MAF Mongolia’s Flight and Ground Operations Officer is often the first person that passengers meet when they come for a flight with Blue Sky Aviation (MAF’s operation in Mongolia).
Story by LuAnne Cadd
Each morning, Chuka picks up the pilot at his home and heads to the airport to prepare for the day’s flight. It’s always two hours in advance of takeoff – sometimes 5 or 6 am, but often as early as 4 am for a first-light departure in the case of urgent medevacs or long-distance flights that can take up to five hours, the longest legs of any MAF program.
Chuka is the Flight and Ground Ops Officer and his days are filled with taking care of paperwork, pilots and passengers at the International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. He is the first face of MAF for many passengers as he meets them in the terminal, checking their luggage and walking them through security to the bus that takes them to the plane.
He handles all logistics prior to takeoff, flight follows while the plane is in the air, and arranges for re-fueling and passenger needs upon return. During the flight Chuka monitors the radio and GPS system. Summer days peak at 16 hours of daylight making for long workdays if the aircraft returns just before sunset. Chuka will always be waiting to meet the plane.
Twelve Years with MAF
Twelve years ago, Chuka joined MAF as a Ground Operations Assistant and three years later took over as officer in charge. Chuka is soft-spoken, consistently polite, and a steadfast hard worker making him a valuable and reliable member of the team.
“Chuka is a very hard, diligent worker,” says Dallas Derksen, Mongolia’s Country Director and pilot. “He understands the work that we are doing in Mongolia and our mission has become his mission. His kind spirit and servant attitude are immediately noticeable to the passengers and he is often able to set nervous passengers at ease with just a few words of reassurance.”
Chuka’s youngest sister is responsible for leading his mother and him to Christ. At the church they attended, Chuka met the Mongolian Chief Engineer for us who later was influential in getting him the job of Ground Operations Assistant in 2005. He studied technology and management in university.
Opening Remote Airstrips
In addition to the flight logistic work, Chuka is primarily responsible for opening temporary airstrips, something unique to Mongolia. Much of the landscape is flat and void of large vegetation making it ideal for landing a bush aircraft such as MAF’s Cessna Caravan. During the warmer months starting in April, Chuka begins the process of opening temporary airstrips for summer flying, requested by groups planning outreach to remote areas, NGO’s, tourist companies and mining companies. Once open, each airstrip can be used for multiple purposes, including medevacs for people living in the surrounding areas.
“My favorite part of the job is opening airstrips,” Chuka says. “You meet new people and it’s challenging. My mission is to open airstrips as close as possible to where requested, but also to find the safest position. Of course, we have to find a straight smooth place, no holes or fill them in, and the length of the strip should usually be 800 meters and no more than 2% incline. But wind direction is crucial. We meet with the local person who gives us the normal wind direction. I like seeing new places in Mongolia. Many people don’t have that opportunity. I thank God He gave me that chance to see these places.”
Every trip to open a new airstrip takes from two to five days, accompanied by a civil aviation inspector and the airstrips stay open until the snow falls, usually in late October. In 2017 Blue Sky Aviation opened 20 temporary airstrips.
Proud to Serve
Although opening these airstrips is Chuka’s favorite part of the job, he sees the bigger picture of the work Blue Sky Aviation does in Mongolia.
“I’m proud of my job, saving people’s lives,” Chuka says. “We do the medical flights for local people who can’t afford to pay the other companies. Our job supports a lot of churches and groups to speak about God’s Word. Other charter companies don’t do flights in the remote areas for vulnerable people. We subsidize flights for churches and missionaries. If we stop, those jobs stop - churches, medevacs. Maybe the church can use commercial flights, so they can go to some areas, but not the remote areas to spread God’s word. It would be very limited. Blue Sky is needed.”