Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Inspiration is a rare, valuable and important ‘tree’. The fruit of inspiration is Creativity. However, there are other things that need to be in place for the seeds of Inspiration to grow. 

Maslow established the set of conditions under which the human being could thrive, and become the fertile soil for the seeds of Inspiration to take root. The, so called, ‘Maslow’s Triangle of Self Realisation’ is taught to those studying education and psychology, and it is also the basis of success in many other sectors, including aviation.

The concept is that we need to build the successful human condition from the ‘foundation’ of our basic physiological needs. Without sufficient air to breathe, safe water to drink, food to eat, place to stay, sleep and a suitable temperature range we can barely function as a human being. This is demonstrated most clearly when we consider the aviation world: 

A pilot who lacks sufficient air (which can happen with altitude) will fail to make decisions correctly, and eventually pass out and die. 
A 10% dehydration level can lead to a 50% lack of judgement and a missed approach or wrong selection of power setting or other control.
Sufficient, appropriate food is necessary to function correctly, and there are many accidents reported from lack of food – just missing breakfast can be sufficient for a pilot to make a mistake that leads to an accident – and that is documented in accident reports!
Rest is so important that there are rules and regulations in relation to the rest periods for pilots – because lack of rest results in lack of judgement.
Maintaining a suitable temperature is essential. Too hot and judgement is affected, dehydration increases, etc. Too cold and hypothermia will set in, lack of muscle control from shivering can result in mistakes in control inputs. 

The second level of human self-realisation is related to our need for safety. If we do not feel safe we are less likely to perform at our best. We see this in children who are mistreated. They are constantly cowering, ducking their heads and covering their face, at the slightest sudden movement of an adult’s hand. Their concentration is on their own need to survive, since the thought of being able to thrive is just not possible. Again aviation parallels this perfectly. The focus on safety and security is woven at the base level of aviation. The extensive amount of checking and cross checking of the aircraft prior to flight, the screening of passengers and bags, the access control to the aircraft, etc. There is no doubt that without security and safety in place aviators would be distracted from their primary task, and of course, malevolent forces would be able to inflict harm on the aircraft, crew and passengers. Security provides peace of mind, a necessary component to move to the next level.

If our physiological needs are met, and we feel safe, then, and only then, can we truly make friends and experience the feeling of belonging. It is also a major challenge in the developing nations, for the very components of our human security suffer from lack of completion of the basic ingredients we have considered so far. It is not possible to trust others, and build meaningful relationships, if we do not have the basics. We may think that we do, but at the slightest change in condition, we find that what we thought was a friendship is quickly disposed of in favour of food, or an opportunity to find a more secure place. Aviators know the importance of ‘belonging’ and the very operation of a crew is about that belonging. That team work – the ability to trust one another. I know that I can meet aviators from another country, another culture, another language and yet within minutes we ‘belong together’ through our common bonds, and our essential lower level completions, and we can climb into an aircraft, putting our lives in each other’s hands, and share a flight.

The subsequent level is fairly automatic, and happens as a matter of course. Esteem - the feeling of respect, appreciation and accomplishment is relatively high on the pyramid construction programme. Few people, believe it or not, ever reach that stage sustainably. It is sad, since it means that the layers below are not complete – or are so fragile that they cannot endure the load. Aviators obtain that feeling of accomplishment as a part of their daily operations – landings, take-offs, successful navigation, fuel management, and the amazing feelings that come with flying.

All of this leads to the ultimate goal of becoming a successful human being – that of ‘self-fulfilment’. Feeling fulfilled is necessary in order to bear the fruit of creativity. Which brings us back to the beginning. Inspiration. Creativity is the result of inspiration, but that fruit can only be found once the human being into whom that inspiration seed has been planted has been fed with the layers of the pyramid of self-realisation. Dispute it all you like, but without a suitable medium for inspiration to mature, creativity fruits cannot be found. 

However, there is some good news. The seed of inspiration is often the driving force for the self-development of the solid construction of one’s personal pyramid.

Last week I spoke at AERO Friedrichshafen, the largest General Aviation exhibition in Europe, about this very topic. I started by asking what inspired the audience to enter aviation. Without exception it was the sight of a small plane flying overhead as they grew up. That seed of inspiration, sown in the early years of their development, and grown on the fertile seed bed of physiological and emotional stability, led to them becoming pilots, engineers, designers, machinists, technical writers, teachers, nurses and more. 

We need to expose our children to more ‘inspirational moments’, if we really wish to see sustainable developments. 

I assure you that every flight we do in our small aircraft, over the rural communities of Ghana, we are busy planting the seeds of inspiration into the hearts of thousands of children and young people. All we need now is for the socio-economic conditions to improve sufficiently for those seeds to grow and to yield their fruit.  

Why not become a sower of inspiration and a farmer of creativity in those around 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, April 24, 2013

Photo of the week April 24th, 2013

Many communities in Ghana suffer from access issues. Here we see a peninsula in the Afram Plains - where there are many, many communities. Road access is limited, perhaps only a motorcycle can reach them, provided there is no heavy rain. Sadly, the Okada service, that may have been a lifeline to hospital and market for rural dwellers, is banned and those riding on the same are threatened with imprisonment. These citizens of Ghana work hard to make their living and take risks as they use motorcycles or boats to get to their destinations. Regulatory oversight of the service providers, with regulations appropriately designed and enforced, would help to protect them. There are many thousands of communities in Ghana lacking infrastructural connectivity, all with men, women and children struggling to make a living, hoping for opportunities to help them in their condition. All subject to the same regulations as the cities. Infrastructural access is taken for granted by those who have it. Spare a thought for the families who have none of the infrastructural access that you are enjoying today. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22nd, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It was reported last week that the Central Region of Ghana is going to ‘ban illegal mining’. One is left with the impression that it is OK to continue with illegal mining in other regions. Personally, I believed that illegal things were already banned.

Can you imagine that ‘illegal mining’ was ‘permitted’? Well, herein lies the truth of the matter – and the source of the problem. We have far too many ‘illegal activities and situations that are permitted by the enforcement agencies’.

In aviation the concept of ‘enforcement’ is critical to the safety that we all enjoy. The low accident rate and excellent reputation of our Aviation Authorities around the world are proof positive that ‘illegal is illegal’ and thus protects the innocent.

What do we mean by ‘illegal’?

Illegal may not be a matter of LAW, it may be described as a matter of REGULATION. In the case of aviation there are ‘Legal Instruments’ that have been passed by parliament to give the GCAA power to enforce the regulations.

When I read a document that starts with: ‘The six-hundred and seventy-eighth act of the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana entitled Ghana Civil Aviation Act 2004: An act to amend and consolidate the law relating to civil aviation and provide for related matters’ I quickly understand that it provides the framework for ‘legal regulation’, which is to be enforced by the regulator.

So, if something is being done that is ‘defined as illegal’ under the act and/or related regulations, there should be no need to ‘ban it’ since it is already ‘illegal’.

But is it really that simple?

I watch with amazement as motorcyclists drive past police officers without wearing helmets. Few officers of the law appear to attempt to uphold the law. Why does the law about wearing a helmet exist? In order to protect the rider. Wearing a helmet does NOT protect the police officer – but the role of the police officer is to ENFORCE the regulation in order to protect the rider. Therefore, failing to uphold the law, is tantamount to jeopardising the life of the rider. Perhaps there is a parallel to our illegal mining statement that we opened with?

It was well publicised that Parliament passed the Road Traffic Regulation, 20I2, LI 2I80, which included banning the use of the mobile phone whilst driving and the Okada operations. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘Okada’ it is the use of a motorcycle as a ‘taxi’. Such operations are remarkably common in Nigeria and feature in many Nigerian movies. However, in Ghana it is clear under LI2180 that it is ‘unlawful for owners of motorcycles to allow their cycles to be used for commercial purposes’ and that ‘Persons who will patronise the services of cycles as commercial transport will pay a fine or be sentenced to a term of imprisonment’.

Interestingly, the Okada is alive and well. In fact you will find ‘Okada stations’ within a stone’s throw of Police stations in many parts of the country, even with the law in place.

In a nation of such diversity as Ghana, it is clear that some laws will take time to implement – or be ignored. However, ‘illegal is banned’ and generally for a good reason – to protect people.

When a motorcyclist rides solo without a helmet, it is their own life they endanger – and society protects them from their ignorance with the law. When a motorcyclist takes a paying passenger in Ghana it is against the law, in order to protect the passenger. Of course, the majority of the ‘tolerated Okada’ operations in Ghana do not have helmets either and tend to take two or three passengers in precarious positions – which makes them ‘double banned’ or ‘illegally illegal’! Yet the ‘enforcement’ is missing – and therefore the law that is supposed to protect the innocent is not applied, which could be seen as ‘the failure to enforce the law equates to the system being guilty of negligence’!

With regards to the Okada, there may be a good argument for such a service in the rural areas of Ghana, (limited to one passenger, wearing a helmet), but not in the cities. This has NOT been taken into account in the current law. Failure to recognise that they have a role in certain aspects of our development, and a blanket ban, may damage the opportunities of certain rural dwellers. The current law prevents an Okada service to a village without a road – preventing a person paying a motorcyclist to take them to hospital along the track. It also takes away the low-cost transport solution for the poorest in the country. However, failure to uphold a blanket law makes those who provide the service to be outside of regulatory oversight – potentially creating a greater danger to the unsuspecting public. It is a tough balance to bring together. I am glad that I do not make the laws, but I do wish that laws were clear cut and applied laws and not subject to ‘regional consideration as to whether they will be upheld’. Perhaps the law makers should try to understand the driving force behind the practices – not just in the cities, but amongst the many poor people in our nation, who are trying to find a solution to their condition.

Laws do not all reflect the reality on the ground, and thus enforcement of them is lacking. The result is that people die. When we turn a blind eye to ‘failure to adhere to the rules and regulations’ we are complicit in the act, and we should share in the blame. However, if a law was passed for ‘rural Okada’ a protection can be put in place to protect the poorest people in the nation. Blanket rulings may actually put more people at risk than we realise.

Regulations are about protecting people. In aviation we say that every regulation has a tombstone. The aviation industry responds rapidly to a trend of incidents and accidents with regulations. Take the ‘Boeing 787 battery situation’: Before the regulator could step-in the commercial organisation had grounded its fleet of aircraft to protect the innocent. The regulator is now working with the commercial organisation in finding a solution to ensure that the aircraft re-enters service safely (in the next few weeks). It is a new area for both the pro-active, development aware industry player and the regulator – they are working together, exploring how to grow and regulate the industry safely. In some cases there are no regulations for new things; or regulations are based on a set of conditions that are no longer relevant; or a trend of safety has proved that regulations can be relaxed, and thus changes are introduced that can benefit the population as a whole.

It is important that industry players work hand-in-hand with regulatory authorities for the growth of the industry, betterment of the population and protection of the innocent. There will always be exceptions, but such exceptions must be documented, accepted and regulatory oversight must be in place and adhered to. This all becomes much easier when the concept of ‘self-regulation’ is applied by the people on the ground…

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, April 15, 2013

April 15th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

‘Measure twice and cut once’ is the time honoured mantra of engineering. It translates to ‘double check before you commit’ for those in other realms of activity. Personally, I tend to measure ‘several times and cross check with a competent colleague before cutting carefully’, which saves a lot of time and money in the longer run. I find this approach essential in building aircraft and developing aviation solutions. I take the same approach to all aspects of my life.

When I undertook my ‘CBT’, or Compulsory Basic Training, for riding motorcycles in the UK, they introduced the concept of the ‘lifesaver’. A lifesaver is that ‘glance over your shoulder before you commit to your turn’. A sort of ‘double check because your mirror does not capture everything’ approach. That lifesaver has saved many lives, including my own!

The whole concept of ‘double check’ is key to so much in all that we do. Triple check is good too! Although I am known for my apparent ‘quick decision making’, most people miss my ‘Fall back. Consider. Establish. Forge Ahead.’ approach. For example, we can be working on a concept in the workshops, such as the new door mechanism for our delivery pod attachment on the aircraft, when suddenly I will declare ‘STOP! Hold those thoughts. Do something else / go home and sleep on it.’ After a while people get used to the concept!

We can be just about to go ahead on the production of the parts we have decided on, or even about to fit them already made, and then my annoying ‘FALL BACK!’ order comes out to spoil the excitement. 99% of the time we find that the next day we see something we would have missed, had we continued in our wave of activity.

This is not a reason for putting things off. However, sometimes a good night’s sleep can help us to solve a problem in a more creative manner – or to spot something we may have otherwise missed. How often do we miss out on the ‘silent work’ of sleep?

Of course, it needs to be a good sleep – not one brought by late night TV watching or ‘a little alcohol’. It must be that natural sleep, gently entered into, as you drop off thinking about the challenge at hand. Amazingly, our nocturnal neural connections can save us time, energy and ultimately money – and all while we sleep. Some of my best ideas have come from the horizontal contemplation of the universe!

Years ago, when I would write thousands of lines of computer code per week, I would keep a computer in the bedroom. In the middle of the night I would jump out of bed, power up the PC and start to type. As the code burst came to an end, I would slip back between the sheets and sleep some more.

I still get up in the night to work. I wake up and have the ideas skipping across my grey matter like stones being side thrown across water, making ripples that interact across the surface. I find that when I extricate myself from the sleeping bliss to pour out my ponderings and thoughts onto the screen or paper, the ideas flow. That is often how this column gets written a few hours before the copy deadline!

How often have you woken up in the night with a good idea, only to doze off again and then be angry in the morning that you cannot remember your idea of golden proportions from the wee small hours? It has happened to me too many times, and now I am disciplined enough to get up for a couple of hours and to pour out the concepts. In fact I enjoy it!

There are massive benefits of this nocturnal distillation process. The quietness is wonderful! It is amazing to hear the insects outside the window rubbing their legs against their wings in such delicate viola like productions of harmony. The creaking of the metal roofing sheets contracting in the cool night air punctuating the natural music with its arrhythmic percussion. As the dawn nears, the birds one may have never paused to listen to before, add their solo routines to the night-time extravaganza. Such inspirational music cannot be captured with full emotion, even with the most modern digital equipment, and must be listened to ‘live’!

Then there is the air. The early morning, pre-dawn, air is special. It is somehow cleaner, thicker and without a doubt cooler, than the day time air. The way it moves in the darkness feels slower and it appears to wrap itself over my bare shoulders like a shawl, adding to the whole event an emotion of being cared for by the embryonic day that is waiting to be born.

Finally, there are the creaks from the bodies turning in the beds of the sleeping souls in the building. The little murmurs that we emit in our sleep, unaware that others are listening and working. Such moments add a smile to the face of the symphony, a caring thought, and finally, as the words and ideas fall out onto the paper or screen, those very noises draw you back to the land of the horizontal for the remaining, generally short, portion of the night.

Some of my best ideas have come out in the hours between 2am and 5am. A special time. Partially rested, fully awake, totally focused. No telephones to disturb the pace of the typing. No sudden visitors to distract from the task in hand. Focus and natural unity with the planet.

Perhaps there should be classes on ‘pre-dawn thinking and writing’? The only problem being that others may start getting up and doing the same thing as me, spoiling my private night-symphonies and inspiration from the neural connectivity that appears to be sacredly stored in the pre-dawn.

Perhaps I should keep these ideas to myself, and not let others in on the secret behind my thinking and writing – I certainly do not want to encourage any more e-mails to come into my box overnight! Although the internet is much, much faster between 0100 and 0600 each morning!

I think that each of us has to find a way to stimulate our ‘thinking lifesaver’ or our ‘subliminal think twice act one / measure twice cut once’ solution. We all have something inside of us that holds our creativeness – but we have to be ready to grasp it, look it in the eye and then find a way to release its energy to our advantage.

I am confident that my approach of ‘sleeping on it’ and ‘getting up and writing it down’ has saved me more time and money than even I realise. Well, it is 0400 now, and I will head back to bed before proof reading this again and then sending it off!

What do you do to maximise your productivity and what is your ‘lifesaver’ – please let me know, I would be pleased to learn about it!

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, April 10, 2013

Photo of the week April 10th, 2013

Many people find it hard to believe that there are so many hard to reach communities in Ghana. But as we can see here, in this photo of a headland in the Afram Plains, the communities are often spread out to the tips of convoluted land masses with challenging transport issues between them. The local communities around the lake regularly use their boats to good effect, but with the ever changing water levels and the often choppy water surface, the challenges are great. Expanses like this are common around the lake and can only truly be appreciated from the air. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, April 8, 2013

April 8th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I felt the impact, and at the same time heard the ‘baaaada….rummmmp’ as a vehicle ran into the back of the car I was driving. It was a low speed impact, and from the sound of it, did not appear to be a ‘big deal’. But it was… a much bigger deal and it affects you too!

As I got out of the driver’s seat and walked towards the vehicle that was still in kissing contact with mine, the middle-aged male driver sat perfectly still, holding the steering wheel, and looking straight ahead. He appeared to be trying to ignore me. I scanned the windshield and could not see any insurance or road worthiness certificate. The well-dressed woman in the passenger seat was being evasive. As I walked behind the vehicle, I saw that this 8 – 10 seat mini-bus was a GV plated vehicle. A passer-by told me ‘it is a Government Vehicle, you must leave them alone’. Not good advice for me, I am afraid, especially since I had already noted that at least 2 of the tyres were bald, non-roadworthy and perhaps been contributing factor to the impact.

I asked for identity of the driver. He refused. I asked if he had a driver’s licence, only to be told (incorrectly) that ‘this is a government vehicle, I do not need one’. He also informed me that ‘GV vehicles do not need insurance or road worthiness’. This activated my early warning system and raised my ‘Defence Readiness Condition’ or Defcon to yellow or ‘level 3’. It required a follow up, even it meant taking an extra couple of hours out of my day. This was not right.

I drove into the courtyard of the institution to whom the vehicle had been designated, and was approached by the general staff. The immediate antagonism from the civil servants of the organisation against anybody who had the audacity to tell their organisation that a vehicle was not ‘roadworthy’, led to a further interaction with a ‘person responsible for the oversight of maintenance’. Things got worse as it became clear that it was felt by some that government institutions were exempt from the same conditions as the general public.

When challenged, the ‘responsible person’ made noises that indicated clearly that he was aware of the ‘poor condition’. He made it even worse when he asked ‘how long have you been in Ghana?’. My response of ‘nearly two decades’ led to the statement that shook me and ignited the afterburners of my determination to bring about change. ‘Ahhh, you should know the system. The government does not give us enough money and so we have to drive vehicles that are not as they should be’, it was explained. I rose to DEFCON 2 and I am sure that my eyes started flashing red as my heart sounded the siren of disbelief!

Oh, boy, bad attitude. Wrong approach. Need to raise the bar. My need to do and say things that can prevent the potential accidents, physical injury or even death, that such an attitude is capable of causing, was fully engaged and locked on target.

The ‘head’ of the operation was then approached, and he admitted that ‘it should not be the case that non-roadworthy vehicles go on the public roads’. He actually gave me the impression that he really wanted to prevent accidents. I believe him. At that point, I was out of protocols, and not wanting to reach DEFCON 1, declared an internal reduction to DEFCON4, (condition green with above normal readiness) and decided to leave the site with the ‘top dogs’ at the side of the ‘offending vehicle’, whilst being insulted by the general staff for daring to comment on the condition of the units vehicle pool – even if it was to protect their very souls.

How many times have we raised the question of maintenance in this column? How many more times will we need to? MANY is the answer to both questions.

I see so many Government (central and local) Vehicles in poor shape. I was amazed to hear that such vehicles are ‘exempt from roadworthiness controls’. This really needs to change. When a vehicle is on the road, I do not care who owns it – police, military, corporate, personal, minister, GV or not, they are all able to kill innocent children, cause accidents and wreak havoc on our roads.

Surely, it would make SENSE to insist that the government vehicles meet the highest standards of control? If not, then we are left to believe that

a) the government personnel in those vehicles are not valuable enough to warrant a ‘roadworthy’ vehicle and
b) the people who share the roads with them are not considered valuable enough to warrant that the government ensure the safe condition of its own fleet.

We all know that these are not isolated cases – and we all know that there are many taxis and tro-tros that are in dilapidated conditions that ‘somehow’ appear to be considered roadworthy. The question is ‘who should set the example?’ I believe that it should be an immediate requirement that ALL vehicles undertake regular roadworthiness controls, from professional independent testing stations, and that we should apply the same standards for ALL.

I hope to never see bald tyres on any vehicle, let alone the tyres shredding and shedding as we see on a regular basis on our trunk roads. There are, of course, variations; the tests for motorcycles, cars, passenger vehicles, public transport, tractors, etc. have to be appropriate.

In aviation, the concept of allowing any aircraft into the air that does not meet the requirements for its type is a clear ‘death wish’ on the part of the operator. It is about time that we realised that not applying homogenous and universal standards for our road vehicles is also putting lives at risk. Sadly, it is often not the person who took the decision to allow a vehicle on the road that gets injured. Sadly, it is often not even the driver of the ‘below standard vehicle’ that gets injured. The rule of thumb appears to be that ‘the innocent get injured and those who allow it/perpetrate the conditions that lead to the poor maintenance related accident get away without a scratch’.

How can we bring about this change? It requires every single one of us changes our position – and expects more. It requires those in positions of authority to take on the responsibility for implied safety of those that they may never meet, and to understand that failure to ensure that appropriate and timely maintenance is carried out appropriately, and standards enforced will, inevitably, result in somebody losing their life.

Imagine if a child had been between my car and the GV vehicle that day… imagine what we can change and improve if we all work towards a ‘functional, appropriate, effective and reliable maintenance aware society’.

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, April 3, 2013

Photo of the week April 3rd, 2013

Students with visual and hearing challenges discover aviation and music at Kpong Airfield in an event led by female aviators from 3 continents. Dr Carol Munch from the USA, Ute Hoelscher from Germany and Patricia Mawuli from Ghana assisted by the Aviation and Technology Academy girls. Francis Norman and Mike Pullen, from Medicine on the Move Germany provided musical interaction as part of the assessment process prior to each student being given a flight experience in a built in Ghana aircraft. Lydia Wetsi, a disabled student pilot provided words of support and encouragement to the group. Each of the young explorers showed great interest and enthusiasm towards the discovery of flight as an inspiration for all. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move