Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Photo of the week, December 21st

Whilst many parts of the world experience a white blanket of snow at this time of the year; much of Ghana is experiencing the blackened blanket of post dry season bush fires. The birds, as well as the people, looking at what is left and counting their losses. The dryness of the harmattan after the lush growth from the many rains this year has provided plenty of 'fuel', and the fires appear to have burned hotter and longer than usual. Let us all hope for some heavy dews and early light rains to kiss the fire-seared ground, releasing the green shoots of renewal to feed the livestock and give us all a promise of a better 2012. Photo Courtesy of Capt. Yaw

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Since this is the last F.A.M. before the yuletide celebrations, I would like to share some aviation concerns that occur around the world at this time of year. You may wish to exercise caution if you intend to share this with younger people in your entourage as it may change their understandings of ‘certain things’.

In aviation we issue NOTAMS – that is NOTice to AirMen. Such ‘coded’ messages alert pilots and operators to issues such as runway light failures, movements of VIP aircraft, closure of airspace, etc. I note with interest that GCAA has not issued a NOTAM regarding Santa Claus’ intended flights in the airspace above our territory. We do not want KLM or British Airways to declare an ‘AirProx’ (a near miss in the air), with some reindeer and an old man with a bag full of goodies. No, we certainly do not. Fortunately, many airlines ensure that their pilots are aware of the risk and the potential operating times for the multi-reindeer-powered-wooden-built-aircraft. We must remember that the Sleigh, as it is correctly called, is a very fast aircraft indeed. It is able to circumnavigate the globe in a single night – or so we are informed, normally by Night VFR...

Personally, I am concerned about lighting for this aircraft. I hear he only has a single, continuous red light, and I trust that he ensures that it is located on the left of the aircraft and that it shines from dead ahead through 110 degrees to the side and slightly behind, as required by the regulations. He should also ensure that he has a green light on the right also, and a rear facing white light shining through 70 degrees to each side. A red flashing beacon or strobes would assist in increasing visibility and reducing the risk of collision. Considering the current Harmattan and the potential need for the Sleigh to operate in Instrument Meteorological conditions, I hope that a Mode S transponder is fitted!  

Rumour has it that this benevolent old man brings gifts to the people as part of his ‘Tour du Monde’. It also indicates that he has a list of those who deserve some gifts and those who don’t. This is called the ‘Naughty and Nice’ list. As I see it there are a lot of people on the Naughty list this year – they know who they are, and are denying it! Still, I guess that they can afford to buy their own gifts and pretend that they were from the white-bearded aviator. Nonetheless, I would like to make public my list of ‘Nice’ who, as far as I am aware are not on Santa’s or anybody else’s list, mainly because they tend to be invisible to the majority of people. I believe that the following should be highly recommended for gifts - gifts that may bring even more smiles. 

Nice: All those children who are working so hard to learn in tough conditions. Time, and time again I see community after community without suitable learning conditions. The children and teachers are trying, at times under a makeshift classroom or in a building that needs some (read ‘A LOT OF’) work done to it. I see them too many in a class, age spreads of more than five years, in the same classroom; all trying to grab a grain of knowledge. For those children, I would send encouragement to their parents to keep them in school, a simple word of ‘well done’ or ‘Ayekoo’ for sending their child to school in the first place, and then to keep them there. Provide recognition that they are ‘trying’ against the odds, in their struggle to make each day a success. There also needs to be increased support for the education of those children. It may not be much, perhaps some supplies; educational posters; a visiting speaker to inspire and encourage… it need not be expensive, but it must be effective.

Nice: All those people living without access to clean water. There are so many of them, either walking miles each day for a few buckets of ‘somehow-clean’ water, perhaps drinking and bathing directly in the lake or river. These people we see every day from the air, but are generally missed by those on the terrestrial routes. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of such people live in our countryside – and in the cities too. They often know that they need to filter and / or boil the water, but are limited in their time and resources to achieve the desired treatment for the desired quantity. For those people, I would send encouragement to make the extra effort to clean the water that they have. Encourage them through education as to WHY clean water is important, and the benefits of the same. All too often we are told ‘I have drunk the water from the lake all of my life, and it has not made me sick.’, the person not understanding that the Schistosomiasis, diarrhoea, and other illnesses that they suffer from come from the very act that they are defending. Education as to WHY, and education as to HOW is a great present to give to these folks. But it cannot be done on a one-day-workshop – no, and it will take more than a sudden visit from a group of 4x4 vehicles with folks in nice shoes and fancy clothes. It would be wonderful to get piped water to all of these communities – but that is simply not practical, for I have seen the lay of the land from above! Recently I was in a village that is right by the water inlet for the Koforidua water treatment plant. There is no plan to send them piped water, at least not in the coming years – and yet the people fish around the inlet that takes the water that they drink ‘raw’ and sends it to a nice new treatment plant to pipe to the city. They respect the inlet, in fact they protect it for those in the city, whilst they still have no practical solutions to their needs. These are, to me at least, the very people that should be getting ‘presents’ at this time of the year – for those with the clean, health sustaining water every-day of the year know-not what gift they have already – and may not even spare a glancing thought for where the water comes from, let alone those who do not have access to potable water supplies.

These gifts are really about giving encouragement for a change in behaviour… such gifts are hard to give in just one go, they require dedication, long term, sustained effort support. It is all too easy to say ‘but how can I do that?’ as an excuse to do nothing... Well, we are developing a method for reaching these communities, using our ‘sleighs’ made of metal and powered by piston engines with propellers attached, to try to make 2012 a year in which such support can be a reality on a regular, sustained and sustainable basis. Medicine on the Move through the ETCHE project and in conjunction with the INSCI project wants to see those on the ‘nice list’ receiving their much deserved gifts of health education and support. Perhaps in 2012 you would like to pay us a visit at Kpong Airfield – and find out more about these things!

Happy holidays to you all!

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, December 14, 2011

Photo of the week, December 14th

Power is key to so many developments and to all major industries in the world of work. As we fly over Ghana we see the immense network of high tension power pylons carrying electricity from major point to major point across the whole nation - sadly we often see such monoliths, with cables strewn across them, passing over and next to villages who are many years from seeing consumer electricity reaching them. Perhaps there should be a policy to send power to communities and organisations that are starting industries in rural areas so that the power is being put to socio-economic developments of the nation? These lines are carrying power from Akosombo towards Koforidua in the Eastern Region. Photo Courtesy Medicine on the Move www,

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Photo of the week, December 7th

As the Harmattan dryness is felt across many parts of the country, and the bush fires abound, there are still many struggling with the continued high water levels on the Volta Lake. The lake has many islands, and some of the smaller ones have vanished for months now; many of the mid-sized islands still have inhabitants making the most the of available land for their farming and fishing activities. Lack of ease of access makes many of these areas forgotten, yet they are areas that hold much economic potential, and the people there are very much worth investing in. Photo courtesy Medicine on the Move

Monday, December 5, 2011

December 5th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Bush fires are beginning to consume hundreds of acres around Kpong Airfield, and once again we will need to consider careful burning of fire-breaks. As is always the case, arguments over ‘who starts’ a fire will abound, and the Fulani will be given their share of the blame, but it is not altogether fair. I have seen fires started in people’s homes spread out and across the bush, probably a ‘fire-break-burn’ gone wrong. One way or the other, our carbon footprint will grow, and our land will bear the blackened scars for several months, waiting for the healing rains to stimulate the emerald magic that we yearn for at the end of the dry season.

Interestingly, a short flight over the Akwapim-Togo range reveals that the forest areas are still lush green, and yet the Harmattan haze is really beginning to show in the air, and it will be only a matter of days before the tones and hues are dulled down even in the forests. The Harmattan months are interesting for me, they provide a few days of ‘respite’ when we cannot fly due to low-visibility and with it the workshop gets a new lease of life. In aviation there is always something to be done, and little tasks that get pushed back for the lack of time, things like new placarding of the panel, or the replacement of the throttle grip, or perhaps upgrading the radio antenna, can finally be gotten around to.

In Europe the winter provides the same opportunity – but without the dust, and with biting cold. For me, the Harmattan is at least ten times more pleasant than winter! However, winter and Harmattan are linked. It is the pushing down of the cold fronts in Europe that move the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) southwards and with it the Harmattan haze.

I have a ‘rule of thumb’, that I would like you to help to establish this year. When I call my mother, who lives in the South of England, and she tells me there is a heavy frost, I reckon on two to three days to an increase in Harmattan. If she tells me that there is snow falling, I generally reckon we will not be flying in the next three days due to heavy dust haze and lower visibility. I have never ‘recorded’ this, it is an observational, anecdotal, weather forecast that I use personally – but together we may be able to find a pattern. I use this ‘method’ for my ‘on-the-fly planning and scheduling’.

So, when you are talking to family in Europe over the next few months, ask about their weather, and then see if it leads to a ‘pattern’ (generally in the three days after the start of the Europe weather) here. I am sure that it exists, but together we can prove it… even if it is only 80% accurate, it can help us form a forecast model to improve our productivity and planning in this dusty season – and it is free, fun and informative!

Planning is, of course, key to success in aviation – and every other industry I can think of. Failure to plan is planning to fail! So, the more ‘indicators’ we have at our fingertips the better we can plan. I try to establish planning rules at the airfield in relation to our on-going construction works (our new robotic centre and mini-clinic buildings are currently going up). We are not as big as Kotoka, who issue NOTAMS, often covering many months in advance, warning of planned shutdowns, but we still need to plan.

One of those rules relates to materials. It is not always possible, cash flow wise, to have all of the materials available all of the time, and with that a ‘flexible planning’ system is necessary. For example, if we are out of cement, and short of funds, trenching is a good job to get on with – not ‘sit around and wait for the cement’. There are always jobs that can be done without materials – clearing, cleaning, repairs to wheelbarrows, etc. However, if there is a call off supply of cement, sand, stones, blocks, etc. we need to be more alert in our planning and funds management.

My basic rule is ‘I need to know at least the day before that we need something’ (usually that means water to be trucked in, by the way!). When we are getting through twenty or thirty bags of cement in a day, we need to plan to get the next bags on hand and sufficient water in containers on hand too. Imagine my surprise when at midday a mason comes to me and proudly announces that he has just used the last bag of cement and needs ten more. After I have ranted a bit (I do like a good rant), I explain that the truck has just returned from town, and that he will need to cover the thirty cedis extra cost from not planning. ‘But that is more than a day’s wages’, and indeed it is. Who is going to pay for the mason’s poor planning? He is usually very good, and plans a week in advance his needs, yet on this occasion the planning got out of hand because he was focused on today, or even the morning only, and not past the next need point, costing money, losing time and annoying me. All three of those are not good – especially the last one!

I can point out a thousand times to our construction crews that a pilot needs to plan his fuel requirements or invent a way to park on clouds, yet the concept is not absorbed until one learns to fly. I can expound upon the importance of maintaining your aircraft well and sticking to the maintenance schedule until the cows come home (with or without the herdsman), but until you fly and realise that you cannot simply pause in the air to take a walk around the aircraft to see where the noise is coming from, you are simply not going to have the necessary neural connection about ‘I MUST PLAN’ to stay in the game.

Failing to plan is definitely planning to fail. In Aviation it is so blatantly obvious; in other sectors it is important and if carried out appropriately will yield amazing results. Plans are never perfect, and the ability to change the plan on the fly is increased by the amount of appropriate planning and preparation put in. Consider a well-planned cross-country flight; planned maintenance, checked oil, checked airframe, planned fuel burn and reserve, route, awareness of the weather, planning for alternate landing areas, constantly re-assessing the plan en-route and more, the very approach that makes aviation safe and successful. The very same approach that may also lead to safer, more successful and less stressful projects in all areas of our lives.

Just remember, the Harmattan is coming, bush fires are coming and failure to plan is definitely an expensive and unnecessary way to plan to fail!

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