Monday, January 9, 2012

January 9th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

When did you last consider the fact that somebody may be seriously injured or die in your office, in your home, in your workplace, on the river, on the lake, on the road, on your boat, or, as in my case, in your plane or on your aerodrome this year? Did you get into the car this morning, geared up for an accident – your own or seeing and avoiding somebody else’s? Did you check that the brakes worked before going any faster than a snail’s pace? Did you start your New Year ‘message’ to your staff or colleagues with ‘how can we stop there being an accident this year’? Death, or injury, is a potential incident around us all the time – but we tend to shy away from facing it directly.

At times, we try to cover over an accident with ‘what we (supposedly) did to prevent it’ - failing to accept our part in the accident chain, no matter how close or remote… In fact, I read with dismay an announcement in relation to recent deaths on the lake, that a certain Deputy Minister is‘…lauding efforts by government and stakeholders to curtail the number of accidents on the Volta Lake. According to her, a total of 3,000 lives would have been lost last year [2011] on the Volta Lake if pragmatic steps were not taken to address causes of accidents on the lake.’ (Source:Joyonline) – WOW, what a reaction to deaths… but how many lives are going to be lost on the lake this year and what are we going to do to realistically improve on the national record ? (Perhaps if you add up all the deaths on the lake over the fifty year history of the lake, you may find around 3,000 deaths – so what was so special about last year? Perhaps there is some missing information available…)

Whenever we are preparing an aircraft for its first flight there is a certain amount of excitement. The few days prior to the test flight there is a ‘high’ in the team that built the aircraft. My job is to burst their bubble. I generally state ‘When I test fly this machine we will discover if you have built a coffin or an aircraft.’ It refocus the minds, wipes away the smiles and improves potential for safety. On the day of the test flight, all things are looked at, more than usual, full consideration is given to the weather, the conditions of the field, the test pilot (me), the condition of the fuel, the airframe and the engine… Serious thought is given to the FACT that it MAY go wrong. It is that very fact that makes it safe and keeps the accident numbers down in aviation. On every flight we check the brakes, the wings, the engine, the whole machine – BECAUSE we are ready to AVOID an accident, not JUST one flight now and then – ALL of them.

I start my ‘Welcome back to the airfield in 2012 statement with ‘Somebody could die on this airfield in 2012...’, and go on to explain ‘…because they did not consider that what they were doing may have dangers – so accept it now – life is dangerous – be prepared for it – and prevent it.

My annual 'state of the airfield' speech is not a heart-warming one. People do not like it. I will get told 'You must not say that' or 'that is not a good approach' or even ‘God will not let that happen’. But, as an aviator I know that ‘recognition of a risk is preparation for the risk’ and, in many cases, the best way of preventing the potential negative outcomes of that risk should it raise its ugly head.

As a pilot we start each flight by planning for a disaster! What we will do 'if something goes wrong'? What is the option, do we have enough fuel for the trip and EXTRA fuel to cope with weather or other issues? Do we have a suitable safety pack? Do we have first aid, water, food, cash and a mobile phone in case we have to land in the bush somewhere inhospitable? Do we have a rope to climb out of a tree in case we land in a tree (I think about that a lot, by the way – especially when flying over forests in the Ashanti and Western Regions)? Do we have a life preserver or the life raft if we are going near 'such risk areas'? Is the engine safe and sound? We remove the top cowl at least once every day that we fly a cowled aircraft, whereas most cowled engines in the world only get a cowl off inspection every 50 hours… WHY? Because we expect the worst...check for it…think about it…plan for it…are prepared for it…do all we can to avoid it…and thus reduce its chance of happening!

Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Foundation, recently made the statement that "Complacency remains the enemy of safety" In other words if you THINK you are safe, you are NOT! Simple and effective – perhaps a poster for your wall this year …. ‘Complacency remains the enemy of safety’

Interestingly, in many parts of the world, children are conditioned for the dangers of the road 'Look left and right before you cross or you could be crushed to death by a car' is the basic rule, and that 'fearful respect' works in reducing the accident rate of children crossing roads.

However, when was the last time you went out to your car and said 'Well, today we could all have a fearful accident in this car, let us all check the wheels, engine, and make sure we have no loose objects that could fly around, all loads secured, and all wear our seat belts BEFORE we start the engine - BECAUSE we understand the risks?

Perhaps, in the kitchen we should start by stating 'Salmonella kills, and we want to have a safe meal - and those knives could cause a nasty accident, so let us make sure we have a stocked first aid cabinet BEFORE we use them'....

As flight #2012 is gaining its momentum down the runway of January, we should, perhaps, ask ourselves 'are we complacent about safety in 2012?' and 'what can we do to make it a safe year?'

Let us not HOPE for a safe 2012, let us not be COMPLACENT about safety in 2012; let us stop kidding ourselves that we ‘have done all that we can’ or that ‘it won’t happen to me’; let us all WORK towards a greater SAFETY AWARENESS and SAFETY RECORD, by being aware of the RISKS that 2012 has in store, and MITIGATE against them –TOGETHER!

Have a good one!

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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