Erwin has travelled from Papua New Guinea to train as a pilot in Australia, but it’s all part of a longer journey for the former accountant as he seeks to make a difference in the world.
The enthusiastic 24-year-old left behind the numbers and spreadsheets to join Mission Aviation Fellowship in PNG where he worked in support of the programme, including a spell with ground operations.
When the opportunity arose to travel to MAF’s Flight Training Centre in Mareeba, Erwin embraced it as the logical next step.
“I felt as an accountant I was only helping the wealthy get richer when I was doing tax returns and accounts for business owners. So I thought how can I help my country,” he said.
"I thought how can I help my country"
“MAF PNG knew that I wanted to come for training so they let me get on a few flights, then I was asked to be part of ground operations. I did that for about six months and then I worked with Todd (MAF’s PNG Country Director Todd Aebischer) and was able to fill holes.”
Erwin joined the Flight Training Centre in August 2022 and achieved his first solo in a handful of weeks. He then went into a period of theory training whilst waiting for the student visa.
He has gone on to achieve an important milestone after passing his PPL flight test.
While working in the PNG programme, Erwin’s general experience around MAF flights prepared him well for the course in Mareeba.
“It’s definitely helped with the initial theory, especially the ground component, because I know how these things worked,” he said. “It’s also helped with the study because in PNG I had to write proposals or communication to staff, and that’s really helped me here, learning how to simplify things.
“It was different, but it was really useful to see how MAF works, it was so good to be part of something and that also instilled the desire to fully chase after this.”
Erwin grew up in Mt Hagen in the highlands of PNG and his own background is as the descendant of Swiss missionaries to the nation.
“My grandparents were Swiss missionaries in PNG so my dad and the majority of his siblings were born there in the 50s and 60s. Dad was the only sibling who stayed back and completed his higher education there and later he married my mum,” Erwin said.
“A lot of the Swiss families who are based in PNG are quite closely engaged with the Swiss mission, so that was another avenue into MAF through them, because we knew them separately through church or from youth meetings - they were also flying and working with MAF.”
So, what is it about MAF’s Flight Training Centre that Erwin would recommend?
“They’ve got the programme set up really well, there’s a lot of learning curves where I feel overwhelmed then at the end it feels almost like nothing,” he said. “That was another reason why mission pilots pick this flight school, it’s because it’s very much focused on the more technical side of things – shorter airstrips, learning how to fly around mountains, these types of rural environments.
It's very much focused on the more technical side of things
"Because almost all of the instructors here have come out of the programmes, they understand the realities of the programme and they are better able to apply that into the course.
“You have to be sure, it’s the financial commitment, because once you start it, it’s best to push through and to have a goal after so you understand what you plan to do.”
Like most of the students, Erwin is looking forward to the navigational safari which allows pilots to go out on their own for an epic adventure towards the end of their training.
“Especially for those of us pilots who want to join MAF, it’s really great because you go into a programme and you understand more of what’s happening and then you start to see the efficiency that the pilots work at,” he said.
“Then it’s also the adventure of flying for 10 days. It’s so cool that you’re able to fly so far as part of the course.”
His next steps when he graduates as a pilot, will be to join a MAF programme. The obvious choice seems to be back in PNG, but Erwin is open to wherever he is called.
“Initially it was quite strongly PNG, but it wasn’t until Nick (Timor-Leste Country Director Nick Hitchins) came here and shared about how they operate that I thought yes there are needs in other programmes. So yes, I would like to go to PNG, but I wouldn’t be against other programmes at all,” he said.