Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Photo of the week September 26th, 2012

This view of the resplendent Volta River, from Kpong Dam towards Asuatare, dotted with fluffy cumulus clouds, reminds us that the Minor Rainy, and with it the Malaria, Season is back in full swing. Malaria continues to claim many lives through lack of knowledge, understanding and appropriate, timely treatment. For those with access to education, awareness and medication, Malaria is no challenge. To those without, it remains a daily threat.... Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, September 24, 2012

September 24th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Last week Ghana was the host country to an IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) conference aimed at highlighting, and hopefully mitigating against, accidents in the aviation industry on the continent.

It was a fascinating event, and one that the delegates enjoyed and embraced. The participants came from all walks of the aviation life – pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, engineers, safety personnel, planners and, of course, the ‘pen pushers’ – the airport management staff and regulators – in Ghana’s case Ghana Airports Company Ltd and Ghana Civil Aviation Authority.

Accidents in aviation are rare. Sadly, when they do happen the whole industry gets a lot of negative press, with the many ‘safe flights’ being ignored. The early presentations highlighted some facts, which I found fascinating, and am pleased to share and comment upon:

Considering accidents in aviation, there is one particular category that needs highlighted and addressed by all in the industry to save lives and property – that of the ‘Runway Excursion’ . When I asked a group of ‘non-aviators’ what that meant, it made me smile. ‘It sounds like an opportunity to visit a runway!’ was a common ‘non-aviator’ response. What it really means in aviation terms is ‘when an aircraft leaves the runway onto non-manoeuvring areas’ (that is not in controlled manner onto a taxi-way or other surface that it would normally intend to use). Runway Excursions (RE) fall into two categories; ‘over-run’ (going off the end of the runway) and ‘veer-off’ (coming off the side of the runway). Such events do lead to a lot of people visiting the runway in the ensuing investigations. Sadly, such events may also lead to loss of life, as we have witnessed in Ghana with the recent over-run at Kotoka.

So, if there is a conference on this topic, it makes us wonder how often it happens. The statistics are reassuring. In the five years from 2004-2009 there were a total of 594 accidents in the IATA records (does not include military, aircraft without paying passengers and a few other categories). Out of the 594, 164 were RE’s – that is nearly 28%. Out of the 164, 20 resulted in fatalities – or 12% of the aircraft coming off the end of side of the runway during take-off or landing lead to loss of life.

What is that number in relation to the number of flights? In order to put it into perspective, and to establish the ‘record’ for each region, the statistics were considered in relation to ‘flight sectors’. In the USA and Canada, a RE occurred in 0.33 out of each 1,000,000 sectors flown or 0.000033%. In Africa that number is 3.76 per 1,000,000 sectors flown or 0.000376%, or 1 in 376,000 sectors flown – about ten times more likely than in North America, but still a statistical risk that is incredibly small. It is still more dangerous to drive than to fly – and if we consider the road accident rates, driving in Africa compared to the USA or Europe is statistically and practically much more of a risk than flying.

It is interesting that, in the USA, Europe, Africa and the rest of the world, this tiny risk is considered as ‘too much’. 

Boeing is working on some really amazing new systems specifically to reduce the RE risk in all areas of the world.

This raises the question ‘what accident rate is ‘acceptable’’ – to which the answer, in aviation at least, is ‘ZERO TOLERANCE’. I love it, I really do. Here we have the USA with a RE rate of 0.000033% and the big boys who make the flying toys are ‘not happy’ and want to reduce it even further! Wow, that is a lesson for other industries. What is more, the millions of dollars that will go into the research and the millions of dollars that will be spent by the airlines in upgrading their equipment to avoid the miniscule risk of an overrun, has to be an attention grabber. 

I can assure you that the Aviation Industry is special – and it should reassure everybody that ‘not only is the risk of an aviation accident incredibly small, but it is also something that the industry does not take for granted and is working towards improving daily.’

After hearing the numbers, the delegates were put into groups – with folks from each sector of the industry sharing ideas. In the group I was privileged to be a member of, we had representatives from all over the continent – and from all walks of life. Each group was then given ‘case studies’ to discuss. We first considered a particular accident from Europe, where the accident lead to loss of equipment, but not loss of life. It was amazing reading the report and noting the chain of events that lead to a needless loss of an aircraft, disruption to others and some scary moments for all. Everybody on the table could see the mistakes – yet, in this busy European airport, the accident happened in a twinkling of an eye. Hindsight is always 20/20 vision, but the mistakes went back to, believe it or not, the pilot not taking breakfast. When we do not eat properly our reaction times are impaired, and it was noted as a factor in the accident. There were many other mistakes by the crew, but the accident was made worse by the lack of certain facilities and may even have been avoided with some different procedures at the airport. The RESA (Runway End Safety Area) could have been longer, the issue of a railway line at the end of the runway, questions about airport markings, reporting requirements that could have been better, and more came out as contributing factors, as we picked over the dry bones of this unfortunate incident.

The second case study was from South America – and it carried a lot of lessons. Maintenance issues on the aircraft, condition of the runway and more. Loss of life was massive. The biggest thing that we noticed was that the second case study was full of references to ‘lack of communication, management and procedures’. All delegates were drawn into the discussion of ‘how could it be allowed to happen?’

This event was very positive and the outcomes will certainly reduce the accident rate in the rapidly growing aviation activities in Africa. By rapid, we are talking several hundred percent increases in passenger movements on some sectors – especially the domestic and regional movements. 

The question remains, ‘will other sectors of transport take their safety so seriously?’ – what is the safety policy for your company in relation to the use of cars, alcohol and driving, driving hours, maintenance, eating, rest periods, etc.? 

We are told that people are more likely to be in an accident on the drive to or from the airport than in the plane itself. If we in aviation are trying to protect lives, only to see the passenger get into a car and have an accident on the way home to their family, we need to ask ‘shouldn’t all transport industries follow the lead of aviation?’

Remember safety begins with YOU!

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, September 19, 2012

Photo of the week September 20th, 2012

Agricultural practices in much of West Africa are still based on the strip-style-farming techniques that have long been replaced in other parts of the world. The inefficiencies of this system of farming are evident in this image. Let us hope that in the coming years more concerted and coordinated agricultural methods will become common place, increasing our food security and self-sufficiency. Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, September 17, 2012

September 17th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

In aviation there is no room for ‘cheating the system’. Those who try to make savings ‘here and there’, generally lose a lot more than money. It is not just ‘trimming the edges’ on finances that lead to disaster, but also trimming the edges in build, maintenance and operation – a failure to follow procedures. Travelling around the world, I am often amazed at how many aircraft are out there, flying without the care and attention that they deserve – yet, overall, the world’s flying machines are built, maintained and operated at standards above the rest of the transport sector… which says a lot about the rest!

One of the first things I look for at a maintenance facility is an ‘oil filter cutter’ – and one that is used. The oil filter cutter is an essential maintenance tool when working with any engine with an oil filter. When the oil filter is removed it is can be cut open with a special ‘chip-less cutter’ and then the filter-mat inspected. Time, and time again, I come across engines that are ‘maintained and monitored’ without this tool. What is it that we are looking for when we inspect that filter medium? We are looking for ‘clusters’ and ‘lumps’. It is a sort of ‘blood test’ for the engine. If there is any contamination in the engine, or something is beginning to breakdown in the engine, the evidence will make its way to the oil filter and stay there. Let us imagine that a camshaft cam-lobe gets chipped, the debris will would probably leave a dark, metallic, lump on the filter medium. What if a gear-tooth is wearing rapidly? Well, that may result in a little smattering of shiny metal chip clusters. What does it all mean? It means that we can see a potential mechanical problem BEFORE it becomes a mechanical failure – and can act appropriately. This sort of test could be done on maritime and automotive engines too! Aircraft tend to have another ‘metal wear’ inspection system through a little magnetic plug that collects magnetic materials as they wash past it along the oil ‘veins’ of the machine. As you move up the aircraft engines there may be a ‘chip-detector’ that issues an alarm when a metal chip above a certain size is detected. Do note that it is perfectly normal for small amounts of little filings of metal to collect on the magnetic plug, and also in the filter medium – it is experience that enables us to know when it is ‘needing further investigation’. Experience is built by ‘doing’ – and that means, in aviation, that you expect to inspect thousands of ‘acceptable’ filters in order to spot the very rare ‘unacceptable’ one! Larger aircraft and mining machines often send oil samples for ‘content testing’, where the amount of different elements and compounds can provide insight to material wear inside the engine.

The cost of the time served, and incredibly reliable, manual oil filter cutter is less than $100. The potential saving of major expenses, potential mechanical failure avoidance and peace of mind is many-many-fold the cost of this simple ‘inspection’ tool. Of course, you need to know how to us it too!

Lydia Wetsi, the Ghanaian disabled student pilot/trainee light aircraft engineer, is one of the best ‘oil filter inspectors’ I have ever come across. Even with her disabled arm, she can cut open the oil filter, remove the filter mat and inspect it in a matter of minutes – as well as anybody I have ever come across. I am proud to have that skill in our workshops! (If you would like a demonstration, drop me a line and we may be able to arrange a visit during the next service, or post a you-tube video!)

It is not just maintenance that matters, but also operation. In the operation of an aircraft, we have speeds to respect. We have maximum speeds and minimum speeds. If we fly beyond the maximum speed, the structure of the aircraft may become compromised, as may the reliability of the controls. Each year there are accidents where pilots have exceeded that maximum speed, and paid the price with their lives. Likewise, we have a minimum speed, the stall speed. Nothing to do with the engine stopping, but rather the wing stopping working, i.e., no longer giving lift. The stall speed changes with wing configuration (flaps, slats, etc.), angle of bank and other loading factors. Consequently, the pilot must be very conversant with the speeds, and moreover be ready to ‘feel’ the plane, respond accordingly and preferably stay well within the safe zone. As the plane approaches the stall speed it becomes more challenging to control, with the controls becoming less responsive and possibly one or both wings starting to ‘drop’. All the same, each year people lose their lives from failing to respect the speed requirements of their aircraft.

We have a simple, albeit tongue-in-cheek, formula for operational survival when flying: All you need is TWO out of THREE essential ingredients: SPEED, ALTITUDE, BRAINS.

If you have a SPEED between the minimum and maximum permitted speed and lots of ALTITUDE you have a good chance of survival – it is hard to get it wrong, unless you really try! In fact, we often say ‘we can teach anybody to fly in one hour’ – that is to fly, at a mid-range speed, in calm air, well away from hard objects and controlled airspace! It is not difficult to fly, but it is much more difficult to fly well! Take-offs and landings take even more skills!

If you have plenty of ALTITUDE and the SPEED decays below the stall speed, you will start to lose altitude quite rapidly, and if you are not careful lose control – that is where BRAINS come in. You can ‘spend’ altitude to gain speed, if you know what you are doing – if you don’t… well it may well end in a mess!

The most dangerous configuration is not having much ALTITUDE, that is flying close to the ground – normally, obligatorily, during take-off and landing. At that point, if your SPEED decays into the ‘danger zone’, you need to have lightning fast reactions and a quick working, informed, trained and efficient BRAIN to get the aircraft back under control.

The rules are the rules – break them and you MAY get away with it… however, at some point it bites and something gives – sometimes your life.

This is also applicable on the roads and on the water – respect the speeds, the distance between vehicles (only a fool breaks the two second rule…, etc.), shipping lanes, manoeuvring protocols, sufficient and appropriate power-plants, etc. Failure to do so will not cost you every time, but when it does, it costs you big time – and often it is the innocent that pay the price for your lack of attention to the necessary details.

Fly, drive and sail safely – and remember the rules of build, maintenance and operations are there for a reason – break them at your own risk.

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, September 12, 2012

Photo of the week September 12th, 2012

Work on the expansion of water treatment potential, at Kpong, continues apace, and looks impressive. Taking water from the Volta between the two dams and making it safe fro human consumption, increasing the health quotient of all of its recipients. A timely reminder that clean water really is the basis of a healthy life. Much as this exciting and a much needed development, that will relieve water pressures in the urban areas, we must remember the many rural people in our country for whom a clean water supply is a dream. Creative thinking and appropriate innovation is needed urgently to raise water quality for all. Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, September 10, 2012

September 10th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

In my daily walk-drive-fly I come across many cases of ‘un-informed basic wound care’. It is therefore important to get the message out to as many of the people of the world as possible, that; ‘simple first aid saves lives’. It really does. One of the biggest challenges is that many of the pharmacy, and so called ‘chemical sellers’, are not even equipped with anywhere near the complete basics of first aid provisions. Furthermore, the majority of the businesses and organisations in West Africa are not equipped properly, nor do they have the competencies amongst their staff to handle even the simplest minor injury in the workplace. Many schools and homes also fail miserably at holding the basics for the needs of the daily scrapes.

In the aviation world we are keenly aware of the need for an outstanding first-responder facility both in equipment and trained personnel. So, let us consider what I like to have in my first aid kits, and then feel free to let me know what you think.

First of all, the first aid kit should be in a suitable container. Make it appropriate: from wall cabinets through transportable cases to simple plastic bags with lock-tops. Mobile ‘first aid kits’ can be very basic, fixed ones in the company first aid room (do you have one?) need to be more complex, and adapted to the work environment.

Gloves: it is important to protect yourself from infection, as well as the person you are treating. We keep three sizes of gloves and in the mobile units have a few pairs of each size in sealed plastic bags. 

Alcohol/individual alcohol wipes: Even a little scratch in our environment can quickly become infected. A simple wipe of a scratch with an alcohol pad can reduce the infection risk, and depending on the depth, may not even need any more treatment than that. Where we have just the alcohol bottle, we ensure that there is a sealed bag of cotton wool balls to dampen with alcohol and use to wipe those minor scrapes. Alcohol is also a great ‘disinfectant’ for other items.

Irrigation bottle and clean water: Being able to wash out a wound is a priceless asset. The simplest wound irrigation bottles are available all over Ghana! Any plastic ‘bottled water’ can have a simple hole punched in the top of the bottle and be used to gently irrigate a wound to clean it. I am always distraught with frustration when I see the tro-tro drivers using brake fluid to irrigate a fresh wound – a very negative, common practice which needs to be stopped – clean water is the best fluid, it is cheaper and helps to prevent infection!

Antiseptic cream: There are so many available on the market. I get through a small tube every month, just on insect bites and minor cuts! One or two applications of a good antiseptic cream can prevent serious infections and complications. 

Plasters (Band-Aids). These are the basic ‘cover-ups’ to protect a cleaned wound. Even a minor wound, once clean and, if appropriate ‘antiseptic creamed’, is best covered to prevent further exposure to infection. The ‘band-aid’ type is a sticky strip of material with a cushioned pad, generally non-stick, and at times with its own antiseptic included on the pad. They come in boxes of 20 or more, each in a little SEALED packet. You tear it open, peel back the covering and, without touching the pad itself, cover the wound with the pad, and then stick the material part to the skin around. So many people in Ghana have never seen these – everybody should have some. Simple, effective and inexpensive – if you don’t have some at the office or in the home, pick up a little box of them, assorted sizes is best. Remember, if the wound is bigger than the pad, your need a bigger plaster – or a dressing.

Dressings: I struggle in Ghana to find good ‘sterile gauze pads’. I can find some cheap and nasty ‘gauze on a roll that is definitely not sterile’ in most places. You can purchase some pads at larger pharmacies in the bigger towns and the cities. Sadly, in my experiences, in the rural areas you have a better chance of finding a five-legged sheep than a sterile gauze pad! These can be used in cleaning a wound, and in dressing it too. Be ready to cut it to size and avoid getting it contaminated prior to applicaiton!

Bandages: rolls of stretchy bandage are common, as are the gauze one that you can wrap over a dressing, be sure not to wrap too tight – blood flow is an essential part of healing!

Tape: Proper medical tape. There is a good distribution of a pinky-very-sticky-tape around the country, and it does its job. I have used it to fix mechanical things and for packaging too! The biggest problem with very-sticky-tape is when it is time to take it off.
Remove it gently or you may cause additional wounds. To lift the sticky residues, try some of the alcohol on a cotton pad. If that fails, and the wound is not open, try some acetone, but do not let such chemicals come into contact with the wound – it will sting and is not good!

Tweezers: Ideal for SMALL debris in the wound, or a small ‘foreign body’. Whether it is a spine from a bush, a grass seed, splinter of wood or glass, or a piece of swarf (small bit of metal); STERILE tweezers are essential for the removal of the same. Haemostats are great too, and can be purchased in some medical outlets in Ghana, they are like blunt scissors-tweezers and can lock closed. I have a selection of these versatile tools!

Scissors: I like a pair of really sharp scissors, which may be needed to cut a dressing to size, or if needing to snip-off some small damaged skin in doing the dressing. I also like to have ‘lister-scissors’ the type which is meant for cutting bandages and for cutting off clothing; it has a blunt arm that is intended for sliding along the skin in order to cut off shirts or trousers in emergencies, and is shaped to keep your hand away from the body as you do so. There is nothing worse than inflicting a scissor wound whilst trying to remove a dirty, blood stained garment to get to the wound in order to treat it.

I could go on… eye-wash bottle, saline solution, irrigation syringe, burn pads (or cling film as a back-up), disposable scalpel, cotton tipped applicators, iodine, calamine lotion, antiseptic liquid, butterfly stitches, a thermometer and more. 

If you don’t have somebody in your organisation that is first aid savvy – send them to the Red Cross, or similar, on training. If you don’t have well equipped first aid kits – then get them sorted out – and fast, BEFORE you need them.

Remember, it is always a good idea to get seriously injured people to the nearest, equipped, medical clinic. Knowing your own limitation is essential in such things – perhaps you need to change where that limitation is - right now? 

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

Monday, September 3, 2012

September 3rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is hard to believe that, as a child, I watched the first man walk on the moon, whilst sitting in my flannelette pyjamas. The coverage was ‘almost live’, in full mind-blowing Black and White, scratchy, fuzzy and hard to hear TV– the best my world had to offer in July 1969! I thank my parents for letting me watch that moment, because it really has meant a lot to me over the years – it is my first proper memory of my childhood. It is, therefore, with great sadness, that we see the man who set the fires of ambition into a world of young ‘1960’s people’, ‘exit stage left’ last week. Neil Armstrong, the man who first set foot on our orbiting grey rock, finally cashed in his ‘one-way-ticket-off-planet’, the one that we all have to use one day, and is off to meet our maker. This famous astronaut never publically declared his religion, but did declare his firm belief in a creator.

The Armstrong family made a statement in response to the many requests for ‘what can they do?’, it states: ‘For those who may ask what they can do to honour Neil, we have a simple request. Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink’.

I admit that I have winked at the moon many times this week, as I have looked up at it, thinking through the effects that ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ has had on my life and ambitions.

Neil Armstrong’s early exposure to aircraft clearly helped to inspire him, and he went on to inspire the world, me included.

Interestingly, one of Armstrong’s first flight exposures was in a Ford aircraft (yes, Ford, as in the motor company, used to make planes!). We are told that he was given toy aeroplanes as early as three years of age, probably by aviation inspired family members! Then, around five years old he, reportedly, was taken as a passenger in a Ford Tri-Motor. The Tri-Motor is amazingly SLOW. I was watching one flying just last month, giving joy rides to paying guests in the USA. The drone of the three propellers, biting at the air, hits your ears, and you turn to see the lumbering giant wallowing into the air, seemingly suspended by a string, as it slowly turns away and makes it shallow climb.

As he grew up his passion for aviation was strong enough for him to take a job helping in a shop, near his home, in Wapakoneta, USA, in order to save up for some introductory flying lessons, at the age of fifteen! Those early lessons were in a small aircraft called an Aeronca Champ, a simple two seat aircraft with a single, sixty-five horse power engine. He must have demonstrated a great deal of skill, since, at the age of 16 (in order to gain hours towards his licence), he would volunteer to fly-off post overhaul hours on whatever aircraft they would let him fly!

Later, joining the Navy, he learned to pilot over two hundred different types of aircraft - propeller, rocket and jet powered! He was only thirty eight years old when he manually flew and landed the ‘Eagle Spacecraft’ onto the surface of the moon!

Only twelve people (all men) have walked on the moon. But if I ask you to name them, I am sure that apart from Neil Armstrong, and perhaps Buzz Aldrin, the rest would be a challenge. I have had to look the others up. Here they are; Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shephard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John W Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. I only remembered a few of those names – and some, I am sure, I never heard of before, but I will try to remember them all – for they have all taken steps that have shaped our future on the blue planet called Earth.

Interestingly, being an astronaut does not really use any of the practical skills we learn in flying – yet all of the people chosen as astronauts were pilots! All of them started by taking a flight in a small plane, and then ended up leaving our atmosphere, landing on the nearest rock and walking on it… AMAZING.

That first flight in a small plane has changed so many lives, and inspired so many others… Learning to fly is a demonstration of ability – and ability to change, as well as to learn to operate outside the 2D terrestrially-bound axis.

All of us have potential to change lives, it is there in your hands, in the decisions you make each day. What did you do today that could inspire another? It is not necessary to walk on the moon to create that inspiration.

As a pilot, working with a group of organisations that share the motto ‘Changing lives, one flight at a time…’, I enjoy the daily opportunity to inspire – and know that what I do has inspired many, most of whom I have not had the privilege of meeting in person… I am pleased to see that opportunity that I enjoy, being made available, to the right person, with a new and exciting job opening at Kpong Airfield.

Medicine on the Move, in conjunction with WAASPS, is currently recruiting a nurse. The nurse must be recently qualified, interested in public health matters, prepared to learn to fly, change engine oil, use a spanner and drill as readily as a haemostat and a field dressing! The successful candidate will use their new skills in aircraft on aerial supply runs of health education, as well as planned landings with float planes on the Lake Volta, sharing life changing knowledge and helping to prevent diseases. Also, directing those with urgent needs to the appropriate support services at regional hospitals and clinics. Based out of Kpong Field, in the soon to be opened Mini-Clinic, the successful candidate will have the opportunity to inspire and to change lives, and to bring about a change in attitude – quite possible, very far reaching.

If you know of a suitable candidate, get them to write to me at

In the meantime, I strongly suggest that you take a trip outside on a clear night with your children, friends, partner or colleagues, look up at the moon, share the story of Neil Armstrong, and then, all of you, give a wink to the moon. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a new adventure… only time will tell!

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