Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
On-going air supremacy is apparently the key to peace-breaking and peace-keeping in our world.  Troubles on our continent rumble on, punctuated with the use of no-fly zones, air strikes, surveillance and, most importantly from my standpoint, protection and evacuation of innocent civilians who may otherwise be unable to save their souls.

Of course, the activities in Côte d’Ivoire have brought some interesting aircraft to pass across our skies.  Whether it is the C130 Hercules, the heavy lifter and evacuation aircraft of choice in the theatre of relief; the C127 Spartan, sometimes called ‘Half-a-Herc’; Helicopters with an alphabet soup of designations or the occasional light aircraft, they are all playing their part in the effort to protect lives.

Ghana remains a bastion for safe and secure air operations in West Africa.  Ghana has an excellent airport, infrastructure and our aviation leadership is well recognised as being professional.  After all, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority is acknowledging its 25 years of existence, wherein leadership has consistently moved towards the excellent facilities we have today. 

I remember arriving in Ghana, in 1994, and walking across the hot tarmac apron to the terminal building; watching the clearly developing-nation-airport’s cogs of operation revolving, sensing clearly a nation wanting to rise.  At that time, the quantity and types of aircraft visible few, diverse and often aged.  There was a large, faded red Westland Helicopter that dominated the area by the soon to be completed Afgo (now Aviance) building, and skeletons of aircraft, that had seen better days, parked haphazardly.

Changes happened daily.  Afgo opened its doors, more and more cargo aircraft seemed to stream to the nation, bringing with them mining equipment, telecoms equipment, needed and wanted items, brought in hours – and now cleared in a fraction of the time that it took before.  These same aircraft left the nation loaded to the gunnels with pineapples, vegetables, arts and crafts and high value items that air transport is synonymous with.  I remember clearly, visiting an Air Ghana chartered 747 cargo plane during loading – the nose section lifted hydraulically to reveal the cavernous interior of the transport cylinder that consumed heavily loaded pallets of grown and made in Ghana goods, to consumers in Europe.  Standing there, I watch the mechanised aircraft ‘load and lock’ the pallets of fruit and vegetables, contrasting so dramatically with the conditions in the fields where they were grown, and the living conditions of those who laboured over their cultivation.

Passenger aircraft numbers grew in consequence of the trade, for the trade in new, often called ‘non-traditional’ exports, stimulated buyers to come to Ghana and more Ghanaians to be able to afford to travel to negotiate sales, purchase equipment and raise themselves into the international marketplace.  Trade routes generally precede passenger transport routes, by road, by sea and by air.

Today, the airport and aviation infrastructure of Ghana has changed dramatically.  There are several daily flights to Nigeria, more and more flights to varieties of destinations in Europe, the advent of more middle-eastern aircraft operations, as well as improved movement opportunities across the sub-region and continent as a whole.

With these changes, the infrastructure of the airport has changed; whether for departure or arrival, Kotoka International Airport offers us ‘pleasurable’ passenger air travel logistics – well, as much as it can be!   It is easy to forget where we have come from, but, if you reflect a little, you can clearly see where we are heading!  There are still some airframe skeletons parked in different places, but there are many, many more aircraft of more recent years, in full and regular operation, not only the airliners, but also the apparent fleets of Beechcraft and smaller regional machines, helicopters and biz-jets - and they are not sitting on the apron for very long before the whirr of their engines signals life in their form.

People raise concerns about how busy Kotoka has become.  It is not busy.  Yes, it is busier than it used to be, but it is nowhere near as busy as it could be!  For as far we have come in the past 25 years of the existence of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, so we have far to go.  Fortunately, the leadership in GCAA can see that future, and are willing to work towards it, maintaining international standards and ensuring safety and security is the baseline upon which all aviation developments must build.

Of course, we have other airports in Ghana! Takoradi, a military air base, is now an ‘oil airport’ servicing the rigs that are sucking up some treacle like substance, which should increase the lot of Ghanaians - at some point in the future.   The short hop flights from Kotoka to Takoradi are increasing, as are the helicopter shuttles to and from the rigs themselves.  Not all is positive in this scenario – as anybody living in Sekondi-Takoradi will tell you, for it has brought with it a change in pace, and cost of living in the Twin-cities.

Alongside the increase in activities at the international airport and in Takoradi, there have been changes too, at the regional airports. Sunyani, Kumasi and Tamale have little changed, apart from some needed maintenance.  Air services provided a few years ago by AirLink (the now retired Ghana Air Force Social Air Transport solution) have been superseded with commercial interests and activities, moving the relatively small numbers of people from the interior to the big city.  Wa has a most wonderful runway, and it is beyond my understanding how it was allowed for power lines to be run across the approach to one end of that runway this year, limiting its use.  Navrongo has lots of talk about it, but little action around it. 

Of course, with the decoupling of GCAA a few years ago, the Government airports are now under GACL (Ghana Airports Company Ltd), and so the ‘economics of today’ are likely to affect investment over and above the ‘essential service potential’ that such sites offer.  Fortunately, many community and private airfields are springing up, such as Techiman, Mim, Kpong and several agricultural ones too.

Ghana Civil Aviation is not just about the airlines, airports, transport and oil movements, not at all.  The extraordinary growth in light aviation in Ghana is outpacing the surrounding countries and more and more people are considering the options of learning to fly and own their own small aircraft for personal use.  Understanding of the width and breadth of aviation is beginning to seep down to the population at large and in fields where the pineapples grow, getting a bit more high tech than in the days that I watched the 747 loading! 

As we witness the marking of 25 years of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority in the coming weeks, I would like to leave a thought that was shared with me recently.

‘Those who live by the sea, or near a lake, learn to swim and sail, and to take advantage of it as a resource. Those who live by the mountains learn to climb and trek, and to take advantage of it as a resource. Those who live by precious metal reserves learn to mine and to take advantage of it as a precious resource.  Yet, we all live by the sky, but few learn to fly and take advantage of it – and it is the biggest and most unexploited resource on the planet.’

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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