Monday, February 14, 2011

February 14th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
This is a tale of three airfields.  It is a tale with history, with sadness, with joy and with disbelief – but what follows is true, and is the result of the last ten days spent on a rough and, at times, hazardous journey, accompanied by Detective Erin Nolan of the New York Police Department Aviation Unit, who is currently in Ghana promoting aviation for young ladies, alongside Ghana’s own pilot/engineer ‘extraordinaire’, Patricia Mawuli.

The first airfield visited was Kete Krachi.  A strip that was created before the flooding of the lake, and re-located to its current location.  A strip that is ‘almost useable’.  A strip which has not seen an airplane regularly land there for many years. Only 200km from Akosombo, it takes around twenty hours by boat and twelve hours by road – or less than two hours by air, in a small plane.

The community of Kete Krachi is aware of the airstrip and would like to see it returned to service.  The school children are bright and full of life and were ready to learn more about aviation and the exciting potential that it could hold for their community.  The Director of Education was ready to assist in the creation of aviation clubs.  The DCE was open to discussion and ready to see the facility returned to useable status. 

The airfield could be returned to useable status with less than one day’s manual labour.  About ten small shrubs to uproot, some dried grasses to be burnt off, bundles of sticks removed, some metal barriers stacked nicely and a serious FOD walk (to remove loose stones, rubbish and items that should not be on the strip).  There is the need to stop people and cows crossing the strip, as well as to stop the ‘driving practice’  thereon.  All of these can be achieved easily with the support of the District, community leaders and the schools in a matter of weeks.  Thus, it is conceivable that Kete Krachi Airstrip could be useable this year, if they make the appropriate applications to GCAA and all inspections and approvals go through smoothly.  That was a happy tale.

The next airstrip’s tale is not such a happy one, at all.  Mole Game Reserve in the Northern Region.  Mole is fantastic – a national resource established in 1957 and improved to an acceptable standard today.  The road to Mole is long, treacherous and not one for those who only want to spend one day at the site.  The last eighty six kilometres from the main Techiman/Tamale road, near Yapei, is not pleasant.  If you drive like a madman, which many do, you can complete the road in two hours – just pray that your suspension lasts and that you do not need to use the brakes, or your last trip may be on that road.  The surface is loose, dusty, bumpy and uncomfortable – to say the very least- but it is better than it was!  Nonetheless, a safe average speed is about thirty kilometres per hour, which means that three hours are needed for the route – but still watch out for the madmen coming in the opposite directions – especially the big orange buses and those in 4x4’s who believe that they are able to travel at high speeds on such roads and still avoid a child, cow or goat should they cross their paths.  Mole has spectacular views and is a must see for those who have not seen it.  Elephants, bush-buck, hartebeest, buffalo, baboons, kob,  dyker, baboons, velvet monkeys, wart-hogs, crocodiles and so, so much more are there to see in their natural environment, splendid beyond belief.  In the mid 1990’s Mole had an airstrip built.  A nice, safe and very useable resource.  Today, in order to return the resource to a useable state would only take a few good hard working folks a couple of days, and although not perfect, it would be a safe and useable resource.  When approached about the strip, the immediate reaction of ‘Mr A’ the ‘number two big man’ on site was ‘it is all about money’, followed swiftly by ‘it is not our responsibility’ and ‘it is the fault of the Government of Ghana’ and ‘go tell the Forestry Commission people in Accra’.  This reaction and the lack of interest in their own resources only convinces me that Mole strip is, at this time, a lost cause.  I know that a few years ago a Minister of Tourism landed on the strip – for which it was cleared - and I know that it could be maintained easily.  But it is evident that, despite the genuine interest shown by the competent and welcoming game wardens lower down the command, there are those who see ‘gimme money’ and ‘not my problem’ coupled with ‘blame the government’ who will ensure that this resource is not one we can rely on as a safe place to develop.  For even if we get it safe today, tomorrow the ‘money and blame game; will be underway.  It was interesting when a verbal attack was made on our American Aviation visitor with ‘you would not maintain your facility [in the USA] without extra pay’, to which the reply was ‘of course we do – it is OUR facility, our safety and for us.’

There is, sadly, a lot of ignorance about the facts that outside of Ghana people are expected, and expect of themselves, to ensure their own facilities and community assets are maintained, since they know that their Governments are not going to step in to help.  So, for Mole, a very sad tale of a neglected runway that could have been used for many opportunities, an investment that will probably rot and wither for lack of a better understanding and approach.    

Our third Airfield is in Techiman.  Techiman Airfield is relatively new, created by the Traditional Council with the assistance of many members of the community and the municipality.  School groups regularly carry out maintenance, FOD walks, and sensitisation of the population. Techiman has thriving ‘aviation clubs’ and the community are sponsoring one of its own young ladies towards learning to fly and to learn more about aircraft engineering.  The Chiefs of Techiman have a great deal of aspirations for their airfield.  They can see that it can be more than a few hundred meters of dirt strip, and have designated enough land to make the facility a viable competitor to Kumasi and Sunyani as the private aviation sector grows – and they are independent, unlike the Ghana Airports Company Limited facilities.  Techiman has a great deal going for it.  If I were a private investor with the funds, Techiman would get my vote as a place with potential and a good return on investment.  The people are interested in Aviation.  Chiefs come to the airfield to greet arriving aircraft and the community demonstrates its interest for aviation developments in a proactive, non-partisan and responsible manner.  Thus, we end with a very happy tale of a new facility that has much potential.

Airfields are like businesses, they may be established and needing a new lease of life, they may be ignored and ready to crumble through poor attitudes and motives, such as the ‘money and blame game’, they may be young, vibrant and full of promise, aiming high and ready to compete against the established competitor’s in a tough environment. 

What is the tale of your business/organisation?

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

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