Story & Photos by Lobitos de Jesus Alves
People in Timor-Leste are able to get domestic air transportation after MAF launched its first regular shuttle flights to safely connect people from district to district in a short time.
This new service opens opportunities for local farmers to bring their products and sell them to markets in other districts. It also helps them to come to the capital for medical care or to attend an urgent appointment or business meeting without spending more time on travel.
Antero Baptista, a carpenter from Atauro Island, explained how MAF’s shuttle flights helped him travel to Dili for a business meeting. "We are happy that MAF is able to bring us to Dili because we have an important business meeting where we are going to buy teak woods in Dili,” said Mr Baptista. “We were supposed to come with the boat, but unfortunately there was a strong wind and heavy waves that caused the boat to not operate as usual. We contacted MAF’s reservation assistant, and they gave us a positive result to help us.”
Joana Isac Ribeiro explained how the flight helped her to get back to Same, where all the main roads in Same have been cut off due to flooding. “MAF’s flight brings us hope when it seems there is no hope for us because all the main roads connecting Same to Dili were destroyed during the heavy rain on the Southern coast, including Same,” said Mrs Ribeiro. “I am very grateful to MAF for helping and bringing us back to our hometown in this urgent situation.”
Josefina Sarmento flew with her parents for a medical appointment in Dili to avoid an uncomfortable road trip. “We came to Dili for a medical appointment to check up on my father’s health condition, and we decided to take MAF’s plane as a good option for my father’s condition, as he would not be able to travel by car,” said Mrs Sarmento.
MAF’s Country Director Nick Hitchins explained how the people of Timor-Leste had embraced the new service. “We’ve seen the Dili-based NGOs starting to engage with the shuttles, and that’s slowly but surely increasing, and we have a growing number of local passengers as well,” said Mr Hitchins. “These are people who have never flown before, and they have no kind of history of using an airplane, but they are starting to have the courage to give it a go. Now we have some who are regular customers who fly every week.”
Normally, to travel to all the shuttle destinations (Maliana, Suai, Same, Viqueque, Bacau and Lospalos) by car would take three days, but it takes five hours to do a complete circular visit to all the destinations, including a flight to Atauro Island.
This year, approximately 1350 passengers have registered to use MAF’s shuttle services, providing vital connections to local and international passengers.