Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Newspapers and television carry some interesting aviation stories – some true, some exaggerated and some, well, more noise, smoke and mirrors, with fiction as a side dish than accurate. Sometimes, it is by misunderstanding, often by lack of effort towards understanding, and/or research. For example, a recent story used the brand name of Cessna spelt as Sesna as well as the stories carrying the plural of aircraft, which should still be aircraft mistakenly as aircrafts, which is a word that simply does not exist in the English language. I am sure that at times such announcements are more ‘well-meant misleading’ than fact. How often have we heard about the ‘new airport at…’ or the ‘international airport being built at …’ or ‘the new jet engine facility being introduced at…’. Frankly, I have reached the stage where I read, listen to or watch these announcements, smile, shrug my shoulders and then go flying!

Sometimes there are ‘mischief’ comments that sneak in. Of course not only in the papers and on TV but also in conversation – and we are all guilty of it to some extent. Sometimes that mischief is harmless, even humorous for those in the know, but at times it can be damaging – to an individual, an organisation, a sector or even the nation.

The recent news from the GNA “Accra, July 11, GNA – The Kotoka International Airport (KIA) has won the 2011 Best African Airport of the Year Award…” Caught my attention – since I am certain that I have flown through some very nice African airports with better facilities than ours. Then I read it again, and realized that it was all about routes. The award apparently “commended the KIA for distinguishing itself in service delivery, development of new routes and attracting four major airlines from the United States and Europe to Ghana in 2011 alone.”, which makes more sense and is an award well deserved – even if 2011 is not even 60% spent yet! Ayekoo!

It is abundantly clear that our skies are getting busier! It is also clear that a lot of efforts are going into making things more attractive at Kotoka, but there is also news that gets published that makes my shoulders oscillate with amusement! For example, the announcement in an article recently about GACL (Ghana Airports Company Ltd) that states ‘… the company, as part of its future plans, is expected to re-model the entire terminal building of the KIA to ease traffic as this will provide seven aerobridges to facilitate boarding of passengers.’ !

Of course, we all have our wish lists! At the same time, there is a need to start reporting on what is underway or achieved over what makes a publicity/political statement. Frankly, if the (I am still laughing) seven air-bridges were under construction, or even a genuine contract signed, then let us make noise about it, otherwise save it for the ‘blue-sky planning’ session! Perhaps, realistically in our economy, something more modest would be believable! However, when there is so much other really important work to be done, let us make efforts to ensure that press releases and headlines remain factual, realist and timely. For example the new fire station at Kotoka, seemingly delayed continuously over several years, is now sitting there ready to enter service. That is a news-worthy edifice, not that I like the look of it, but I do respect the work that has gone on there – and it is far more relevant than some far-off concept that will probably not see the light of day within two or three electoral cycles, if even within my lifetime.

Our aviation infrastructure lacks lustre, no question about it! However, we seem to have reduced the operating hours at certain regional airports, added certain administrative challenges and focused our attention on international routes, neglecting the need for domestic / General Aviation for the people. Don’t get me wrong, we NEED international aviation to fund the development of domestic developments. In fact it is absolutely marvellous that TAP-Air Portugal is now flying to Accra – interestingly that makes life easier for our Brazilian friends due to the multiple onward connections to their country!

The potential economic impact of increased, easier links to Brazil should not be understated – yet it is missed in the presentations and reporting! Of course, many have tried in the past to establish a direct link to Brazil (which is, by the way, the closest trans-Atlantic destination from Ghana), so this is a positive step in the right direction. The newest airline on the block even stated that Air links between Portugal and Africa are one of the company's "principal strategic objectives" – that is the sort of statement that makes sense!

If you go to Brazil, you will find a thriving international, domestic and General Aviation market. As discussed here a few weeks ago, Embraer, a Brazilian aircraft manufacturing company, is amongst the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world. But look at the country’s aviation infrastructure; they have over ten thousand (10,000) aircraft on their register – mainly small aircraft, plus, reportedly, over FOUR THOUSAND (4,000) airstrips of which only around SEVEN HUNDRED (700) have paved runways. The majority are remote strips, in many cases cleared and maintained by the people living in the area as a means of ready access to emergency services and simplicity of transportation in challenging conditions. Interestingly, I only found just over one hundred of them with ICAO designations, and less than fifty appear to be ‘commercial’ in the same sense as Kotoka, Kumasi or Tamale. One of those airports, Sao Paulo, peaks operations at a reported forty five movements per hour! Interestingly, their aircraft register has more than the usual single ‘unique country identifier’ – it has four! Whereas all Ghana aircraft start their registration with 9G, Brazilian aircraft may start with PP, PR, PT or PU.

It is fascinating that, Brazil, probably the leading developing nation, is the fifth largest country and eighth largest economy in the world – and, of course is the ‘B’ of BRIC (being the acronym for Brazil Russia India and China, for those in the economic development stage of ‘rapid growth potential’). From an aviation standpoint, Brazil has much to teach us, but we must also grow our aviation appropriately for our needs in line with our industry potential, without any misleading statements or ‘exaggerations’ that create mistrust and lack of confidence in where we are going. We need regulatory and practical enablement of our aviation sectors for rapid growth across the country and region.

This time next week, I will be at the opening of a week where around half a million people will be visiting an airfield in Wisconsin, USA, which is expecting 10,000 aircraft, the majority of which will be single engine piston aircraft, and I will be reporting back to you about the growth potential that I will be exploring directly. I assure you that I will be spending time with those from Brazil and asking more about how they go about their amazing growth and sustenance of the aviation industry there. I will share the experience with you all, without fabrication or ‘sensationalist exploitation’.

Facts are often more surprising than fiction, and so we should try to get the journalistic trend more towards developmental, factual journalism than sensationalistic ‘futures in the rune stones’ for apparent ‘point scoring’ that seems to have become a recent trend…
Have a great, fact filled, aviation and development aware week!

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

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