Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Photo of the Week, April 27th

The Dodi Princess sails from this wonderful quayside, at Akosomobo, providing a marvellous afternoon cruise up the Volta. Meanwhile, in the middle of this picture you see a cleared area where around 100 children are schooled, drinking water from the lake and studying under open sided thatched roof classrooms. Ghana is a land of contrast, and it is time for us to reach for the contrast and brightness buttons of our society and to bring light to those who are in need, reducing the vast gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' in our country. Photo Courtesy Medicine on the Move

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Photo of the Week, April 20th

The urban sprawl around Teshie-Nungua leaves little green space and puts increasing demand on limited resources such as water, sanitation, schooling and health facilities. The need for greater planning is evident not only in our cities, but also in our rural areas equally - the needs and challenges are different but need addressed as we work towards a Ghana with equality of access for all. Photo Credit: P. Mawuli Nyekodzi

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Despite taking to the skies at least a dozen times per week, at the sharp end of an aircraft, it has been over eighteen months since I embarked as a passenger on a commercial flight, without the forward view. 
Airports are organic monsters, capable of growing new limbs overnight, as well as being able to change the procedures as quickly as a cobra strikes.  Kotoka is no exception!  From leaving the security of the car that was dropping us off, I was ready with my ‘daabi daabi’ sounds to ward off the hordes of ‘helpers’, but, to my utter dismay, the first person to offer ‘help’, when told ‘daabi’, simply said, ‘ok, I will leave the trolley here.’  I was ready for the next confrontation, but there was no need.

I was expecting the usual ‘traveller challenge’ on entering the airport – but none happened.  I was simply waved through the main doors.  Doubting my sanity, I looked over my shoulder to make sure that I was not being followed by some dignitary, but I was not.  The departure hall was busy, organised and clear of mayhem.  With no unrequited attention thrust upon me, I proceeded to the customs checkpoint. 

I understand the concerns CEPS have for certain travellers, and quite rightly so too.  However, as I stood in the line for the customs check, I was pleasantly surprised at the swift professionalism. Upon my turn, there were the usual questions, given the appropriate responses, and a chalk mark signalled the end of the conversation, without any of the awkward requests from years ago.  Smiling, I went on to stand in the queue for the airline. 
Traditionally, in every airport in the world, this can be a stressful moment.  Watching those people with clearly oversized ‘hand-luggage’, more suited to a head-load of a trader in Makola market, sneaking and cheating past the ‘checkers’.  There was one, a few people ahead.  Politely, he was asked to place the bag on a scale, and courteously asked to move some items to his hold luggage.  He tried to argue, and even hinted at an inducement, all in his broken English, for he was not a West African.  The well-dressed young ‘checker’ was not having any of it.  The traveller moved aside and complied with the instructions.  The pleasantness of this transit through Kotoka was impressive, I almost wondered if I was in Geneva!

At the ticket and passport checks, electronic gizmos and professionalism abounded.  Swiftly on, and into the first hiccough.  As I loaded my well underweight hold-bag onto the conveyor belt, it was tagged as ‘quick as a fox jumping over a lazy dog’, and then a man grabbed my bag pulling it back and away from me.  My right hand reached out, but not quick enough, and as I failed in my grab for the fabric of the suitcase, he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘It is OK sir, the conveyor belt is broken, I will send it by trolley.’  Ghana is reputed for its friendliness and Akwaaba welcome, but it has not always extended into the ‘halls of transport’.  However, there was no doubt in my mind, and in my experience, that I was not only the recipient of ‘Akwaaba’ in abundance, but also ‘Nante Yie’, in the most pleasant and appropriate of manners.  However, I have travelled through enough airports to know that my ‘potential woes’ were far from behind me.

Approaching the escalator, to rise to the immigration and departure lounge level, a forceful human arm swung in front of me.  ‘Which airline?’ was the curt and precise question.  I simply answered in one word, and was directed to another weighing machine.  The young man looked at my bag and gestured towards the scales.  My hand luggage came in about one kilo over the limit.  I could simply remove my coat and wear it to reduce the weight to acceptable limits, yet it was not necessary.  A ‘dismissed’ gesture sufficed to permit my passage.  The person following me was about three kilos over and this raised a frown.  Quickly, the passenger opened the bag and removed a pair of shoes and changed from their Charlie-wotties into the heavier shoes – result: problem solved.  No unnecessary requests, no attempts at perverting the course of transit.  Immigration was a breeze, and it seemed to me that all was well in the world of travel. 

Working through my mental checklist, developed over many hundreds of international tours, this trip was ranking in the top three percent, so far. 

Traditionally the ‘duty free’ in Kotoka has been horrendously overpriced.  I have been troubled for a while as to why ‘duty free’ items at the airport cost so much more than ‘duty paid’ items in country!  For amusement to pass the time, I checked out the prices – and found some anomalies, but also some very reasonable offers.  I purchased a box of twenty Golden Tree chocolate bars, to take as gifts, for twenty dollars, that is thirty Ghana cedis – a comparable price to ‘land-side’.  Perhaps my memory fails me, but on my last trip outside, the ‘duty free’ was not so reasonable.  There were, as always, incredibly overpriced paraphernalia of the tourist flavour. I have no worries that the tourist traveller pays orders of magnitude extra for a knick-knack that they should have taken the time to visit a village, or the craft fair, to purchase.   I was amazed at the number of young male Nigerians who seemed to be regular travellers to and from our capital city – seemingly, all in the duty free store! I wondered if as many young Ghanaians commute to Nigeria?

Time passes slowly as you wait for your gate time.  This seems to be a common factor in every departure location in the world.  Perhaps I should sit there to write each week, for I am sure that there are one hundred and twenty seconds in the hour in such locations!  Eventually, the security check moment came along.  Swift, uneventful and polite.  I could almost sense the excitement at a non-eventful departure!

Waiting by the door ready to embark, I did a quick count of heads and realised that there were far too many people in the lounge for the aircraft seats.  A sneaky-peeky at the boarding passes revealed two other airlines also had their passengers sardined into the limited space.  Having sat out a scenario in an East African state with five airlines passengers blended together, I knew that troubles were soon to be upon us!

If the public announcement system had been working, it may have been fine.  Sadly, the young lady, whose job it was to call passengers, had a voice that could not carry over the hundreds before her.  Those in the front lines heard it well and stood up, signalling the lemmings to follow – regardless of their boarding card/airline designations.  This mayhem continued for over twenty minutes of unnecessary delays, which could have been averted with a simple fifty dollar megaphone, as a back-up to the broken announcement system.  Nonetheless, all were eventually dispatched on the correct aircraft with only a small delay in departure times, and few antagonisms. 

So, twenty five years of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, and much to be proud of, for this departure was amongst the top ranking departures I have experienced across the world. Ayekoo!

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, April 13, 2011

Photo of the Week, April 13th

As Ghana gears up for the recognition of 25 years of its 'Ghana Civil Aviation Authority', we look back to 1920, when the British Government sent a team to look for potential sites for airfields in the. then, Gold Coast- a full 8 years before the first landing of an aircraft in the territory (1928 Takoradi Harbour, a Shorts Singapore seaplane, flown by Sir Alan Cobham). With Akuse as a British strategy point at that time, it is not surprising that Akuse and Kpong were both on that list. Today, Kpong has a growing private airfield, and is one of the best kept and most ecologically friendly airfields in West Africa, as well as a base for Humanitarian Aviation Logistics operations. Photo courtesy WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
On-going air supremacy is apparently the key to peace-breaking and peace-keeping in our world.  Troubles on our continent rumble on, punctuated with the use of no-fly zones, air strikes, surveillance and, most importantly from my standpoint, protection and evacuation of innocent civilians who may otherwise be unable to save their souls.

Of course, the activities in Côte d’Ivoire have brought some interesting aircraft to pass across our skies.  Whether it is the C130 Hercules, the heavy lifter and evacuation aircraft of choice in the theatre of relief; the C127 Spartan, sometimes called ‘Half-a-Herc’; Helicopters with an alphabet soup of designations or the occasional light aircraft, they are all playing their part in the effort to protect lives.

Ghana remains a bastion for safe and secure air operations in West Africa.  Ghana has an excellent airport, infrastructure and our aviation leadership is well recognised as being professional.  After all, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority is acknowledging its 25 years of existence, wherein leadership has consistently moved towards the excellent facilities we have today. 

I remember arriving in Ghana, in 1994, and walking across the hot tarmac apron to the terminal building; watching the clearly developing-nation-airport’s cogs of operation revolving, sensing clearly a nation wanting to rise.  At that time, the quantity and types of aircraft visible few, diverse and often aged.  There was a large, faded red Westland Helicopter that dominated the area by the soon to be completed Afgo (now Aviance) building, and skeletons of aircraft, that had seen better days, parked haphazardly.

Changes happened daily.  Afgo opened its doors, more and more cargo aircraft seemed to stream to the nation, bringing with them mining equipment, telecoms equipment, needed and wanted items, brought in hours – and now cleared in a fraction of the time that it took before.  These same aircraft left the nation loaded to the gunnels with pineapples, vegetables, arts and crafts and high value items that air transport is synonymous with.  I remember clearly, visiting an Air Ghana chartered 747 cargo plane during loading – the nose section lifted hydraulically to reveal the cavernous interior of the transport cylinder that consumed heavily loaded pallets of grown and made in Ghana goods, to consumers in Europe.  Standing there, I watch the mechanised aircraft ‘load and lock’ the pallets of fruit and vegetables, contrasting so dramatically with the conditions in the fields where they were grown, and the living conditions of those who laboured over their cultivation.

Passenger aircraft numbers grew in consequence of the trade, for the trade in new, often called ‘non-traditional’ exports, stimulated buyers to come to Ghana and more Ghanaians to be able to afford to travel to negotiate sales, purchase equipment and raise themselves into the international marketplace.  Trade routes generally precede passenger transport routes, by road, by sea and by air.

Today, the airport and aviation infrastructure of Ghana has changed dramatically.  There are several daily flights to Nigeria, more and more flights to varieties of destinations in Europe, the advent of more middle-eastern aircraft operations, as well as improved movement opportunities across the sub-region and continent as a whole.

With these changes, the infrastructure of the airport has changed; whether for departure or arrival, Kotoka International Airport offers us ‘pleasurable’ passenger air travel logistics – well, as much as it can be!   It is easy to forget where we have come from, but, if you reflect a little, you can clearly see where we are heading!  There are still some airframe skeletons parked in different places, but there are many, many more aircraft of more recent years, in full and regular operation, not only the airliners, but also the apparent fleets of Beechcraft and smaller regional machines, helicopters and biz-jets - and they are not sitting on the apron for very long before the whirr of their engines signals life in their form.

People raise concerns about how busy Kotoka has become.  It is not busy.  Yes, it is busier than it used to be, but it is nowhere near as busy as it could be!  For as far we have come in the past 25 years of the existence of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, so we have far to go.  Fortunately, the leadership in GCAA can see that future, and are willing to work towards it, maintaining international standards and ensuring safety and security is the baseline upon which all aviation developments must build.

Of course, we have other airports in Ghana! Takoradi, a military air base, is now an ‘oil airport’ servicing the rigs that are sucking up some treacle like substance, which should increase the lot of Ghanaians - at some point in the future.   The short hop flights from Kotoka to Takoradi are increasing, as are the helicopter shuttles to and from the rigs themselves.  Not all is positive in this scenario – as anybody living in Sekondi-Takoradi will tell you, for it has brought with it a change in pace, and cost of living in the Twin-cities.

Alongside the increase in activities at the international airport and in Takoradi, there have been changes too, at the regional airports. Sunyani, Kumasi and Tamale have little changed, apart from some needed maintenance.  Air services provided a few years ago by AirLink (the now retired Ghana Air Force Social Air Transport solution) have been superseded with commercial interests and activities, moving the relatively small numbers of people from the interior to the big city.  Wa has a most wonderful runway, and it is beyond my understanding how it was allowed for power lines to be run across the approach to one end of that runway this year, limiting its use.  Navrongo has lots of talk about it, but little action around it. 

Of course, with the decoupling of GCAA a few years ago, the Government airports are now under GACL (Ghana Airports Company Ltd), and so the ‘economics of today’ are likely to affect investment over and above the ‘essential service potential’ that such sites offer.  Fortunately, many community and private airfields are springing up, such as Techiman, Mim, Kpong and several agricultural ones too.

Ghana Civil Aviation is not just about the airlines, airports, transport and oil movements, not at all.  The extraordinary growth in light aviation in Ghana is outpacing the surrounding countries and more and more people are considering the options of learning to fly and own their own small aircraft for personal use.  Understanding of the width and breadth of aviation is beginning to seep down to the population at large and in fields where the pineapples grow, getting a bit more high tech than in the days that I watched the 747 loading! 

As we witness the marking of 25 years of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority in the coming weeks, I would like to leave a thought that was shared with me recently.

‘Those who live by the sea, or near a lake, learn to swim and sail, and to take advantage of it as a resource. Those who live by the mountains learn to climb and trek, and to take advantage of it as a resource. Those who live by precious metal reserves learn to mine and to take advantage of it as a precious resource.  Yet, we all live by the sky, but few learn to fly and take advantage of it – and it is the biggest and most unexploited resource on the planet.’

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, April 6, 2011

Photo of the Week, April 6th

There are litterally thousands of communities, ranging from a few simple homes to larger settlements with schools and church buildings, scattered around the lake, like stars in the night sky.  Each community is home to families - men, women and children.  It is surprising just how many of them do not have access to clean water, basic health education - and many are hours from the nearest road. How should we judge our success - by the living conditions of the emerging middle classes, or the struggle to make ends meet in our remote villages?  Photo Credit: Medicine on the Move