Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The US administration comes closer than width of a mosquitoes proboscis to defaulting on its international financial commitments and as soon as that hurdle is passed the ‘parliamentarians’ take a summer vacation – leaving another funding story lurking in the halls of the US Senators abode. The Federal Aviation Authority of the United States of America is in turmoil of the cash strapped kind. The FAA requires funding approval from the House – and it has simply not happened. Consequently, four thousand workers are ‘furloughed’ or temporarily laid off without pay and around ten billion dollars of aviation related projects are ‘on hold’ waiting for the politicians to return from their ‘post-debt-approval’ debacle. Many have petitioned for them to stay on and pass the aviation funding bill… apparently without success.

The failure of the US Congress to renew the so called ‘stop-gap-funding bill’ for the FAA (which has been renewed around twenty times over the past four years in order to keep the mammoth nations aviation systems smoothly in operation) has serious consequences for many in these economically challenging times.

Aviation in the USA is not unlike ‘tro-tro’ operations in Ghana – but without the overcrowding and maintenance issues! Many domestic flights are as close to ‘walk-on walk-off’ as you can achieve in aviation. The reason is simple, human and economic accessibility.

To drive from New York to San Francisco takes roughly forty-eight hours of driving, non-stop, on good roads for the full, four thousand eight hundred kilometres, road trip – assuming an average speed of one hundred kilometres per hour and no fuelling or ‘relief’ stops. Flight time in an airliner is a bit less than eight hours – that is less than twenty percent of the drive-time and would take about half the drive-time in an ‘average’ private light aircraft - shaving around six hundred kilometres off the distance too.

Let us assume a drive-time for the seven hundred kilometre road journey from Accra to Bolgatanga as thirteen hours, and a flight time for the same journey at five hundred kilometres by air would be a bit under two hours in a regional jet (assuming Bolga had a suitable airport and a service was on offer), or less than four hours in a light aircraft. Now, it is interesting that the benefit of the light aircraft over road travel is far more marked in the African game-plan – about twice as effective - and although the regional aircraft are still not serving the smaller communities, the concept of using light aviation to reach the ‘market potential’ of our regional capitals and other communities is still, incredibly, a blank slide in our transport perspectives.
In the past week I have met people who have flown themselves across the USA and into Canada and back, simply because it is quicker and more convenient than the regional airline services – even in the ‘air-tro-tro’ environment of the USA. So, I asked ‘why’!

The reasons are simple, the smaller airports, often with grass or low-load-bearing tarmac strips, are not serviced by the regional carriers - even in the USA. Therefore, in many cases the regional carriers can only take you ‘near-to’ your destination and rarely ‘to’; hence using regional carriers often results in the need to rent a car and drive to the final destination of the day. Furthermore, with the increase in access control to the larger airports and aircraft it is not impossible that the drive to the regional major airport, check-in and related time consumptions, is longer than the ‘light-flight’ in getting you to your destination perhaps even quicker than getting air-borne from your place of origin.

The discussions with a friend, who has a couple of small planes of his own, really opened my eyes to the reality of ‘flexible-air-transport for the smaller business folk’.

Take the little town of Mexico, Missouri and the town of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Both towns have their own runways, hangars and simple, safe, community led facilities. To drive between the two is a full eight or more hours of driving. To self-fly between the two is around four hours of wonderful vista flight. However, take a regional air service between them and the time becomes distorted… First you would need to drive from Mexico Missouri to St Louis, a drive time of over one hour. Then to check-in and wait for the aircraft, a further hour or so. There are no direct flights to the destination, so you may choose another regional airport, such as Witman, with a flight time of around one hour, and then rent a car and drive the last hour or so to the destination. Add in the usual delays and long walks that commercial air travel requires and the total time may be close to having driven from home to destination – and that is with an excellent road and air network! Regional travel, even in the USA with its plethora of ‘air-tro-tro’ nodal connections simply is not comparable to ‘self-fly’ transportation when you want to get from ‘where you are to where you want to be’ in the most effective manner, especially if your departure and/or destination is a rural location.

Should we establish a functional network of rural airfields in our part of the world the benefits would be orders of magnitude more effective than the above example. Having travelled on our roads, in the rural areas of the territory, where twenty kilometres per hour is still a bone-shaker of a ride, and with the Lake Volta imposing its routing dilemmas on many a South-North and East-West routing, the benefits of point-to-point flexible self-fly travel are so much greater in Ghana than on the continent of North America which has shown us economic inclusivity across its varied and access challenged landscape.

This week has demonstrated conclusively that accessibility in a timely and ‘self-controlled’ manner is key to socio-economic development of the ‘less easily accessed’ parts of the world. It has also demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that communities who invested in the basic infrastructure of a reserved area for air-access have become hubs of activity. The little airport in Mexico Missouri is surrounded by business developments – simply due to increased accessibility.

I can already hear the naysayers talking about how expensive flying is. However, it is not as expensive as portrayed, and aircraft ownership and personal piloting is within the reach of many in our country – especially the up and coming business community. In the same way that ‘personal car ownership’ was once seen as ‘unlikely at best’, it is clear that the ‘leaders of the pack’ who grasp the current ‘accessibility solution’ of aviation as a practical tool for development will have the edge. For this to work, we need to also ensure that government policies and our Aviation Authorities stimulate the market sustainably, without unnecessary barriers, based on best practice and appropriate regulations for the needs of all – and a realisation that even the smallest community that ‘invests in itself’ is taking a burden off of the state, and should be encouraged through a positive stance in a supportive, developmentally aware manner.

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

1 comment:

  1. Well said! All this is even more true in Alaska, where there are very few roads linking settlements in large portions of the state. Small aircraft are the only practical means of travel. People at the little airports all over the USA are so friendly. The wonderful FAA controllers who are a key part of the aviation team on almost every flight, are all so professional, courteous, safety-conscious and every-ready to help!