Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Losing a member of the family, a member of the team, a fellow colleague, a neighbour, or indeed a Head of State, has a profound impact on all of us. It is a reminder of our own fragility; a focal point on our mortality. The sudden departure of a soul, irretrievably snatched from the chain of contact, communication and command, makes us sit up, take note and reflect on the individual, their successes, their failures, their smiles, their scorns, their impacts on our lives and those of others. A ‘death in the family’ is never a pleasant thing, yet it is a known certainty from the moment of birth for every single one of us. Our frail human forms are unable to contain our souls for more than a few years. Some bodies die from old age, others from accidents or acts of violence, some from an illness – but one thing is certain, we will all lose our mortal canister of flesh and blood one day. We should remember that the fragile body we work from is only a container that holds our soul. More importantly, we should remember that our bodies do not have a soul, but rather our souls have a body – and that our souls are beyond understanding, beyond the confines of flesh, beyond the limits of our current dimension in time and space. Nonetheless, the passing on of our souls from our bodies is an emotive moment for all concerned. This week, in shock, all of Ghana remembers the day that President Mills died, in the same way and with the same emotions as a member of the team. May his soul rest in peace.

In aviation, we have a special way of marking the passing of one of our ‘family’; The Missing Man Formation. During the remembrance service a group of planes flies over and one of the aircraft breaks the formation and climbs skywards, symbolizing the departure towards the heavens.

On the ground, a similar demonstration of a dearly departed being respected involves a rider-less horse. The custom is thought to date back as far as the first century. However, the most interesting is the attribution to the twelfth century, and Genghis Khan. The caparisoned horse (highly decorated, usually with a special cloth and saddle) is still used at the death of a head of state in some countries. The caparisoned horse, often with the boots of the rider placed in the stirrups facing rearwards to ‘view those left behind’ has been a feature at several high profile American funerals, most recently that of Ronald Reagan.

The missing man aircraft formation is far more common as a symbol of losing a friend and is seen at funerals of civilians, military and heads of state alike. At major aviation events the ‘missing man’ is often performed to remember those who gave their lives defending the nation or lost in a major tragedy. It is normally performed with military aircraft but can equally be performed by any aircraft type. In a civilian aircraft formation, I have had the privilege of flying the ‘departing soul’ aircraft, and have felt the strength of the symbolism first hand.

Flying the key position in the formation is full of emotion. The lead aircraft visible just a few metres ahead, supported and protected by the accompanying aircraft to your side and behind; watching, waiting and anticipating for that key moment of passing the line of spectators, ready to perform with the powerful imagery that only aircraft can give. Then, at the designated place and time, just like in the real-life departure of souls, applying full-power, climbing away, leaving your friends, protectors and many ‘observers’ below; watching out the corner of your eye as they dim and diminish. Looking ahead and upward the sky beckons, the clouds now dominating your view as you ascend towards the heavens. Your colleagues and friends, still visible in formation, now far away in the distance, flying straight on, maintaining their heading and level, thus symbolising that life goes on, and those who were around you must continue the formation. Glancing down at the sombre crowd, knowing that they are remembering one who was dear to them who has left this realm, a moistness is felt in the eyes. It probably is the most ‘close to the real thing’ sensations that can be experienced, and the small amount of liquid leaking from your eye as those sensations and emotions creep into your cockpit reminds you that you are still alive and must return safely to earth, landing and stepping once again on Terra Firma with a lump in your throat. You hug your fellow ‘performers’ glad to only have been a symbol, but in the knowledge that you have paid tribute to souls that mattered.

As our Nation remembers, mourns and prepares for the next chapter in its exciting story, each of us remembers others lost from our arms. As each one of our loved-ones souls are released from the confines of their mortal canisters, we should celebrate the marking of their passage, whether by the missing man formation, the caparisoned horse or simply by giving a special thought, a moment of reflection. Moreover, we should equally remember that we must maintain our formation and fly straight ahead, keeping the course that we had, for that is the greatest honour we can give one who has moved on.

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, July 25, 2012

Photo of the week July 25th, 2012

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world.  Ghana produces some fantastic organic bananas - but when you fly over them they look like 'blue plastic bag trees'.  Here we see each fresh bunch of bananas covered with a blue plastic bag to protect the fruit as it grows to become ready to harvest.  The banana industry in Ghana has grown over the years and accounts for many jobs, especially around the lower reaches of the Volta Basin.  Market potential for far more fruit and vegetables for export exists, and provided the land and labour solutions are there, the desire to make it happen exists also.  Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Much as I really do not like flying in the bigger aircraft, there are times where it is simply more practical. My usual steed, the Zenith CH701, even when equipped with the latest engine (the Rotax 912iS, which is an absolute marvel), the flight from Ghana to the USA is not really practical. Do not get me wrong, it can do it. Well, it would not be too comfortable. A two-seat, 2,000km range plane, not equipped with a toilet and that you cannot stand up during flight, cruising at a maximum of 80knots (about 150km/hr) can still make it to St Louis, Missouri…. It would take a slightly longer route than one would imagine, due to refueling/overnight stops… Leaving Accra, after clearing immigration/customs, the most practical route would be to fly 2,000km direct to Dakar, Senegal, then 2,000km to Agadir in Morocco before landing in Nantes, on the West Coast of France, then head towards the cold part of the journey. A shorter hop of a little under 1,000km to Prestwick in Scotland, to collect some warm weather clothes, before setting out over large expanses of water towards Keflavik in Iceland, and on to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, which is actually inside the Arctic Circle. Sliding South Westwards into Canada, Goose Bay, Labrador, would start the downward leg and see the end of the large water expanses. Just for fun, and some more fuel, a stopover at Niagara Falls in Canada would be great, and then cross into American Airspace before landing at St Louis, Missouri and clearing customs in the ‘Show-Me-State’. I am sure we would really need to show them that we did fly all the way from Ghana in an aircraft with a wingspan of less than ten metres! Such a trip would cover a mere 14,000km, take just ten days of flying in each direction and consume around one hundred hours in the cockpit! Not a practical solution by anybody’s standards – but an adventure by everybody’s imagination! Yes, one day, I hope to make such a flight – in an aircraft built in Ghana by Ghanaians! One day, not yet, but not too far away either…

Since I can’t afford the cost nor the time to fly ten days each way, and thanks to the support of some amazing people, it worked out more practical to fly with Delta Airlines to Atlanta, and then on to St Louis, in less than twenty-four hours. Being able to fly directly over the Atlantic and cruising at over 800km/hr, the airliner solution covered the 10,000km trip at higher altitudes and with great food and inflight entertainment. OK, I admit it, flying in an airliner is more practical – but it is not adventurous and is not really fun. Even with all the inflight entertainment in the world, sitting up-back with no forward-looking window lacks the charm and amazement of sitting in the pointy end, flying low ‘n’ slow over the most amazing sights you can imagine.

Sadly, practical won over adventure and fun, on this occasion. The airline that worked out the most practical was Delta. I had never flown Delta Airlines before. To be honest, I was a little ‘reserved’ due to some of the newspaper coverage in Ghana of the ‘not-positive’ nature. Delta is a BIG organization, and as such has ‘its own ways’. I wrote several times to their CEO last year, for support towards taking some young people to the USA, they never responded to the e-mails, and so, I was ‘not in the most positive of attitudes’ towards the airline giant.

In order to ensure rapid connection in Atlanta we only took carry-on. Arriving at Kotoka to check-in we were wonderfully welcomed. The passport checker was the most smiling and pleasant young person – at the end of her shift and full of bounce and cheer. The check in desk was less bouncy, but all the same pleasant – even if they decided that my ‘on-line boarding passes were not suitable for an early check-in’ and so insisted on issuing new ones. (It took me ages, and cost data, to get on-line from a rural internet connection to print those out, so I won’t do that again!)

The Ghana Immigration Service process went smoother than butter onto hot toast. GACL security then spoiled the record. They called me to one side, and rummaged my carry on. Picking up a special gift that was a unique present for a supporter of the charitable work that we do, he ripped the cover, never even asking a question about what he damaged. A unique, irreplaceable gift made to look like an old rag, with not a care about the image that it presented. I explained, but he shrugged and went to the next person. My mind considered putting a mouse trap in my carry-on for my next travels, but quickly rejected it as ‘not worth the energy to explain the effect of a careless attitude’.

Gate security was far more stringent, polite and correct. Chemical wipes, careful and polite checking of bag items, a demonstration that it can be done remarkably well. Next came the surprise of the day. The crew was walking through the lounge, when one of the Pilots looked and smiled at one of the young people I was travelling with, Lydia (the young disabled student pilot with the biggest smile in all of Africa). I stopped him, explained who Lydia was and asked if we could visit the flight deck at the end of the journey – he agreed, smiled and walked away. Less than three minutes later he returned, and spoke for a few minutes with Lydia, encouraging her and promising to make the time to show her the flight deck.

We departed on time, the seats, although restricted in recline, were comfortable and the In Flight Entertainment was one of the best I have ever flown with. The cabin crew were incredibly efficient and the service crisp and efficient. Looking around the packed cabin I could find no reason for any of the negative press banded about, wondering if I had read correctly.

On landing, the promised cockpit visit was more than anybody could ever imagine. Lydia was allowed to sit ‘left seat’ and ask as many questions as her tired mind could conjure, and Mike the Pilot was incredibly attentive. The generation, culture and experience gap between the two was immense, but the commonality of a love of aviation joined them in an almost magical manner.

Leaving the plane well after all the other passengers, we ran to our connection, only to be treated incredibly well, even being the last passengers on board. Delta won another award for customer service and kindness in my book.

Of course, I still have to fly back… and that could be a disaster! If it is , I will surely write about it, but if it goes half as well as the outbound, Delta Airlines is clearly not abusing its monopoly on direct flights to the USA, in fact, it seems to be fighting well to ensure it remains at the top of the list ‘I wanna-fly-with’! Give them a try, with an open mind!

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, July 18, 2012

Photo of the week July 18th, 2012

Ghana is beginning to see the implementation of centre-pivot-irrigation agricultural systems. Those familiar with successful agricultural practices in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, etc. are familiar with the method and the wonderful shapes that they scribe upon the surface of the planet. Several parts of our country are now showing signs of being ready to generate crop benefits for local consumption, as well as exports, through such techniques and technology.

Ghana is not alone in suffering from rain fed crop production, as we hear of potential crop failures in the USA, principally in areas that rely on rain-fed agriculture; coupled with the clear changes in our climatic conditions, developments such as this are clearly a step towards food security as well as foreign currency income (from exports).

Such a complex system of irrigation is not necessary in all cased....however, a greater understanding of the Return On Investment that suitable irrigation offers should provided the management tool necessary to take practical steps forwards. Our farmers need to increase their knowledge about irrigation solutions, and be ready to make the extra effort that may well help mitigate against crop damage risks through lack of appropriate timing and quantity of rain. Photo Courtesy of WAASPS Ltd

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

One of the great compliments that comes with my day-to-day interactions with folks is the comment ‘Wow, you have a great job!’ Most people are subsequently shocked when I reply ‘But I don’t have a job!’ The quizzical look finds some relief in the subsequent sentence of ‘Actually, I have a way of life.’ And that is the truth.

A job is something you do between eating, sleeping and leisure time, usually for about eight hours per day, five days per week, forty-eight weeks of the year. A way of life is all consuming. Twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, fifty two weeks of the year. What is more, a way of life is a choice you make, and then you live it.

I really don’t ever want a job again. A job simply does not fulfil me. It does not satisfy my mind and being. This way of life is special, and I am not alone.

Take the livestock farmer. It is not a job, it is a way of life. You cannot say to your cows, pigs and chickens ‘I will only look after you Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1700’. You cannot say to a cow with a challenging labour ‘Ok, that is enough for today, we will pick that back up at 0900 tomorrow morning – and make a note of where got to’. The farmer cannot say to his chickens ‘I want to rest more today, so, please, collect your own eggs and fetch your own water’. Well, the farmer could, but then, I am sure you would agree, he would no longer be a farmer, but a farm-hand.

I used to have a job. I did it well. It paid well. It came with perks of the financial and motor-vehicle kind. It never satisfied me. Honestly, it never came close to the completeness I find in my way of life.

In an interview recently I was asked to describe my ‘normal day’. Here it is – and never think for a moment it is without tears, frustration, anger and despair – they are all in there, as part of the charm!

0530 Wake up to the sound of birds chirping and another crow landing on the metal sheet roofing above my head.

0531 Look out of the window and up at the sky, visual weather observation and forecast for the morning. Scan the buildings, vehicles and facilities for any challenges lurking in the grass.

0540 Check the satellite image for any impending weather systems heading our way.

0545 Respond to the e-mails from other time zones.

0600 Bucket bath – the best that Ghana has to offer – you know, one big bucket with water in (warm if a kind fairy has heated some on the stove), and a little bucket to scoop and pour. Once you discover a bucket bath you are hooked!

0630 Ready for the day. Walking out onto the airfield – watching the pin-tailed whydah dance his merry dance with a tail four times longer than his own body. The Senegalese Coucal on the fence looks at me and hops down as if to say ‘oops, should not have been there’, and flaps into a short low-level glide to put another ten metres between us.

Agama lizards pop up their heads and do the press-up dance; dogs run up and try to spoil your clothes, all greeting you to another new day of opportunities – and more!

0730 Staff and students arrive at the briefing room and the day’s duties are either taken silently or discussed, more often a silent distribution of the tasks of running an airfield are absorbed by the growing understanding of the needs by the capable team that also make this their way of life.

0800 Under a plane, looking at a gascolator installation, draining fuel, changing wire-locks, fuelling-up, checking nuts, bolts and clevis pins and preparing aircraft for their next leap into the air of the ‘Territory of the Republic of Ghana’. Building a wing, fuselage or tail section is done as a lesson to the students who bring their eager willingness to the bench. Flights, of course, take place, and when they do, I am designated my students to teach or mission to fly by one of my own staff – yes, they choose the rota, not me, for they must sustain it! This routine gets interrupted (all too often) by phone calls and occasional visitors who wish to learn more about how aircraft are built and fly.

1200 Lunch – a welcome opportunity to drink a litre or more of cool water, and to absorb some of the best of West African cuisine that exists on the planet. Omo Tuo is a favourite – the rice ball being a delicacy, especially once dipped in the peanut soup that cries out to be ingested. West African cuisine is so, so special!

1300 Back to the workshop, or back to the skies. Perhaps an agricultural survey, a photo-video mission, training flight, or some flight trials, perhaps some gift flights for rural children – and of course, my favourite flights – health education runs – taking something special to those who are infrastructurally isolated, yet generally living a way of life that is called ‘survival’.

1800 As the sun seeks refuge behind the Akwapim-Togo range, we all lock up the tools, tie down the planes, arm the alarm systems and head to the accommodation units. Here the e-mails of the day need to be responded to, one by one. Requests for information, visit requests, official mails, and of course ordering of parts to keep the metal birds in the sky. The evening is occasionally punctuated by the odd bat flying around the room, a welcome opportunity for some sportive running, jumping and catching! Charm filled, if you ask me!

2000 As my eyes get heavy, the bed calls and peaceful sleep engulfs me, but not before one last peek out of the window to check the place I call home, counting off the aircraft tails glimmering in the sunlight, and watching the owl fly a few feet from the window, seemingly glancing at me as he passes.

The carpet of my office is green most of the year, it goes brown in the Harmattan and black after a bush fire, but always returns to green by early April, without any painting! My ceiling is blue, with moving white puffy clouds making white patterns, and the occasional grey slab of the automatic washing/watering system that sustains the green of the carpet. My office chair is a rise and fall one. It seats two people. With correct coaxing it will rise many thousands of feet into the air, and glide across the skies providing more eye-candy than you can dream of – and then gracefully descend to kiss the green carpet.

To some this would be a job. To me it is a way of life. Thankfully, for many of my team it is a way of life too – and that makes it even more special.

Perhaps you should look for your ‘way of life’ over ‘a job’ – but beware, there is no reward without a sacrifice!

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, July 11, 2012

Photo of the week July 11th, 2012

Ghana is incredibly beautiful, especially when viewed from the air. Here we see Akuse Junction, looking towards the Volta. Note how the tributary rivers are visible by the increased squiggly line vegetation; how the communities form ribbons around the lines of transport that carry their goods and clients; enjoy the contrast given by the clouds sitting just two thousand feet above the surface, casting their shadows. We have a Nation to be proud of. Sadly, when you get closer you will see how we are destroying the natural beauty with random disposal of rubbish and haphazard developments that fail to meet safety standards, and roads that are desperately in need of maintenance. Look again at the beauty of this image and consider how we treat our homeland - we only have the one - let us take better care of it, and its people, for a long and happy future. Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Where would you like to go on holiday? After all, this is the aviation page, so let’s talk about ‘Where in the world would you like to go on holiday?’

I get asked regularly that very question. We have many visitors to Kpong Airfield, where I live, and the vast majority find it a pleasant place. When they ask ‘where are you going on holiday?’ I reply, ‘Well, I would like to go to my favourite place on the planet.’ Such a response prompts ‘Where is that?’ To which the answer is ‘Kpong Airfield.’ It really is home, and the place I want to be. I find it peaceful, interesting, stimulating, relaxing, challenging, and I have many of my favourite people in the world there most weeks.

Most people seem surprised, even shocked, that a person would rather stay at home than go away. To me, it is surprising that so many people fail to live where they are most at home, and seek to travel for two or three weeks of the year to be ‘where they most want to be in the world’. It appears that something is out of phase. Why would anybody live anywhere that they would not want to be ‘in the world’?

OK, so it took me many years to find my ‘haven’, and before that point I was a lost soul wandering the accessible universe looking for my nirvana. Of course, one man’s pleasure is another’s poison, so it must be clear that my idea of ‘heaven on earth’ may not match anybody else’s!

All the same, I do not understand why people will work hard all year in a place that they do not enjoy, just to earn enough money to jet off to a place that they would rather be for a ‘vacation’. It is an anomaly of human development. It makes no sense. In most cases, I am informed by these ‘seekers of a better place’, the ‘vacationer’ is unable to ‘LIVE’ in their preferred habitat because they ‘can’t afford to’. What does that mean? Well, the logic is that they have to live in a place that they don’t like in order to earn enough money to be where they want to be for a couple of hundred hours out of the 8760 in each calendar year. So, for 95% of the year they are sweating and suffering to enjoy just 5% of their existence. I can hear you nodding now. It makes no sense.

For me, I spend 95% of the year where I really want to be, and HAVE to travel for 5% of my year on business trips. My usual destinations are Europe and the USA. I find both places interesting, and they are pleasant enough – but they are not where I would ever want to live. No way! Europe is interesting, but it lacks colour. Believe it or not, despite the wealth and opportunities that they have, Europe lacks smiles.

The USA is impressive. A land of amazing variety. A place where you can get anything the next day, or the same day if you can drive for two hours. America is full of everything and anything. Anybody can do anything in America, or so we are told! America is very different to anywhere else on the planet – but yet, it still lacks the charm of home.

I need the smiles of the people who have nothing. I need the challenge of solving the problems that appear insurmountable. I need my home – and I want to be there. Yes, I enjoy travelling to Europe and the USA, I especially enjoy meeting friends and family, like anybody else. But I yearn for home within hours of leaving the shores of Mother Ghana.

I am an ‘adopted Ghanaian’, adopted into a place that I call home. A place that I want to be. A place that completes me. But it has a price.

Living in rural Ghana, and doing the things I do, has required many sacrifices. Some have been more dramatic than others. However, on the balance of all things, the sacrifices, no matter how tough, have been more than rewarded by the peace I feel, by the smiles I get, by the challenges I am privileged to have the opportunity to overcome.

At one point in time it was common place to see a placard in people’s houses that said ‘There is no place like home’ or ‘Home sweet Home’. It was also once a mantra amongst the masses to say ‘home is where the heart is’. Such sentiments seem to have been driven away by the search for something else. Perhaps aviation, coupled with the infamous idiot box called Television, has opened our eyes and created a yearning for other places?

Some people are lucky enough to be born into their ‘happiest place’ and realise it! Some have no choice but to make their current location their home for life. This is changing rapidly in the world where transport is accessible to the masses.

Nonetheless, I sincerely believe that every single human being on this planet has a place that is ‘their special home’, and there is no other place like it. I also believe that there should be more freedom of movement for individuals, for we are all Citizens of Planet Earth – and should enjoy the freedom to find our place on the surface of this rock – regardless of creed or colour, race or gender.

Once in our ‘home’ we become productive members of society and add to the colour and fabric of the society we call ‘home’ in a positive way. We defend ‘home’. We love ‘home’. After all, we all have different skills and, if allowed to ebb and flow on the tides of travel, we will surely find our rock pool into which to settle and make our home. But we must choose carefully, for there truly is no place like home, and home really is where the heart is. Mine is Kpong Airfield – and it is beautiful. Come and visit it sometime (Saturday and Sunday mornings it is open to the public), and discover why I love it, its inhabitants and visitors, so very much.

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

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Photo of the week July 4th, 2012

Osudoku Mountain watches majestically over the rice fields of the Kpong Irrigation Project. Still with a habitation at the very top, next to the communications tower, and a marvellous place to explore. Below, on the coastal savannah, rice growing is expanding as an occupation for our farmers, and yet we are still unable to meet the local demand and see vast quantities of imported rice come in through the ports each year. Give a thought to the origin of the rice you purchase this week... support local production and be a part of local prosperity! Photo Courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 2nd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

If just one more person who is trying to get out of their ‘lack of effort and achievement’, especially when it come to maintenance, says to me ‘oh, it is because this is Africa’ or anything that equates to it, I really may be liable to reach nuclear meltdown point.

In this part of the world we need to do MORE, because this is a tough environment where the tough need to get going. In order to reach the same standards as other parts of the world, we really do need to do more and to be more! This is one of the tough places on the planet, and with that comes a beautiful challenge, along with the engagement of seeking achievement and perfection where others may have failed miserably in the past. This is a ‘land of opportunity for those with a desire to make it work’.

One of the biggest, most well documented, and, sadly omnipresent, legacy issues of operations of any kind in this part of the world is MAINTENANCE. Lack of it. Non-appreciation of it. Avoidance of it. Use of the word as an excuse – or as a cuss-word at times. Failure to enforce it. Often, lack of understanding of it.

Operating light aircraft in this environment enables my amazing team to excel in maintenance and ‘tropicalisation adaptations’, far more than most people imagine – and we all enjoy it to the full!

The standard oil change for our aircraft is 100 hours. We do it at 50, or even 25 hours under harsh conditions. Spark plugs are supposed to be changed at 200 hours, we change them at 100. Inspections are done in great detail EVERY day of operations. Consequently, we have well over 20,000 movements on aircraft that are BUILT in Ghana, by Ghanaians – and we enjoy international respect for our achievements.

Internal combustion engines (whether petrol or diesel) are the basic power-production units of modern day development. They are the hearts of practically every machine that moves things or makes things, without a mains power cord attached to it. They are incredibly simple in their operation and should be outstandingly reliable, if properly maintained and respected. If you take into consideration, and adapt your procedures to, the local factors (fuel, temperature, humidity, dust, etc) you can enjoy reliable long term operations of such a machine. But only if you love it as you would your own child. The engine has a pulse. It has a heartbeat, measured in revolutions per minute. It has a ‘body temperature’. It consumes its own special ‘engine-mix’ of ‘foodstuffs’. It speaks to those who love it. It cries out if it is abused – but with cries that are only heard by those who love it with a passion. It is not just the engine itself that matters – it is the whole machine – and it needs love!

In the past 18 years I have discovered that very few organisations, and therein few human beings, give the loving care required to their pistons, cylinders, coolant systems, fuel, structural components, fittings, etc. Very few indeed.

Maintenance tends to be a challenge through lack of personnel with the passion, coupled with, at times, a lack of availability of parts and fluids to maintain the machine as required.

Last year, we were fortunate enough to enjoy the acquisition of a brand new truck. A beautiful truck, a truck made with care, clearly adapted for use in our climate and conditions. Made in an Asian country, by people who understand ‘tough conditions’. In line with the warranty requirements, the truck has been taken to the ‘authorised dealer’ for its ‘check-ups and care-maintenance’. Sadly, not a single scheduled maintenance event has taken place as it should. Not one.

On each occasion there is a lack of attention to detail. Poor communication. Coupled with a host of associated challenges. The people who work in an organisation are the face of that organisation, and in a ‘customer care’ environment you also can find ‘sleeping cashiers’, ‘can’t-get-off-of-my-seat security men’, ‘talk-about-the-client-in-a-local-language-you-think-he-does-not-understand administrative staff’, ‘couldn’t-care-less technical staff’ and ‘one-hour-promise-of-service-takes-three-hours-here-without-explanation’ time keeping, which appears to be indicative of the care that is being given to your machine under their watch.

Like most garages, the one that cared for our truck does not allow you to watch whilst they work on the vehicle. If find this to be a very negative attitude. When we work on a plane we are always happy for the client to be present – to share with them the care of their baby. Not so in the motor industry. It makes you wonder why!

Due to the lack of ‘permitted observation’, we are all extra observant ‘post-operative’. On four out of five occasions, amongst other irritating lack of attention to detail items, the engine compartment latches were not re-attached prior to ‘return to client’ of the vehicle. It is not exactly a high-tech ability to check that you have latched the engine compartment (in this case the front passenger seat latches over the engine access). In fact, it can be remarkably dangerous NOT to latch this little place.

On the last service, the latches were, once again, left undone – and the compartment seals not wiped clean either. What is more, unauthorised access was made to a storage compartment – and the latches to that were ALSO left undone.

The manager of the department, when challenged, told me, exasperated and straight to my face, ‘This is the best we can do here.’ The underlying implication being that I was a FUSSY customer – especially in Africa… Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I went off on a rocket powered verbal excursion, as I am well renowned for. Finally, in my bid to gain some understanding as to ‘why I was so fussy and why this irked me so’, I explained, ‘in my business the failure to latch a compartment can result in somebody’s death.’ It did not have the impact I had hoped for. It rather had the impact potential of a feather falling from a passing bird onto the back of an elephant. Undeterred in my fussiness, I added, we have found that we can achieve more in this part of the world. I even shared the adage ‘if you expect more, inspect more’. The dull look in the man’s eyes was one of despair at the challenges ahead of him – clearly jaded by years of similar complaints. I shook his hand, and drove away, late, exhausted and disappointed that an expensive, main-dealer, garage service had once again failed to cover the basics of good maintenance, and customer care.

Sadly, there is a wide-spread lack of understanding of the technical and safety detail in the care of our engines, and it may well be putting more people’s lives at risk than most realise.

If I get accused of being fussy for expecting normal maintenance, so be it! Because I love my machines, and they deserve more!

Go out there today and be a pain in the neck, tell people that ‘Because this is Africa, we need to be MORE maintenance aware than the temperate zones.’

Expect more. Inspect more. Live longer!

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