Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Recently two couples came to the airfield, with four wonderful young ladies, aged from about four to twelve. The children sat at the briefing area eyes fixed on the movements in the sky, and yearned to meet a pilot. The fathers of the children were last to fly in the day, and so, as the aircraft were being carefully tucked up in their hangars, I was released to do the ‘aviation-motivation’ warm up routine with the kids. As usual I started with ‘Line up kids, line up. I have some tests for you.’ The immediate response was surprising ‘Yeeeeeesssss, tests, I love tests!’ – I quickly realised I had more on my hands than I was used to! One mother looked at me as if to say ‘WHAT have YOU done!?’ But I had started and, so I must continue – just like once you are committed in that initial climb out – and you have no choice but to go at least one circuit before regaining your access to the solid ground.

The jiggling and the giggling, the excitement at being asked questions and having the opportunity to respond (hopefully correctly) was too much for those little legs to remain motionless for more than a nano-second at a time!

I first asked the smallest young person a simple question and then made the questions harder and harder. The more I asked the more they wanted to be asked… when they got a question wrong, I, or one of the AvTech team responded encouragingly. Soon, we realised that these little people contained more potential power than a few kilos of enriched uranium!

In a similar vein, we have just undergone our annual inspection by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority. We love inspections (yes we get nervous, but still love them). Inspections are opportunities to show that you have made the effort to do it right, and to learn from where you have done it wrong. As the inspector went from plane to plane I watched Patricia Mawuli, one of Ghana’s famous lady pilots, run and get ready to demonstrate her aircraft in the best way possible, starting the engines and demonstrating that each aircraft is in tip-top shape! Of course, aviation inspections are not just about the physical side of aviation, far from it. Documentation, traceability and evidence of good management are equally important, and so the paper trail was also inspected. Although we operate a fully computerised system, we still need to manually fill out log books and other records.

Aviation is place where the ‘measure twice, cut once’ mentality really pays off. All of the attention to details does many things for safety and efficiency. However, the need to document must not become more important than the need to do! There is no point in ticking the box for ‘change the oil filter’ if you have not done so. AND if it is in aviation, you must change the filter, install it correctly, wire-lock if appropriate and check after running. AND you must take the old filter, cut it open using a special tool and inspect the matting – AND if you see that there is evidence of wear you must investigate AND if you can you may wish to have some the oil tested (not an easy option in Ghana…). AND you must dispose of the oil, filter and mat in an environmentally friendly manner. NOT just tick the box!

We enjoy the GCAA inspections, because they give us an opportunity to share what we can do well, what we have achieved and to have any ‘lacks’ identified and worked upon. Like the small girls visiting the airfield, ‘WE LOVE TESTS’. Perhaps it is an aviation thing?

Inspectors also need to be inspected. In aviation that is so apparent – and that is why we enjoy such safe skies! Much as GCAA inspects operators in Ghana, and those wanting to fly to Ghana, to ensure that they meet required safety standards, so the American Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) also inspects and ranks those wanting to fly to and from its territories.
The FAA uses a simple ‘two state’ standard, defined as follows:

Category 1, Does Comply with ICAO Standards: A country's civil aviation authority has been assessed by FAA inspectors and has been found to license and oversee air carriers in accordance with ICAO aviation safety standards.
Category 2, Does Not Comply with ICAO Standards: The Federal Aviation Administration assessed this country's civil aviation authority (CAA) and determined that it does not provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
In 2005, Ghana lost the Category 1. It was complicated, but it involved Ghana Airways and appears to have included physical and paperwork issues. Once lost, it created a desire to change certain aspects of how GCAA approaches certain things. That was a long time ago, and a lot has changed!

This time last year the Minister of Transport stated that he believed things were on course for Ghana to re-obtain the Category 1 status by the end of 2011… and here we are… the remnant of the year in sight and 2012 shining on the horizon like the morning sun! We read on the GCAA site that ‘an agreement had been reached for a technical review on GCAA in December, 2011 and … GCAA will prepare for a Safety Assessment Audit in the early part of 2012.’

I am sure that there are many in GCAA right now who are jiggling their legs at the opportunity to show an FAA inspector ‘how well they have done’ and I am sure that there are some who are still running around making sure that actions and paperwork are synchronized!

I am sure you will all join me in wishing the hard working folks at GCAA well as they go through the final hoops and examinations that will lead to an announcement similar to that made for Nigeria last year by the FAA, namely,

‘The IASA Category 1 rating is based on the results of a July FAA review of Nigeria’s civil aviation authority. With the IASA Category 1 rating, Nigerian air carriers may now apply to operate to the United States with their own aircraft.’ (FAA Press Release August 23 2010)
Of course, we all know that inspections, whether of our car for the roadworthiness, or our aircraft for a Permit to Fly or Certificate of Airworthiness, are just a snapshot of how it is on a day (or a few weeks for a big inspection!). If the granting of approvals, such as we get at Kpong Airfield, or GCAA will hopefully get soon from the FAA, or the road worthiness certificate for your car are to actually mean something, we need to maintain the standards at the level (or above) at the moment of inspection and approval.

Imagine you passed your roadworthiness and then a few weeks later you failed to change brake shoes that were worn or fix a damaged headlight; you would no longer be in compliance with the certification issued…. The same goes for us in light aviation, and the same for GCAA and all the other large organisations who are inspected internationally….

One thing is for sure, and that is ‘if you love being tested, the chances are you are working on the track towards sustainable safety’!

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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