Monday, January 7, 2013

January 7th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

This year is just beginning, and today is the first BFT edition of 2013!

Before a pilot embarks on a flight in a new aircraft, whether brand new, or simply ‘new to the pilot’, he or she will take a good look around the physical machine, and read as much as they can about the handling of that aircraft type.

The ‘walk-around’ is the process of ‘assessing whether the machine is airworthy’. It involves, as the name suggests, a walk-around the machine, looking at every possible nut and bolt, windshield, tyres, rivets, etc. as possible. It is impossible to inspect some items, for they are ‘sealed’ inside the airframe, behind fairings or under vanity covers. All the same, the maximum possible ‘visual checking’ is carried out prior to climbing aboard for the flight. At times ‘early warnings’ can be picked up, which may not prevent the flight in hand, but raise the awareness that ‘if not addressed in the near future, may affect future flights’. At times, the condition is such that a pilot will decide NOT to embark upon a flight, at least not before a particular item is addressed. Such an approach saves lives, funds and, ultimately, time. History has shown us that failure to fix a potential problem, before it becomes an incident, is not smart. It may appear costly, but the savings are greater than any accountant can fathom. Life is always more valuable than profit.

In the same way, we are able to ‘walk-around’ our potential challenges of 2013. We know our environment, but have we looked at what might need attention? What might we need to address first and foremost, to prevent losses down the line? Is it better to ‘speed off and make tracks’, or is it more appropriate to ‘assess and address the 2013 pre-flight walk-around issues’?

It all sounds simple, but it is not. The reality of our day-to-day lives is that we have to contemplate the bigger picture whilst addressing the minutia necessary to succeed.

The best way for me to express this concept is with the ‘smoking rivet’. Almost all ‘riveted’ aircraft exhibit a ‘smoking rivet’ at some point in their life. Do not get carried away, this is nothing to do with the tobacco industry! There are no such things as ‘rivet-cigars’, yet rivets do ‘smoke’. The smoke is not smoke from a fire, it is not even smoke at all. It is a collection of fine aluminium dust around the rivet head. You can wipe it off and it disappears. Nobody need be any the wiser. The only thing is that the ‘smoke’ will come back after a while, and it will become greater in intensity. Far less than a gram of metal is involved in the ‘smoke’, but it is a sign, one that can be ignored, or addressed. Over the years of flying, I have come across many smoking rivets, and reported them to engineers. Most engineers simply wipe the ‘smoke-particles’ away and smile. I will not. I understand the underlying implications.

The ‘smoke’ is caused by the tiny movement around the rivet – perhaps it was badly fitted originally, perhaps it has worn, perhaps there is some play developing in the parts it is holding together – probably a combination. It is easy to mask, and to allow it to grow as an issue. Eventually, the hole will wear, and the rivet could even fall out. However, it is also easy to fix. Generally, drilling out the rivet (following procedures) and checking that everything is in order, drilled to the ‘next size up’, treated and a fresh rivet pulled, takes less than an hour. This attention to one out of thousands of rivets on an airframe can protect the whole machine, increase its useful life and protect the lives of those aboard, as well as those on the ground – and protect future jobs and economic growth. Sadly, attention to such minutia is lacking throughout the world.

The aluminium aircraft built at Kpong, have 8,500-14,000 rivets in each of them. Each one requires a hole to be drilled, the parts to be de-burred, surfaces treated against electrolytic corrosion, and then, after the rivet is finally set, each and every one must be subject to Quality Inspection and replaced if not to ‘spec’.

Over time, normal wear and tear, the occasional heavy landing, various vibrations, even the weather itself, can lead to a smoking rivet. Addressing smoking rivets is standard maintenance and key to longevity – of airframe, crew and business model.

Sitting at the threshold of 2013, I see several ‘smoking rivets’ around me, not on the flock of aircraft in the hangars, but in the society we live in.

Education is full of smoking rivets, which if not addressed will result in ‘students falling out’ and industry/commerce not receiving the much needed quality of recruits to stoke the furnaces of development. Materials, teaching and learning programmes, discipline and more, all have signs of ‘smoking rivets’. The issues of education spread far into the future. Poor quality school leavers today, will remain in the system for the next forty or fifty years. Getting education right is expensive in the short term, but is key to future growth, stability and security.

Health has many smoking rivets, needing desperately addressed to ensure that the population is able to work, keeping productivity up and improving life for all in the country. Potable water, sanitation solutions, vaccination programmes, malaria treatment, schistosomiasis awareness, pneumonia, diarrhoea, hand washing, suitable and safe maternity care, under-five mortality rates, anaemia, and the list goes on. Our health ‘smoking rivets’ are in danger of crippling us if not suitably addressed in the coming months and years.

The Economy – inflation, taxation, banking practices, loan-rates, credit availability, cash-flow, scandals, schemes and the like, can quickly make more rivets smoke, and more businesses fall out of the economy, than most imagine. Getting them all in a line and ‘smoke free’ is a challenge that no economy in the world has ever achieved. Monitoring them, and addressing them is key to maintaining the economy in ‘airworthy shape’, and is a must for us all in 2013.

Family may well hold the key to the above. If parents support their children, and stand up for a better education, providing volunteer support to schools, encouraging good teachers, highlighting poor teaching practices, reading stories, listening to their wards and putting education in the right place in the home, it will reduce the smoking rivets dramatically.

Likewise, family holds the key to health. Provision of a balanced diet, ensuring that the family follows good health practices with regards to water, sanitation, sleeping and other aspects of healthy living. Early, appropriate, treatments with a common sense approach to even the most basic wounds, all lies within the potential of a well-educated, caring family environment.

As for the economy, the family can help too. Support of family members, financial planning and family investment in education, health and business development, honesty and integrity at all levels. Of course, the family must avoid greed and corruption at the top, or it will result in many smoking rivets, with members of the family ‘falling out’, with the consequential damage to the family, and social, integrity.

Let us all have a ‘smoking-rivet-aware-2013’!

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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