Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31st, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It sat there on the surface of the lake - the largest floating vessel ever to grace the surface of Lake Volta, travelling at around four knots (seven km/hr), moving gracefully southwards, demonstrating that a Ghanaian Captain and his local crew has what it takes to master a vessel of this size admirably. Captain Abdulai Seini brought SIX barges, four ‘wet’ tanker and two ‘dry’ goods cargo barges, from Buipe to Akosombo and all without a hitch (other than the ones in the ropes, as any boy scout will tell you!).

We heard that it was making good past Kpando at 0600 last Thursday, and when we intercepted the vessel from the air, around noon, it was almost at Dodi Island. Flying over and around this vessel was highly impressive. Visible from over twenty kilometres away, the barge load left a wide wake, lapping the shores as it went. Other vessels, such as fishing and transport canoes, sped [relatively] past the gargantuan iron mass being skilfully guided downstream. This demonstration of ability and equipment raises my hopes that Volta Lake Transport Company really is transporting – and more than that – transforming. Transporting fuel, cement, yams, plantain, traders, vehicles and transforming the economies of those around the lake, and beyond, as it does.

Leaving the six-pack barge behind us we flew towards the Akosombo dam – the water level visibly really high, and the turbines clearly at full chat… leaving foaming whirlpools at the bottom of the power-drop. We took the opportunity to fly along the Akosombo Port, one of the first places I ever flew in Ghana.

Much has changed at the port, especially in the past couple of years. The two new ferries under-construction are more than just a mass of plates of steel these days – one, floating under its own displacement, even looks like it could be useable within months – the other still embryonic, but clearly growing towards leaving the womb of the floating dock at the port. Sad relics of days gone by are also evident, but there is clearly a positive, upbeat image at the Akosombo port rising high into the sky - we could even sense it at two-thousand feet overhead!

Much as the ‘barge push’ and the port growth encourage me, I still have to wonder ‘what about the people around the lake?’ We are not here for ourselves, no this is a family – Ghana is a family. I am proud to be an active part of that family. Family is about caring, sharing, educating and encouraging, it is not about ‘look at what I have done and how rich I am’. No, not at all, despite the current trend in the cities for ‘self-ness’, there is still a solid ‘family-ness’ sense in Ghana overall.

So, I look at these ferries, boats and cargo potential, and look to the management and crews to ensure that these facilities are used to the benefit of all of those it can reach. That does not mean ‘run the business models badly’. No, not at all! In fact, it means run the business models in the same way that the late Steve Jobs described running Apple. He explained using other words, but in essence that; ‘when Apple sought to realise its passion it was profitable, but when it sought to be profitable, it lost its passion’.

Passion, caring, interest – desire to be a part of – are all key to the success of the newly invigorated Volta Lake Transport Company efforts – and it can be seen most clearly from the air! We can see the crews are enjoying their work, serving the communities, serving the Nation and making efforts that go beyond ‘the job description’.

Nonetheless, the Volta Lake has been plagued with Schistosomiasis (also known as Bilharzia) since its inception. Do note that all 170 of Ghana’s administrative districts have incidences of the disease. This second most socio-economic devastating parasitic disease, after malaria, runs rampant in our country – and yet it is so easily prevented and cured. The challenge is, we need a National approach. We need a Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. The good news is that we are reliably and solidly informed that such a group is preparing for a conference in mid-March 2012, to be held in Akosombo – a place I often refer to as ‘the bottom of the Lake’. The Group behind this initiative are trying hard to get all of the stakeholders together to discuss, create and implement an Integrated National Schistosomiasis Control Initiative – or INSCI for short. With the support of major international players and the knowledge of local players, the project stands a good chance of gaining momentum – but I do hope to see more than the four knots witnessed on the lake last Thursday!

One of the major challenges for the INSCI project is access to the communities affected by Schistosomiasis. More vessels, and more frequent movements of the same, plying the lake and its tributaries could help, but first all of the communities need to be identified, located and mapped. That is where aerial support really comes in. Already Medicine on the Move, using a built in Ghana aircraft, and flown by a Ghanaian pilot, has logged nearly one thousand communities along the Afram and the lower lake. Images show that the vast majority of these communities are exceptionally isolated. Larger boats may not be able to get close to the shores where they are, roads simply do not exist, and so ‘air support’ will be essential in the fight for development for all.

I hope that the fact that built-in-Ghana aircraft, flown by locally trained Ghanaians and the recent demonstration of the Ghanaian maritime skills with barges, coupled with the INSCI initiative, is indicative of a change of wind and a change of tide, changes for the better, changes for the people, changes for the children, changes that will empower in terms of health, education and consequentially socio-economic success and sustainability for those hard working rural dwellers, who are literally ‘invisible’ in our society.

One other thing that has really become evident flying over the lakes shores and the coastal savannahs this last week, has been the amount of water that has fallen from the sky this year. The consequential rapid growth of grasses and the rutting of the tracks to and from rural communities is evident in large doses as we fly around.

As the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone drops southwards in the coming weeks, the dry season and the Harmattan will soon set in, and with them bush fires will be more ferocious than usual. The rapid, spindly plant growth of recent weeks will dry quickly and then burn with gusto.

Once again, the lack of accessibility, communications and support to those in the far flung corners of our nation will be left to ‘sort it out for themselves’, but let us hope that the time will soon be upon us when there really is an improved accessibility to support, health, education and markets – and perhaps, our flight last Thursday was a witness to a ‘turning point’ for the better. Let us all hope so, for the sake of those in the more challenging areas of our Nation.

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Photo of the week, October 26th

Water levels around the Volta Lake are very high again this year. With less than one meter before reaching the same maximum levels as last year, we are seeing many communities moving back from the lakes edge. Support to these communities, who have had physical access to less farm-able land this year is hard to give, since many are out of reach and perhaps even 'invisible' communities around the 8000km lake edge that dominates Ghana. Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Last Thursday was Ghana’s ‘International Air Traffic Controllers Day Celebration’. Chaired by the Director General (DG) of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Air Commodore (rtd) Kwame Mamphey, the theme of the event was ‘De-linking the Air Navigation Service Provider from the Regulator’. The Chairman (effectively representing the regulator) kicked off the match with his opening statement that included ‘there is some angst with both under the same roof’!

The President of the Air Traffic Controllers Association in Ghana, Mr Michael Atiemo, explained that the development of the industry worldwide is moving towards ‘independence’ of ATC and informed us all that only two countries in the sub-region, Ghana and Gambia, still have ATC as an integrated part of the regulatory body. He explained that some of the current challenges at the authority are related to communications, training, manpower, etc and indicated that the current, on-going, lack of a ‘Deputy Director Technical’ at GCAA is an issue for them… He did not give blame, but identified the need to address these niggling problems in the interest of safety. The Accra FIR (Flight Information Region), although well respected on the continent, has much room for development – and it covers a large area spreading beyond the geographical boundaries of the Territories of the Republic of Ghana. It was proudly stated that ‘Air Traffic Services has come a long way from the early days of independence’, which, of course, it should have!

In the aviation fraternity, Ghana really does have one of the best reputations for air traffic service deliveries on the continent – and so it should, because Ghana boasts its own Air Traffic Simulator – which is used to train many other nations too!

As is often the case at these meetings, the Minister was ‘unable’ to attend. I am sure that, over my many years at such events, less than half of the ‘slated appearances’ of Ministers and other dignitaries actually result in a physical presence. However, it was particularly sad that the Ministers speech was read out by the DG, and that no single representative from the Ministry could have found the time to support this very important event and represent the Minister – and report back to him. Perhaps it is an indication that, in the ‘transport policy pack’, Air Traffic Control, and with it aviation, is not being given the due attention it deserves.

The speech acknowledged that the ATC personnel work hard to maintain safety in the air and on the ground and that the value of their function cannot be over emphasised. Referencing rapid growth, it raised the challenges of the expansion rate in our region and noted that ICAO has made it known that it would prefer to see the ‘decoupling for optimisation and appropriate monitoring’. The minister’s speech talked about ‘best practices’, and that there was an indicated desire to have this topic tabled for ‘cabinet consideration’.

There was reference made to the concept that ‘full support would be given to the ATC personnel to discharge their duties’, including reference to the new ATIS (Automatic Traffic Information System) and VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Radio) as well as the on-going work at Kotoka International Airport.

As we listened to the closing paragraphs of the ministers ‘second-hand’ speech it was clear that it is not a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ decoupling takes place, and with that the question of ‘how’ must be raised.

Growth and expansion was raised frequently in all of the presentations and comments of the day, as well as ‘improvements to infrastructure’, including ‘more airfields to be opened up by Government’. Recently it was announced that KIA is being closed to traffic, for five to seven hours each night for the next two years for maintenance and development work (which I am sure will create some interesting manoeuvres for the cargo and ‘late-night-early-morning’ flights that will need to slide their slots for a while). Furthermore, Tamale and Kumasi are slated for investment to maintain their current levels of service, surface and equipment and then to expand some more. Great talk, but we have heard this before – when and if will we see the reality? I hope we do, for air transport has the potential to open up the country and to change the way we all do business, as well as contribute massively towards a reduction in the North-South socio-economic divide.

Personally, I was very pleased to be asked to ‘offer some words of solidarity’. This gave me the opportunity to thank the many faces that I only know as voices over the frequencies, acknowledging in public forum, and en-masse their contributions to safety in our skies, and to make it clear that, from where I see things, there is an ‘over-focus’ on the top end of aviation without sufficient support for the entry level aviation that fuels the staffing needs for sector-development in Ghana.

For the Key Note, Maxwell Arthur, Head of the GATA centre, took centre stage, opening with a disclaimer statement that his deliberations were ‘his own opinion’. He had a clever set of statements that reflected how the different chapters of regulation interact that brought home to all how the many aspects of the aviation industry operate together, seamlessly, in order to keep aircraft, crews and passengers safe - on the ground and in the air. Maxwell, a time served GCAA man pointed out that traditionally, all over the world, ATC was part of the ‘government controlled oversight of the industry’ package, and yet today we are witnessing, worldwide, that ‘private practice is more efficient than government management’.

He explained that ‘If there is only one structure covering all functions, it is like being a referee for your own game’ – which compromises safety. It was reiterated that both ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) and IATA (International Air Transport Association) are in favour of ‘restructuring and de-coupling’ in the interest of ‘efficiency and safety’.

One of the charts shown and discussed, divulged how many nations have decoupled, using varied methods – from ‘Not for profit, independent entities’, through ‘Government Corporations’ and to ‘public/private partnerships’ – the fact being that in each case there were advantages with the decoupling. (No mentions were made about the disadvantages, so I assume that a separate ‘disadvantages’ meeting will take place!). Demonstrated improvements in the models discussed have included ‘improvements in safety, technological investments and developments, service quality, cost reduction, financial stability, labour relationships, service to small communities, support for general aviation and better civil/military relationships’. It was made clear that whatever model is undertaken for Ghana that ‘The model should serve the purpose for which it is intended’ – which I am sure we are all relieved to hear!

We all need to ‘watch this space’ for the forthcoming changes, which we hope will be transparent and led by an appropriately experienced team, to the way the Air Traffic Control structure is transitioned towards ‘independent body’; and with it I hope that our dedicated and hard-working ATC staff will find a more ‘appropriate, focused and supportive’ environment, for they really do ‘watch over us’ and ‘bring us home safely’ as we leave our contrails across the West African skies.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Photo of the week, October 19th

A typical rural community, with its 'seasonally challenging' laterite road; contrasted against some low clouds, the lush green vegetation that dominates Central, Western, Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana stands proud. The village community structure can be seen clearly, and the football pitch (with a walking track across it), a West African community trademark, punctuates the landscape. Such communities should be on the 'must visit' of every visitor to Ghana, for it is in the villages that the real Ghana is to be found. Leave the cities behind, and explore the wealth of rural Ghana this week. Photo Courtesy Medicine on the Move

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Light Aviation really is ‘under-rated’ in this part of the world and commercial and military aviation is far ‘over-rated’. Such an approach is like ignoring the kindergarten and focusing on the University – doomed to fail. Unless the early-years of education are solid and appropriate, you cannot expect the tertiary levels and above to yield good fruits – and this applies to all sectors!

As was said to me by a pedagogue recently, ‘West Africa needs to leave the Victorian age behind’. It may sound a little harsh, but in reality we are seeing far too much ‘Victorian style’ education still taking place. Book-only rote learning, memorizing vast tracts of text and endless formulae, acceptance by examiners of ‘their versions of the answer only’ and more. Indeed, the education system – at all levels needs reform. From the early years – and that includes pre-school, in fact from the days after birth, we need to provide active stimulation of our young people – colours, shapes, music, textures and more. Fisher Price has founded an entire mega-business model on the colourful, noisy and shape orientated play things, including play–planes, and they work!

So, much as we need to re-assess our approaches to basic education (and in all honesty it is underway, just rather slowly and without much publicity), so too must we re-evaluate our approach to aviation exposure and training.

At the recent WAFRIC (Women Aviators of Africa) conference, a lot of time was spent on exploring ways to ‘stimulate young women into aviation’. Young Ghanaian women, some as young as 16 who are already learning to fly, partook actively in this debate. It is clear that ‘unless exposed at a young age it is hard to have ambition, and the associated motivation, for any area of study’.

What I find comforting, from the West African aviation development perspective is that the women are mobilising themselves in Ghana – and more actively than is appreciated by many in the higher ranks.

The 99s is an international group of women pilots, and they have ‘chapters’ all over the world – and yet Africa as a continent is lagging behind, so, when I get to read the following written by Kitty Houghton from the International office of the 99s I am left smiling: 'We are very happy that the Ghana Section of the Ninety-Nines is now official! You are certainly the leaders in Africa. Your example may spur the women pilots in other parts of the continent, to establish their own 99s Sections... We hope it will be a step toward more recognition of the terrific things you are doing for aviation in Ghana, and a higher profile for your Section and for all women pilots in Africa.'

So, once again, Ghana leads the continent, but hopes to have some hot competition to maintain its top spot in the promotion of the women who soar above and set standards for others to aspire to.

It is not only the women who are making ‘early-years’ strides. A young man by the name of John Paul wrote to me last week saying ‘I am a boy of 15 years old. I completed J.H.S. this year, and I have never missed Fresh Air Matters for the past two months. I am very desperate about flying and I have passion for it and I have never stop dreaming about it for the past three years, perhaps I have nothing in mind than to be an airline pilot. … Thank you for introducing something like Fresh Air Matters, thank you very much, we pray that god guides and help you so that you will always publish it so that it help we the juniors to take the right path.‘ I find the last part particularly interesting ‘juniors to take the right path’! To which, as always, I replied with the advice, albeit in other words ‘to follow your passion not your wallet’ and ‘visit Kpong Airfield and watch the planes before deciding on what you want to do.

John Paul, like so many others, has not REALLY had exposure to aviation. He has read about it, seen it on TV and visited a web page. He has never felt the blast of air coming off the backend of a propeller!

Exposure does not mean just ‘books, TV and the Internet’ nor does it mean ‘a visiting speaker to the school’ – these are good, but they are not enough. No, it means ‘field trip’ - not necessarily a school field trip; mums and dads, uncles and aunties – you have your role to play here!

Why not take the kids to do something special instead of going to another funeral this weekend? Is it really necessary to spend so much time at the church ‘event’ and the other ‘events’ that are in practice depriving our children from the opportunity to family time, discovering new things together and exposure that may well be the creative break your children, nephews, nieces and the like are in need of?

I am always surprised NOT to see young families out together discovering wildlife, places and opportunities – we have wonderful places to discover in Ghana – and of course, I promote the ones we discover by air too! I know that flying over the waterfalls, seeing the Adome bridge, Akosomobo and Kpong Dams, elephants in Mole Game reserve, Pin-Tailed Whydahs, Red Bishops and antelope in Shai-Hills game reserve, the beauty of the landscape, the enormity and potential of all that we have is sitting there, underutilized assets in the battle for socio-economic development through stimulation of the minds of the youth.

This week we have had another pleasure, and one that will surely expand into a future Fresh Air Matters column entry. We have a visitor from Germany who is a pilot, flying instructor and teacher for the visually impaired. This visitor has been enjoying the wonders of flying in Ghana and converting her European license to a Ghanaian PUP license. As we chatted she asked ‘Do you fly blind children?’. This is not as bizarre as it may seem. Blind is not necessarily blind – and in fact most blind people can distinguish shades and all of them can feel the sensations of acceleration, pitching up, pitching down, rolling and the effects of yaw – and hear the engine changes too. Our German friend expounded on the impact such feelings can have on the development of blind children and the positive outcomes she has found in Germany. This is an area we are now exploring in more depth.

So, I ask myself, if in developed nations, the benefits of exposure to flying for blind children has such an impact and is recognized, how much more we are lacking the broad based exposure for our young people to watch, hear, feel and experience moments that are readily accessible here in Ghana?

I know that this year we have cancelled the only airshow in Ghana due to lack of sponsorship and other financial support, however, every weekend the Kpong Airfield is open for young people, preferably with their families, to visit, watch the aircraft and to see what it means – and it makes a great day out!

What will you do to expose your family, and even yourself, to something new this week?

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Photo of the week, October 12th

Air Traffic Controllers, whether directly at an airport tower, such as Sunyani shown here, or remotely managing overflight of our territory, are the basis of safety, security, monitoring and much more at our airports and in our skies. You can find out more about them at - and realise just how much they do. As we read more and more about growth in the Aviation industry in our area, we must ensure that we give ATC our full support, for they really are watching over us from below! Credit WAASPS Ltd

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Continuing from last week… My friend, ex-military, ex-airline pilot had breached communication and jeopardised safety, consequently being summoned to the tower by the airport manager…

The PA28 sat on the apron, undercarriage pushed to its limits, and I watched Fox walk towards the tower, through the rain, realising that my fight with him may have cost me a friendship. He did not look back, he was a proud man, and for him there would be a ‘logical explanation’ for the dangerous and unacceptable actions he had taken. I have since found this to be a common negative trait in the ‘ex-military’ pilot, and yet also a positive trait that they needed to do their jobs in crucial times.

The rain beat on me hard, so I went into the briefing room; whereupon a flock of aviators became my “Job’s Comforters”. All had been watching and listening via the radio, and all knew their side of the story!

Confused, I excused myself and found a quiet corner, one with a large world war two aircraft as a backdrop. I mulled it over.

‘If I had simply NOT gone, then I would have been accused of not trying.’

‘If I had allowed him to continue with his planned sortie, then I might not be alive (looking at the fall-out around me - that seemed very applicable!)’

‘Should I have simply told him straight ‘You are in the wrong’, this is not the way it should be done; and if I had, what would have happened?’

The more I considered the ‘alternative’ scenarios, the more it became clear that, on the balance of probabilities, I had made the right call. I realised that there were many short-term outcomes from this event that would have long-term repercussions. Then, I realised that it was normal, conflict is a part of safety (and development) – without it many ‘awareness’s’ as well as changes to the industry and procedures would never have come into play.

I spotted Fox returning from the Airfield Managers Office. Head held high, with a look of challenging defiance upon his broad face. He walked straight past me. I held out my hand, but I was invisible. The blame was ‘all on me’. He had made certain decisions that had led to the outcomes; I had simply acted in a responsive manner, in a greater interest, leading to a rapid and positive outcome. Clearly, he felt that it was all about ‘him and his reputation’. For me it was bigger than that – it was about lives, it was about the reputation of the industry, not that of an individual, not that of a friendship.

Fox went to the office and shut his ears. He made his own world. Everybody migrated away, conscious that he was in ‘one of those moods’ for which he was famous. Another instructor came up to me, suggesting that we ‘take a walk’. In the post-storm clarity-filled air, we walked past the museum section of the aerodrome, talking freely. He reassured me that the decision I had taken, ‘probably led to the most rapid outcome and a swift awareness of the problem to all on the ground’. However, he also advised me that ‘it is best to stay away from the man’ for a while. Staying away when I have not been in the wrong is not my strength, never was, and never will be.

The next day I tried to call Fox, went by his office, tried to catch his attention, but the goliath of aviation did all things possible to avoid me. All my communications and training were suddenly routed to another instructor, who, interestingly, embraced my style, and we flew well together – often accepting a challenge and responding to it, regularly in heated debate.

On a cross country flight one day my new instructor commented ‘you do realise Fox is paid by the flight, don’t you?’. Silence hung in the air, massaged by the noise of the engine thumping out its horsepower ahead of our feet. The penny dropped. That flight, the one that had nearly taken the lives of both Fox and I, and put in jeopardy the runway and staff at the airfield, had all been about money. The consequential upset, was also to do with money, for he was ‘banned from instruction’ for a disciplinary period by the management. All of this upset, loss of sleep and anguish was because the man saw making money more important than creating a safe and long term reputation, and all that was associated with it. I would never have believed it, but it struck me firmly.

I have come across many people whose only interest is for selfless development, even at the cost of their own pocket and perhaps lives. Sadly, I have come across orders of magnitude more people whose only interest is in their own pocket or ‘what is in it for me’ as was once said to me in a ‘high office’.

I will tell you what is in it for you, if you want to make the sacrifice, dedicate yourself to growing the opportunities for others, enabling growth at the bottom end, encouraging competition, giving rather than taking: You are quickly rewarded with peace of mind, restful sleep and the knowledge that your attitude is one that will last longest, coupled with disdain, rumour-mongering and possibly persecution from those who see it ‘differently’.

About ten years after the incident with Fox, I was at a dinner with the airline that had employed him. He sat at a corner table, alone, drinking whiskey, trying to catch the eye of anybody he could, apart from me. Then, a retired senior pilot, whom I had never heard of before, came up to me exclaiming ‘So, you are the one who called out Fox!’. It appeared that I had a reputation! I looked at the forlorn Fox, and then back at the white haired and waxed moustache sporting airline guru addressing me, ‘Yup, that would be me, I am afraid.’ The glass waving aviator looked me straight in the eye and said ‘I wish that I had had your courage when he worked for me, we were all scared to call him out. I know it was wrong, but we all thought profit was the best motive. You may have saved more lives than you realise!’

It was not a proud moment, for I could see the state that Fox had reached. So, I went over, we exchanged a few words. He clearly wanted me to ‘go away’, so I did.

As much as Bob Marley’s famous reggae song chants ‘Get up, stand up; stand up for your rights’, I will stick to my tough line of ‘Get up, stand up; try to make things right’ – even at the risk of losing friends and taking the ‘hardest route’ to my destination. Take my advice, whether it is in aviation or any other walk of life, ‘call it out’ make it known, the pain is short lived, but the benefits can last a lifetime – or longer!

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photo of the week, October 5th

Cocoa farmers appear able to build their homes and live in otherwise inaccessible parts of our nation.  Here in the Brong Ahafo region we can see two small cocoa farmer homes.  Something to think about the next time you take bite of chocolate, savouring the pleasure of Ghana's Brown Gold.  Our cocoa farmers need to be respected for the work they put in, and the conditions under which they live and work, in order to tantalize your taste buds with the fruits of their labour.  Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 3rd, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The pilot’s mantra of Aviate-Navigate-Communicate cannot be repeated enough. This simple, reminder of the key to flying safely, is in my opinion the basis of success in aviation and can be in other industries too.

Aviate, meaning ‘fly the plane’ is about continuing to do what you need to do, in order to keep the aircraft in the air and ‘flying safely’. This is about keeping a steady hand on the controls, following procedure and correcting for any sudden turbulence, ensuring that the plane and all on board are ‘as comfortable and safe as possible’.

Navigate means ‘work out where you are, and where you are going ’as well as ‘how you are going to get there. A sudden storm may brew or low cloud-base require a deviation, or perhaps you are not able to contact, or understand, ATC to obtain a clearance, and so you have to take a different route. Navigation in Ghana is a bigger challenge than in many ‘light-aviation-developed’ nations. Here, the charts are not updated for VFR flying every year as they are elsewhere – for there simply is not the volume or demand. Furthermore, the markings on the available maps are often erroneous, as we found out when we flew to look for survivors after the Sene accident recently. The maps can be wrong in relation to the lay of the land, names and locations of towns.

Communicate, the third and completing part of the mantra, is the one that can help us to overcome any issues in the first two. Pilots regularly report their position, their heading and their intentions. They communicate either directly to Air Traffic Control or they can broadcast open ‘to all who may be listening’, especially useful if ATC is out of range or not responding. Other aircraft may relay messages, to and from ATC, and so the information chain can be maintained, through the network of communication for which true aviators are renowned. Poor communication, misunderstandings and the failure of just one person to initiate or respond to communications can and has led to major embarrassments, accidents and in some cases loss of life and livelihood, in the same way as it can in all walks of life.

There have been cases where pilots have had so much difficulty in getting a response from the tower that emergencies have ensued – simply because ATC refused to respond to a call ‘because they did not use the local language’ or at times ‘because the pilot had upset them’ – hard to believe, but true. At other times pilots fail to communicate, between crew as well as to the tower, trying to hide their need for help. We should all note that there is no excuse for a ‘failure to communicate’, we cannot allow pride nor prejudice to prevent communications, is not an acceptable excuse at any time, especially in aviation, even though we all seem to experience it at some point in our lives.

There was a particular day when the importance of communication, in, and out of, the cockpit, between the crew, as well as ATC was demonstrated in my flying, and I have been much bolder in my approach to communication since.

I used to fly with an excellent pilot, he knew his stuff. He had flown in the Air Force and then in commercial aviation too. In his retirement he took up flight instruction. He had a nickname, it was that of an animal, but to protect his identity, we will simply call him ‘Fox’. Fox liked flying with me, and teaching me new skills, or so he said, and I really enjoyed chatting with, and learning from, him. He taught me a great deal and I respected and held the man in high esteem.

Then, one day, he proposed a skills building lesson, saying ‘Let’s check you out on the cross-winds’. I looked at the sky and told him that it looked a little ‘sketchy’. ‘Nonsense, Old Chap’ he retorted in his terribly RAF voice, adding ‘you have come this far, you should see it can be done, I am here to help you.’ My trust in the man, at that time, was complete; he had more experience than me, even flying to many countries around the world. So, we set off.

In the plane, we lined up ready for take-off, watching the other aircraft from the area rushing back to join the circuit and land, as the sky darkened. Again, I suggested ‘it is not a good day for this’ and without answering me he requested for ‘line up and departure’. ATC came back with ‘Fox, are you sure you want to go?’, breaking protocol and using his name. He glanced at me and, as he turned down the radio, said ‘sometimes it is better not to let them know you have heard. Let’s roll’. Doubts were in my mind as to how sensible he was, but I trusted the man completely. The plane was airborne and we were climbing, behind us other aircraft hurriedly landing and tying down. He insisted we fly circuits on the main runway, 21/03, and off we flew; my hands, arms and legs aching from the many control inputs needed to retain semblances of stability. We set the aircraft up for a landing and I heard faintly on the radio ‘clear to land’, but Fox called loudly in my ears ‘touch-and-go’ and increased the power, overriding my attempts to end the flight. The PA28 climbed out, committed to another circuit. Strong winds were blowing, gusts beyond the normal operating capabilities of the aircraft. Being the only aircraft in the air, and having my communications shut down by Fox, I needed to make some immediate and tough decisions. I chose to cut the circuit short, ignoring Fox, who was yelling something in my ear about ‘you must respect my commands’. To me, and others, his advice would clearly result in both of our demises. On the approach the aircraft was now verging on being out of control – I was lining up to land but Fox wanted to fly more circuits. I locked the controls firmly in my hands. As he resorted to calling me names, I transmitted firmly ‘G-XXX is landing NOW’. Fox fought me for the controls. Finally, I cut a deal to give them to him, on condition that we landed now. He stopped talking to me from that point on. I reached forward and turned up the radio as they broadcast ‘Fox, land that plane now’. In the man’s anger, directed at me, coupled with the conditions, he did not land well. We slammed onto the runway, skidding on the freshly wetted tarmac; the undercarriage would need ‘attention’. Without a word, Fox gestured to give me control for the taxi of the limping aircraft back to the hangar, amid torrents of rain and hail. The airport manager himself came on the radio, his voice indicating his ‘disquiet’… ‘Fox, report to the office, immediately’. We parked and he disappeared, without a word.

I will share with you next week the outcome, and the moral of this true account, for it is as relevant today in all of our working, as it was then. ‘Till next week…

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