misconceptions, notions of your own infallibility and importance of the "degree" you hold outside Indonesia. Just forget them. That may sound harsh, or even arrogant to some. I don't care. There have been any number of "Aviation Academy", University and other sausage-factory graduates with the ink on the licences and "degrees" still wet, come through here before you. No one cares how good you have been told you are or how good you think you are, what degree or frozen qualifications you hold or that you think you are going to be flying an A380 in 3 months time. To a greater or lesser degree, best you forget what you think you know about aviation too, and how it is committed. Initially at least, for most, you are here to LEARN. Eyes, ears and mind open, mouth shut. This is a harsh and unique environment in which you will be operating, you will be exposed to situations, locations and techniques you have never seen before. You are going to be taken outside your comfort-zone. You are not in some sort of pissing-contest with the people tasked to train you. If your ego is so fragile that you find that offensive, don't come; you won't cut it.

Types Flown:

The aircraft type you are most likely to wind-up in as a new-hire is the Cessna Caravan C208B and/or EX, the majority of which here are Garmin G1000 equipped. Expect to start in the Right seat for 6-12 months, depending on previous experience and ability. There are still quite a few "Classic's" (old steam-dials, with GNS430/530) around too, so be prepared. Other aircraft types are more likely to be Classics. The other aircraft types commonly seen here include the Quest Kodiak, Pilatus PC6 Turbo Porter, PAC750XL, DHC-6 Twin Otter and an occasional scattering of other types like the Cessna C185, C206[3] and Piaggio P.180 Avanti. The scheduled airlines of course operate the usual mix of short- medium-haul turboprops. You'll find damn near every type of helicopter imaginable somewhere in the mix also.

Bases:

The following links will take you to more base-specific information. Where known, Operators, Airframe Types and No's[4] and facilities provided at the bases are indicated[5]

Notes

  1. Silver Bird are the Premium arm of Bluebird Taxi's. They'll be much easier to hail at the airport, with no queue. They will however charge you between 3-400,000 Rupiah into the City, plus Tolls.
  2. Get there early. Tell whoever your Company representative is, that you want to be there and registered no later than 06:30. Any later than that, you've missed the bus.
  3. Not too many of these left now, given the near-impossibility of sourcing AvGas at a commercially sustainable price
  4. Any Operators airframe mix and No. of airframes at any base may vary significantly over time. The tables indicate information current as-at 20170301
  5. Helicopter Operators, Airframe type and No.'s are not indicated. If that information is required and a request is made, I will (with assistance!) add it in future