MAF Arnhem Land pilot and passengers walking toward aircraft
Janne Rytkonen

MAF Arnhem Land’s Regular Public Transport (RPT) service provides access to essential services for people living in some of the most remote communities in Australia.

Yolngu people can hop on an RPT flight to Nhulunbuy for scheduled appointments and treatment, and healthcare professionals working in the homelands and communities of Arnhem Land can catch flights out to their clients.

Occupational therapist Kristina Key and physiotherapist Laura Saldanha work for the Arnhem Allied Health Centre, based in Nhulunbuy. They travel to Elcho Island (Galiwinku) regularly on the RPT.

MAF pilot and Arnhem Allied Health Centre workers
Janne Rytkonen
Pilot David Chandlers greets passengers before giving the safety briefing for the RPT flight to Elcho Island. L-R Pilot David Chandler, physiotherapist Laura Saldanha, occupational therapist Kristina Key.

Kristina said, It's way better for people if their conditions can be managed locally. It's important for people to stay connected to country on the island.”

Her work includes advocacy for her clients in areas such as housing, employment and mental health care.

"We focus on people's goals, which are often around building skills, safety and independence so people can remain living in their communities,” she said. “We do home modifications such as installing ramps and rails, script equipment such as wheelchairs and scooters, and run mental health peer support groups".

Laura Saldanha is enthusiastic about the progress her clients make with regular visits, which would not be possible without the RPT flights.

“One of my clients fractured her ankle last year,” said Laura. “She hadn't walked in six months and was really deconditioned. She had weekly physiotherapy and is now able to walk with her wheelie walker again. It was so great to see her hard work pay off."

This isn’t about just moving people; it facilitates our numerous partnerships.
Matt Henderson, Country Director, Arnhem Land

Routine passengers include government employees such as Nathan Dumschat, Civil Infrastructure Project Officer for the Northern Territory Government. Nathan performs many of his maintenance assessments by car, over hundreds of kilometres of road, but — particularly in the wet season — air travel is the only way into many communities, and the RPT is a convenient and cost-effective solution.

“I look after all the airstrips. I undertake all the maintenance requirements of the airstrips with service providers,” Nathan said. “MAF is a reasonably priced avenue to get to these communities, and I’ll be utilising them more regularly in my travels around East Arnhem Land.”

The RPT service in its present form was re-established in 2016 as a natural extension of MAF’s commitment to serving isolated communities across Arnhem Land.

Dean Giles, project manager of the RPT at the time of its inception, said, “We were just constantly told by the community and senior members of the communities, asking us to re-establish a regular service where people could travel just paying for a seat fare rather than the whole aircraft.

MAF office at Elcho Island
Janne Rytkonen
MAF Arnhem Land pilots often work in diverse roles such as customer service, bookings, and ticketing, in addition to flying. Pilot Prabhu Pothula at the Elcho Island Airport MAF office.

“A lot of government departments and service delivery organisations wouldn't be doing as much in the communities as they are now, because they can do it at a much-reduced cost. And local people wouldn't be able to move around as freely. It's a very practical service from that point of view.”

In January, MAF Arnhem Land received the C208 Cessna Caravan VH-MFD, its second Caravan, which has almost doubled the capacity of the RPT service.

Passengers disembarking from flight
Janne Rytkonen
RPT passengers disembarking at the Gove Airport MAF terminal after the last flight of the day.

“This year is the first time we’ve hardly used the GA8 for shuttle flights,” said Country Director Matt Henderson. “This means that we can double capacity when we use the C208s from four or five passengers to nine.

“This isn’t about just moving people; it facilitates our numerous partnerships across the region. This means our ministry provides a safe, reliable service that delivers a greater impact for the people in Arnhem Land.”