Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Another year comes to an end, and so I begin this week by wishing you a vacation period free of idiots spoiling your day, and that your electricity supply may be clean and the water flow from your taps without cease – oh, and that your car might not give you issues, and that the roads upon which you drive should be free of potholes, rumble strips and goats crossing in front of you at the last moment.  OK, so that is too much to ask, but if you do not ask, you cannot receive!

2010 has been a busy year in the air in Ghana.  Of course, there have been the tail end stories about Ghana International, and the start up stories about the new Presidential Jet; there has even been time devoted to the beautiful yellow helicopters flying the oil rigs; from whence the oil has just started to trickle, for better, for worse, for the richer and, hopefully for the poorer, until death departs us. 

This year Ghana won two international awards for its work in flying young people as part of the celebrations of the one hundred years of women pilots, and saw two small planes, built in Ghana, fly around the country, as well as another successful, and safe, air show.

We have seen progress at Kotoka on the new fire station – it really looks good!  We have also seen an increase in the airline traffic – and with it, an incident in the parking bay, which got blown out of all proportion by certain sectors of the media.  Since then, changes in procedures have been made, but the safety implementation side is buried in fine print, whilst the headlines are always about negativity! 

If you have flown internationally this year, then, if you looked out of the window, you would have seen the ongoing sprawl of buildings that seems to be engulfing the green space around Accra, like a concrete version of an oil-slick! 

Yes, 2010 has been a busy year – in the air, and on the ground.  I am pleased to say, that from my perspective, it has been a positive year for light aviation – and raising of the awareness of it, and another safe year; long may they continue.

However, it has also been a year where indiscipline has propagated itself exponentially on the roads – and with it, safety has been compromised.  It is easy to put the blame in one place or another, but the blame is, in reality, wide spread.  I see the trucks trundling up and down the roads, their excess axle weight creating new ruts on the highways (especially the Tema – Akosombo highway); I see the potholes, reported six months ago, growing as if they are new crop, just waiting to harvest the axles of another vehicle; I see the mayhem in Accra, as congestion gets beyond a joke and a trip of a few kilometres is quicker riding on the back of an African Snail than in your Land Cruiser. 

I see lack of maintenance, lack of discipline and lack of desire to work, coupled with insistence that all should be perfect – an explosive combination, and one that will lead to disappointment.

If Aviation tried the same formula, it would have the corpses hung around its neck and be lambasted from every quarter – but on the roads, we blame only the drivers.  Now, do not get me wrong, the drivers are definitely to blame – but so is the road condition, the lack of road markings (or in some cases the wrong road markings), the lack of education, lack of vehicle maintenance, the lack of support for the police to actually have an effect on stopping people driving without lights, driving licences, etc., and more.

If aircraft tried to squeeze an extra lane or two on a runway, there would be public outcry – not at the pilots, but at the authorities who did not act to prevent it.  How come, the roads have this problem?  If planes are allowed to fly without proper maintenance the headlines are always aimed at ‘bad management’.  Why not when it is a motor vehicle? 

At the Minister of Transport’s meet the press last week, there was a poster available about the number of drivers without driving licences or proper understanding of road usage and the laws.  So, it is a known problem – no surprises there!  If a poster could fix it, it would be fixed. 

These problems are spoiling the efforts of others on their way to and from legitimate jobs each day; passengers in tro-tro’s are being subjected to risks of unacceptable levels – and for what purpose?  I can find no logical reason NOT to bring about change, no earthly sense in not imposing a nationwide impact programme immediately.  Again, if only ten percent of the road abuse and related issues were to occur in aviation, the public would not stop harassing the authorities until it was addressed.

So, it is clear that the problems are many-fold – but the ultimate problem comes from the apathy of the vast majority of the population to actually impose the change, support the change, and encourage the change.  It is coupled with a lack of maintenance of roads and vehicles – and lack of support from the authorities to those citizens who actually try to bring about change.

I know that when help has been offered to work on public roads by private corporations, they have been hampered by their District Assemblies, by other users of the roads (including Public educational establishments) and the signal is sent out ‘we like it as it is’.   As was said to me by one Doctor from the Agricultural unit of the University of Ghana ‘when we are ready to leave our poverty we will do so’.  How can a supposedly educated man, holding high office in a university, make such a statement?  Because he has a large dose of apathy and no interest in a common goal, and a better community for all to enjoy.

I hope that over the vacation period we can all find some solace from the indiscipline, non-community mindedness that is growing like a cancer on the roads, and corporately find the courage and the energy to bring about positive change, from the grass roots up, for a less harassed new year! 

So, as was sent to me as a greetings card for the Christmas period, I wish you all that ‘May those who spoil your day, have the fleas of a thousand camels infest their underwear – and may their arms be too short to scratch’… and I add to that ‘may the road users who care not for the rules, be blocked on a side road with no steering or propulsion methods, for many years to come’!

Get a rest, and get ready for the challenges of 2011, whatever they may be!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Completing the Expresso ‘All Over Ghana’ flight of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi; from Kpong to Kpong…

As soon as both aircraft were on the ground, we assessed the situation for the final leg on the ‘All Over Ghana’ flight, from Kpong to Accra and back.  This last leg was a symbolic one, and one that had required special permissions.  We stretched our legs on the well tended grass apron of Kpong Airfield, the busiest private airfield in Ghana.  The weather was looking much better than at dawn in the North. It looked good for a fine completion within time.

A telephone call was made to Kotoka, to establish a suitable time for us to pass through their airspace, and agree a route to the city, and out, that would not inconvenience other users of Ghana’s hub to the world.  One thing that the lighter aviation has to remember is that ‘Polite Pilots’ are welcomed, and it is important to work together with the aviation authorities – and extra-especially when you are in a slow aircraft, relatively speaking, using the same airspace and airport as the faster, bigger aircraft.  It is not a problem, and happens all over the world – but you have to stick to the rules, work with those in charge of the operations, and ensure great relations, before, during and after each movement!!

We waited patiently for the right time to restart our engines.  Excitedly, each Pilot-in-Command pressed the start button, and the reliable 80Hp Rotax engines, as expected, did their thing, without complaint.  

We climbed out past Krobo Mountain, and headed towards the western edge of Tema.  It would add a few kilometres, but keep us clear of the busy approach to KIA. Having been all around the country, where the traffic is light – or totally non-existent, as in many parts of the trip -  it was nice to back with lively radio calls and aircraft movements.

The new water line from Kpong to Tema-Accra remained almost parallel to our track, until we passed Asuatare junction; then we focused on the motorway - straight ahead.  Twin Rock Quarry’s familiar sentinels watched over us, as we droned onwards at one thousand feet above sea level, well below any other traffic that may be scheduled in or out of Accra.

Tema sprawls out far more than you would realise when you drive past this trade-essential port-town, with Ashaiman tumbling out of the more regimented ‘planned township’.  When seen from the air, it is easy to see the challenges of Ashaiman, and to understand the flood difficulties better. 

Crossing the motorway, at about its mid-point, the four kilometre tarmac runway of Kotoka Airport shines as a beacon, welcoming its many domestic and international visitors each day.  We could see the airliners waiting on the Apron, sitting below and in front of the Tower.  The Control-Tower acting like a hen-bird, protecting the many chicks that sit by her feet, waiting to fly, and calling home her fledglings out of the sky.

Kotoka has changed many times since my first landing there in 1994, and it really is one of the better airports on the continent.  There is constant change, always some improvement, maintenance or beautification taking place, and from the air it is obvious that our ‘Gateway to Africa’ is not pie-in-the-sky, but rather high-in-the-sky, and climbing! 

We received our clearance to join the circuit, and the two built-in-Ghana aircraft pushed forward on the throttles, needing to stay at the top end of the speed curve to get in, and out, as quickly as possible.  At one thousand feet above the motorway we rolled left and onto final for runway ‘two-one’.  Power comes back, and speed stays high, as we drop the noses and descend towards the impressively laid out facility.  At more than forty meters wide, the runway is wide enough for us to take off or land across it!!!  Deliberately, we enter into the ground effect with more speed than is safe to touch down with, and hold the aircraft in the cushion of air, waiting for speed to decay to a safe touchdown velocity.  At that point, the aircraft is allowed to gently sink and the noise of our tyres, going from zero to nearly eighty kilometres per hour, squeal as the leave a tiny amount of their material on the surface of the runway.  If you look at runways throughout the world, the touchdown area looks like a ‘multiple-skid-mark’ from where the airliners tyres do the same thing, but at much higher speeds and weights!

We added power, full-power, and pulled up steeply, anxious to clear the airspace.  We could hear another aircraft about to line up at the threshold of the runway we were occupying, but we couldn’t turn left until we are in the correct position.  A few seconds later we had both turned cross-wind,
Burma Camp Road
busily backed up with traffic below, the waves crashing their white horses onto the beach near La Palm Royale Hotel; the city has its own sights, and its own beauties.  We turned downwind to watch the departing traffic accelerate along the runway, well clear and safely managed by our Guardian Angles in the tower. 

We called out thanks and departed the circuit, tracking directly home to Kpong Field.  Once home, it was time for a low pass to celebrate our trip, and then we landed.  Amazingly, it was only a Chinese TV station that had decided to welcome back the team, but they did so in style.  The other stations had decided to wait in Accra, for our travelling by air may have been over, but there remained one last event to manage.

Aircraft were secured in their hangars are we climbed aboard our terrestrial vehicles, headed for the city, where a reception awaited.  During the flight we took nearly one thousand photos and a lot of video clips, covered nearly two thousand kilometres and clocked nearly eighteen hours of engine time.  Now, in the ninety minute drive to Accra, the laptop computer needed to put together a slide-show to thank the sponsors and to show the media just what had been accomplished.  It was completed within five minutes of arrival at the venue.  A trip without incident, filled with awe inspiring sights that has demonstrated that these built-in-Ghana aircraft, flown by trained-in-Ghana pilots can deliver the goods in a variety of roles, especially the goal-role of Humanitarian Aviation Logistics, such as flying doctors and nurses and general relief work.

This demonstration flight was only made possible by the sponsorship of Expresso, UT Bank, Business and Financial Times, Wire Weaving Industries, Atlantic Group and WAASPS, as well as the dedication and inspiration of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi who led the flight with Alpha Foxtrot, accompanied by me as reporter and photographer and Dr Patrick Ata with Martin Talbot, who crewed Alpha Charlie. A team effort.

I hope you have enjoyed this mini-series; there will be a book with photos and a DVD coming soon, if you want to read, see and hear more!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Continuing the Expresso ‘All Over Ghana’ flight of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi; from Tamale to Kpong…

The hotel in Tamale was absolutely splendid.  It seemed far too large for the received image of the city, yet was very fitting, well finished and the staff very welcoming.  We were all positively impressed with the potential and the efforts made in this oft mis-represented city.

Waking early the next morning, we set off across the dusty, flat, but well paved roads towards the airport.  Air Force personnel greeted us, and showed us where we could fuel-up the planes from our support vehicle.  Excitement was, again, high. Sadness was also dawning – this was the last day of the trip.

We watched a Beechcraft land in the morning sunlight, as we added some extra spray-on-grease to reduce the effects of the dry-heat and dust in the air.

The Harmattan air ‘sounds’ so different, enhanced by the acoustics of the large hangar and flat concrete apron, to make every word spoken, sound almost dull.  The Air Traffic Controller, from the previous evening, came onto the apron to say ‘goodbye’, giving us a thank you opportunity for all of his help. We packed our supply vehicle and boarded the aircraft. 

The Beechcraft, now heading back to Accra, taxied ahead of us, and we waited patiently for our turn to use the ample tarmac to set-off home…  The runway is big and we seemed to need far less than one percent of it to get airborne!  Climbing out in the sand tainted air we could immediately see the Northern Town signature buildings and villages – many round houses, perfectly kept, and magnificently ordered, looking like special crystals growing amidst the dusty haze.  Many of these ‘round-mud-home’ villages have a mosque proudly located at their epicentre, the mosque clearly cherished and cared for as much, if not more, than their own homes.

We ventured south, routing towards Buipe.  First we crossed the White Volta, wider than usual due to the heaviness of the rainy season.  Collateral damage was evident, but not as much as we had expected – probably due to the lower population density in such parts. 

The flat lands between the White and Black Volta are like a blank canvas – just waiting to be transformed into a splendid masterpiece by the painters of development.  This could make an outstanding country park – if only there was some way of accessing it, other than by air.

The Black Volta was crossed, with the ‘Buipe Bridge’ visible at about six kilometres to our right.  Here we saw the sad remains of a drowned village, others had been cut off by the rising water.  Tracks were submerged under the muddy gushes of water, having passed through the Bui Dam construction site, which we had flown over the day before.  These same waters would pass south, through the dam at Akosombo and pass our home-field on their way to Ada, and out to sea, a reminder that we are all connected, from North to South and East to West, a reminder that we are one people, one nation, all sharing one dream – that of survival, peace and sustainable development.

With the Black Volta over our shoulders, the landscape was homogenous – if you did not take in the detail below, it could have become monotonous!  However, the occasional home, road-less, track-less, inhabited by a small family, remote, isolated and living a subsistence, yet happy, lifestyle, provided abundant intrigue. 

In the distance, Kintampo littered the horizon.  Happily, we deviated from the straight line to Techiman to have a better look at the fascinating rock formations there.  This is another of Ghana’s wonders – which most have never seen, even those driving past do not know the delights they are missing!  Seeing these formations from the air was really special, adding to the highlights, causing fresh radio chatter between the two planes; each indicating to the other which formation to look at next.  It was decided to increase separation of the aircraft, so that we could each take photos and enjoy, without reducing the safety margins that we hold so dear. 

Suddenly the land drops away like a miniature rift valley.  There, ahead, towers tall, sprawling and with all of its economic importance, is Techiman.   This town, reputedly, hosts the busiest market in West Africa – and it is big, busy and incredibly cosmopolitan.

We route past the Aysitu International School building, home to the most active Aviation Club in Ghana, around the East of the Town, and look for the blue roofs of Ghana Nuts.  Flying straight overhead of the factory we know we are in line for the runway at Techiman. 

The Chiefs had been calling for over a week, telling us how excited they were at our coming.  Time was running short and we had to decide ‘land or just do a touch and go’.  Kumasi had been the planned ‘rest’ stop, but with time running out we needed to make a call – stop in Techiman or stop in Kumasi.  It was really a ‘no-brainer’, Techiman had to be the stop, and Kumasi would only get a touch and go.  Why?  Simple.  Techiman had a group of children at the airstrip, excited to meet Patricia, desperate to see the planes close up, and, the chiefs continued to demonstrate an active interest in growing their aviation potential.  Bravo Techiman!  The real spirit of pioneering is in their hearts, and this was an opportunity to feed that energy and stimulate growth.

The two aircraft approached over cashew trees and landed on the well maintained dirt and grass strip.  Children, Chiefs, Community Leaders and press were neatly lined up at one side.  Few rural airstrips in the world could be so ordered and well mannered.  Both aircraft parked and shut down on the opposite side of the runway – and still everybody stayed on their line.  We crossed the runway to a welcome fit for those of much more worth than four aviators tripping around Ghana.  The ‘Akwaaba’ was outstanding – and orderly, in keeping with the highest standards.  Drinks and snacks were offered, words of thanks, encouragement and support shared.  A group photo was taken and it was time to head on towards Kpong, via Kumasi and Ho.

Kumasi was shrouded in a thin blanket of unseasonably early Harmattan dust; we touched the wheels on the runway and swiftly headed towards the Afram leg of the Lake Volta – a pleasant route towards Ho.  With visibility running at around five kilometres, our tiredness catching up with us, and our scheduled slot at Kotoka looming, we decided to skip Ho and head straight to Kpong. 

The flooded communities below us were many – the lake had truly risen a great deal.  The lakes rise would give us one more outstandingly amazing memory before touching down in Kpong – the sight of the spillway at Akosombo, from the air.  Plumes of white mist were visible many miles before reaching the site.  We descended from Akosombo to the green smooth runway at Kpong, our home base, and smiled at each other as we knew there was only one more leg to go.

Next Week: Kpong – Accra – Kpong :

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail