Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Photo of the week, December 21st

Whilst many parts of the world experience a white blanket of snow at this time of the year; much of Ghana is experiencing the blackened blanket of post dry season bush fires. The birds, as well as the people, looking at what is left and counting their losses. The dryness of the harmattan after the lush growth from the many rains this year has provided plenty of 'fuel', and the fires appear to have burned hotter and longer than usual. Let us all hope for some heavy dews and early light rains to kiss the fire-seared ground, releasing the green shoots of renewal to feed the livestock and give us all a promise of a better 2012. Photo Courtesy of Capt. Yaw

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Since this is the last F.A.M. before the yuletide celebrations, I would like to share some aviation concerns that occur around the world at this time of year. You may wish to exercise caution if you intend to share this with younger people in your entourage as it may change their understandings of ‘certain things’.

In aviation we issue NOTAMS – that is NOTice to AirMen. Such ‘coded’ messages alert pilots and operators to issues such as runway light failures, movements of VIP aircraft, closure of airspace, etc. I note with interest that GCAA has not issued a NOTAM regarding Santa Claus’ intended flights in the airspace above our territory. We do not want KLM or British Airways to declare an ‘AirProx’ (a near miss in the air), with some reindeer and an old man with a bag full of goodies. No, we certainly do not. Fortunately, many airlines ensure that their pilots are aware of the risk and the potential operating times for the multi-reindeer-powered-wooden-built-aircraft. We must remember that the Sleigh, as it is correctly called, is a very fast aircraft indeed. It is able to circumnavigate the globe in a single night – or so we are informed, normally by Night VFR...

Personally, I am concerned about lighting for this aircraft. I hear he only has a single, continuous red light, and I trust that he ensures that it is located on the left of the aircraft and that it shines from dead ahead through 110 degrees to the side and slightly behind, as required by the regulations. He should also ensure that he has a green light on the right also, and a rear facing white light shining through 70 degrees to each side. A red flashing beacon or strobes would assist in increasing visibility and reducing the risk of collision. Considering the current Harmattan and the potential need for the Sleigh to operate in Instrument Meteorological conditions, I hope that a Mode S transponder is fitted!  

Rumour has it that this benevolent old man brings gifts to the people as part of his ‘Tour du Monde’. It also indicates that he has a list of those who deserve some gifts and those who don’t. This is called the ‘Naughty and Nice’ list. As I see it there are a lot of people on the Naughty list this year – they know who they are, and are denying it! Still, I guess that they can afford to buy their own gifts and pretend that they were from the white-bearded aviator. Nonetheless, I would like to make public my list of ‘Nice’ who, as far as I am aware are not on Santa’s or anybody else’s list, mainly because they tend to be invisible to the majority of people. I believe that the following should be highly recommended for gifts - gifts that may bring even more smiles. 

Nice: All those children who are working so hard to learn in tough conditions. Time, and time again I see community after community without suitable learning conditions. The children and teachers are trying, at times under a makeshift classroom or in a building that needs some (read ‘A LOT OF’) work done to it. I see them too many in a class, age spreads of more than five years, in the same classroom; all trying to grab a grain of knowledge. For those children, I would send encouragement to their parents to keep them in school, a simple word of ‘well done’ or ‘Ayekoo’ for sending their child to school in the first place, and then to keep them there. Provide recognition that they are ‘trying’ against the odds, in their struggle to make each day a success. There also needs to be increased support for the education of those children. It may not be much, perhaps some supplies; educational posters; a visiting speaker to inspire and encourage… it need not be expensive, but it must be effective.

Nice: All those people living without access to clean water. There are so many of them, either walking miles each day for a few buckets of ‘somehow-clean’ water, perhaps drinking and bathing directly in the lake or river. These people we see every day from the air, but are generally missed by those on the terrestrial routes. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of such people live in our countryside – and in the cities too. They often know that they need to filter and / or boil the water, but are limited in their time and resources to achieve the desired treatment for the desired quantity. For those people, I would send encouragement to make the extra effort to clean the water that they have. Encourage them through education as to WHY clean water is important, and the benefits of the same. All too often we are told ‘I have drunk the water from the lake all of my life, and it has not made me sick.’, the person not understanding that the Schistosomiasis, diarrhoea, and other illnesses that they suffer from come from the very act that they are defending. Education as to WHY, and education as to HOW is a great present to give to these folks. But it cannot be done on a one-day-workshop – no, and it will take more than a sudden visit from a group of 4x4 vehicles with folks in nice shoes and fancy clothes. It would be wonderful to get piped water to all of these communities – but that is simply not practical, for I have seen the lay of the land from above! Recently I was in a village that is right by the water inlet for the Koforidua water treatment plant. There is no plan to send them piped water, at least not in the coming years – and yet the people fish around the inlet that takes the water that they drink ‘raw’ and sends it to a nice new treatment plant to pipe to the city. They respect the inlet, in fact they protect it for those in the city, whilst they still have no practical solutions to their needs. These are, to me at least, the very people that should be getting ‘presents’ at this time of the year – for those with the clean, health sustaining water every-day of the year know-not what gift they have already – and may not even spare a glancing thought for where the water comes from, let alone those who do not have access to potable water supplies.

These gifts are really about giving encouragement for a change in behaviour… such gifts are hard to give in just one go, they require dedication, long term, sustained effort support. It is all too easy to say ‘but how can I do that?’ as an excuse to do nothing... Well, we are developing a method for reaching these communities, using our ‘sleighs’ made of metal and powered by piston engines with propellers attached, to try to make 2012 a year in which such support can be a reality on a regular, sustained and sustainable basis. Medicine on the Move through the ETCHE project and in conjunction with the INSCI project wants to see those on the ‘nice list’ receiving their much deserved gifts of health education and support. Perhaps in 2012 you would like to pay us a visit at Kpong Airfield – and find out more about these things!

Happy holidays to you all!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Photo of the week, December 14th

Power is key to so many developments and to all major industries in the world of work. As we fly over Ghana we see the immense network of high tension power pylons carrying electricity from major point to major point across the whole nation - sadly we often see such monoliths, with cables strewn across them, passing over and next to villages who are many years from seeing consumer electricity reaching them. Perhaps there should be a policy to send power to communities and organisations that are starting industries in rural areas so that the power is being put to socio-economic developments of the nation? These lines are carrying power from Akosombo towards Koforidua in the Eastern Region. Photo Courtesy Medicine on the Move www,

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Recently two couples came to the airfield, with four wonderful young ladies, aged from about four to twelve. The children sat at the briefing area eyes fixed on the movements in the sky, and yearned to meet a pilot. The fathers of the children were last to fly in the day, and so, as the aircraft were being carefully tucked up in their hangars, I was released to do the ‘aviation-motivation’ warm up routine with the kids. As usual I started with ‘Line up kids, line up. I have some tests for you.’ The immediate response was surprising ‘Yeeeeeesssss, tests, I love tests!’ – I quickly realised I had more on my hands than I was used to! One mother looked at me as if to say ‘WHAT have YOU done!?’ But I had started and, so I must continue – just like once you are committed in that initial climb out – and you have no choice but to go at least one circuit before regaining your access to the solid ground.

The jiggling and the giggling, the excitement at being asked questions and having the opportunity to respond (hopefully correctly) was too much for those little legs to remain motionless for more than a nano-second at a time!

I first asked the smallest young person a simple question and then made the questions harder and harder. The more I asked the more they wanted to be asked… when they got a question wrong, I, or one of the AvTech team responded encouragingly. Soon, we realised that these little people contained more potential power than a few kilos of enriched uranium!

In a similar vein, we have just undergone our annual inspection by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority. We love inspections (yes we get nervous, but still love them). Inspections are opportunities to show that you have made the effort to do it right, and to learn from where you have done it wrong. As the inspector went from plane to plane I watched Patricia Mawuli, one of Ghana’s famous lady pilots, run and get ready to demonstrate her aircraft in the best way possible, starting the engines and demonstrating that each aircraft is in tip-top shape! Of course, aviation inspections are not just about the physical side of aviation, far from it. Documentation, traceability and evidence of good management are equally important, and so the paper trail was also inspected. Although we operate a fully computerised system, we still need to manually fill out log books and other records.

Aviation is place where the ‘measure twice, cut once’ mentality really pays off. All of the attention to details does many things for safety and efficiency. However, the need to document must not become more important than the need to do! There is no point in ticking the box for ‘change the oil filter’ if you have not done so. AND if it is in aviation, you must change the filter, install it correctly, wire-lock if appropriate and check after running. AND you must take the old filter, cut it open using a special tool and inspect the matting – AND if you see that there is evidence of wear you must investigate AND if you can you may wish to have some the oil tested (not an easy option in Ghana…). AND you must dispose of the oil, filter and mat in an environmentally friendly manner. NOT just tick the box!

We enjoy the GCAA inspections, because they give us an opportunity to share what we can do well, what we have achieved and to have any ‘lacks’ identified and worked upon. Like the small girls visiting the airfield, ‘WE LOVE TESTS’. Perhaps it is an aviation thing?

Inspectors also need to be inspected. In aviation that is so apparent – and that is why we enjoy such safe skies! Much as GCAA inspects operators in Ghana, and those wanting to fly to Ghana, to ensure that they meet required safety standards, so the American Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) also inspects and ranks those wanting to fly to and from its territories.
The FAA uses a simple ‘two state’ standard, defined as follows:

Category 1, Does Comply with ICAO Standards: A country's civil aviation authority has been assessed by FAA inspectors and has been found to license and oversee air carriers in accordance with ICAO aviation safety standards.
Category 2, Does Not Comply with ICAO Standards: The Federal Aviation Administration assessed this country's civil aviation authority (CAA) and determined that it does not provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
In 2005, Ghana lost the Category 1. It was complicated, but it involved Ghana Airways and appears to have included physical and paperwork issues. Once lost, it created a desire to change certain aspects of how GCAA approaches certain things. That was a long time ago, and a lot has changed!

This time last year the Minister of Transport stated that he believed things were on course for Ghana to re-obtain the Category 1 status by the end of 2011… and here we are… the remnant of the year in sight and 2012 shining on the horizon like the morning sun! We read on the GCAA site that ‘an agreement had been reached for a technical review on GCAA in December, 2011 and … GCAA will prepare for a Safety Assessment Audit in the early part of 2012.’

I am sure that there are many in GCAA right now who are jiggling their legs at the opportunity to show an FAA inspector ‘how well they have done’ and I am sure that there are some who are still running around making sure that actions and paperwork are synchronized!

I am sure you will all join me in wishing the hard working folks at GCAA well as they go through the final hoops and examinations that will lead to an announcement similar to that made for Nigeria last year by the FAA, namely,

‘The IASA Category 1 rating is based on the results of a July FAA review of Nigeria’s civil aviation authority. With the IASA Category 1 rating, Nigerian air carriers may now apply to operate to the United States with their own aircraft.’ (FAA Press Release August 23 2010)
Of course, we all know that inspections, whether of our car for the roadworthiness, or our aircraft for a Permit to Fly or Certificate of Airworthiness, are just a snapshot of how it is on a day (or a few weeks for a big inspection!). If the granting of approvals, such as we get at Kpong Airfield, or GCAA will hopefully get soon from the FAA, or the road worthiness certificate for your car are to actually mean something, we need to maintain the standards at the level (or above) at the moment of inspection and approval.

Imagine you passed your roadworthiness and then a few weeks later you failed to change brake shoes that were worn or fix a damaged headlight; you would no longer be in compliance with the certification issued…. The same goes for us in light aviation, and the same for GCAA and all the other large organisations who are inspected internationally….

One thing is for sure, and that is ‘if you love being tested, the chances are you are working on the track towards sustainable safety’!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Photo of the week, December 7th

As the Harmattan dryness is felt across many parts of the country, and the bush fires abound, there are still many struggling with the continued high water levels on the Volta Lake. The lake has many islands, and some of the smaller ones have vanished for months now; many of the mid-sized islands still have inhabitants making the most the of available land for their farming and fishing activities. Lack of ease of access makes many of these areas forgotten, yet they are areas that hold much economic potential, and the people there are very much worth investing in. Photo courtesy Medicine on the Move

Monday, December 5, 2011

December 5th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Bush fires are beginning to consume hundreds of acres around Kpong Airfield, and once again we will need to consider careful burning of fire-breaks. As is always the case, arguments over ‘who starts’ a fire will abound, and the Fulani will be given their share of the blame, but it is not altogether fair. I have seen fires started in people’s homes spread out and across the bush, probably a ‘fire-break-burn’ gone wrong. One way or the other, our carbon footprint will grow, and our land will bear the blackened scars for several months, waiting for the healing rains to stimulate the emerald magic that we yearn for at the end of the dry season.

Interestingly, a short flight over the Akwapim-Togo range reveals that the forest areas are still lush green, and yet the Harmattan haze is really beginning to show in the air, and it will be only a matter of days before the tones and hues are dulled down even in the forests. The Harmattan months are interesting for me, they provide a few days of ‘respite’ when we cannot fly due to low-visibility and with it the workshop gets a new lease of life. In aviation there is always something to be done, and little tasks that get pushed back for the lack of time, things like new placarding of the panel, or the replacement of the throttle grip, or perhaps upgrading the radio antenna, can finally be gotten around to.

In Europe the winter provides the same opportunity – but without the dust, and with biting cold. For me, the Harmattan is at least ten times more pleasant than winter! However, winter and Harmattan are linked. It is the pushing down of the cold fronts in Europe that move the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) southwards and with it the Harmattan haze.

I have a ‘rule of thumb’, that I would like you to help to establish this year. When I call my mother, who lives in the South of England, and she tells me there is a heavy frost, I reckon on two to three days to an increase in Harmattan. If she tells me that there is snow falling, I generally reckon we will not be flying in the next three days due to heavy dust haze and lower visibility. I have never ‘recorded’ this, it is an observational, anecdotal, weather forecast that I use personally – but together we may be able to find a pattern. I use this ‘method’ for my ‘on-the-fly planning and scheduling’.

So, when you are talking to family in Europe over the next few months, ask about their weather, and then see if it leads to a ‘pattern’ (generally in the three days after the start of the Europe weather) here. I am sure that it exists, but together we can prove it… even if it is only 80% accurate, it can help us form a forecast model to improve our productivity and planning in this dusty season – and it is free, fun and informative!

Planning is, of course, key to success in aviation – and every other industry I can think of. Failure to plan is planning to fail! So, the more ‘indicators’ we have at our fingertips the better we can plan. I try to establish planning rules at the airfield in relation to our on-going construction works (our new robotic centre and mini-clinic buildings are currently going up). We are not as big as Kotoka, who issue NOTAMS, often covering many months in advance, warning of planned shutdowns, but we still need to plan.

One of those rules relates to materials. It is not always possible, cash flow wise, to have all of the materials available all of the time, and with that a ‘flexible planning’ system is necessary. For example, if we are out of cement, and short of funds, trenching is a good job to get on with – not ‘sit around and wait for the cement’. There are always jobs that can be done without materials – clearing, cleaning, repairs to wheelbarrows, etc. However, if there is a call off supply of cement, sand, stones, blocks, etc. we need to be more alert in our planning and funds management.

My basic rule is ‘I need to know at least the day before that we need something’ (usually that means water to be trucked in, by the way!). When we are getting through twenty or thirty bags of cement in a day, we need to plan to get the next bags on hand and sufficient water in containers on hand too. Imagine my surprise when at midday a mason comes to me and proudly announces that he has just used the last bag of cement and needs ten more. After I have ranted a bit (I do like a good rant), I explain that the truck has just returned from town, and that he will need to cover the thirty cedis extra cost from not planning. ‘But that is more than a day’s wages’, and indeed it is. Who is going to pay for the mason’s poor planning? He is usually very good, and plans a week in advance his needs, yet on this occasion the planning got out of hand because he was focused on today, or even the morning only, and not past the next need point, costing money, losing time and annoying me. All three of those are not good – especially the last one!

I can point out a thousand times to our construction crews that a pilot needs to plan his fuel requirements or invent a way to park on clouds, yet the concept is not absorbed until one learns to fly. I can expound upon the importance of maintaining your aircraft well and sticking to the maintenance schedule until the cows come home (with or without the herdsman), but until you fly and realise that you cannot simply pause in the air to take a walk around the aircraft to see where the noise is coming from, you are simply not going to have the necessary neural connection about ‘I MUST PLAN’ to stay in the game.

Failing to plan is definitely planning to fail. In Aviation it is so blatantly obvious; in other sectors it is important and if carried out appropriately will yield amazing results. Plans are never perfect, and the ability to change the plan on the fly is increased by the amount of appropriate planning and preparation put in. Consider a well-planned cross-country flight; planned maintenance, checked oil, checked airframe, planned fuel burn and reserve, route, awareness of the weather, planning for alternate landing areas, constantly re-assessing the plan en-route and more, the very approach that makes aviation safe and successful. The very same approach that may also lead to safer, more successful and less stressful projects in all areas of our lives.

Just remember, the Harmattan is coming, bush fires are coming and failure to plan is definitely an expensive and unnecessary way to plan to fail!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Photo of the week, November 30th

Here we see a compound on the outskirts of Koforidua where the clothes are carefully dried on the ground making interesting patterns and shapes. In fact as we look around the whole area we see 'ground drying' as the common theme. With a little effort a 'drying line' could easily be installed in most places in Ghana, making drying faster and reducing some of the infection risk that ground drying may carry. We should consider ourselves fortunate to have such wonderful weather for drying our clothes, on the line, getting the breeze through it and receiving natural sunlight on both sides. How were your clothes dried? Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I fly overhead a particular little farmyard tens of times each week. There are six small mud built homes planted haphazardly around the dust swept yard. The agro-hamlet is located right under the turning point onto base leg, for an approach to runway one-niner, at Kpong Airfield, and since that is a right hand circuit, and I sit on the right hand side whilst instructing, I get a perfect vertical view on that turn. An average ‘circuits lesson’ covers about eight of the turns – and since circuits are the ‘bread and butter’ of learning to fly, I get to see that little farmyard a lot – an awful lot.

However, last week there was increased activity in that small place, located at the end of a twenty minute trek into the bush down a narrow footpath. I did not know that the families there kept guinea fowl; those grey birds that look like a short, arthritic old lady from the late 1800’s, wearing a Victorian bustle gown! The common pearl-grey guinea fowl is incredibly bountiful, in the wild and in the farmyards, but there are also the white ones – possibly albino, probably just ‘different’. 

Guinea fowl tend to move in a crowd, and to make a lot of noise. From my observation post at five hundred feet above, and with an eighty horsepower engine drumming its tunes ahead, I could not hear the commotion on the ground, but I was certain that the ‘noise was plenty’. Starting in one corner it seems that a pearl-grey had caught some tasty morsel of invertebrate, and was making a dash to get away from the crowd for a more ‘private snack’. The accompanying pearl-greys put up a pursuit in hope of a morsel of the mouthful of such a gastronomic bug. Meanwhile, the commotion attracted the attention of the white guinea fowl on the other side of the rough swept dirt pitch; and a large, somewhat intimidating, group of white guinea fowl dropped their heads and charged at the bug-bearing champion. Bear in mind, I was watching this during a turn, a time span of around twenty seconds, but, as I twisted my head out of the window, round and down, I could see that the commotion was continuing and the entire cosmopolitan flock of pearl-grey and white birds were pursuing their so called ‘friend’ in a hope of snatching a leg off of the small nutritional discovery in the bush. The combined energies were massive and the dust lifted off of the feet of the flock as if they were playing a very aggressive game of rugby!

Nobody was home in the agro-hamlet, nobody but the fowls and the other livestock. My student could not see the event, but simply wondered what had caught my attention. Therefore, I am probably the only witness to this particular event, and certainly the only one to see it from above – the best place to watch such a spectacle. It still makes me smile when I replay the images in my built in visual-memory player!

Of course, being who I am, I relate such events to the world around me. I see all too often a community of happy folks, all living alongside one another, scratching for their livings, making ends meet and moving as one flock. Then, an individual strikes it lucky, they find the nugget of gold and knowing that the others want it, try to make a run for it, hoping that nobody else will see them. The crowd then spends more energy chasing the lucky one than it would take to find their own nugget, and, eventually, the one with the nugget is so tired from running that the nugget gets split into many pieces resulting in nobody feeling satisfied. Does that sound familiar?

Far too often in all societies, and all families, jealousy destroys development and growth. I was once told that the only difference between two people with the same backgrounds and abilities and their subsequent success is ‘hard-work’. ‘What about luck?’, I hear you ask, ‘Some people are just lucky’. But of course, we all make our own ‘luck’ through our hard work… So, if we work doubly-hard we are twice as likely to find some ‘luck’, and with it achievement.

As per the guinea fowl, we can see that those who have scratched hard, and in the right place, will find some morsel that will create jealousy. It is impossible to avoid it. So, if you don’t want people to be jealous of you, don’t make the effort to succeed. Of course, then the same folks will accuse you of being lazy! If you do succeed, it is amazing how much destructive energy can come from those who feel ‘affronted’ that you have ‘won the prize’, and even more surprising is the number of couch potatoes that can suddenly find the energy to pursue what they perceive as easy pickings – but spend more energy on scheming than they would on ‘making it straight’ through personal efforts.

Seeing it from the air is most amazing. The white fowls ran a greater distance in twenty seconds than they had probably moved all day. IF they had spent as much energy scratching at the edges of the dirt to shrub-land they would have found more than what they were chasing! There is no substitute for personal effort for personal achievement; there is no glory in chasing down a fellow flock member and stealing their gains – none whatsoever.

I was heartened this week to fly a young man who is working on a housing project. He a member of land-owning family who have traditionally sold their land for ‘cash-now’. ‘Cash-now’ is not good. Well, it is good NOW, but it is not good TOMORROW. The traditional land sale system results in a pot of cash and a family-fowl-dash to see who can grab the most and run into the bush with it. This is a scenario I, and I am sure you, have seen far too often. This young man stated that he would not be taking any cash from the sale of the land to the developers. He wanted a share in the company. He wanted to use the collateral of his portion of land to create a long term asset that would provide a trickle of income. Smart, but it creates all sorts of other ‘issues’ – such as ‘you should have taken the cash – you are putting yourself at risk in case it does not work out’. Personally, I think that the young man would have been more at risk of all sorts of family members chasing him across the country wanting their ‘titbit’ NOW, and is more likely to be able to ‘calm the flock’ by having a steady supply of nutrition from judicious decision making and appropriate use of resources.

So, next time you feel pursued for your success, imagine the view from an aircraft of the mayhem on the ground, and then try telling the rest of the flock to ‘go dig up your own invertebrates’!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Photo of the week, November 23rd

Our countryside is wonderfully varied and intriguing - with isolated communities hidden like nuggets of gold in the patchworks below. This community is nestled in the Akwapim-Togo ridge above Koforidua. Access and communications are challenges despite being only a few kilometres from the regional capital, as the crow flies, it may still take a half-day or more to make the journey to market. The ridge itself enjoys higher levels of rainfall, much of it relief related precipitation, coupled with the slightly cooler conditions of altitude this is an ideal area for agro-forestry, agri- and horti-cultural developments. Photo Courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21st, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

When it comes to making a purchase of any significant item, we all take a little more care, interest and exercise more caution, prior to parting with our finances in return for goods than when we seek a less substantial acquisition. However, it always amazes me how difficult it actually can be to make a purchase of such items in the local environment. Far too often the ‘seller’ considers themselves as the one in a position of strength, and yet it is the ‘buyer’ who holds the so called ‘purchasing power’. I cannot count the number of times that I have walked out of a vendors premises without making a purchase, frustrated at the ‘lack of co-operation’ in my wanting to hand over money in return for goods. Does that sound familiar?

Let us go shopping together. We walk into the showroom of ‘Sell-em-quick’ to ask the price of a (as is far too often the case) non-price ticketed item, worth a few thousand Ghana Cedis, and stand by the item. We watch patiently the ‘sales person’ sit and finish a ball of kenkey and some fried ‘Keta-School-boys’ (that would be the small fish, not the young males of our coastal town!). Eventually they walk over to us and say ‘Uhhhh’. We ask the price. ‘Ohhhh, I cannot tell.’ Comes the reply. ‘Can you find out?’ we probe. ‘Unless tomorrow…’ OK, so that is not unusual, but to then watch the representative go back and sit at the makeshift desk, carefully laying their head on their arms for their ‘well-earned’ siesta, goes beyond a marketing joke.

No request for a name, where we are from, what else we might require and the questions that go with ‘good practice’. Why? Because, the seller believes that they hold the ‘power’ over the transaction. Hence, when I have a major purchase to make, I gear up for it, ready to face the challenges and frustrations of ‘attempting to use my purchasing power’ in the current market conditions.

Fortunately, ‘serendipity’, which not only sounds like a nice word, is a wonderful thing. Meaning that someone finds, or comes across, something that they were not expecting to find, or come across. No other word carries the same potent, instant and undisputable message of an "unexpected pleasant moment". The interesting thing is that serendipitous moments surround us, if only we can open our ears, minds and hearts to embrace them and enjoy them and are not too frustrated and flabbergasted by the challenge moments that punctuate our lives. We are also in possession of the power to impart serendipity to others.

Whilst flying circuits, last weekend at Kpong Airfield, I was looking at the runways, workshops, hangars and just under construction mini-clinic-treatment centre, pondering the challenges of electricity. Electricity in the environs of an airfield is a challenge. Buildings are far apart, and power needs tend to be quite substantial. Kpong Airfield has been trying to get a quotation for mains power to the airfield, but of course overhead lines can only come to within a certain distance of the operational areas – for airplanes and overhead wires are immiscible at all times! Add to that the distance of a rural airfield from built up areas, by obvious design, and you quickly understand that the cost of bringing the mains power to rural aviation has the habit of being prohibitively expensive, without the grants and subventions that accompany developments in the ‘developed world’ that are so ominously absent in the ‘developing world’!

Flying on the downwind leg, I was planning the location for a gen-set to provide power and potential routings for the underground lines, as well as contemplating the wire cross-section that may be needed for each segment of the layout. I had already ‘tried’ to obtain and actually obtained some quotations for wire, cables, etc. and realized that this was going to be a challenge to accomplish without some support from different organisations, including keen pricing and a ‘desire-to-sell’ from the suppliers. I had already decided that any vendor eating kenkey would not be requested to quote!

Then as we turned from base-leg to final on the fifth circuit of the training session, I saw a white pick-up pulling out from the airfield car-park. As we descended to cross the road at two-hundred feet my eye captured, partially, the bold red writing on the side of the vehicle; ‘Trop… Cable’. We continued the approach, the words held in suspense in my mind as we concentrated on the flare, touch-down and go-around components of the training exercise.

Climbing out, and turning to the cross-wind leg, I keyed the Push-To-Talk (PTT) and asked ‘confirm vehicle departing from main gate’s intentions’. The young lady on the radio, responded ‘he sells electric wire and will come back later’. Serendipity hit me in the headset as we rounded onto the next downwind section. ‘call him and ask him to return’, I requested, receiving a ‘wilco’ from the ground.

Three more circuits, my student gaining in confidence and competence, and we touched down on a ‘full-stop’, and taxied back. After my de-brief with the student, I sat with the young man, whose name I learned was Samuel. His eyes were bright and unable to meet mine through searching for glimpses of the aircraft beyond me, but his ears were well focused on our conversation. Thinking he came from one of the quoting companies, I waxed on about how expensive his quote was. He declared no knowledge of my contacts. I forgave him, a little, and suggested that he takes a look at the area, gave him a sketch of the planned installation, and asked for a quote.

Apparently, Samuel immediately started looking for a cost-effective solution to get power under the runway to the clinic building. When, at the opening of the next working day, I called and said, ‘I am coming to Tema’, he responded ‘and your quote is ready’. Little did I know that real serendipity would occur within the next hour. He had prepared the exact amount of cable, on drums, a keen price and a swift and effective payment system that did require me to spend an additional hour at an ‘accounts office’.

The serendipity did not end there. The twenty-something young man, trained in Electrical engineering at Accra Polytechnic, came out to the expansive yard and jumped onto a forklift, in his collar and tie. He loaded my truck carefully and with a smile. He never asked for any ‘thank you’ and was ‘happy to have served a customer’.

From the sighting of his truck from the cockpit, to the loading of my own was a pleasant, stress free, professional exchange between a buyer and a seller – one that demonstrates it can be done, and should be the norm.

How do your customers feel about coming to your business or organisation? Is today going to be a serendipitous day for them – if you can help to make it so, then perhaps, just perhaps, it will become a serendipitous moment for you and your colleagues too!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Photo of the week, November 16th

Patchworks of strip farming and apparently haphazard land usage belies the developing challenges in food security in many areas of the world, including Ghana. Lack of co-ordination for irrigation, use of mechanical land working and integrated crop management are hampering increases in yields (quantitative and qualitative)and socio-economic growth in many rural areas. Ongoing land ownership challenges and the resulting lack of land security compound these matters. Meanwhile, the consumers in the urban zones continue to raise their demands for produce and at the same time attempt to depress farm gate pricing, whilst raising the market price at retail outlets. Next time you purchase some agricultural produce, think about the work that went into it - or better still, seek fresh produce at a rural market when you can - and pay a respectable price, don't haggle so much - they have school fees to pay too! Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The so called ‘Whites Only Restaurant’ in Ghana seems to have caused quite a stir recently – and quite rightly too. Whether the comment was made in jest or not, there is no place in today’s world for ‘such bigoted nonsense’. The only ‘colour coded’ message that I agree with is in Rugby, where the All Blacks is the name of New Zealand’s National rugby team, without any racial connotations – and mainly white players!

Throughout my time on this planet, I have constantly been reminded that ‘colour differentiation’ is common practice – in fact discrimination is common practice – in one form or another. I abhor all such behaviour, so much so that, on a recent interview, when I was asked about my ‘colour’, I replied, as I opened my Leatherman knife, ‘let us cut your arm and my arm and we can then compare the colour of our blood – if it is the same, we are the same….’ – the colour question was withdrawn post-haste! In Europe, one is NOT allowed to discriminate on colour – in fact there are strict laws on racism and sexism. Discrimination is not tolerated, not on the colour of the skin, disability, gender creed nor social background of the individuals – for such things are personal and sacrosanct.

However, for restaurants there are ‘methods that distinguish’. For example, McDonalds Restaurants, have a ‘bring ‘em in’ structure that makes the restaurant open to all – from all walks of life and all means. It does not mean that they have a great product – but it does mean that they are very popular and make a lotta lotta money! In the same street as a McDonalds one may find a ‘Cordon Bleu Restaurant’ charging ten or more times the money for a meal. Such a restaurant, by nature of its décor, pricing structure and ‘approach’ establishes its ‘clientele’ – not by colour but by ‘accessibility’, and they will make less money at the end of the day than the McDo! Once again, in the same street one may find a ‘Joe’s Café’, (my sort of place), it will cost less to eat in than McDonalds, it will not have uniforms, it will have beans on toast and mug of tea, be patronised by all nationalities, and it will be very affordable and accessible. It is the sort of place that you can enter wearing oily trousers and steel capped shoes and feel right at home – regardless of the amount of oil or paint colour on your clothes and skin! It is a place where ‘tuxedo’ is a no-no, and those from the ‘upper echelons’ of society may struggle with, regardless of their colour – unless they have just finished changing the oil in their 1949 Rolls Royce!

Colour-ism, racism, xenophobia (fear of foreigners/strangers) and related prejudices, seem to me, to be about perceived ‘what is better’ and such sentiments are not alien to the world of aviation.

Aviation, it seems particularly in the developing nations playing fields, suffers at the hand of ‘exclusiveness-ism’, ‘fake hierarchy-ism’, ‘uniform-status-ism’ and ‘my-job-is-more-important-than-yours-ism’ - then almost any other industry.

There is a saying in aviation that expresses much of the ‘attitude’ that can create divides and chasms in the working environment: ‘What does an airline pilot use for contraception?’ – answer ‘their personality’. It is true that all pilots have an ‘attitude’ caused by their ‘status’ of ‘Commander – Pilot in Command’ – the ‘it is my plane and you will do as I say’ approach. This is a needed mentality at times, but it tumbles outside of the cockpit far too often (and I am not exempted, not by any means!). This is not altogether a bad thing, but it can be ‘misinterpreted’ by those who do not grasp the mental position that being in control of an aircraft requires for safety.

Air Traffic Controllers have a similar approach to ‘I have looked at the situation, summed it up and made a decision – now do as I say…’ which is also born out of their working environment and methods. Add to that the security personnel around any aerodrome and their ‘protectiveness’, couple it with the aircraft engineers and maintenance personnel who realise that their jobs are what enables safe flight, and quickly you have a lot of ‘type A’ personalities in one industry… an explosive combination, if not handled with care and real understanding of where each individual is coming from. That is without considering the ‘Airline Pilot attitude’ against the ‘military pilot attitude’ or the ‘light aviation pilot attitude’ – the industry is rife with ‘attitudes that clash’.

Fortunately, the ribbing and teasing mentality in the industry helps to overcome most of the attitudinal differences. The other day a new pilot came to the flying school at Kpong Airfield to convert from flying one type of light aircraft to another. They had learned on a Cessna – a very popular and very easy to fly aircraft. Within the ‘flying-fellowship’ there are the ‘Cessna-ites’ and the ‘non-Cessna-ites’. I definitely fall into the ‘non-Cessna-ites’. We teased the poor chap, and he laughed with us as we celebrated the differences in piloting. (Technically the Cessna has a lot of differential aileron making certain manoeuvres ‘too easy and potentially rudderless’ for the non-Cessna pilots)

I actually started learning to fly in a Cessna in the late 1980’s. At the time, I thought they were the ‘bee’s knees’. Then, in the 1990’s I discovered ‘real-planes’ (you can already hear the Cessna-ites growling!) and never looked back. Of course, Cessna is great little plane, if you like a ‘spam-can’ (the non-Cessna-ites term for the metal can without any flavour), which also adds insult to injury – in a fun-poking manner. Interestingly, once the Cessna pilot embraces the ‘non-Cessna’ they rarely turn back, apart from the odd ‘melancholy moment down memory lane’. Oh, dear, it seems that I have prejudice in my approach to an icon of aviation – all offended people, please come and fly!

We all have prejudices – some are founded, some are not. As I really wanted to say to somebody in high office recently ‘If you are offended by my opinion, you should hear the ones I keep to myself’. Ultimately, we need to acknowledge and accept that we are never going to agree on opinions and certain matters – and we should keep some things inside our heads! We will always be ready to criticise the ‘Mercedes Benz driver’ over the ‘Ford driver’ or the ‘BMW driver’, have a ready quip about the altitude achieved by the extremely high heels being worn by the lady walking past, make comments about the type of foods being eaten by the person sitting next to us, and more. BUT these are all ‘prejudices’ about things that can be changed – and that is perfectly normal – and if done in a fun and appropriate manner, add to the spice of life as we breathe a few tonnes of oxygen prior exiting this departure lounge called ‘Earth’.

However, prejudice, even with (generally bad) humour, about certain things – things that cannot be changed or are extremely personal are NOT acceptable ever - be it skin colour, disability, faith, gender, facial features or the need for reading glasses – such differences must be embraced, with love and understanding or humanity is doomed.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Photo of the week, November 9th

Transport of goods and people on the lake is principally by canoe - and, as we can see here, all sorts of items are carried aboard locally manufactured boats.  Our 'barely fifty year old National Resource of Lake Volta' is beginning to come of age. However, accessibility to take basic healthcare, education and 'safety at work' messages to these communities is not easy, and yet, these lake edges are key areas for Agricultural and Piscicultural developments.  Without health, safety and education development of these vast areas will be slow.  When did you last visit one of the picturesque villages around the lake - or better still fly over a part of the lake to appreciate the magnitude of it all?  If you have not made that effort, you are missing out on so much that Ghana has to offer!  Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is infinite, and yet I can never get enough of it. It has kept the same speed since Adam and Eve, and yet it seems to be going past faster than ever. I use it to calculate my own speed, and my own progress, and I sell it, but never touch it, move it nor ingest it, and still it is gone - it stretches immeasurably behind me, and immeasurably in front of me, and yet I seem unable to master it.

Time. Time is an asset that we all have, it is just there, whether you want it or not, endless in its nature. Once it is gone, it is past us and we cannot change it or alter any of it, we all have the same amount in each day and thus we have to master the use of it as we pass this planet’s surface, guardians of our grandchildren’s assets.

I look around me and realise that in West Africa, time appears to be passing more quickly – mainly due to the constant (well almost) day length, and the environmental factors. If you compare what gets done in a day in Europe in the summer, it is generally more than is achieved here, by far. There is more ‘day length’ and I am sure that is a part – practically and psychologically – in the effect. I will often say ‘there are not enough days in the hour’; a corruption of the ‘not enough hours in a day’ to express my personal frustrations at not achieving all that I seek to in a twenty-four hour West African time period.

It is not just the passage of the time, as many people express the same common ‘surprise’ at learning that we are ‘more tired’ living in West Africa than elsewhere. Most of the people I know like to be in bed before nine in the evening – yet in the temperate climes they would add another two hours to their ‘time for bed’. It is very clear that the environment has a tiring effect on our bodies – far more than in the temperate zones, and that leads to a reduction in our ability to achieve our objectives… unless we modify our approach to the use of our time in the achievement of our goals.

Of course, the ‘incredible slowness’ of ‘administrative activity’ is crippling to the time conscious. Recently I spent over ninety minutes in a bank ‘of international connection’ in Accra waiting for a bankers draft – it is simply the pace at which it happens. I have (noisily) walked out of many banks in Ghana – exasperated at the waste of my limited time – it seems that they fail to understand that we have to actually EARN the money to put in the bank! If you stand in an average bank in Accra on a busy day you will witness a crime, punishable by law (if only we could make it stick) – that of ‘causing financial loss to the state’. Imagine the hundreds of people who visit a bank in a day, and add up the ‘time spent waiting due to lack of efficiency’. If it is just twenty minutes per person and two hundred and fifty people per day visit the bank, that makes over eighty two hours ‘of wasted time’ in a day or over twenty one thousand hours in a year… that is two thousand six hundred and eighty ‘eight hour days’ or a total of five hundred and thirty six working weeks – about ten person-years of working…. PER Branch…. The must be hundreds of branches across the nation contributing to this ‘productivity’ leakage – and with it, the loss of productivity to the enterprises, and hence loss of tax revenues – or, as we started ‘loss of finance to the state’.

In aviation we have to take time very seriously. Pilots are limited in the time they are allowed to fly in a week and in a year. Aircraft are serviced on ‘hours’. Times for departures and trip times are the ‘measurement of success’ in the industry. Fuel burn per hour is key to a safe calculation of the trip requirements – and it goes on ‘time to climb’, time to waypoint, time-over-distance (a fascinating navigational tool), etc.

My surprise (or was it really) this week was when a ‘Director’ of a state institution was ‘unable’ to make a meeting before his leave. I was unperturbed, for a week or two out on the particular project would be OK. Then I heard the most incredible announcement ‘He has taken thirty working days’. Which, if you consider this time of years ‘other holidays’ means that his presence in his office will be negligible – if any – prior to the new year.

My immediate reaction to the ‘poor messenger’, at whom I opened fire, was ‘So, if he can take that long off of work, he is not needed.’ The reply of ‘Oh, it does not matter, the technicians are still working, so it won’t change anything.’, simply added to my conviction that ‘he was unnecessary’. I come across many ‘managers’ who do not seem to use their time wisely – the ominous presence of a television often a tell-tale sign of ‘judicious time-wasting’. It is one thing to listen to the news on the radio at the top of the hour, but it is another to watch the latest Nigerian movie during ‘supposedly productivity hours’. Just imagine if you found a doctor watching a movie instead of concentrating on the surgery in hand!

Over the past seventeen plus years in Ghana I have seen some really hard working individuals make it to the ‘big man’s chair’. Sadly, some of them see that as ‘early retirement on full pay’. The other, fortunately, are seen to redouble their efforts and are often not found in their office, but rather on the field, or in the factory – chasing the jobs and inspiring the next generation towards achievement and outstanding use of the limited time we have on the planet.

Today’s edition is on a ‘holiday’ – another one. Ghana has a lot of ‘holiday days’, and I really do not hold with the concept at all. We are a developing nation – we need to work hard, dedicated to our tasks, not taking extended leave periods or enduring the disruption of yet another ‘national holiday’ and the knock on effects on traffic, productivity and growth.

Even the hawkers in Accra have a better understanding of these things than most. In 1995 one of them, when I asked why he was ‘working’ on a national holiday, responded ‘stomach no holiday’. That simple fact should focus all of us onto the need to use time wisely, effectively and to remember that ‘no one can ever change the past, but we can all change the future’ provided we all make good use of the time at hand, all of the time!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Photo of the week, November 2nd

Last week the Volta Lake was graced by the largest vessel ever to float upon it, as six barges were magnificently navigated from Buipe to Akosombo by VLTC's Captain Abdulai Seini and his crew. The Volta Lake is one of our Nations under estimated, under utilised resources. Whether as a source of transport, irrigation, fish farms or tourist attractions, the Volta has 'gallons' of potential, with its estimated eight thousand kilometer coastline, thousands of villages, ecological diversity and aesthetic beauty that can hold you spell bound for months on end. Discover more about our nations lake resource - and prepare to be surprised! Photo by WAASPS Ltd ( courtesy of Volta Lake Transport Company.'

(Selassy, I have sent this at FULL resolution, in case you want to make a slightly bigger image, since it is magnificent and a great achievement.... we have many more HQ photos of this and other 'sights' around the Volta should you want to run a 'special' on Lake Volta in the future - perhaps a centre-fold? Perhaps with some advertising from VRA, VLTC, etc.... just an idea, and perhaps a solution for us to 'raise some revenue' from all we provide you too!!! )

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31st, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It sat there on the surface of the lake - the largest floating vessel ever to grace the surface of Lake Volta, travelling at around four knots (seven km/hr), moving gracefully southwards, demonstrating that a Ghanaian Captain and his local crew has what it takes to master a vessel of this size admirably. Captain Abdulai Seini brought SIX barges, four ‘wet’ tanker and two ‘dry’ goods cargo barges, from Buipe to Akosombo and all without a hitch (other than the ones in the ropes, as any boy scout will tell you!).

We heard that it was making good past Kpando at 0600 last Thursday, and when we intercepted the vessel from the air, around noon, it was almost at Dodi Island. Flying over and around this vessel was highly impressive. Visible from over twenty kilometres away, the barge load left a wide wake, lapping the shores as it went. Other vessels, such as fishing and transport canoes, sped [relatively] past the gargantuan iron mass being skilfully guided downstream. This demonstration of ability and equipment raises my hopes that Volta Lake Transport Company really is transporting – and more than that – transforming. Transporting fuel, cement, yams, plantain, traders, vehicles and transforming the economies of those around the lake, and beyond, as it does.

Leaving the six-pack barge behind us we flew towards the Akosombo dam – the water level visibly really high, and the turbines clearly at full chat… leaving foaming whirlpools at the bottom of the power-drop. We took the opportunity to fly along the Akosombo Port, one of the first places I ever flew in Ghana.

Much has changed at the port, especially in the past couple of years. The two new ferries under-construction are more than just a mass of plates of steel these days – one, floating under its own displacement, even looks like it could be useable within months – the other still embryonic, but clearly growing towards leaving the womb of the floating dock at the port. Sad relics of days gone by are also evident, but there is clearly a positive, upbeat image at the Akosombo port rising high into the sky - we could even sense it at two-thousand feet overhead!

Much as the ‘barge push’ and the port growth encourage me, I still have to wonder ‘what about the people around the lake?’ We are not here for ourselves, no this is a family – Ghana is a family. I am proud to be an active part of that family. Family is about caring, sharing, educating and encouraging, it is not about ‘look at what I have done and how rich I am’. No, not at all, despite the current trend in the cities for ‘self-ness’, there is still a solid ‘family-ness’ sense in Ghana overall.

So, I look at these ferries, boats and cargo potential, and look to the management and crews to ensure that these facilities are used to the benefit of all of those it can reach. That does not mean ‘run the business models badly’. No, not at all! In fact, it means run the business models in the same way that the late Steve Jobs described running Apple. He explained using other words, but in essence that; ‘when Apple sought to realise its passion it was profitable, but when it sought to be profitable, it lost its passion’.

Passion, caring, interest – desire to be a part of – are all key to the success of the newly invigorated Volta Lake Transport Company efforts – and it can be seen most clearly from the air! We can see the crews are enjoying their work, serving the communities, serving the Nation and making efforts that go beyond ‘the job description’.

Nonetheless, the Volta Lake has been plagued with Schistosomiasis (also known as Bilharzia) since its inception. Do note that all 170 of Ghana’s administrative districts have incidences of the disease. This second most socio-economic devastating parasitic disease, after malaria, runs rampant in our country – and yet it is so easily prevented and cured. The challenge is, we need a National approach. We need a Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. The good news is that we are reliably and solidly informed that such a group is preparing for a conference in mid-March 2012, to be held in Akosombo – a place I often refer to as ‘the bottom of the Lake’. The Group behind this initiative are trying hard to get all of the stakeholders together to discuss, create and implement an Integrated National Schistosomiasis Control Initiative – or INSCI for short. With the support of major international players and the knowledge of local players, the project stands a good chance of gaining momentum – but I do hope to see more than the four knots witnessed on the lake last Thursday!

One of the major challenges for the INSCI project is access to the communities affected by Schistosomiasis. More vessels, and more frequent movements of the same, plying the lake and its tributaries could help, but first all of the communities need to be identified, located and mapped. That is where aerial support really comes in. Already Medicine on the Move, using a built in Ghana aircraft, and flown by a Ghanaian pilot, has logged nearly one thousand communities along the Afram and the lower lake. Images show that the vast majority of these communities are exceptionally isolated. Larger boats may not be able to get close to the shores where they are, roads simply do not exist, and so ‘air support’ will be essential in the fight for development for all.

I hope that the fact that built-in-Ghana aircraft, flown by locally trained Ghanaians and the recent demonstration of the Ghanaian maritime skills with barges, coupled with the INSCI initiative, is indicative of a change of wind and a change of tide, changes for the better, changes for the people, changes for the children, changes that will empower in terms of health, education and consequentially socio-economic success and sustainability for those hard working rural dwellers, who are literally ‘invisible’ in our society.

One other thing that has really become evident flying over the lakes shores and the coastal savannahs this last week, has been the amount of water that has fallen from the sky this year. The consequential rapid growth of grasses and the rutting of the tracks to and from rural communities is evident in large doses as we fly around.

As the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone drops southwards in the coming weeks, the dry season and the Harmattan will soon set in, and with them bush fires will be more ferocious than usual. The rapid, spindly plant growth of recent weeks will dry quickly and then burn with gusto.

Once again, the lack of accessibility, communications and support to those in the far flung corners of our nation will be left to ‘sort it out for themselves’, but let us hope that the time will soon be upon us when there really is an improved accessibility to support, health, education and markets – and perhaps, our flight last Thursday was a witness to a ‘turning point’ for the better. Let us all hope so, for the sake of those in the more challenging areas of our Nation.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Photo of the week, October 26th

Water levels around the Volta Lake are very high again this year. With less than one meter before reaching the same maximum levels as last year, we are seeing many communities moving back from the lakes edge. Support to these communities, who have had physical access to less farm-able land this year is hard to give, since many are out of reach and perhaps even 'invisible' communities around the 8000km lake edge that dominates Ghana. Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Last Thursday was Ghana’s ‘International Air Traffic Controllers Day Celebration’. Chaired by the Director General (DG) of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Air Commodore (rtd) Kwame Mamphey, the theme of the event was ‘De-linking the Air Navigation Service Provider from the Regulator’. The Chairman (effectively representing the regulator) kicked off the match with his opening statement that included ‘there is some angst with both under the same roof’!

The President of the Air Traffic Controllers Association in Ghana, Mr Michael Atiemo, explained that the development of the industry worldwide is moving towards ‘independence’ of ATC and informed us all that only two countries in the sub-region, Ghana and Gambia, still have ATC as an integrated part of the regulatory body. He explained that some of the current challenges at the authority are related to communications, training, manpower, etc and indicated that the current, on-going, lack of a ‘Deputy Director Technical’ at GCAA is an issue for them… He did not give blame, but identified the need to address these niggling problems in the interest of safety. The Accra FIR (Flight Information Region), although well respected on the continent, has much room for development – and it covers a large area spreading beyond the geographical boundaries of the Territories of the Republic of Ghana. It was proudly stated that ‘Air Traffic Services has come a long way from the early days of independence’, which, of course, it should have!

In the aviation fraternity, Ghana really does have one of the best reputations for air traffic service deliveries on the continent – and so it should, because Ghana boasts its own Air Traffic Simulator – which is used to train many other nations too!

As is often the case at these meetings, the Minister was ‘unable’ to attend. I am sure that, over my many years at such events, less than half of the ‘slated appearances’ of Ministers and other dignitaries actually result in a physical presence. However, it was particularly sad that the Ministers speech was read out by the DG, and that no single representative from the Ministry could have found the time to support this very important event and represent the Minister – and report back to him. Perhaps it is an indication that, in the ‘transport policy pack’, Air Traffic Control, and with it aviation, is not being given the due attention it deserves.

The speech acknowledged that the ATC personnel work hard to maintain safety in the air and on the ground and that the value of their function cannot be over emphasised. Referencing rapid growth, it raised the challenges of the expansion rate in our region and noted that ICAO has made it known that it would prefer to see the ‘decoupling for optimisation and appropriate monitoring’. The minister’s speech talked about ‘best practices’, and that there was an indicated desire to have this topic tabled for ‘cabinet consideration’.

There was reference made to the concept that ‘full support would be given to the ATC personnel to discharge their duties’, including reference to the new ATIS (Automatic Traffic Information System) and VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Radio) as well as the on-going work at Kotoka International Airport.

As we listened to the closing paragraphs of the ministers ‘second-hand’ speech it was clear that it is not a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ decoupling takes place, and with that the question of ‘how’ must be raised.

Growth and expansion was raised frequently in all of the presentations and comments of the day, as well as ‘improvements to infrastructure’, including ‘more airfields to be opened up by Government’. Recently it was announced that KIA is being closed to traffic, for five to seven hours each night for the next two years for maintenance and development work (which I am sure will create some interesting manoeuvres for the cargo and ‘late-night-early-morning’ flights that will need to slide their slots for a while). Furthermore, Tamale and Kumasi are slated for investment to maintain their current levels of service, surface and equipment and then to expand some more. Great talk, but we have heard this before – when and if will we see the reality? I hope we do, for air transport has the potential to open up the country and to change the way we all do business, as well as contribute massively towards a reduction in the North-South socio-economic divide.

Personally, I was very pleased to be asked to ‘offer some words of solidarity’. This gave me the opportunity to thank the many faces that I only know as voices over the frequencies, acknowledging in public forum, and en-masse their contributions to safety in our skies, and to make it clear that, from where I see things, there is an ‘over-focus’ on the top end of aviation without sufficient support for the entry level aviation that fuels the staffing needs for sector-development in Ghana.

For the Key Note, Maxwell Arthur, Head of the GATA centre, took centre stage, opening with a disclaimer statement that his deliberations were ‘his own opinion’. He had a clever set of statements that reflected how the different chapters of regulation interact that brought home to all how the many aspects of the aviation industry operate together, seamlessly, in order to keep aircraft, crews and passengers safe - on the ground and in the air. Maxwell, a time served GCAA man pointed out that traditionally, all over the world, ATC was part of the ‘government controlled oversight of the industry’ package, and yet today we are witnessing, worldwide, that ‘private practice is more efficient than government management’.

He explained that ‘If there is only one structure covering all functions, it is like being a referee for your own game’ – which compromises safety. It was reiterated that both ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) and IATA (International Air Transport Association) are in favour of ‘restructuring and de-coupling’ in the interest of ‘efficiency and safety’.

One of the charts shown and discussed, divulged how many nations have decoupled, using varied methods – from ‘Not for profit, independent entities’, through ‘Government Corporations’ and to ‘public/private partnerships’ – the fact being that in each case there were advantages with the decoupling. (No mentions were made about the disadvantages, so I assume that a separate ‘disadvantages’ meeting will take place!). Demonstrated improvements in the models discussed have included ‘improvements in safety, technological investments and developments, service quality, cost reduction, financial stability, labour relationships, service to small communities, support for general aviation and better civil/military relationships’. It was made clear that whatever model is undertaken for Ghana that ‘The model should serve the purpose for which it is intended’ – which I am sure we are all relieved to hear!

We all need to ‘watch this space’ for the forthcoming changes, which we hope will be transparent and led by an appropriately experienced team, to the way the Air Traffic Control structure is transitioned towards ‘independent body’; and with it I hope that our dedicated and hard-working ATC staff will find a more ‘appropriate, focused and supportive’ environment, for they really do ‘watch over us’ and ‘bring us home safely’ as we leave our contrails across the West African skies.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Photo of the week, October 19th

A typical rural community, with its 'seasonally challenging' laterite road; contrasted against some low clouds, the lush green vegetation that dominates Central, Western, Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana stands proud. The village community structure can be seen clearly, and the football pitch (with a walking track across it), a West African community trademark, punctuates the landscape. Such communities should be on the 'must visit' of every visitor to Ghana, for it is in the villages that the real Ghana is to be found. Leave the cities behind, and explore the wealth of rural Ghana this week. Photo Courtesy Medicine on the Move

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Light Aviation really is ‘under-rated’ in this part of the world and commercial and military aviation is far ‘over-rated’. Such an approach is like ignoring the kindergarten and focusing on the University – doomed to fail. Unless the early-years of education are solid and appropriate, you cannot expect the tertiary levels and above to yield good fruits – and this applies to all sectors!

As was said to me by a pedagogue recently, ‘West Africa needs to leave the Victorian age behind’. It may sound a little harsh, but in reality we are seeing far too much ‘Victorian style’ education still taking place. Book-only rote learning, memorizing vast tracts of text and endless formulae, acceptance by examiners of ‘their versions of the answer only’ and more. Indeed, the education system – at all levels needs reform. From the early years – and that includes pre-school, in fact from the days after birth, we need to provide active stimulation of our young people – colours, shapes, music, textures and more. Fisher Price has founded an entire mega-business model on the colourful, noisy and shape orientated play things, including play–planes, and they work!

So, much as we need to re-assess our approaches to basic education (and in all honesty it is underway, just rather slowly and without much publicity), so too must we re-evaluate our approach to aviation exposure and training.

At the recent WAFRIC (Women Aviators of Africa) conference, a lot of time was spent on exploring ways to ‘stimulate young women into aviation’. Young Ghanaian women, some as young as 16 who are already learning to fly, partook actively in this debate. It is clear that ‘unless exposed at a young age it is hard to have ambition, and the associated motivation, for any area of study’.

What I find comforting, from the West African aviation development perspective is that the women are mobilising themselves in Ghana – and more actively than is appreciated by many in the higher ranks.

The 99s is an international group of women pilots, and they have ‘chapters’ all over the world – and yet Africa as a continent is lagging behind, so, when I get to read the following written by Kitty Houghton from the International office of the 99s I am left smiling: 'We are very happy that the Ghana Section of the Ninety-Nines is now official! You are certainly the leaders in Africa. Your example may spur the women pilots in other parts of the continent, to establish their own 99s Sections... We hope it will be a step toward more recognition of the terrific things you are doing for aviation in Ghana, and a higher profile for your Section and for all women pilots in Africa.'

So, once again, Ghana leads the continent, but hopes to have some hot competition to maintain its top spot in the promotion of the women who soar above and set standards for others to aspire to.

It is not only the women who are making ‘early-years’ strides. A young man by the name of John Paul wrote to me last week saying ‘I am a boy of 15 years old. I completed J.H.S. this year, and I have never missed Fresh Air Matters for the past two months. I am very desperate about flying and I have passion for it and I have never stop dreaming about it for the past three years, perhaps I have nothing in mind than to be an airline pilot. … Thank you for introducing something like Fresh Air Matters, thank you very much, we pray that god guides and help you so that you will always publish it so that it help we the juniors to take the right path.‘ I find the last part particularly interesting ‘juniors to take the right path’! To which, as always, I replied with the advice, albeit in other words ‘to follow your passion not your wallet’ and ‘visit Kpong Airfield and watch the planes before deciding on what you want to do.

John Paul, like so many others, has not REALLY had exposure to aviation. He has read about it, seen it on TV and visited a web page. He has never felt the blast of air coming off the backend of a propeller!

Exposure does not mean just ‘books, TV and the Internet’ nor does it mean ‘a visiting speaker to the school’ – these are good, but they are not enough. No, it means ‘field trip’ - not necessarily a school field trip; mums and dads, uncles and aunties – you have your role to play here!

Why not take the kids to do something special instead of going to another funeral this weekend? Is it really necessary to spend so much time at the church ‘event’ and the other ‘events’ that are in practice depriving our children from the opportunity to family time, discovering new things together and exposure that may well be the creative break your children, nephews, nieces and the like are in need of?

I am always surprised NOT to see young families out together discovering wildlife, places and opportunities – we have wonderful places to discover in Ghana – and of course, I promote the ones we discover by air too! I know that flying over the waterfalls, seeing the Adome bridge, Akosomobo and Kpong Dams, elephants in Mole Game reserve, Pin-Tailed Whydahs, Red Bishops and antelope in Shai-Hills game reserve, the beauty of the landscape, the enormity and potential of all that we have is sitting there, underutilized assets in the battle for socio-economic development through stimulation of the minds of the youth.

This week we have had another pleasure, and one that will surely expand into a future Fresh Air Matters column entry. We have a visitor from Germany who is a pilot, flying instructor and teacher for the visually impaired. This visitor has been enjoying the wonders of flying in Ghana and converting her European license to a Ghanaian PUP license. As we chatted she asked ‘Do you fly blind children?’. This is not as bizarre as it may seem. Blind is not necessarily blind – and in fact most blind people can distinguish shades and all of them can feel the sensations of acceleration, pitching up, pitching down, rolling and the effects of yaw – and hear the engine changes too. Our German friend expounded on the impact such feelings can have on the development of blind children and the positive outcomes she has found in Germany. This is an area we are now exploring in more depth.

So, I ask myself, if in developed nations, the benefits of exposure to flying for blind children has such an impact and is recognized, how much more we are lacking the broad based exposure for our young people to watch, hear, feel and experience moments that are readily accessible here in Ghana?

I know that this year we have cancelled the only airshow in Ghana due to lack of sponsorship and other financial support, however, every weekend the Kpong Airfield is open for young people, preferably with their families, to visit, watch the aircraft and to see what it means – and it makes a great day out!

What will you do to expose your family, and even yourself, to something new this week?

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Photo of the week, October 12th

Air Traffic Controllers, whether directly at an airport tower, such as Sunyani shown here, or remotely managing overflight of our territory, are the basis of safety, security, monitoring and much more at our airports and in our skies. You can find out more about them at - and realise just how much they do. As we read more and more about growth in the Aviation industry in our area, we must ensure that we give ATC our full support, for they really are watching over us from below! Credit WAASPS Ltd

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Continuing from last week… My friend, ex-military, ex-airline pilot had breached communication and jeopardised safety, consequently being summoned to the tower by the airport manager…

The PA28 sat on the apron, undercarriage pushed to its limits, and I watched Fox walk towards the tower, through the rain, realising that my fight with him may have cost me a friendship. He did not look back, he was a proud man, and for him there would be a ‘logical explanation’ for the dangerous and unacceptable actions he had taken. I have since found this to be a common negative trait in the ‘ex-military’ pilot, and yet also a positive trait that they needed to do their jobs in crucial times.

The rain beat on me hard, so I went into the briefing room; whereupon a flock of aviators became my “Job’s Comforters”. All had been watching and listening via the radio, and all knew their side of the story!

Confused, I excused myself and found a quiet corner, one with a large world war two aircraft as a backdrop. I mulled it over.

‘If I had simply NOT gone, then I would have been accused of not trying.’

‘If I had allowed him to continue with his planned sortie, then I might not be alive (looking at the fall-out around me - that seemed very applicable!)’

‘Should I have simply told him straight ‘You are in the wrong’, this is not the way it should be done; and if I had, what would have happened?’

The more I considered the ‘alternative’ scenarios, the more it became clear that, on the balance of probabilities, I had made the right call. I realised that there were many short-term outcomes from this event that would have long-term repercussions. Then, I realised that it was normal, conflict is a part of safety (and development) – without it many ‘awareness’s’ as well as changes to the industry and procedures would never have come into play.

I spotted Fox returning from the Airfield Managers Office. Head held high, with a look of challenging defiance upon his broad face. He walked straight past me. I held out my hand, but I was invisible. The blame was ‘all on me’. He had made certain decisions that had led to the outcomes; I had simply acted in a responsive manner, in a greater interest, leading to a rapid and positive outcome. Clearly, he felt that it was all about ‘him and his reputation’. For me it was bigger than that – it was about lives, it was about the reputation of the industry, not that of an individual, not that of a friendship.

Fox went to the office and shut his ears. He made his own world. Everybody migrated away, conscious that he was in ‘one of those moods’ for which he was famous. Another instructor came up to me, suggesting that we ‘take a walk’. In the post-storm clarity-filled air, we walked past the museum section of the aerodrome, talking freely. He reassured me that the decision I had taken, ‘probably led to the most rapid outcome and a swift awareness of the problem to all on the ground’. However, he also advised me that ‘it is best to stay away from the man’ for a while. Staying away when I have not been in the wrong is not my strength, never was, and never will be.

The next day I tried to call Fox, went by his office, tried to catch his attention, but the goliath of aviation did all things possible to avoid me. All my communications and training were suddenly routed to another instructor, who, interestingly, embraced my style, and we flew well together – often accepting a challenge and responding to it, regularly in heated debate.

On a cross country flight one day my new instructor commented ‘you do realise Fox is paid by the flight, don’t you?’. Silence hung in the air, massaged by the noise of the engine thumping out its horsepower ahead of our feet. The penny dropped. That flight, the one that had nearly taken the lives of both Fox and I, and put in jeopardy the runway and staff at the airfield, had all been about money. The consequential upset, was also to do with money, for he was ‘banned from instruction’ for a disciplinary period by the management. All of this upset, loss of sleep and anguish was because the man saw making money more important than creating a safe and long term reputation, and all that was associated with it. I would never have believed it, but it struck me firmly.

I have come across many people whose only interest is for selfless development, even at the cost of their own pocket and perhaps lives. Sadly, I have come across orders of magnitude more people whose only interest is in their own pocket or ‘what is in it for me’ as was once said to me in a ‘high office’.

I will tell you what is in it for you, if you want to make the sacrifice, dedicate yourself to growing the opportunities for others, enabling growth at the bottom end, encouraging competition, giving rather than taking: You are quickly rewarded with peace of mind, restful sleep and the knowledge that your attitude is one that will last longest, coupled with disdain, rumour-mongering and possibly persecution from those who see it ‘differently’.

About ten years after the incident with Fox, I was at a dinner with the airline that had employed him. He sat at a corner table, alone, drinking whiskey, trying to catch the eye of anybody he could, apart from me. Then, a retired senior pilot, whom I had never heard of before, came up to me exclaiming ‘So, you are the one who called out Fox!’. It appeared that I had a reputation! I looked at the forlorn Fox, and then back at the white haired and waxed moustache sporting airline guru addressing me, ‘Yup, that would be me, I am afraid.’ The glass waving aviator looked me straight in the eye and said ‘I wish that I had had your courage when he worked for me, we were all scared to call him out. I know it was wrong, but we all thought profit was the best motive. You may have saved more lives than you realise!’

It was not a proud moment, for I could see the state that Fox had reached. So, I went over, we exchanged a few words. He clearly wanted me to ‘go away’, so I did.

As much as Bob Marley’s famous reggae song chants ‘Get up, stand up; stand up for your rights’, I will stick to my tough line of ‘Get up, stand up; try to make things right’ – even at the risk of losing friends and taking the ‘hardest route’ to my destination. Take my advice, whether it is in aviation or any other walk of life, ‘call it out’ make it known, the pain is short lived, but the benefits can last a lifetime – or longer!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photo of the week, October 5th

Cocoa farmers appear able to build their homes and live in otherwise inaccessible parts of our nation.  Here in the Brong Ahafo region we can see two small cocoa farmer homes.  Something to think about the next time you take bite of chocolate, savouring the pleasure of Ghana's Brown Gold.  Our cocoa farmers need to be respected for the work they put in, and the conditions under which they live and work, in order to tantalize your taste buds with the fruits of their labour.  Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 3rd, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The pilot’s mantra of Aviate-Navigate-Communicate cannot be repeated enough. This simple, reminder of the key to flying safely, is in my opinion the basis of success in aviation and can be in other industries too.

Aviate, meaning ‘fly the plane’ is about continuing to do what you need to do, in order to keep the aircraft in the air and ‘flying safely’. This is about keeping a steady hand on the controls, following procedure and correcting for any sudden turbulence, ensuring that the plane and all on board are ‘as comfortable and safe as possible’.

Navigate means ‘work out where you are, and where you are going ’as well as ‘how you are going to get there. A sudden storm may brew or low cloud-base require a deviation, or perhaps you are not able to contact, or understand, ATC to obtain a clearance, and so you have to take a different route. Navigation in Ghana is a bigger challenge than in many ‘light-aviation-developed’ nations. Here, the charts are not updated for VFR flying every year as they are elsewhere – for there simply is not the volume or demand. Furthermore, the markings on the available maps are often erroneous, as we found out when we flew to look for survivors after the Sene accident recently. The maps can be wrong in relation to the lay of the land, names and locations of towns.

Communicate, the third and completing part of the mantra, is the one that can help us to overcome any issues in the first two. Pilots regularly report their position, their heading and their intentions. They communicate either directly to Air Traffic Control or they can broadcast open ‘to all who may be listening’, especially useful if ATC is out of range or not responding. Other aircraft may relay messages, to and from ATC, and so the information chain can be maintained, through the network of communication for which true aviators are renowned. Poor communication, misunderstandings and the failure of just one person to initiate or respond to communications can and has led to major embarrassments, accidents and in some cases loss of life and livelihood, in the same way as it can in all walks of life.

There have been cases where pilots have had so much difficulty in getting a response from the tower that emergencies have ensued – simply because ATC refused to respond to a call ‘because they did not use the local language’ or at times ‘because the pilot had upset them’ – hard to believe, but true. At other times pilots fail to communicate, between crew as well as to the tower, trying to hide their need for help. We should all note that there is no excuse for a ‘failure to communicate’, we cannot allow pride nor prejudice to prevent communications, is not an acceptable excuse at any time, especially in aviation, even though we all seem to experience it at some point in our lives.

There was a particular day when the importance of communication, in, and out of, the cockpit, between the crew, as well as ATC was demonstrated in my flying, and I have been much bolder in my approach to communication since.

I used to fly with an excellent pilot, he knew his stuff. He had flown in the Air Force and then in commercial aviation too. In his retirement he took up flight instruction. He had a nickname, it was that of an animal, but to protect his identity, we will simply call him ‘Fox’. Fox liked flying with me, and teaching me new skills, or so he said, and I really enjoyed chatting with, and learning from, him. He taught me a great deal and I respected and held the man in high esteem.

Then, one day, he proposed a skills building lesson, saying ‘Let’s check you out on the cross-winds’. I looked at the sky and told him that it looked a little ‘sketchy’. ‘Nonsense, Old Chap’ he retorted in his terribly RAF voice, adding ‘you have come this far, you should see it can be done, I am here to help you.’ My trust in the man, at that time, was complete; he had more experience than me, even flying to many countries around the world. So, we set off.

In the plane, we lined up ready for take-off, watching the other aircraft from the area rushing back to join the circuit and land, as the sky darkened. Again, I suggested ‘it is not a good day for this’ and without answering me he requested for ‘line up and departure’. ATC came back with ‘Fox, are you sure you want to go?’, breaking protocol and using his name. He glanced at me and, as he turned down the radio, said ‘sometimes it is better not to let them know you have heard. Let’s roll’. Doubts were in my mind as to how sensible he was, but I trusted the man completely. The plane was airborne and we were climbing, behind us other aircraft hurriedly landing and tying down. He insisted we fly circuits on the main runway, 21/03, and off we flew; my hands, arms and legs aching from the many control inputs needed to retain semblances of stability. We set the aircraft up for a landing and I heard faintly on the radio ‘clear to land’, but Fox called loudly in my ears ‘touch-and-go’ and increased the power, overriding my attempts to end the flight. The PA28 climbed out, committed to another circuit. Strong winds were blowing, gusts beyond the normal operating capabilities of the aircraft. Being the only aircraft in the air, and having my communications shut down by Fox, I needed to make some immediate and tough decisions. I chose to cut the circuit short, ignoring Fox, who was yelling something in my ear about ‘you must respect my commands’. To me, and others, his advice would clearly result in both of our demises. On the approach the aircraft was now verging on being out of control – I was lining up to land but Fox wanted to fly more circuits. I locked the controls firmly in my hands. As he resorted to calling me names, I transmitted firmly ‘G-XXX is landing NOW’. Fox fought me for the controls. Finally, I cut a deal to give them to him, on condition that we landed now. He stopped talking to me from that point on. I reached forward and turned up the radio as they broadcast ‘Fox, land that plane now’. In the man’s anger, directed at me, coupled with the conditions, he did not land well. We slammed onto the runway, skidding on the freshly wetted tarmac; the undercarriage would need ‘attention’. Without a word, Fox gestured to give me control for the taxi of the limping aircraft back to the hangar, amid torrents of rain and hail. The airport manager himself came on the radio, his voice indicating his ‘disquiet’… ‘Fox, report to the office, immediately’. We parked and he disappeared, without a word.

I will share with you next week the outcome, and the moral of this true account, for it is as relevant today in all of our working, as it was then. ‘Till next week…

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail