The airport plays an important role in boosting the economy. In West Papua, one of the most crucial airports that open the main air gate is Sentani airport. There are long histories we can learn from this airport. To learn more about the history of Sentani airport, keep reading.
Built by Japan
Sentani airport can be said as the Papua and West Papua’s main air getaway. Historically, this air station was built by Japan and then taken over by the United States. However, later on, the Dutch controlled Sentani airport. Serving many flights to big cities in Indonesia, this airport is located in Sentani district, Jayapura regency, West Papua.
It is located on the shores of Lake Sentani. Sentani airport also becomes the home base for pioneer airlines that serve flights to some remote areas in Papua and West Papua. Many years ago, this airport was built by Japan and was originally used as a Japanese military airfield during World War II or the Pacific War.
Seized by Allies Forces
At that time, the Japanese soldiers stationed 139 bombers and 125 fighters at the Sentani airfield. These Japanese planes were lined up with wingtips close together. But then, on April 22, 1944, under the command of General Douglas Mac Arthur, the airport was seized by the Allied forces. During the conquest, American warplanes destroyed 199 Japanese aircraft parked on the runway.
While the Japanese lost 199 aircraft, America only lost four warplanes. The remaining Japanese survivors were flown to the Wakde Island airport, in Sarmi. The conquering was celebrated by the Allies’ style. General Mac Arthur and his American troops drank Coca-cola and ice cream. Meanwhile, the Australian, British and Dutch troops toasted by drinking beer.
Better Airstrip Was Constructed
Once Sentani airfield was successfully controlled, Mac Arthur assigned a technical engineer to check the surface of the airport which was abandoned by the Japanese troops. The American troops felt disappointed after learning that Japan built the airstrip in a short time above the sago swampland. The airport was only meant for Japan’s Zero aircraft which weighed about 2.7 tons.
The Japanese poorly drained the Sentani airport airfield. That is why it was difficult for fully loaded bombers not to hit the Cyclops hills during takeoff. For that reason, the American engineers were then commanded to build a new runway in the area of a former Japanese airfield.
They wanted to construct a more improved and capable runway that can be used by American aircraft which weighed ten times as much as the Japanese Zeros. The engineers hardened the runway and made it wide so that the B29 Superfortress long-body bomber could land smoothly and easily.
After the Pacific War
Following the Pacific war, Sentani airfield was controlled by the Dutch until 1962. The Dutch used this airport as an airfield for commercial aircraft and fighter aircraft. Once the Dutch left Papua and West Papua, Sentani airport was then managed by the Indonesian government. The landing field was extended and many airport support facilities were added.
Now, Papua and West Papua have more than 300 airfields, making them the number one provinces that have many airfields. Among them, four airports are international airports. Papua and West Papua’s airports that own international status are Frans Kaisepo airport in Biak district, Sentani airport in Jayapura district, Moses Kilangin airport in Mimika district, and Mopah airport in Meraku district.
Those are the long history of Sentani airport before the Indonesian government was finally able to manage the air gate. Airports indeed become a priority in Papua and West Papua due to the Island’s diverse geographical conditions.