Guinea

“It is a lifesaver for us.” First humanitarian flight in Guinea saves four days’ overland travel and hundreds of dollars on polluting diesel

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Finnish pilot Roy Rissanen [57] flew the first operational flight on Saturday 23 April 2022 to launch a new humanitarian air service in Guinea, West Africa. Roy is a pilot with international charity Mission Aviation Fellowship [MAF] and transported his first passengers from Nzérékoré in the south to Guinea’s capital Conakry. The flight lasted 1 hour 50 minutes and saved 23 by road – overall cutting four days’ travel for the humanitarian workers on board.

MAF is the first non-governmental air operator to fly in Guinea and has already received requests from at least 10 charities and medical groups to help transport relief services to isolated parts of the country. Research revealed that an MAF flight could save NGO workers up to a week of overland travel in Guinea, as well as reducing the cost and carbon footprint for aid workers who rely on heavily polluting diesel jeeps to traverse almost impassable roads.

MAF’s first passengers – a young American family who wish to remain anonymous for security reasons – work for an international development NGO to deliver literacy and agriculture projects – and saved two days of gruelling road travel each way by flying with MAF. The family were also able to transport essential supplies and agricultural equipment on board MAF’s Cessna such as vegetables, buckets, pipes, and solar panels for their charity farming project.

They said: “We have been praying for an air service since we got here over a decade ago. There are no domestic aircraft in Guinea, so we have to drive but it’s the single most stressful aspect of life for us. It is dehumanising and demoralising. There are no lights and driving at night is very dangerous. The potholes on the main roads can be eight feet wide and a foot deep. MAF will be a lifesaver for us.”

The couple explained that for a team meeting in the capital, they endure a 23-hour drive each way with an overnight stay two or three times a year, which can cost up to $1,000 USD. The road journey is roughly 830km – the equivalent distance of driving from Plymouth to Glasgow in the UK. They rarely get visitors because it takes over a week just for guests to fly from America and drive two and from their rural village. With MAF, they may be able to see family and friends more regularly and have a way out in the event of an emergency.

Speaking about their work and reason for living so remotely in Guinea, the couple explained: “The farm we run in the south is a way for locals to see new ways of doing things – local people can grow crops for income and learn how to farm new produce including edible fruit trees which they can eat and sell. Most people barely make enough to eat, and many people suffer catastrophic events – like villages being burned through bush fires and they lose all their crops and possessions. The dry season in this area is getting drier and drier due in part to climate change. For remote communities, there is a lack of access to education, jobs, and very little trust. Most people just make money any way they can – out here it is about survival.”

The aircraft – MAF’s first to be registered by Guinea’s Civil Aviation Authority – is a Cessna 208 Caravan [registered N2114G], which joined MAF’s fleet in 2000 and was first piloted by Roy in Mongolia. The aircraft has flown roughly 8,000 hours to date – many of them flown by Roy himself – and has recently received an overhauled engine and intensive maintenance at MAF bases in the Netherlands and Uganda in preparation for service in Guinea, including removal of cold weather equipment essential for Mongolia. From Mongolia in 2020 to Conakry in 2022, N2114G has scaled continents, been completely repainted and completed three long ferry flights lasting two weeks.

With permissions finally granted after delays caused by the pandemic, Roy and co-pilot and MAF Guinea Country Director Emil Kundig began the final five-day ferry flight to transport N2114G from Uganda to Conakry, arriving in Guinea on 31 January 2022.

With final permissions to fly passengers on 23 April, MAF International CEO Dave Fyock said: “I am grateful for all the hard work, by many different people that has enabled us to reach this day of celebration – our first operational flight in Guinea.” Roy concluded: “The aircraft we now have in Guinea is of special importance to me. I saw it for the first time in Kansas 1999, when it had just rolled off the production line and I was on a pilot training course. After 20 years in Mongolia, I remember flying N2124G on a five-day ferry flight back from Ulaanbaatar to the Netherlands over winter conditions in Siberia. I feel privileged to be flying the same good old faithful aircraft again. It will continue to serve in a new part of the world with a new engine, new paint and a new tail number. We will use it to bring help, hope and healing in many ways; transporting passengers, supplies and medical patients needing urgent care – continuing to serve those who are in need in Guinea.”