Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Newspapers have carried some surprisingly eye-catching stories about aviation and Ghana, especially over recent weeks. The one that resulted in extensive airborne pollution comes from the ‘Ghana bound aircraft fist-fight’ report, carried by a number of international papers.  Apparently, one passenger reclined their seat without care and attention and upset the passenger behind.  It is unclear which passenger – or if it was another – started physically abusing the other, but it clearly was a bit more than a dirty slap!  The consequences of this airborne ‘slap on the head’ misdemeanour was that the United Airlines Boeing 767 dumped over forty tonnes of fuel, and two F16 fighter jets were scrambled.  Now, in the litigious country of the USA one would expect somebody to say ‘who pays?  Yet, no arrests were made; no charges filed and around fifty thousand US dollars’ worth of go-juice was spread around the sky and onto the ocean, not to mention the high speed jaunt around the skies by two F16’s at a pretty penny or two! 
Let us, conservatively say that the above ‘melodrama’ cost around one hundred thousand US dollars (say fifty thousand for the fuel and the balance between military movements, airport charges/costs, the delayed flight, etc.).  It must have been that somebody had a sweet tongue and interesting passport or simply nobody minded; yet for spilling a coffee from Starbucks or McDonald’s in the Big Apple you have a multi-million dollar legal wrangle!  If I had been a passenger on that flight I would not have been happy and possibly made a claim against the ‘combatants’ for my loss of time… perhaps that will come!
Of course, Ghana is amongst the top ten rich countries in the world, according to the press coverage of another incident, so wealthy in fact, that one little weather incident has lead to the placement of an order for no less than two aircraft carriers!  The later ‘corrected without explanation’ statement that carried far and wide appears to originate in country: ‘Accra, May 30, GNA - President John Evans Atta Mills on Monday announced that Ghana was in the process of acquiring two aircraft carriers from Brazil that could work in inclement weather and better ensure the safety of passengers.’
The background to this ‘declaration of intent’ comes from the fact that a flight from Yamoussoukro to Accra had to turn around and land back in Yamoussoukro due to weather. Apart from the questions ‘Why did they set off with known weather?’ and ‘Why didn’t they land in Takoradi?’ I still don’t understand how this made ‘hot press’.  Nonetheless, this lead to a statement that was supposed to read ‘…acquiring two personnel carrier aircraft from Brazil…’ becoming expensive headlines and egg-on-face news.  Brazil makes some fantastic aircraft – in fact Embraer, founded in Brazil in 1969, is a ‘household name’ in aviation circles, has a sixteen billion dollar firm order book, seventeen thousand employees worldwide and is a leader in its class for regional aircraft, many of which are operated by some of Europe’s leading airlines.
However, there is a lot of potential for this enthusiastically erroneous reporting to be seen as clearly incorrect to the ‘informed reader’.  Firstly, Brazil has only one aircraft carrier of its own (it obtained it second hand from France in 2000), it has a complement of sixty four Naval officers and nearly thirteen hundred sailors, plus over five hundred and eighty folks in the aviation group on board.  Secondly, not even China has one in service at this time. Thirdly, the UK is selling a used aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal, but we would need a crew of around one thousand and look for some aircraft to get the full twenty two aircraft bays filled.  The Ark Royal was put on sale by Auction on the twenty eighth March this year, with the thirteen of June (that is next week) as the final date for tenders – so if this quote came from somebody who is actually serious about it, tender documents need to be filled quickly.  
Next, the reason given for needing to purchase these aircraft carriers was to be able to operate in ‘inclement weather and better ensure the safety of passengers’.   Landing on an aircraft carrier in good weather is a challenge and risk filled, let alone in inclement weather. Finally, the estimated cost of the two new aircraft carrier being built in the UK is a mere five billion British pounds. 
If I had the cash I would consider purchasing the American mega carrier the George Washington.  Crewed with a full complement of over five thousand (sea and airmen).  On average there are fourteen birthdays on board EVERY day.  Not to mention the ninety aircraft, fixed- and rotary-wing – with full engineering support.  The GW, as it is called, has enough nuclear power resource to remain at sea for twenty YEARS, and has more than a quarter of a million horsepower (190MW) of power output. 
I have been heard to talk recently about the ‘private aircraft carrier on the lake’.  Now, that is more realistic.  On the lake I am involved in the engineering team for a project to work with a ‘Health Education Vessel and floating aircraft dock’, as part of project ETCHE,  for health education purposes, the engineering project has been dubbed ‘the aircraft carrier’ even though it is actually a floating seaplane dock for crew and patient transfer.  In fact, the aircraft that will be landing on the lake, equipped with stretcher and a range of around one thousand kilometres, is nearing construction in Ghana.  Interestingly, this built in Ghana air ambulance development is completely privately funded, since Governments have repeatedly demonstrated no practical interest in supporting it. 
We can understand that there are other priorities, but clearly there are also a lot of ‘misguided quotations’ when it comes to aviation stories. Over the past years I have read erroneous stories about ‘Ghana armed forces flying planes into clouds to stop the rain’ as well as ‘Ghana purchases xx fighter jets/transport aircraft/etc.’ and more.  I wonder where the challenge in getting the facts straight comes from.  Is it that the journalists misreport what is said? Is it that the spokesperson is misreading from the script?  Is it an attempt at misleading the public? Is it ‘good intentions’ spoken from the heart, without clarification and correction down the line?  A little research or a question asked to an aviation professional can save us a lot of embarrassment – in the same way ‘not slapping the head of the person in front of you on United Airlines’ protects the good name of Ghana!
I do know that it is confusing for some, irritating for others and whichever it is creates a poor impression.  Ghana has some fine airmen and women.  Our Air force is outstanding, with much recognition of their achievements.  Our Civil Aviation Authority does a sterling job.  Our press is one of the best on the continent. Perhaps some of the blame lies with my literary colleagues, but I know that not all can rest at their feet – by far.  There is always ‘somebody looking to spin’ - the question is ‘Who?’.
 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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