With a career spanning 38 years in the aviation industry, both military and civil, Francis Utah’s journey to become a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer at Air Niugini is an unusual one. Inspired by patriotism, he joined the PNG Defence Force in 1983 and ended up in a challenging yet rewarding job of ensuring aircraft is airborne and safely flying.
- He became the first Papua New Guinean to attain Aircraft Maintenance Specialist Inspectors Certificate in Non Destructive Testing.
- First Papua New Guinean to become Quality Control Manager at Air Niugini, a role previously held by expatriates.
- Has worked for 20 years with PNGDF and 18 years with Air Niugini in both military and civil aviation.
- He studied Theology to enlighten his personal understanding and relationship with God.
I owe my gratitude to my sister, Lucy and uncle Francis Utah for this remarkable and inspiring story worth spreading.
by planter’s child adventures
Most often very few stories of humility ever make the news. Politicians and sport starts fight for the spotlight and the media gives it to them. I believe people we should emulate are those who don’t need the spotlight.
I first met uncle Francis Utah in 2019 at a family gathering in Port Moresby. He is aunty Gloria’s husband and aunty Gloria is dad’s first cousin from Kaiapit.
What really inspired me at that meeting was Uncle Francis’ humility. He joined Aunty Gloria to welcome my friend, Michigan and me and made sure we had enough food to eat and bring back extras for dinner.
While making a first impression is imperative to becoming an influential leader, serving people is one of the most powerful way to guide, teach and inspire others. This was when I decided to write his story to inspire and motivate young people to achieve their dream jobs with determination to learn and discipline.
I later learn that Uncle Francis was more than a well-respected aircraft maintenance engineer, he was a Sunday school teacher, mentor, counsellor and role model to many.
Francis Utah was born in Hinno village, North Solomons Province, on 19 October 1964. He received his initial formal education at Katuku Primary School in 1971 and continued to Rigu High School in 1977 before going to Passam National High School in East Sepik.
In 1983 there was a border incursion by Indonesian soldiers and a subsequent shootout with Papua New Guinea Defence Force soldiers around the border area in West Sepik. Having studied history as a student at Passam, the atrocities that Indonesian military was committing then was no convincing for him. Overcome by a sense of patriotism, Francis joined PNGDF on December 5, 1983 at the age of nineteen.
The conflict of 1983 was resolved diplomatically and soldiers were given opportunities to take up special fields of interest. This was after six months of very hard military training at Goldie River outside of Port Moresby.
Francis chose aircraft maintenance engineering and he was sent to Igam for another six months of training and studying Apprentice Bridging Course in preparation for a training with the Royal Australian Air Force.
In 1985, he became the dux of Adult Engine Fitters course at Royal Australian Air Force School of Technical Training in Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. He returned to PNG and served in the army.
Having sworn an oath to serve God, Queen and PNG at enlistment, when the Bougainville crises flared up in 1998, Francis served the PNG government with loyalty during the years of conflict.
“I reached the rank of a sergeant and in 2003 I voluntarily retired from the PNGDF when the retrenchment exercise was conducted. I sacrificed 20 years of my life for the people and country that I love,’’ Francis said.
Francis is now a retired member of the PNGDF but his peers still reach out to him from time to time to assist with advice on specific things they require or have little understanding of. “Once a soldier, always a soldier. I will always be a soldier in heart until I exit from this earth,” Francis enthused.
One day in 2003 in his 20 years of working for the army, two senior staff from Air Niugini came looking for him while he was out on lunch. At that time they did not have an aircraft maintenance specialist to perform ultrasonic inspections on their F28-400 aircrafts and Francis was asked to do ultrasonic inspection on number 2 Rotor fan blade of F28-400 aircraft engine.
He obliged and they went to Air Niugini engineering hangar and he performed the inspection. After signing the documents for this inspection, Francis was asked to see the maintenance controller. The maintenance controller came out and told him blankly that today was the start of his employment at Air Niugini.
Francis went back to PNGDF Airport Transport Squadron and as the PNGDF retrenchment exercise was going on, he volunteered for early retrenchment and was officially discharged in 2006. The rest was history, he has been with Air Niugini since 2003.
Francis described a typical day at work as there is never a dull moment or time of relaxing on this job. It is go right from the hangar building till 1700 hours or even extending late into the night.
To become an aircraft engineer was not his dream job. “I did not have one. When I joined the PNGDF, I looked at all the job opportunities available and aircraft engineering seemed to be the most challenging job amongst all the jobs so I chose this field.’’
He continued. ”I have no regrets for taking up this field of trade as it has taken me to places around the world I would have not reached. It’s a challenging job but these challenges are always rewarding when you see the aircraft airborne and safely flying to various destinations within PNG and abroad. The remunerations of a Licensed Aircraft Engineer is very high especially if you have dual ratings.’’
To be an aircraft engineer, as a young person you have to be a rational person, ready to face challenges with a sharp mind always thinking out of the box for worse case scenarios regarding personal safety, aircraft safety and safety of passengers flying on the aircraft and process safety and be able to read and understand instructions.
In 2012, Francis became the first Papua New Guinean to attain Civil Aviation Safety Authority PNG Certificate as an Aircraft Maintenance Specialist in the field of Non Destructive Testing (AMS2).
The highest achievement of his career happened in 2018 when he received his maintenance specialist license and aircraft maintenance license from CASA PNG and his license as a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (LAME).
Francis said the driving force behind his achievements was becoming a born again Christian from a religious driven life of the past.
“I am privileged to have studied theology as it helps me when relating to issues at work when staff come to me for advice or counselling. God also uses me to preach in church as a Sunday school teacher for men and women and preach in the church when the pastor is out of the church.’’
UP CLOSE & PERSONAL (Francis Utah)
1. What are two highlights of your career at Air Niugini?
I. I became the first Papua New Guinean to attain the Aircraft Maintenance Specialist Inspectors Certificate in NDT. My AMS 2 number is # 2. Thus my AMS 2-02. Now it has gone into hundreds.
II. I am the first national Quality Control Manager in Air Niugini Ltd. Previously it was all expatriates.
2. What is your biggest achievement?
The highest achievement in my life would be the attainment of my Aircraft Maintenance Specialist Licence and my Aircraft Maintenance Engineers License. I was the only PNGDF Defence Corporation Program (DCP) to have successfully passed all disciplines of the Non Destructive Testing Methods with distinctions.
The highlights of my career is performing Non Destructive Testing for Marshall Islands in March 2021. I was flown in the Falcon aircraft, which was chartered specifically for my travel to Marshall Islands. The crew waited for me two days until I completed the job and they flew me back to Port Moresby. Others would be performing Ultrasonic Inspection at Mt Kare in Enga Province and performing lightning strike inspection on a Boeing 737-800 aircraft in Manila, Philippines.
As an auditor it would be my audit of Singapore International Airport Engineering Company in Singapore and here at Air Niugini would be leading the team [Team Leader] at Air Niugini Engineering for the company to pass the IOSA Audit, BARS Audit and CASAPNG MOC Renewal Audit and other third party audits.
3. Who has made the biggest contribution to your success?
I would say it was God who made things happen. He used my uncle (dad’s younger brother) to pay for my school fees from primary school to Grade 12. My dad passed away when I was in grade 5. The rest was me putting the puzzles together and of course God was in it all.
4. What’s the best advice you have been given so far?
Put God in the equations of your life to balance things for you–same like the mathematics lesson (Algebra).
Be honest to yourself and to others– You will go a long way with it.
Have self-respect and respect for others.
Humble yourself – humility and meekness are not weaknesses as people see them. They are the inner strength of any person and are much stronger and powerful than boasters high minded and narrow minded people.
5. If you could give aspiring soldiers or aircraft maintenance engineers some advice, what would it be?
You will have to be self-disciplined, have a positive outlook on things in life and lot of self-sacrifice and have a teachable spirit and be a team player to achieve your dream job in life. Nothing is impossible. Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me.