Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Rather like the leap-year, this year has that extra day in it that moves everything out of place a bit (ok, a lot). Yes, this year is an election year, not just in Ghana but in the USA and a few other countries too.

The question will always be asked ‘is democracy really a good system?’, and the answer will, as far as I can see, always be, ‘No, but we don’t have a better one!’

In an aircraft, once the wheels leave contact with the ground the pilot is on their own. She becomes president, judge, jury and head of police on the planet called ‘Theplane’. She is the one with the responsibility to ensure safety and a correct path for all on board. She is entrusted with the lives and wellbeing of all on her ‘planet’. Citizens of Theplane put complete trust into her, even though they have never met her. She works tirelessly for the successful completion of her ‘term in office’, without ever having met more than a small percentage of the inhabitants of Theplane.

When there is a need to deviate from the course, she will make the decision, with the help of the co- or Vice-pilot. Together they will steer the course of the Theplane towards its desired endpoint. They will work to ensure that there are no conflicts nor collisions, for such a course of action would threaten the wellbeing of the citizens of Theplane.

At the end of the journey, and the wheels touch-down at the destination, the President hands over authority, expecting not even a single ‘thank-you’ for having carried the citizens past the storms, over the seas and mountains, safely to their desired place. She will simply sit in her ‘Office’ and complete the paperwork, walking quietly away, unrecognised. Of course, like all in such a position, she hopes that she will be back in the chair, but accepts that it may not happen.

The bliss of safe aviation is based on the principles of competence, trust and ability, and long may it last.

Now, imagine for a moment the ‘democratic airline’.

Passengers are asked to vote for their ‘Pilot’, they are shown the pilots ‘C.V.s’, photos and, of course, their manifestos.

Pilot A is handsome and single. Has a house in the city, and a cat. Handing out flags with his face on, he offers all passengers on his flight extra champagne, if he is elected to be the pilot.

Pilot B is a little older, but still considered handsome by the ladies. He has two homes, one near the beach and one in the mountains. As he kisses all the babies in the room on the top of their heads, Pilot B offers that he will ensure the latest movies on-board, free champagne and that they will all get a $100 refund at the end of the flight.

Pilot C is slight in build. She does not say much. Offering nothing more than to sit up the front, take the controls and ensure a safe term in office. She offers no balloons, no pins, no flags; she does not kiss any children. She only offers her skills – with no demands for herself other than to be in the same boat (or on the same plane) as the voters.

Of course, this scenario leads to a natural selection, when reading, but out there in the terminal we have people who may see the concept of movies, free champagne and a $100 refund more than tempting. My guess is that B would probably win, and so we will join ‘B’ aboard his flight.

Walking up and down the aisles, Captain B is busy thanking the citizens of Theplane for voting for him. The clamour of hands thrust out wildly to shake his hand or just to touch him. Several ask about when they will get their $100… Avoiding the questions, now that he is elected, he moves to the cockpit and closes the door.

As the aircraft climbs out, the demand for champagne rockets, and soon all the supplies are gone. There is an uprising in the cabin. The captain, true to his word, arranges for a detour to land and purchase more champagne. The people are happy. This is the man they voted for.

Then as they depart from their champagne shopping stop, the In Flight Entertainment (IFE) system fails. (What the citizens of Theplane are unaware of is that, in order to purchase more champagne, they sold the videos from the IFE). Undaunted, Captain B comes on the intercom and declares ‘We apologise for the loss of your favourite movies, but these things are beyond my control. It is a world-wide phenomenon, and we will work hard to make them come back before we land.’ Placated, the people sit back and chat, whilst some children play chase around the Galley.

One of the crew sternly warns the children that ‘playing near the Galley is dangerous.’ This creates a ripple in the passengers, and a near riot breaks out. Captain B leaves the cockpit and comes back to calm the people. Hearing the problem, he asks that a vote be taken as to whether ‘the children should be allowed to play chase around the Galley’. 60% of the passengers think it is OK. So, the crew are told ‘let them play’, this a democracy. 40% of the passengers complain openly.

As B returns to the left seat, turbulence tosses the plane from left to right and back again. One child, running around, falls and hits his head, the blood seeping across the emergency lighting.

Once the plane is stable, B comes back again and asks ‘what is the matter?’ the bleeding child is brought to him and he is informed that it is his fault. Captain B protests and asks all those who voted for ‘children can play’ to raise their hands…. No hands rise. Clearly, nobody had ever voted for that. Captain B already realises that he has bigger problem on his hands.

In the cockpit the fuel is getting low, and the plane won’t reach the promised destination, in fact, it looks like it will be a forced-landing in the desert. If only he had not deviated for the Champagne early on in the flight… if only he had focused on flying the plane, not just placating the people.

Skidding through the desert sands, the plane tips onto one wing and stops. The people slide out down the yellow chutes. ‘Where is my $100?’ ask some. ‘Why are we not at our destination?’ ask others. Some, sadly, did not survive the forced landing. It is hard to find anyone who is satisfied, and harder still to find even one who voted for ‘Captain B’.

Those seeking high office (and there is none ‘higher’ than being in the air), should not be swayed by the desires of the people, but rather by the needs of the people. Those who vote, in any sort of election, should be careful of what (and whom) they wish for, because getting your short-term wish granted may well mean sacrificing your long-term goal.

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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