Plans for airport city style development at Nadzab Airport – located 42km to the northwest of Lae, capital of the Morobe Province and Papua New Guinea’s second largest city – emerged in a 2011 masterplan for future growth of the airport both as an aeronautical hub and as a commercial and industrial centre. Nadzab Airport’s extensive land holding was earmarked for development and expansion over a time-frame of 50-70 years. The graphic below, showing a business hub next to the airport, is from Nadzab Central Strategic Plan, produced by Planpac and identifying development opportunities for 700 hectares of greenfield land.
Tensions between clans over ownership of land parcels date back to the inception of the airport project, in 1972 when the country was under Australian colonial administration. A loan agreement between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the PNG government – for ¥26,942 million (USD225.2 million) of an estimated project cost of ¥32,246 million (USD269.6 million) – was signed on 14th October 2015 and the project came to be known as Nadzab Airport Redevelopment Plan (NARP). Plans for an Airport City were mentioned in 2017 and in February 2020 NARP project manager said it was a major airport and city development and the provincial government must help address landowner issues. Prime Minister James Marape tasked Lands and Planning Minister John Rosso to start mobilising landowners in preparation for the project. In April 2021 PNG National Airports Corporation (NAC) managing director and chief executive Rex Kiponge said that upon completion of NARP the airport city concept would be rolled out, saying “When the airport is complete, the commercial aspects of the airport business hub must complement it.”
The village of Gabsongkeg is at the centre of NARP and landowners have made repeated calls for consultation, participation in the project and spin-off business opportunities. In 2020 landowners were disappointed that construction and security contracts were awarded to outsiders overlooking reputable local businesses. In January 2022 it was reported that only a small number of landowners were benefitting from leasing their customary land for associated businesses. Local people impacted by airport development still lack clean running water, electricity and adequate health facilities. NARP and other projects, such as a 4-lane highway and gold and copper mining, have triggered an influx of people, disrupting the social fabric and leading to increased social problems including violence, killings and drug & alcohol abuse. The area lacks a police station to address these issues.
Serious social problems of rape, underage marriage and prostitution specifically harm women. And women have been marginalized in land-related negotiations and decisions due to government assumptions of patrilineal land descent. Yet in the midst of these difficulties 60 Gabsongkeg women – planning ahead as most of the land in Gabsongkeg where coconut, plantain, cocoa and other trees are cultivated, is set to be taken over by the Nadzab township development – have established table markets selling food and other goods. They have increased their incomes and aim to grow their ventures into small-medium sized enterprises to support their families in the future.
Further information about contested land and other issues arising from Nadzab Airport has been published on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues: Nadzab Airport Redevlopment Plan (NARP) and Airport City, PNG