Monday, August 27, 2012

August 27th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Driving into Accra along the motorway, the other day, I looked (as always) across to the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) and saw the apron full of aircraft. I think it was the busiest I have ever seen it. Then, a couple of hours later, I was in the Tower, on some official business, looking out on an almost empty apron (the place where aircraft are parked whilst passengers embark and disembark). I also got a look at the massive amount of upgrading going on at the site, and must admit to being really impressed. Kotoka International Airport is certainly growing – and going through some growing pains, but still manages to move traffic efficiently, within its constraints! Recent waiting to backtrack and jiggles around the ground works may have created frustrations in the cabin of a few airliners, but I assure you that it will all be worthwhile in the end.

I remember the first landing I did in ‘Kotoka’ in 1994. It is not even worth trying to compare that experience with the ‘Kotoka’ of today.

Interestingly, many people have no idea where the name ‘Kotoka’ came from, for the airport. General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka (26th October, 1926 – 17th April, 1967) was one of the key players in the 24th February 1966 coup d’etat, that overthrew the Kwame Nkrumah government. Apparently, it was Kotoka who announced the overthrowing on the GBC. But that is not why KIA is named after him. Nor is it that he was the Minister of Health nor his position as General Officer Commanding the Ghana Armed Forces.

It was in his demise that the name was given to what was previously called ‘The Ghana International Airport’. On the 17th April 1967, in a failed coup attempt, Kotoka was killed at the airport, and hence it was renamed in his honour, to remember him by.

There has been talk from time-to-time about renaming the airport again, but I prefer the old name. Not because of Kotoka himself, but because it is a reminder that coup attempts fail, it is reminder that we have a history, and that history has taken people’s lives. Regardless of politics, history has portrayed General Kotoka as a brave man. Prior to independence, he underwent Officer training in the UK, and then went on to serve as a commander with the Ghana Armed Forces, as part of the United Nations operations in the Congo, for which he was awarded the ‘Ghana Service Order for Exceptional Bravery’ in 1963.

Talking of names for airports, I was surprised at how many airports London, UK, now claims to have – most of them are not even in London! For the Olympics, a list of ‘Airports to use’ was sent out. Entitled ‘London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, airport options for non-scheduled flights’ the document makes excellent reading (Google it and download your own copy!). It Lists no less than SIX airports with the name ‘London’ at the beginning. I will accept that London Heathrow and London City Airport as legitimate. However, the others all need some ‘discussion’.

London Ashford Airport: first of all, this is not in London, and it is not in Ashford. It is in Lydd, at the southern end of the county of Kent. I know it well, I used to fly there for lunch – it is a great little international airport, and a favourite for light aircraft customs clearance when crossing the waters to France. Based next to the Nuclear Power Station site at Dungeness it is a full 26km drive away from Ashford, and nearly 120km drive from London! 

London Gatwick: Yes, it sounds good, especially when you consider the old adage ‘you can choose to go via Gat-quick or Heath-slow’, a glimpse into the British humour related to the efficiency between the two major airports. However, Gatwick is in Sussex, and is a full 45km from the capital city.

London Luton: Made popular years ago by the English actress and model Lorraine Chase, in an alcoholic beverage advertisement, ‘Luton Airport’, at 54km from London itself, is in Bedfordshire.

London Oxford: Please, at nearly 100km from London, how can these two go together? Oxford has sold its birth right. (for the record, Oxford is in Oxfordshire – please do not be surprised!)

London Stansted: 56km to the North East of the heart of the city it has borrowed its first name from. Stansted is in the Northern part of Kent.

Can you imagine Koforidua having an airport and calling ‘Accra Koforidua Airport’, even if it is only 85km drive from the city? How about Accra Winneba Airport at just 66km?

I am sure, certain and convinced that there would be an outcry if Ghana or any other developing nation tried to use this sort of naming. Internally, I do not think our citizens would want to lose their ‘title’ to the big city. Externally we would be accused of creating confusion and misunderstanding.

Names are important. We take our own names seriously, and most people object to being referred to as ‘the father of Kwame’ or the ‘son of Abena’ or the ‘boss of Kojo’, or indeed the ‘person who lives somewhere near Accra’, repeatedly without using the correct name, and if referring to our town or village the correct title. Our names and our origins are very important to us, and we must retain that – it is part of our culture and our pride.

It is completely beyond me as to how the British people have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into allowing the Capital City take glory over their regional assets. Moreover, I think that it is important that people realise that a flight to a ‘London Airport’ may be in Sussex, Kent, Bedfordshire or Oxfordshire – and a long way from where they thought they were going!

Thankfully, in Ghana our airports and airfields are named sensibly, without confusion. Takoradi, Sunyani, Kumasi, Mim, Obuasi, Techiman, Wa, Tamale, Kpong… all christened after their nearest town or city….

The sole exception is Kotoka International Airport, but given that is named as a reminder that we want peace and development, and that somebody laid down their lives, I think that we should accept that it is a reasonable name. I have no doubt that it will change in the future, when the mists of time shroud the memories, but let us hope that Ghana continues to be honest about its airport naming, unlike certain European Nations!

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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