Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Developments in domestic aviation in Ghana, recently commented on at a presentation, with a reported 400% growth over the past year, in some areas. What a fantastic growth rate. We need to make sure that we keep up with the growth in other areas too.

We have all seen the number of new airlines operating the local routes, all working towards regional carrier status. We have also noticed the strain on the resources – runway damage, terminal crowding, etc. The sad thing being, although there is plenty of ‘noise’ about the solutions to the infrastructural issues (resurface runways, consider a new airport, new aircraft…) the human-capital requirement is often overlooked – especially the worker over the management requirements.

Training of existing personnel, as well as recruitment of new bodies to be trained in a timely manner (which takes years) to meet the growth curve, is essential to the sectors success and sustainability. There is also the need to take into account the fact that not all those who start learning a skill will complete, some will move on to new opportunities, and then there is the sad fact of life, that some will not survive – either through illness or accidents. Sadly, last week, one of Ghana’s Air Traffic Controllers was taken from us by a road accident, may his Soul Rest in Peace, or as a friend put it ‘may he Rise In Paradise’! A reminder of the fragility of humankind, and that our ‘essential services personnel’ are national assets that need to be well cared for, suitably trained and have a constantly replenished cycle of fresh intakes, to ensure services are provided as needed.

One asset in the world of aviation, that needs mention, is that of the pilots and engineers. There is a belief that they grow on trees, or are produced on a production line in factories, and can be ordered with the aircraft – sadly, that is not the case. Current growth trends, especially in Asia, show that the demand for pilots and engineers will outstrip supply in the very near future. I love flying, but I do not want to be an airline pilot – no way! I find the bigger planes boring to operate, enjoy the multiple take off and landings of small planes (especially in the humanitarian role) and training others – plus I like to return to my home to sleep.

Mireille Goyer, a friend of all who want to enter into aviation, organises world-wide events for young women to taste flight, is a tireless promoter of Women in Aviation, and she recently published some fascinating facts about pilots. She writes:-

‘Today, the world’s population stands at more than 7 billion [that is 7,000,000,000 people] worldwide, 252 children are born each minute of each day. That translates to 15,120 a hour.

With a worldwide pilot population standing at less than 1 million, pilots are pretty special as they stand at less than one in 7,000. Female pilots are rarer: approximately one in 175,000 human beings. However, given the current world’s birth rate, a pilot is born every half hour and a female pilot is born every half day.’

Those statistics are a lot scarier if you consider Ghana. Ghana has around one active female pilot per five million of its population. That particular issue is being addressed in part through the work of the AvTech Academy, in the Eastern Region, which will result in more women pilots, especially for general aviation solutions. However, there continues to be a good number of young men entering into aviation in our part of the world, as they continue to be supported by their families, recruited by the military – and even the airlines are focusing principally on the men for the pilot/engineer roles. However, there is a lot of good evidence that the investment in women is a wise one, and in my experience they tend to be more loyal, dedicated and exceptionally good at both flying and engineering – they simply seem to CARE more.

A few years ago, I was privileged to go aboard a Black Star Line shipping vessel in Tema – where the, then, only woman Captain in West Africa was proudly preparing to set sail. At that time I did not realise the importance of what I witnessed, but today, I do. She was more ‘interactive’ than her male counterparts, showed more pride in her job and her vessel – in the same way I witness the effects of enabling young women in aviation. It is time for the investment in women to really be made.

Sadly, many families still look at aviation linked careers as ‘not for the girls, with the exception of being an air hostess’. That really gets under my skin. I know some outstanding women pilots. Melissa Pemberton from California is the most amazing pilot you will ever come across – she can manoeuvre an aircraft like no other. Here in Ghana, the Ghana Air Force has an outstanding female helicopter pilot, and then there is Patricia Mawuli who has dedicated her career to training other women to fly. Interestingly, Patricia recently took a British man flying who has flown as a passenger in several small aircraft and helicopters around the world. He was warned about the potential turbulence and requested a ‘sick bag’. Patricia avoided giving him a sick bag, and got him airborne. Forty-five minutes and a fantastic air experience flight around the Akosombo Dam area later, and they shut down the engine on the Apron at Kpong. The British chap was wearing the biggest grin you can fit between two ears, and repeatedly commented on how smooth the flight had been. He also noted that it was the first time he had flown with a woman pilot. There is a connection there.

The proof is out there, women are equally capable of the jobs that are often seen as ‘male dominated’, all that they need is a chance, some encouragement and the respect that they deserve – a bit support of support from their families and friends goes a long way too!

Ghana has a need for dedicated technical professionals – pilots, engineers, welders, sprayers, surveyors, Air Traffic Controllers, etc. What is sad, so sad, is that in many cases, despite the men getting the support of their families to train, when they are given the opportunity, they take the skills in their backpacks and head overseas – seeking greener pastures. Furthermore, the women who generally lack the support of their families (often going it alone against the tide of opinion), who go on to succeed, tend to stay in West Africa, only to find that the glass ceiling of gender issues prevents them from climbing.

Whoever takes the reins of Government and sits in the offices of Ministers in the New Year needs to consider these issues – and to take positive action to invest in the women of the nation – at all levels, and to ensure that the glass gender ceilings are broken, once and for all.

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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