Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The so called ‘Whites Only Restaurant’ in Ghana seems to have caused quite a stir recently – and quite rightly too. Whether the comment was made in jest or not, there is no place in today’s world for ‘such bigoted nonsense’. The only ‘colour coded’ message that I agree with is in Rugby, where the All Blacks is the name of New Zealand’s National rugby team, without any racial connotations – and mainly white players!

Throughout my time on this planet, I have constantly been reminded that ‘colour differentiation’ is common practice – in fact discrimination is common practice – in one form or another. I abhor all such behaviour, so much so that, on a recent interview, when I was asked about my ‘colour’, I replied, as I opened my Leatherman knife, ‘let us cut your arm and my arm and we can then compare the colour of our blood – if it is the same, we are the same….’ – the colour question was withdrawn post-haste! In Europe, one is NOT allowed to discriminate on colour – in fact there are strict laws on racism and sexism. Discrimination is not tolerated, not on the colour of the skin, disability, gender creed nor social background of the individuals – for such things are personal and sacrosanct.

However, for restaurants there are ‘methods that distinguish’. For example, McDonalds Restaurants, have a ‘bring ‘em in’ structure that makes the restaurant open to all – from all walks of life and all means. It does not mean that they have a great product – but it does mean that they are very popular and make a lotta lotta money! In the same street as a McDonalds one may find a ‘Cordon Bleu Restaurant’ charging ten or more times the money for a meal. Such a restaurant, by nature of its décor, pricing structure and ‘approach’ establishes its ‘clientele’ – not by colour but by ‘accessibility’, and they will make less money at the end of the day than the McDo! Once again, in the same street one may find a ‘Joe’s Café’, (my sort of place), it will cost less to eat in than McDonalds, it will not have uniforms, it will have beans on toast and mug of tea, be patronised by all nationalities, and it will be very affordable and accessible. It is the sort of place that you can enter wearing oily trousers and steel capped shoes and feel right at home – regardless of the amount of oil or paint colour on your clothes and skin! It is a place where ‘tuxedo’ is a no-no, and those from the ‘upper echelons’ of society may struggle with, regardless of their colour – unless they have just finished changing the oil in their 1949 Rolls Royce!

Colour-ism, racism, xenophobia (fear of foreigners/strangers) and related prejudices, seem to me, to be about perceived ‘what is better’ and such sentiments are not alien to the world of aviation.

Aviation, it seems particularly in the developing nations playing fields, suffers at the hand of ‘exclusiveness-ism’, ‘fake hierarchy-ism’, ‘uniform-status-ism’ and ‘my-job-is-more-important-than-yours-ism’ - then almost any other industry.

There is a saying in aviation that expresses much of the ‘attitude’ that can create divides and chasms in the working environment: ‘What does an airline pilot use for contraception?’ – answer ‘their personality’. It is true that all pilots have an ‘attitude’ caused by their ‘status’ of ‘Commander – Pilot in Command’ – the ‘it is my plane and you will do as I say’ approach. This is a needed mentality at times, but it tumbles outside of the cockpit far too often (and I am not exempted, not by any means!). This is not altogether a bad thing, but it can be ‘misinterpreted’ by those who do not grasp the mental position that being in control of an aircraft requires for safety.

Air Traffic Controllers have a similar approach to ‘I have looked at the situation, summed it up and made a decision – now do as I say…’ which is also born out of their working environment and methods. Add to that the security personnel around any aerodrome and their ‘protectiveness’, couple it with the aircraft engineers and maintenance personnel who realise that their jobs are what enables safe flight, and quickly you have a lot of ‘type A’ personalities in one industry… an explosive combination, if not handled with care and real understanding of where each individual is coming from. That is without considering the ‘Airline Pilot attitude’ against the ‘military pilot attitude’ or the ‘light aviation pilot attitude’ – the industry is rife with ‘attitudes that clash’.

Fortunately, the ribbing and teasing mentality in the industry helps to overcome most of the attitudinal differences. The other day a new pilot came to the flying school at Kpong Airfield to convert from flying one type of light aircraft to another. They had learned on a Cessna – a very popular and very easy to fly aircraft. Within the ‘flying-fellowship’ there are the ‘Cessna-ites’ and the ‘non-Cessna-ites’. I definitely fall into the ‘non-Cessna-ites’. We teased the poor chap, and he laughed with us as we celebrated the differences in piloting. (Technically the Cessna has a lot of differential aileron making certain manoeuvres ‘too easy and potentially rudderless’ for the non-Cessna pilots)

I actually started learning to fly in a Cessna in the late 1980’s. At the time, I thought they were the ‘bee’s knees’. Then, in the 1990’s I discovered ‘real-planes’ (you can already hear the Cessna-ites growling!) and never looked back. Of course, Cessna is great little plane, if you like a ‘spam-can’ (the non-Cessna-ites term for the metal can without any flavour), which also adds insult to injury – in a fun-poking manner. Interestingly, once the Cessna pilot embraces the ‘non-Cessna’ they rarely turn back, apart from the odd ‘melancholy moment down memory lane’. Oh, dear, it seems that I have prejudice in my approach to an icon of aviation – all offended people, please come and fly!

We all have prejudices – some are founded, some are not. As I really wanted to say to somebody in high office recently ‘If you are offended by my opinion, you should hear the ones I keep to myself’. Ultimately, we need to acknowledge and accept that we are never going to agree on opinions and certain matters – and we should keep some things inside our heads! We will always be ready to criticise the ‘Mercedes Benz driver’ over the ‘Ford driver’ or the ‘BMW driver’, have a ready quip about the altitude achieved by the extremely high heels being worn by the lady walking past, make comments about the type of foods being eaten by the person sitting next to us, and more. BUT these are all ‘prejudices’ about things that can be changed – and that is perfectly normal – and if done in a fun and appropriate manner, add to the spice of life as we breathe a few tonnes of oxygen prior exiting this departure lounge called ‘Earth’.

However, prejudice, even with (generally bad) humour, about certain things – things that cannot be changed or are extremely personal are NOT acceptable ever - be it skin colour, disability, faith, gender, facial features or the need for reading glasses – such differences must be embraced, with love and understanding or humanity is doomed.

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: