Monday, March 4, 2013

March 4th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

One of the things that I love about being in the Aviation and Engineering sectors is the inbuilt ‘pro-development’ spirit that is generally found across the planet. Aviators and Engineers are (or at least are supposed to be) driven by mantras of safety and self-improvement. Part of that is the desire to share knowledge acquired, generally by experience, and to welcome comments of a constructive nature – even if they hurt or hold the potential to offend!

When we discover a new technique to improve our systems, or identify a problem with a component or method, we are ready to share, and find that, in general, our colleagues around the world are ready and willing to listen, add their thoughts, to help, to offer suggestions, to share experiences, and then together we all develop a better, safer, more productive, developmentally-centric solution.

For example, we have recently run some tests on fuel systems on our aircraft. There have been a lot of ideas running around, some old-wives-tales, some theoretical statements, some practical notations and some simple observational notes being bandied around in relation to fuel systems for the modern piston engine aircraft engine.

Here in Ghana we generally run with more fuel on board than most people in Europe or the USA would. The reasons are simple: 1. We travel greater distances between aerodromes. 2. Access to the higher quality automotive fuels that we use (Total Effimax Super) is more challenging in the Northern parts of Ghana. 3. Weather can quickly result in a needed deviation or ‘hold’ situation that requires more than the traditional 30 minutes reserve. 4. We operate relatively low level and do not want to run one tank low before changing to another. Etc.

Consequently, we are active in the forums on fuel system discussions, for the aircraft class that we build in country. It is wonderfully amazing how many people show interest in supporting one another in aviation and engineering. Together, people from all over the world share their experiences, and contribute to the developmental ideas. Moreover, when a system is tested they, and we, are ready to share results. We are part of that system. Our recent fuel system implementations have boosted our range, improved safety and simplified the fuel management, with added pilot information in flight. Without boring you with the details, there was a lot mathematics, a lot of ground testing and then some airborne testing – we all learned a great deal, and shared our results with all interested parties – with detailed documentation. Some people will ignore what we share, others will read it and copy it, some will learn from it and take it to the next level, that we have decided not to move to at this point. We will get feedback that allows us to make informed decisions. All together, we are part of a worldwide family who care about each other’s safety, costs and lives. It is great to be a part of that family – great to know that by sharing ideas and expereinces, we are building a better and safer aviation solution set, as a team. We are not ready to ‘accept’ the status quo. We do not want to do things in this way or that way, simply because that is the way it has been done in the past. We want to grow, improve and develop – together.

Consequently, I get immensely saddened at the attitudes we find around us in our day to day lives. Recently we had to attend a court hearing. Asking what time to attend, we were told ‘8am’. So, on the dot of 0800 we arrived – to find that the court room was all but empty. Court staff were still arriving, and our team represented 100% of the people in the public area. The court clerk saw me standing up and ‘ordered’ me to ‘sit’. I asked ‘why were we told to be here for 8am, when not even the staff are here at that time?’ It was like lighting a fire cracker. ‘This is the way we do things in Ghana’, was fired at me as if it could knock me to the floor. I responded ‘if we want to see development, we need to value people’s time, just tell me what time it really starts’. The response came ‘you will wait until we are ready.’ It was argued that their staff come from ‘far’ and that all the public must be there at 8am to wait for when they are ready. I pointed out that ‘nobody else is here, the ‘public’ are not here at the time you stated, just us!’ This did not go down well, and led to unpleasant, racist tainted comments thrown at me and my entourage. All that we wanted to do was to ‘be at work’, not sit around and wait for an ‘undetermined moment in time when others arrived’.

Those same people who later arrived ready for a 0945 commencement, would HAVE to be on time if they wanted to fly somewhere – the plane would not wait for them! Yet, they failed to grasp the point that ‘aviation is driven by its fascination with timekeeping and quality, and is therefore successful.’ It goes beyond my comprehension that a court asks everybody to come for 0800, knowing that they will not start before 0900 at the earliest, and that some will sit and wait for many hours before the ‘court pleases’ to hear them. By 0945 start, the court had about 30 people in the room. That is 30 people, who if there at 0800, as requested, would have waited 1hour and 45 minutes for ‘nothing’. That equates to over 50 person hours. More than one week’s productive work. Multiply by that by the number of courts across Ghana, and our poor approach to timekeeping, and attitude of ‘This is the way we do things in Ghana’, without wanting to seek even a tiny bit of improvement, is costing more than one years working life per day. (without taking into account those who will wait until 1200 to be heard). Assume that the courts sit a total of 200 days per year, and we are losing between 300 and 500 YEARS of work per year due to failing to address our timeliness, and accepting that it is normal. Even with a low salary expectation, that is a cost of over one million US dollars per year to the national output. That is more than enough to build several schools across the nation! That is a loss of taxation to the national coffers. That is teachers not being in school to teach children. That is supervisors not being at work to supervise staff. To my mind, that is something that needs to be addressed – in the national interest.

The poor approach to timekeeping is literally costing us our pace of development. I know that it is not easy, and at times we are all held up due to the traffic, breakdowns, accidents, unexpected demands, etc., but if we all made more effort to be on time in all sectors, my rough calculations suggest that we could boost national efficiency, and consequentially outputs, by many millions of dollars per year. It is in the National Interest, for our children and our children’s children that we develop a ‘National Code of Conduct’ that will help to boost our personal development, our Nation and, I believe, make Ghana an even nicer place to be!

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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