Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
What do hospitals and airports have in common?  Arrivals and departures is a good start!  Having sat for nearly seven hours waiting to be seen in an ‘appointment-based’ clinic at a large hospital last week, I started to make a list of comparisons.
I was sitting with Lydia, the disabled student pilot who dreams of flying into rural communities to take health education to the hard to reach areas.  Lydia has a contracture of her right arm.  It is apparently caused by an insect bite or sting when she was a small child, which did not receive the correct treatment –for no other reason than simple lack of appropriate health education.  Consequently, a treatment that should have been a few pesewas is now running into many thousands of Ghana cedis, and the young person will never have the same arm control as would have resulted from appropriate treatment all of those years ago.  This is not a unique case, but it is a case very dear to me, as I am this magnificent young lady’s flying instructor.
In order to make an appointment for the anaesthesia clinic, one is obliged to attend in person, for they do not allow telephone bookings. This means, in our case as non-city dwellers, a six hour round trip to book the appointment, a few weeks ago.  Already, this sounds incredible, but it was confirmed by the head of the department.  Imagine that amount of time being required to book an appointment to discuss a flight or to file a flight plan! 
Once the appointment is booked, you are asked to attend the clinic at seven in the morning.  Of course, we later find out that the first appointment is at nine, so the ‘two hour check-in procedure’ comparison with an airport is a good one.  However, things digress rapidly.  In an airport, which handles far more people than a clinic, you are treated as a ‘customer’.  Aviation realises that it is a “buyers’ market”.  Not so in the hospital environment.  Much as you are PAYING for the ‘service’, it is treated as a “sellers’ market”.  Lack of communication; poor or no explanations; no ‘announcements’; no signs; no apologies - not to mention the lack of a smile or greeting.  In hospitals it seems that queue jumping is rife, and other activities that may get you reprimanded or disciplined in an airport environment are ‘common practice’ – not just in Ghana, but around the world.  Aviation really has much to teach!
Visit the airport, and you will find that the ‘dust-and-cobweb’ count is low.  Look at the layers of dust and cobwebs in some hospitals.  The payment point at one hospital, a place where ALL must pass, has cobwebs and dust records that are definitely older than recent history.  If an airport were in the same state it would be considered a ‘disgrace’ and action would be taken immediately.  If our aircraft workshops had this level of dirt we would be shut-down!  However, in the location where ‘cleanliness prevents early closeness to God’, it is amazing how little attention to detail seems to be in place.  It is the small things that count towards the overall effect.  Do not tell me ‘it is a staffing issue’, for opposite the worst offending locations of dust and grime collections sit members of staff, doing nothing productive.  I am sure that provision of a little duster and some ‘pride-in-the-workplace’ motivation and the places could sparkle, reducing infections, improving morale and overall effectiveness of the institutions.
Airports workers are expected to wear a certain dress code – including type of shoes.  Knowing that your feet are important to your ability to work, I decided, whist whiling away hour four, to study the footwear of the passing ‘staff-traffic’.  Shock! Horror! I saw that appropriate footwear is a rare sight in this hospital!  Doctors and nurses, like airport workers, are expected to be able to respond to an emergency, and that includes running.  Admittedly, the ‘charlie-wotties’ were missing, but there were some sandals that were not far off – and one pair of heels that could offer a serious injury if you fell of off them!  Nurses seem to have a simple rule ‘white or white-ish’ – if possible.  If I worked in a place with lots of potential infection, I would insist on wearing a closed, easily cleaned shoe, but that is not the case in some hospitals.  Imagine stepping on an infected item that finds it way to the floor with open toes.  At airports the footwear rules are strict (not fully adhered to, but pretty good).   There is clearly some room for simple guidelines – to be enforced – to provide protection for the staff and increase the overall effectiveness of the operation – and that goes for all places of work.  Do note, that appropriate footwear does nothing for the client, it protects the staff, so if the staff fail to understand the basics of wearing appropriate footwear for their own safety, perhaps there is a bigger question of understanding for the overall safety of the institution.
Back to the seven hours of ‘not-heaven’ (on top of the six-hour round trip on the road).  I got verbal and animated.  Nobody would join me.  Why? Because, as it was whispered around the room ‘if you make noise they will not see you’.  Well, change is a necessary part of development and if it needs said, I am ever-ready to say it! 
What I did not expect was the statement from the ‘desk holder’ telling me that ‘this is Africa, it is simply the way it is.’  How insulting to Africans and all Afro-centrics.  Lack of cleanliness, organisation and methodology has nothing to do with the location on the planet!  It is a choice, and we can choose to accept it or change it.  If you see it all as a “sellers’ market” you are less inclined to seek to improve your service.  In relation to this matter, the airport has the edge!  The airport has a monopoly, and yet it strives to exhibit high standards.   Why?  I see pride in those working in the aviation industry, and a desire to improve each and every day.  Such an attitude is needed to turn around the health sectors.  I know some fantastic workers in the health sector who are trying hard to push their boundaries, but most seem to be afraid of being accused of meddling or being called ‘trouble makers’.
I don’t mind being accused of being a ‘trouble maker’ if it is all about being an ‘agent of positive change’.   I know that in my sector of aviation we have demonstrated an ability to achieve the highest standards – from top to bottom - so why not in other areas? Perhaps some do not consider the effort ‘worth it’.  I have been writing this column for two years, and sometimes wonder if the effort is worth it… then I get a little comment that encourages me. 
If you think that there is a sector we should compare to aviation, drop me a line… it may encourage me to stir a few more pots! 
 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, May 25, 2011

Photo of the Week, May 25th

Mango grows in populatarty as a crop, and yet we still see the majority of mango operations showing a lack of uniformity in growth.   Much effort seems to go into measuring the mango area under production, but there remains a need to assess the effectiveness of the planted area.  Organisations supporting the mango industry could increase their understanding dramatically via a simple flight over the plantations - for what is seen on the ground is very different to the image information collected by air.  Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.'/

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23rd

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
If you saw the celebration banner and light aircraft formation flying over Kotoka International Airport last week, you witnessed a three metre tall by twenty metre long demonstration of an aerial billboard, and the three ship formation were all Ghana built aircraft.  Much as leading that flypast was an honour, more so was being flanked by two fantastic, trained in Ghana, private pilots. 
For many years I have been a proponent of aerial billboards for reaching rural communities, so being a part of using one to celebrate GCAA’s 25th  birthday, and flying it along the runway of the international airport, was a real pleasure and an active demonstration of what can be done using local skills.
Let us look at the concepts, the potential and the issues.  First we need to understand the different types of ‘aerial tow’ that can be done. 
There are the traditional ‘letters-on-a-string’.  Such letters are about two metres tall, arranged for a one-off signal in the sky.  The problem is that they are ‘graphic’ free on the whole, hard to read and have a nasty tendency to break up every now and then!
Then we have the ‘electronic-flying-billboard.  This is an LED (Light Emitting Diode) panel mounted on the side of the aircraft.  I was honoured to see a very early prototype of this type in 1992 in the south of France.  The biggest challenge at the time was powering the unit.   Today, LED technology has changed to the point where such units can be powered simply by adding an alternator to the engine.  Such panels are relatively small and are unlikely to be very effective in the high-light levels of our part of the world. 
Then there is the aerial billboard (as was flown last week).  An approach made possible by modern textiles and digital printing!  A panel, normally three to five metres tall and up to twenty metres long is carried through the sky, with a full digitally printed image.  Such panels have a flying life of one to three hundred hours.  Put that into kilometre terms, ten thousand to thirty thousand kilometres of display!  Here is the best part: the panel is visible to all below, it can have pictures/logos/words with a visibility rating of up to two kilometres.  It is active, not static, and it reaches all people – whether they have a radio, newspaper, television or the internet!  Although it is ‘non-invasive’, i.e. you are not thrusting a piece of paper into somebody’s hand or blasting music at them at close range, it is more attention grabbing than any other type of advertising. 
Next we should consider what such aerial billboards can be used for.  Major corporations use aerial billboards, sports stadiums promote events with them, information panels can be used in times of national emergency, reminders for vaccination programmes and so much more.  Furthermore, by using vibrant images and words, you can reach those who can read as well as those not as fortunate as to be able to read well.  Add to that the inquisitive factor, and you have whole communities pointing at the sky asking one another ‘What does it say?’.  In short, aerial billboards have a dramatic potential in our society for the promotion of development in a positive manner.  
Where are the negatives in using such banners? Well, personally I do not fly banners over built up areas.  The reasons are simple. They are less easy to see – for the aircraft to be low enough to have the panel read (five hundred feet above the surface), buildings and urban objects block clear line of sight of the sky.  This reduces visibility time and effect.  On the safety side, flying over a built up area increases the risks of  injury in the event that the banner has to be ‘dumped’ and also the plethora of ‘towers’ that are unmarked make the concept of flying over built-up areas a non-starter. 
Type of banners can have a negative effect too.  I have been asked to fly ‘political’ slogans as well as ‘religious’ texts.  I have refused on the basis of remaining neutral, at a cost to the development of the aerial billboard industry, and to our pockets. At one election I was approached by a party member about a campaign, and my response was a simple one.  “There is only one political banner that should be flown in Ghana.”  That got some attention, and some very wide eyes. I responded “Kokromotie power – or use your vote”.  I still stand by that.  The electoral commission is welcome to discuss with me how aerial billboards can be used in ‘awareness campaigns’ that are totally non-partisan!
In many countries the ‘route of choice’ for an aerial tow, tends to be along major highways; ‘Tune to 999Fm for traffic news’ or ‘major congestion ahead due to road-works, deviation advised’; or along coastal stretches, where the sky is clear and the visibility excellent (as well as incredibly safe); ‘Dancing competition tonight’ or ‘watch Channel 123 at 19:00 tonight’ or ‘Avoid Casual Sex, Avoid Aids’.
We have over five hundred kilometres of coastline to the sea and over four thousand kilometres of ‘coastline’ around the Volta basin!  Now, this gets even more interesting.  Many people live around the lake in what I refer to as ‘iic’s or Infrastructurally Isolated Communities.  Such communities may not readily receive newspapers, have television coverage (or even power), readily accessible radio transmissions, motorised-vehicle-suitable roads, etc., yet they do contain hard working citizens who are an active part of our society.   Through flying aerial billboards around the edge of the lake, and to a certain degree the sea coastline, it becomes possible to heighten awareness in a group of people otherwise ‘informationally-isolated’.  Flying the coastlines is relatively safe, highly visible and has the potential to make maximum impact.  Campaigns we have in mind, subject to funding, include ‘HIV/AIDS’, ‘Bilharzia reduction’, ‘General Health’, ‘vaccine awareness’, ‘flood warnings’, ‘send your girl-children to school’, and many more. 
One thing is certain, and that is ‘Aerial Billboards are very effective’, the question remains ‘Who will fund such activities?’.  It has been my sad observation through many years of flying in Ghana, that ‘funding to support people who you cannot easily get to by road’ is not easy to come by.  I do not think that it is because of lack of care, but simply due to lack of understanding that we have the capacity to reach these people, to change their lives and to create a more inclusive society. 
One way or the other, you are going to see more aerial billboards in Ghana – maybe not you, the one reading this, but certainly those in the rural communities around the lake, for I know the impact potential, and will be waiting to help to make it happen.  If you are interested in supporting rural health/community awareness outreaches, by aerial means, to the lakeside communities please contact me, I would be happy to share the strategy and create the campaign!
 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, May 18, 2011

Photo of the Week, May 18th

Lakeside communities in the Afram Plains are often infra-structurally isolated.  The absence of regular, or in many cases any, motorised vehicles made obvious by the crazed paving lines walked endlessly through the community.  As you look at the lake edge you can see the agricultural energy being expended as the lake levels recede, providing a window of opportunity to grow on the banks before the inevitable rise again later in the year.  The risk of Bilharzia high, since, for lack of alternatives, this community drinks, bathes and lives with the risks of the man-made water body.  Evidence of new constructions provide testimony to losses experienced during last years all time highs on the lake, and the school yard proof that being rural is not a sign of lacking vision.  Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Today is a celebratory day for Civil Aviation in Ghana.  25 years of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority.  Celebrations have been going on for a while – and will continue throughout the year, but today’s ‘the’ day.  If you watch the skies around Kotoka today, early to mid-morning, you may just see a little tribute to the men and women who made our skies safer and more secure by their tireless efforts.  Aviation people like to make good use of the sky – which is just as well for such an underutilised asset!
GCAA’s website makes its own statement about their origins:
“The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is the regulatory agency of the Republic of Ghana for air transportation in the country. It also provides air navigation services within the Accra Flight Information Region (FIR), which comprises the airspace over the Republics of Ghana, Togo and Benin and a large area over the Atlantic Ocean in the Gulf of Guinea. The GCAA was established in 1930 as a unit with Public Works Department (PWD); in 1953 GCAA was granted Departmental Status. It became an Authority under PNDC Law 151 from 16th May, 1986. In the year 2004 the GCAA Act was enacted to replace PNDC Law 151.”
Therefore, we all wish our overseeing angels sitting at the controls of the industry ‘GCAA @ 25 – Happy Anniversary’ this sixteenth May.
For many people the understanding of such an authority may be confusing already, but when you read the statement on their website, you cannot be blamed for being surprised by the references to Togo, Benin and Gulf of Guinea.  Ghana manages certain over-flight activities for a much larger area than just the territory of the Republic of Ghana, and this reflects confidence in our nation, as well as levels of co-operation that keep our little bit of West Africa so pleasant!  Many aircraft fly over this FIR (Flight Information Region), without descending to the point of seeing the nitty-gritty-detail of the surface, communicating with our Air Traffic professionals at KIA (and they get charged for the service too!).  I sometimes watch the high level traffic routing over our airfield at Kpong, and ponder upon the comments in the cockpit, thirty-odd thousand feet above.  Join me in my ‘creative mind’ for a moment. [note this is not the ‘proper Radio Telephony’ used, but it makes it easier to understand than pilot mumbo jumbo. And is the same sort of content.]
AIRCRAFT: Accra Centre this is Zulu Alpha Zulu Golf, a Boeing 747 routing from India to Brazil, currently at thirty thousand feet, overhead Ho heading west, three hundred and fifty souls on board, enough fuel for another nine hours, expect to land in seven hours.
ACCRA CENTRE: Zulu Alpha Zulu Golf, this is Accra Centre, we copy your information and advise that there is a big storm coming up ahead of you.  We suggest that you change direction towards south west and climb to thirty six thousand feet.  Call when over Takoradi.
AIRCRAFT: Thanks Accra. Next call over Takoradi.
PILOT:  I love flying over the Ghana FIR, they are always so helpful and they speak so clearly. 
COPILOT: Have you ever visited Ghana?
PILOT: No, but one day I would like to.
COPILOT: Captain, you know, I have a cousin in Ghana, and when I visited I really enjoyed it.
PILOT: I have flown over Ghana hundreds of times, and always been impressed by the big lake and landscape.  Look, ahead is Kumasi to the right and Accra to the left.  Hey, I can see that storm; routing towards Takoradi.  I hear they have oil there.
COPILOT: Yeah, that has made the airspace a bit busier.  They have a few helicopters and some Beechcraft 1900’s busy there.  Ghana’s oil find has really boosted aviation activity.
PILOT: You know from up here, we can see pretty much the whole country.  It has such a great layout, ideal for aviation development.  There a number of regional airlines and many aircraft use Accra like a hub. 
CO-PILOT: IT goes further than that - just imaging flying bush operations down there – the lake is ideal for float planes and there are just so many little places with few roads into them. In fact, some people have referred to Ghana as ‘Alaska, but without the snow!’
PILOT: Howzat?
COPILOT: Well, there are many rural areas and ‘infrastructurally isolated communities’, a massive lake and the benefits of flying things around for saving time and making for a better life are just waiting to get going.  In fact, they have some group down there flying an amphibian to rural communities in the Volta Basin.
PILOT: Wow, I would love to do that. 
AIRCRAFT: Accra Centre, this is Zulu Alpha Zulu Golf, overhead Takoradi, leaving your area soon.
ACCRA CENTRE: Zulu Alpha Zulu Golf, this is Accra Centre, maintain your current heading and altitude, change frequency to Abidjan.  Have a nice day.
AIRCRAFT: Changing frequency to Abidjan, thanks for the help, hope to come back soon.
PILOT: Can you see the difference in the landscape now?
COPILOT: Ahh, that is because we just flew over the Dahomey Gap – it is something really special, it gives parts of Ghana a totally different climate than other tropical belts. 
PILOT: Well, from what I have heard, and from what I can see, Ghana IS a different climate to other tropical belts, in more ways than one.
And so, we let our three hundred and fifty souls pass over, glimpsing the difference from the sky, and feeling the difference on the radio. 
There is no doubt in my mind, and it is backed up by experiences from contacts with many others, that Ghana as a whole is different, not only because of the Dahomey Gap’s unique climatic phenomena, nor because of the lake, the ridges, the scenery and  natural resources in abundance.  No, this part of the world is different because of the people, and the people actually transcend the physical borders of this nation. 
Likewise, the success of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority over the past 25 years is not because of the structures, the cars, the paperwork, the budget (big or small) not even due to the colour of the walls!  No, it has succeeded because of the people.  It truly is the people that make or break an organization, a company - even a nation.  
I have enjoyed knowing Ghana as a sky user for many years, and know that the development of the authority has been a partnership between the Authority staff and the aircraft operators, aviators, etc.  This working relationship is only possible because of two fundamental things.  Trust and Commitment.  The same two things necessary for success in any development and growth activity. 
Who do you trust?  Do they trust you? Where is your commitment?  Are others equally committed? Without Trust and Commitment you have no foundation upon which to build a safe and secure solution, in any application.
 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, May 11, 2011

Photo of the Week, May 11th

To the east of Tema, urbanisation falls away and the coastline extends down towards Ada.  Many small communities exist on the edge of the Coastal Savannah waiting for the sprawl to continue.  One day, if we believe the planners, this land will fill with buildings and connect the long planned new International Airport to the Accra-Tema conurbations.  Photo Courtesy WAASPS Ltd

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Airfields and hotels have a lot in common.  Mainly, they are busiest at the times when other businesses are not.  For example, holidays, evenings and weekends.  There are many other similarities; they are expected to get it right, first time, every time.   The list goes on, cleanliness, timeliness, smiles, welcome, efficient, etc. Not to mention… expensive.

Recently at an airport in Europe I was charged over three Euro for a small bottle of water, the same price charged in a hotel a little later.  That is more expensive than petrol.  Three Euro, Thirty Eurocent for a third of a litre, equates to around forty Euros - that is over eighty Ghana Cedis – for a gallon of water.

Even if we consider our 500ml ‘sachet’ of water at 10Ghp, that works out to under one Ghana Cedi per gallon.  Go to the hotel or airport and you will pay four or five cedis for a bottle of water– around thirteen cedis, or about six Euro, per gallon.  Water is an expensive commodity, or rather good, clean water is.
Water is necessary to life.  We can go without food for days, but after just a few hours without water we start to make poor decisions and our lips start to crack.  Clean water is an ever bigger issue.   One sip of poor quality water and we are pasted to the toilet seat for days, holding our stomachs and saying ‘ooooohhhhh’.  Twenty-four hours of tummy troubles, from poor quality water, and we are exhausted.   As a pilot, a mouthful of bad water can ground you for a week, or make a flight remarkably dangerous, painful and uncomfortable – especially if your aircraft is single pilot and without a toilet…

Water covers the majority of our planet, composes the largest part of our bodies, is present in our atmosphere, is essential to our existence – water is life.

As pilots we respect the water in the air and observe the water on the ground with great interest.  The ‘colour’ and ‘texture’ of the water can tell us a lot about the impending weather.  The water courses provide navigational signals for us all over the country, especially the magnificent lake Volta and its tributaries.  The rivers and lakes predispose areas to habitation, because of the need for water for survival.  We learn to read these signs and to be aware that, in the extreme, rare and unfortunate instance of a ditching or emergency landing, the availability of potable water may determine our fate more than the quality of the landing.

As I flew along the Volta at the weekend, watching the wide wake of the Dodi Princess, no doubt selling water at the rate of several dollars per gallon, I again watched in amazement (no longer disbelief) vast numbers of people going about their daily lives without access to clean drinking water.

That evening we had a lively discussion over the platter of rice, accompanied by freshly pumped and chilled glasses of water from our borehole.  How many of those people who drink from the lake and other ‘at risk’ water sources are actually aware of the risk they put themselves at?  The answer, sadly, is ‘very few’.  It seems that we have this mistaken ‘received knowledge’ that “Ghanaians are able to drink water from the lake without getting sick”.   It is a great story, but far from the truth.  A simple question to any of the rural communities around the lake regarding their biggest health challenge, and they will tell you in a snap ‘the running stomach’.

What does the World Health Organisation have to say about this: ‘Diarrhoea is the passage of 3 or more loose or liquid stools per day… Infection is spread through contaminated food or drinking-water, or from person to person as a result of poor hygiene. Severe diarrhoea leads to fluid loss, and may be life-threatening, particularly in young children and people who are malnourished or have impaired immunity.

What does that mean to us?  The WHO goes on to state that diarrhoea is responsible for roughly 4 billion people being sick, around the world, every year, of which 2.2 million die.  That is the same as wiping out a city – or even a small country - per year.  In addition, the U.S. CDC points out that nearly ninety percent of these deaths are directly linked to unsafe drinking water, inadequate availability of water for hygiene, and lack of access to suitable sanitation.  Perfectly preventable with education and suitable resources – if only you can reach those people on a regular basis to educate them, encourage them and support them.

Starts to grab your attention a bit?   Think about this for a moment, if you have a stomach problem from poor water issues, you probably also have a poor water source for hand washing, bathing and toilet ‘sanitation’ solutions.  You are caught in an ever diminishing circle of passing-on and self-reinfection.  With it, socio-economic issues ensue.  Children unable to attend school regularly, workers not able to work regularly or at all, and mothers struggling to feed their children through being weakened, re- infecting their own children with a tummy bug.  This is without even considering extreme cases, such as cholera.

Water can be filtered, there are many filter solutions, including a low-cost, low-maintenance solution made in Ghana filter system for rural communities that is under-development in the Eastern Region.   Water can be boiled, but takes time and often tastes ‘not so nice’ once cooled.  SODIS (Solar Disinfection) is a practical solution, and the list goes on.  BUT none of these methods – even GIVING free ‘pure water’ to the people at risk will yield the necessary results.  NO.

There is still a basic lack of understanding of the reasons behind infections, the reason for living a hygienic lifestyle, both personal and community wise, and until that is addressed we are in caught in a web of despair.
‘Not my problem, I live in the city.’, I hear a distant reader mumble.  Not your problem?  Look out the window and watch the man urinating in the gutter and the same waitress who will serve you later shaking hands with the man who just relieved himself without sanitising his hands, and she will probably not wash her hands with clean water, nor as well as she should, before serving you. 

Airports and hotels are clean water and hygiene aware because sickness in their locations is recognised as being disastrous.  I am sure that your business, home and community could gain productivity, health improvements and a happier day, through a simple education moment, reinforced on a regular basis.

No wonder drinking water is so expensive in Europe, they have learned to value it.  Perhaps we need to do something now, before it is too late, to improve the lot of the nation, especially the rural folks whose farming activities are putting food on our tables each day, and whose lot is severely compromised for the lack of sustainable clean water solutions, and the sustainable, regular and applicable health education that goes with it.  The best way to achieve this, in the most rural areas, is by appropriate use of light aircraft, enabling timely and regular contact directly into the remote and inaccessible communities that are strewn across our landscape.

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, May 4, 2011

Photo of the Week, May 4th

As the rains begin, farmers are busy preparing and planting.  It appears that many crops are going to have some challenges due to the changes in climatic conditions.  Fortunately, the diversity of crops and activities provide a safety net for many rural dwellers.  Here we see oil palm, mango, sugar cane, maize, rice and other crops all in a relatively compact area.  May it be a good season for our farmers, for they work hard to nourish those of us who do not give a second thought to where our daily sustenance originates.  Photo Credit: WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2nd

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
I have been often quoted as saying ‘Chocolate is go-juice for pilots!’ which I hold to as ‘personal fuel’ preference.  The ‘go-juice’ we put in our engines is critical for the functioning of our engines, as is the ‘go-juice’ we put into our bodies.

At Techiman, in Brong Ahafo, a few weeks ago I was privileged to share the concepts of the four-stroke engine, in relation to the human body.  Our bodies have millions of internal combustion engines.  The cells in our bodies are blessed with a miniature engine called the mitochondria.  We consume suitable fuels, or go-juice, and then it is carried in our blood along with oxygen along our ‘intake manifold’ or arteries before reaching the cells.  After the cell has literally ‘burnt’ the fuel with the oxygen from the air we took through the ‘air-filter’ we call lungs, it expels the waste gas of carbon dioxide into the exhaust manifold or veins, which route back to our lungs which switch roles to an exhaust muffler as we pump our carbon emissions into the atmosphere.  Feed our bodies the right ‘go-juice’ and the engines run fine, feed them some ‘junk-food’ and they soon start misfiring and eventually result in the need for an additional service interval at the ‘body-mechanic’, sometimes called ‘the doctor’.

The engines in our cars have the same challenge.  Put the wrong go-juice in your car and it may not even make it out of the filling station!  How much more important is it with our aircraft engines!

Aircraft engines run on a variety of ‘go-juices’.  Jet A1 or Aviation Kerosene is used in the jets, turbines and some ‘so-called-diesel’ engines.  Jet A1 is a very carefully controlled go-juice, for obvious reasons.  It is also not always available in every country in West Africa, and although normally available at the international airports in each country in our sub-continent, it is rarely available at the other airports.  Airliners and most helicopters use this ‘go-juice’ in their gas-guzzlers – for their engines really are quite thirsty!  Few helicopters have standard range tanks able to reach from Kotoka International Airport in Accra to the North and back without taking another draught of their favourite hydrocarbon soup.

Traditionally, piston engines in aircraft drink 100LL or AvGas, a sweet smelling lead laced juice that is essential for the smooth sustenance of thrust.  International pressure has led to the imminent demise of this source of combustible juice inside the cylinders of the high compression power-plants.

Fortunately, there are many aircraft engines on the market that are able to run on car petrol, often called Motor Car Gasoline or MoGas.  Now, if it were only that simple!

I have friends in Ghana who can run for months, without a misfire, on a diet of kenkey, fufu, banku, goat soup and other local delicacies.  ‘Go-juice for Ghanaians’ – and it is a high impact diet of energy that will continue tastefully and successfully for many more tradition cycles to come.  Most visitors to Ghana are not able to run on that ‘octane’ of fuel – they may accept one or two tank fills, but they have been groomed to run on a different group of ‘go-juice concepts’.

Likewise, internal combustion engines come with a variety of tastes.  We classify these tastes broadly as ‘octane’.  There are even three different ‘standards’ for calculating the ‘octane’ or compressibility level of the different fuels.  Commonly we use RON to recognise the octane, for example, 91, 95, 98 and 100 octane.  The higher the number the more you can compress the fuel in the cylinder without the engine blowing a hole out through its own cylinder head!  Many engines have been seen to self-destruct through the inappropriate use of a low-octane fuel in an engine designed for something more compressible.  In the same way as different foods contain energy in different ways, and some foods make some people sick, the same goes for the fuels we feed our car and light aircraft engines.  And it goes further than that.

Fuels have additives – just the same as foods do!  Worldwide we add iodine to salt for the health of our children.  In the same way, there are certain additives to our fuel that are common the world over.  In some countries they add fluoride to the piped water to boost the strength of children’s teeth, and in others they do not.   So, when you buy one brand of the same octane fuel from one petrol station or the other, the additives – positive ones and, perhaps for your engine, negative ones too are in there.  In the same way, you can purchase the ‘same meal’ from two different restaurants – and one will have more pepper in it than the other – the same meal may be tasty in one place, and unpalatable in another – to your ‘octane testing tongue’.  This is the primary reason it is recommended to select a fuel provider for your car and stick with them.  Fuels and oils are blended by their relevant brand owners based on their target audience.  In our country there are now competing ‘plus’ fuels, those with a higher octane and claimed cleaner burning with ‘secret blends of additives’.  If you are running a more modern engine in your car, it is important to feed it the right ‘go-juice’ – or it could cost you far more than simply a tank-full of the wrong stuff!

In aircraft the issues are far more critical.  Having done many aircraft engine installations, services and maintenance operations, I have seen the issues.  Some fuels leave nasty sticky remains, and stain the receptacle in which they are stored.  Others burn cleanly, leaving the fuel tanks, lines, carburettors, manifolds, etc. in pristine condition.  Interestingly, there is a trend towards the more expensive fuel being the better fuel – but that is also the case in the world of ‘human go-juice’…

Worldwide there are arguments for adding ethanol to fuel – this is a red-herring.  Experts in engines agree that ethanol has many disadvantages, and the claimed ‘green’ benefits are terribly arguable!  Imagine growing maize or soya for fermenting to ethanol instead of feeding the people?  Yet, that is what is going on in many countries, thankfully, West Africa is still remaining sensible and focused in this regard, so far.  Interestingly many of the fuel lines and systems in the older cars get damaged by ethanol in the fuel – and so such an introduction in our ‘working museum of motor-vehicles’ would have catastrophic consequences.  Likewise, many aircraft engines cannot accept ethanol in their fuel, it can result in serious consequences.  Even if the engine can cope, fuel lines, fuel tanks and other systems may not be ethanol resistant.

My recent visit to AERO Friedrichshafen in Germany, where the worlds aircraft industry joined hands in a festival of wings, fuel was a top topic.  The vast majority of the show heralded two-seat aircraft, and the vast majority of them ran the Rotax engine.  Why?  It is proven to run with both 100LL and car fuels, and has an excellent reliability record.  It was a pleasure to hear the quote being given about this ubiquitous engine ‘and it is used in Ghana where they build aircraft that are used in mission critical, hostile terrain applications’.  It made me more than proud at the reception given to the worlds leading Female Rotax Aircraft Engine expert, from Ghana, Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi, who spoke confidently with manufacturers, pilots and engineers.  Thank you Patricia, you have made Ghana and West Africa proud.  Make sure that you keep on feeding those engines, and yourself, the right ‘go-juice’.

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