PAPUA New Guinea aviation lost two of its giants this quarter, with Airlines PNG founder Sir John Wild and Air Niugini founding general manager Ralph Conley passing away in Queensland, Australia within a month of one another.

Airlines PNG announced in a statement that Sir John had remained active right up until his death in October, despite experiencing failing health for much of the year.

“PNG was his home for more than half a century and it was only ill health that prevented him from returning,” the statement said.

Sir John’s contributions to PNG were recognised with a knighthood in 2011, having previously been made a Commander of the British Empire and a Companion of the Star of Melanesia.

In one of his last acts for his beloved airline, Sir John returned the majority of his shares to Airlines PNG so NASFUND and the Mineral Resources Development Company (MRDC) could buy up stakes in the carrier.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Lady Patricia Wild, Sir John’s five surviving children and with the extended Wild family,” Airlines PNG chief executive Muralee Siva said.

“There are many of our 780 employees who will be particularly upset to learn of his death as he was their first boss and a man for whom all had great respect. He will be sadly missed.”

Mr Conley, who died in Brisbane in November, joined Air Niugini in 1973 as its first general manager.

Mr Conley’s modern-day counterpart, Air Niugini chief executive Simon Foo, said Mr Conley’s contribution was “immense”.

“As the pioneer chief executive, Mr Conley had contributed immensely towards the initial formation and operation of Air Niugini in the early years where there was hardly any road link and people were more reliant on aircraft than any other means of transport. “

Mr Conley was among those who witnessed the inaugural Air Niugini flight on 1 November, 1973 when a Fokker F27 Friendship took off from Jacksons Airport en route to Rabaul via Lae and Kieta.

His last visit to Port Moresby and Papua New Guinea was in November 2011, where he received a Logohu Award.

Mr Conley, like Sir John, was also recognised for his efforts with a Companion of the Order of the Star of Melanesia.