Monday, November 12, 2012

Novenber 12th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Aviation has strict rules, and failure to follow those rules, including being honest about all activities, result in death. Simple. The same is true on the road, but it appears to be more acceptable to cheat the road system, and that death is the daily toll for failure to comply.

There are few ‘policemen or policewomen’ in the skies. Aviators are trusted to be honest, and on the whole it works. A strong maintenance culture, annual inspections, comprehensive safety policies within organisations and a professional approach to the activity itself, by every individual at all levels, has made aviation one of the safest activities on the planet.

I wish the same could be said for our roads. Daily, I see motorcyclists driving without a safety helmet, and if they are wearing one, their passenger is not. Worse still, a child may be perched on the handlebars – clearly a ‘sacrifice ready to be made’ – and it makes me mad. The taxi with eight or more children piled in, no seatbelt, bouncing around like old footballs, giggling, blind to the consequences of even a minor accident.

Drivers without seatbelts, or worse still, drivers wearing a seatbelt, but a passenger who is not. Couple that with ‘oh, at least my back brakes work’ and ‘at least I have headlights, and I will get tail lights soon’ or ‘I have one headlight working’… well, you get the picture. Just imagine the uproar if aviators took the same approach to safety.

Fortunately, Ghana has a Police Force, who’s task it is to enforce the law and to try to reverse the trend of death on the roads. Do I sense a smirk from some readers? Indeed, we all get frustrated that the Police seem to be unable to enforce standards on the roads – from the overloaded, through the unlicensed, down to the bald tires. What is more, we all get frustrated that there appears to be a tendency to ‘pull-over the better maintained cars’ in preference to the ‘clearly non-roadworthy’ ones. One school of thought is ‘the better the car, the more finances they have, and if we can find something wrong, the quicker a ‘solution’ can be found’. Sadly, there is probably some truth in the underlying implications, that none of us want to believe really occurs on an hourly basis on our roads.

However, this week, I was privileged to visit the infamous ‘MTU’ in Accra Central. I have driven past it many times, I have been ‘threatened’ with visiting it many more! But to ‘visit-it’ was an eye opener.

I got to see the young ‘accused persons’ bench, and when asked what they had done wrong they all knew exactly what their fault was. Were they ready to mend their ways? Well, that was not so clear. ‘Driving a motorcycle without a helmet’ said one. Then in a lowered tone ‘just like everybody else…’, and he has a point. Out the front of the unit, I watched motorcycles, cars, bicycles and more passing-by, clearly ‘infringing the law’, often with major safety implications, not being pulled in, and it frustrated me.

The MTU buildings, yard and staffing levels are, frankly, insufficient, in need of maintenance, and the facility certainly needs a separate entrance and exit, since it appears to occupy several officers simply to manage the inbound and outbound traffic, through one small gate, without cease.

The yard has many beautiful motorcycles – I mean really nice Police motorcycles – some well used (some whose tyres need replaced since their tread is ‘hard to detect’), others brand new, waiting to be issued. If all of those bikes were out on the roads, with an appropriately well-trained officer, doing their diligent duty, the dangers on our roads would drop in an instant.

As I wandered, and absorbed the challenges, an officer came out and very politely greeted me. ‘Good afternoon, Sir’ he started with, I was taken aback, rarely in the city do I receive such a pleasant start to the conversation with an Officer of the Law. We chatted a bit and I quickly repositioned my opinion of the Ghana Police, through the conversation with a handful of senior officers.

I even asked one ‘Were you trained in the UK?’, he laughed, and then explained that no, it was simply many years’ experience on the job. We discussed the often ‘unpleasant exchanges’ that occur with the Ghana Police on the streets, and how the ‘opening statements’ could change the outcome of the interactions. ‘We are getting there’ he stated, missing out the implicit ‘slowly’ that needed to be tagged to the end of the sentence.

In many countries, those charged with enforcing the law are trained to open their conversation, engage with the public, and close their conversation in a cordial manner. A suitable greeting, a polite, honest, correct exchange, using correct terminology, and, of course, a ‘thank you sir/madam, drive safely’, at the end. This is, sadly, missing in many of our esteemed officers of the law, not through malfeasance, but through lack of training and support. After all, it is a tough job out there!

Many of the police officers appear to lack ‘recurrence training’, especially in relation to human interactions, and in all honesty, the rules of the road. (I recently gave a police officer a ride, and had to insist that he wore his seat belt before we started moving.)

However, when I see that there are some fantastic Police Stars out there, I have to ask ‘why not more?’. Then, I see the conditions under which they are working. The MTU facility in Accra is the same size today as ten or twenty (probably more) years ago – and may not have been refurbished for as long. Yet the demands on the staff there are many fold greater. The consequential impact runs from training to state of mind, which then reflects in the manner in which they carry out their duties.

In aviation we take our facilities seriously, since we know that safety, efficiency, and with it, positive outcomes, are fundamental to the success and sustainability of our operations.

I wonder what would happen if the Police of Ghana were given the same ‘per-capita’ support as the aviation sector, in regards to safety and public interaction? It would improve safety on our roads, save lives and lead to a better public-Police relationship.

What would happen if we were to apply the same standards of aviation upon all the road users – car/truck/motorcycle-drivers, bicycles, pedestrians, Police, etc.? Wow, that would really change our days – imagine it for an instant! All the cars following the rules, no bicycles heading at you in the wrong direction, no crossing of the solid white line … oh the list of bliss would go on and on!

Sadly, it seems a long way off. But that does not mean that every individual – civilian and Police - should not make their individual effort to change their little space for the better – just like senior officers at the MTU.

I commend those senior officers at MTU, and just hope that they will be given the support and opportunity to improve their facilities, train their officers, enhancing their service and outcomes in the coming years.

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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