Monday, July 14, 2014

July 14th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

For the past few years, you have been reading 'Fresh Air Matters' with me in every Monday Edition of the Ghanaian Business and Financial Times, and online at freshairmatters.blogspot.com - and we have covered many topics! 

Over these years, this column has upset, encouraged, supported, inspired, motivated and educated, it has, I am led to believe, touched many people. The many e-mails and other feedback received has inspired me, and thus this has been a two way process.

Sitting down to create over one thousand words every week takes a lot of time and energy, and in these days of challenges we all have to manage our resources. Therefore, over the next few months I will be concentrating my writing on books in progress. My biography has been requested many times, and is well advanced, as well as some children's books that have been hanging on the end of my pen for many years. George the Monkey, Cyril the Giraffe, Edward the Elephant and the long travelling around the world 'Tales of Mumford Mouse'; all stories that I have told to many children, all from the fresh organic fields of my imagination - from long before my first step on the African continent. Now, I have new characters hatching and looking for paper to spill onto: Kwame the crocodile, Kwesi the Cattle Egret, Ama the Hoopoe, Hanna the chicken, Ellis the Monitor Lizard - and others are all hatching their stories in my mind. There will be a special character, one very close to my heart, called 'Patricia the Pilot', who will have her own series of adventures - and those stories will be heavily based on the true life transformation of Patricia Mawuli from living in a simple, traditional home in the bush to building and flying aircraft in Ghana, along with the struggles, challenges and achievements along the way. Each of these stories, as and when they publish, will have three aims: to enthral, to educate and to inspire. The target age group will be from 8 years to adult - for I hope that all the grownups will read these stories to their children, grandchildren or just to the next child they find themselves having to entertain. I hope that these stories will carry the energy and momentum to drag folks away from their computers, tablets and smart phones - a much needed transformation in our society. We all need stories. We all need inspiration. We all need to take a fresh look at reading!

The time it will take to bring these embryonic characters fully to life will draw on my creative time, energy and resources. Therefore, Fresh Air Matters will be taking a break for a while. However, I will still submit articles and items to the Business and Financial Times as the 'inspiration and opportunity' hits me, which will, generally, also find their way to the blogspot.

To those who have been upset by what has been written in this column: a) if it was the truth that hurt you, I offer no apology. b) if it was a misunderstanding, I seek to clarify. c) if it was your sensitivity, please grow stronger and d) if I was wrong, I apologise.

To those who have learned from this column, I am thrilled to share knowledge - it is an amazing gift - now go and build on that knowledge and use it to the good of mankind and the positive growth of our nation.

To those who have been inspired, I am humbled, and inspired in return. Take your inspiration and keep it warm, never let the fire die down, fan those flames and let the bush fire spread to all around you. All it takes is a well placed idea to change the world.

To those who have been encouraged, stay strong and never let anybody get you down - you are your own person! Each and every one of us can do anything we want - it is inside of us, and we 'can-do', if we are ready to take the bull by the horns and accept that there will be good days and bad days!

Whatever your walk of life is, please remember that 'Fresh Air Matters' - whether it is the air that your breath, or it is related to aviation, we know that we must always have it! Without the air that we breathe we would soon cease to exist, and likewise without aviation our modern society would not be the same. Imagine spending weeks in a boat to get to Europe or the USA... months to get to China or Australia. What would be the consequence of not being able to express deliver mail or parts across continents? Consider not being able to visit another country for just a few days or hours... Aviation is the life-blood of our new society, and as essential to our economic survival - just as oxygen is to our beings.

I hope to be back with you all soon, and look forward to hearing from you by e-mail if you get a chance. 

To quote two of my fictional heroes; 

'May the Force be with you.' 

and may you 'Live long and prosper'.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The NTSB report on last year's Flight 214 accident, in California, is now in the public domain: The report states 'The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew’s mismanagement of the airplane’s descent during the visual approach, the pilot flying’s unintended deactivation of automatic airspeed control, the flight crew’s inadequate monitoring of airspeed, and the flight crew’s delayed execution of a go-around after they became aware that the airplane was below acceptable glide-path and airspeed tolerances.' 

In all honesty, there are no 'big surprises' in the investigators findings. Pilot error is the common thread found throughout its many pages. As always, the future safety of aviation will be determined on how we deal with the two questions: a) Why did this happen in the first place? and b) How do we prevent it occurring again? 

It is all too easy to put the blame on others, but when we are 'in command', we must take responsibility. We are given power and we must not abuse it. We must not take it on if we are not competent to do so, and if we find ourselves getting into hot water, we must seek advice and support from those who can help appropriately, in time to avoid a disaster.

Flight 214 was coming into an airport where an automated landing aid was not functioning. Not a problem if you are current with visual approaches, as you should be. Visual approach means that you look out of the window, you see what is happening and you adjust power, attitude, track, etc in real time, using small adjustments to keep everything as it should be. The crew were, for whatever reason, 'aiming short', and 'touched down short', resulting in damage to the aircraft (a write-off), property and, most devastatingly, life. We must all LEARN from this accident. If we fail to learn from it, those who died, gave their lives in vain. If we learn from it, their sacrifice will save many lives in the years to come.

Do you wear a seatbelt when you travel in a motor car? The law says that you should. Early cars didn't have seatbelts. They were added to save lives. Then, because people didn't wear them, the wearing of them became law. Think about that next time you put your seatbelt on: 'People died so that seatbelts would be introduced and made law, to protect me and my family'. 

What about that 'rear view mirror' or 'wing mirrors' on cars? Again, early models didn't have any... It resulted in many accidents. Then, in 1906 in 'The Woman and the Car', written by Dorothy Levitt, she wrote "carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving", she goes on, "hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic". A few years on, and all the cars had mirrors - for safety reasons. 

In the same way, we have to learn from the demise of other business, countries and systems. We must learn from the mistakes and misfortune of others. It is one of the reasons we read history, it is one of the reasons that we watch the news or read the newspapers! Being aware of the mistakes of others allows us to stand on their shoulders - to get a better view of what is ahead - and to adjust our path in order to make better progress.

I ponder trends, past and present. I look at a variety of plans for the route ahead. It is possible to predict where additional challenges might be found - quite accurately, with practice. Finally, it is necessary to propose a solution, which takes as many of the risks and challenges into account. I never manage to cover all of the bases, and I am always ready to 're-evaluate', pondering on the progress made, reassessing the plans, re-predicting the outcomes based on new knowledge gained and then, if necessary, proposing a change of route. Just as one does at the front end of an aircraft, constantly. 

The fuel crisis of recent days was not a surprise. If you had your ear to the ground, and considered all the factors available in the public forum, a fuel crisis has been looming for many weeks. It was always 'just a matter of time before the bubble burst'. Many of the people I know made sure that they kept their fuel tanks topped up, and their gensets full. Thus, for those who planned, the crisis in its early days was more of an inconvenience than a crisis. But for those who failed to ponder, plan, predict and propose, it came as a 'shock', a 'surprise' and quickly became a crisis. 

The same can be said for the floods that hit Accra each year... and so many other challenges that hit us. 

None of this should be a surprise for us in Africa. We have a wonderful African story about the Vulture who complains during the rainy season that 'he must build a house during the next dry season', but when the dry season comes he neglects his good intentions and fails to prepare for the rains. Thus he suffers when the wind blows and the rain falls, and although he complains, he has no cause for complaint, for he failed to ponder, plan, predict and propose.

We can put the blame on others, we can all march in the streets, we can go on the TV and radio chat shows and complain. However, we must be careful not to be like the vulture... Over the past 20 years, I have often seen the same people complain, year in and year out... and I have seen others, who 'complain-eth not', who take action to prepare for the next challenge - that is surely coming their way.

It seems that many nations have the false belief that the 'Government' is responsible for all the decisions in the nation. Sorry, but the Government is not. The Government is charged with the responsibility to create an enabling environment for 'business to do business'. That includes, creating and maintaining transport infrastructure that works, ensuring adequate health and education systems and overseeing safety in various sectors - plus ensuring a level playing field, without corruption or nepotism. Government has no place in business, but must ensure that business has its place, securely in society. 

Business, the true backbone of a nation, is thus enabled to create a sustainable development platform. Extraction, farming, processing, production, services, etc, and with them all, growing new jobs and opportunities. The workers, in-turn, must take their place in diligent productivity, and thus the success of a nation is born. Break any of the links in the chain, and the system fails. Yes, the problems often start in the cockpit of the nation - the seat of Governance! BUT, it does not stop there. We have many more entrepreneurs than Members of Parliament, we have many more workers than civil-servants - and thus it is the work of the many to ensure that a nation prospers - despite the few that may not always be working towards the greater good. 

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

Monday, June 30, 2014

June 30th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Today the year is roughly at its mid-point. It reminds me of the question 'Is your glass half-empty or half-full?'. Traditionally, we propose that those who say 'half-empty' are the pessimists, and that those who say 'half-full' are the optimists. It is all about how we see 'our lot'.

Imagine you are in an aircraft with half-full, or half-empty, tanks of fuel. How would you see it? Would it be 'time to turn back'? or would it be 'time to plan how much further you can go'?

I often tell people 'I will go in any direction, as long it is forwards'. I have also been heard to say 'Don't look back, because that is not where we are going'. It is always good to have a balanced outlook, with an awareness of where we have come from, and an ambition to reach our destination. Sadly, most of us lack the means to get where we want to go in the shortest possible time. That does not mean 'give up', it means 'change your outlook'.

Let us return to the glass. This is how I see it.

Whether my glass is half-full, quarter-full, or just got a few drops in it, I am thankful for what I have, rather than what is lacking.

When I only have a glass, without any contents, I am thrilled to own a glass - for it is a start.

When I have a broken glass, I am able to collect the shards and melt them to make some wonderful glass beads (I live in Krobo-land, after all!).

When I do not have a glass, I am fortunate not to have wash it. (but I look forward to getting one if I can!)

You see, it is all about perception. You determine your state of mind. You determine your positive outlook, and that makes you a pleasant person to be around - or a negative one, if you want to self-destruct and wallow in self-pity...

Eleanor Roosevelt, a First Lady of the USA, stated that 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent'. In other words, YOU determine your state of mind, not what others say about you. You determine your mental position, and you are able to ignore what others say, it is your choice.

Our future really is our choice. Not what we own, not what we do, but who we are, how we feel, and our personal happiness, and success, is simply a state of mind away.

Being a pilot, such a state of mind is essential. We all have moments when things 'go wrong' or at least look that way! It is normal, we fly machines! On a recent flight with a young person on their first flying lesson, the oil pressure gauge suddenly deflected well past normal - into the red zone. There are four possible reasons for this to happen.

1. Oil pressure has gone crazy-high. Something is seriously wrong with the engine, and it could stop any moment.

2. The gauge is faulty and misreading.

3. The sensor has failed and is mis-sending.

4. A wiring problem has occurred (a broken wire or a connector issue).

We were at two thousand feet, and could not simply pop outside to take a look at the wiring and sensor. We did tap the gauge - but to no avail. So, we had no idea about the exact reason. The most probable reasons were 'a broken wire' or the sensor connector had come loose, or corrosion had stopped the signal coming along. Oil temperature was stable, so it was probably NOT an engine problem, but all the same action had to be taken. So, it comes to a decision point 'continue and ignore the signs', or 'land at the earliest possibility'. With either choice, caution has to be maintained, in case the issue is related to engine function, and if it is, the propeller could stop spinning at any time, so a route to enable an emergency landing, if needed, must be maintained.

Since 'there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots', it was time to cut the lesson short and head back to the airfield. The student and I had a discussion, and although we both felt that it was 'nothing to worry about', it was prudent to land and find the cause of the problem.

At that point, one's state of mind can enter into 'panic' or, by choice, 'remain calm'. Panic would only create a problem. Panic or over-worry only detracts from your performance. Being aware of the risks, and remaining calm, flying with every bit of your training at your fingertips, is the key to getting back on the ground safely.

I explained that we would take a 'steeper angle of approach than usual', going on to give the reason 'just in case the engine does decide to quit, which I doubt, but we have a warning signal on the panel'.

As I pulled the power back the gauge flicked to normal, and then went back to a full-deflection into the 'red zone'. We were less than five hundred feet off of the ground, and my ears were fully tuned to the engine noises, but from now on, I would not look at the gauge. If the engine were to quit, I would need to do nothing more than I have done on every flight, 'fly the plane'. With or without the engine, I must simply remain in control, making the right decision every second.

The engine continued to purr, and we landed without incident. Post flight inspection found that the connection to the sensor had corroded, and broken down, just behind the spade, within the heat-shrink. Ten minutes later a new connection was made, the log-book entries made, and the aircraft ready for flight. The 'issue' was one of 'communication'. The sensor was unable to get its signal to the gauge because of a broken wire. The little 'flick' of the sensor on approach was probably due to vibrations, on engine power change, that made a momentary connection.

The successful landing could have turned into a drama, if we had not remained calm and looked on the positive side of our situation, being ready to deal with an emergency if it happened, but remaining focused, and in control, flying with what we had. Yes, it brought its moments of added 'concern', but at no point did we let the concern get in the way of our moving forward and taking the right decisions. Focusing on the 'gauge' would have meant not looking out of the cockpit... which would have led to a disaster!

Life really is just like flying a plane. You must learn to read the signs, and to accept that sometimes, generally through lack of communication, the wrong signals - or no signals - get sent, and you must not become focused on those issues, but you must always 'look ahead', 'fly your plane', 'move forwards', and be ready to make every landing a smooth one.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23rd, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The company I work for was recently privileged to be audited by the Ghana Revenue Authority. What lovely people they are. Seriously. Much as I was uneasy about 'what they might behave like', they did a thoroughly professional job, going through every piece of paper for several years, and asking lots of technical questions. They showed a real interest in the business, its practices and what it did. They were totally professional. It was a very positive experience. Well done GRA! 

They advised on how to 'better comply' with the system in a clear and precise manner. What I found hardest was the 'education about policy in Ghana' that damages local development. I was shocked to realise that our 'Tax Laws' can be terribly 'anti-Ghanaian' and most definitely 'anti-rural development'. We talked about my feelings, with the GRA and our own financial auditors, and much as those professionals in taxation and business law could understand my point of view, they pointed out, quite rightly, that 'they didn't make the rules'. So, we are being, through economic and policy impact, forced to support larger foreign companies, and to avoid spending money in the local economy. Simple - those are the rules. Did that wake you up? Does that make you 'angry'? Or, are you nodding your head?

Well, let me explain.

I work in aviation and engineering in rural Ghana. It is a happy choice. I used to try to support local businesses where possible for supplies. Wouldn't you? But I can't any longer. Let us look at the most striking 'anti-rural development rule' that makes no sense: Withholding Tax.

Withholding tax is, in effect, a punitive tax on the purchaser and the supplier - and particularly anti-rural development. It states that for certain purchases (above a nominal amount), you must 'withhold 5% of the purchase amount, and go physically to a tax office, pay it on behalf of the company you are purchasing from, get a certificate and take it to the company - or make it available to them'. So, for the seller, they lose 5% of their sale (even if their profit margin is less than 5%), and for the purchaser, well, they incur a) additional paperwork, b) transport costs, c) time and effort costs, d) a delay in access to the product (since you may have to take the certificate for the 5% to them), and d) probably an increased price from the seller to cover the 5%. BUT there is good news! Some companies are EXEMPT from the 5% withholding tax! Yes, they are bigger companies - and YES, they are in the urban areas - and YES they are often foreign owned... So, the smaller, local, companies are 'being restricted' from market access and growth because of the rules. Still not convinced? Let me give you an example.

If I purchase GHS11,750 of product from a company in Tema (with foreign ownership and lots of foreign nationals on their payroll), they are exempt from the 5% withholding tax (GHS500), and will give me a VAT receipt. I can pick up the product, pay the money and even get the GHS1,750 VAT allowed against my sales in a matter of minutes! However, had I wanted to 'facilitate my local economy', and to obtain the same items from my local supplier, being ready to write off the VAT against convenience and supporting the local economy (since they are not VAT registered), I find that then I have to send a person to the tax office to pay 5% of the purchase price - and that the 'seller' is going to add that amount to the price he is quoting, since he is only make a few percent on the sale anyway. Yes, that is the reality of withholding tax. It makes us seek out larger companies in urban areas who are exempted. It prevents the growth of smaller, particularly rural companies (because access to the tax offices is more challenging, time consuming and transport intensive). Withholding tax is, albeit unintentionally, a de facto punitive tax on rural development. But it is the law, and so, we will no longer make larger purchases in the rural areas. We will not be 'practically enabled' to boost the development of our local area, simply because the rules were written for those in the urban areas. (Perhaps they will change if somebody reads this). I don't like it. I don't think it is fair on the small Ghanaian businesses - but we didn't bring the rules, we must simply follow them.

This leads us to the new currency control rules. I may be in the minority (?) by being concerned about their effects, but I know that I am not alone in feeling their effects. The new 'amended rules', leave me further concerned for the development of Ghana's (especially rural) businesses. Rather like the 'withholding tax being an urban concept', the same goes for the 'currency controls'. 

The statement last week states 'Exporters of services such as hotels, educational institutions, insurance companies and others may receive payment in foreign currency from non-residents.' 

This winds me up as much as the fact that Aburi Gardens, Mole Game Reserve and other places have a two tier charging system 'one price for Ghanaians, and another for so called foreigners'. (How would a Ghanaian feel being charged more than an American or European to enter an event in the USA or Europe - regardless of the economic ability?)

Rules should be the same for everybody. Regardless of where you are from - or where you are based. So, with the new rules, a 'white person', resident or not, can easily use foreign currency - since nobody will ask questions. BUT a resident Ghanaian cannot enjoy the same economic benefit of using foreign currency that they have in their possession! Wow! I am left wondering about how this came about? 

But it gets worse... even non-residents still cannot purchase GOODS with foreign currency (the new rules are only for services). AND Ghanaian businesses cannot insure their foreign purchased items in foreign currency - making the Ghanaian entrepreneur the one who is 'disadvantaged', or so it seems to me.

Remember, this whole currency thing is based on the URBAN economy - those with ready access to a FOREX bureaux, banking systems and infrastructure! (Forex bureaux really are hard to find in the rural areas!). Consequently, a visitor who is travelling in our neck of the woods cannot legally purchase items using their foreign currency - and cannot change the money locally - and the Ghanaian entrepreneur would be breaking the law to take the foreign cash. Another blow to rural development.

Surely, if we want to make our wonderful nation attractive to investment, tourism and development - urban and rural - for Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians - we need to level the playing field. Right now the economic playing field is heavily inclined towards big business, foreign owned and in urban locations - and the economic ball is running down the pitch at speed, leaving rural areas without practical access to much needed development - by LAW! 

At least that is how I feel - living and working in rural Ghana, speaking to rural dwellers and rural business folks. Perhaps many of those reading this are working in foreign owned urban businesses - and are enjoying the rules that favour their game... Just remember, unless greater equality and distribution of wealth is established, it will eventually strangle the market of demand, and the whole nation will suffer. We all need rural development to drive nationwide economic growth and sustainability. We need policies and rules that level the overall playing field - urban and rural, foreign and national. Simple as that. These are my views, and perhaps I am wrong... I would love to hear your views on these matters... so drop me a line.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)