Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

There are so many times that I despair at the misunderstandings that I come across in the general public, especially in regards to Aviation. So many people appear to think that Aviation is all about commercial planes and pilots. Well, it is not. Please get the fact out there that barely 2% of the world’s aircraft are commercial airliners. Yup, that is all. Admittedly, that accounts for the vast majority of the world’s aviation related revenues and keeps the whole aviation machine ticking financially, but the Commercial Pilot is the teeniest, albeit important, tip of the Pyramid of Opportunity in aviation.

Most pilots, like most drivers, are not ‘professional’ and do not make any money from flying. But, even if we add all the private, military, agricultural, etc. pilots to the list, they account for a tiny percentage of the people who live, work and spend their time in aviation.

From the building to the management of aerodromes, to the security personal, and from the design, build and maintenance of the aircraft, through to the ancillary job opportunities in tourism, freight, cleaning, catering and selling of knick-knacks in the airport malls, the ratio ‘non-pilots’ to pilots in aviation runs in the hundreds to one, and quite possibly could reach the thousand to one ratio mark.

Recently I was asked ‘how many people have you trained to be pilots?’, to which I responded ‘that is not the purpose of training’. Taken aback, the well dressed, well positioned chappy, looked at me concerned ‘but that is what it is all about!’, he declared, then added ‘isn’t it?’. Well, time for a reality check.

When somebody starts learning to fly, the pilot’s licence is simply icing on the cake. There is so much more to flying. The change in the way we see the world, our approach to safety, problem solving, our view of the planet, our methods of planning and the like – are perhaps the most positive outcomes of being in an aircraft. Obtaining the licence, even just the lowest level of private flight licence, is simply a bonus. It is nice to have, but it is nothing more than a piece of paper. What happens to you as a person in flying, whether you reach the licence or not, changes lives forever. Even just a few hours of flight training can be enough to stimulate a person, in so many ways, that no other experience can come close to!

As an instructor for the AvTech Academy, I enjoy teaching young women from rural Ghana a wide range of topics including; safety, the basics of flight, airfield management, first aid, engineering, agricultural engineering and safety. You may ask why I started and ended with safety – and that is because it is twice as important than anything else in aviation!

The range of skills taught to young women at the AvTech Academy often surprises – especially when it is pointed out that ‘only a few of them will learn to fly’. Flying is good, but you don’t have to be a pilot to fly – you can be a passenger with a keen interest, and still get to take the controls at a safe altitude, under an instructor’s supervision. All of the young women get some time in that role, but it is only a SMALL part of what they learn. In all honesty, the airfield at Kpong has more tractor hours driven in a month than airplane hours flown!

With over 100 acres to maintain, the airfield has to be mowed, the three kilometre emergency access tracks have to be maintained, the four kilometres of fence line has to be checked and repaired, and that does not even take into account the runway and safety area maintenance! All of these skills are actually AGRICULTURAL skills. We use tractors, grow / cut grass, manage trees, apply herbicide, etc. – skills which are applicable across so many other areas of need in development. Safety is the common thread throughout these operations.

In the workshops, we cannot ‘only build airplanes’. No, we also have to make signs, building parts (we do all of our own civil works on site too), repair a wide range of equipment, develop instrument panels as well as designing new machines and parts for aircraft, tractors, etc. These skills are highly functional outside of aviation also. Apprentices do not start by working on aircraft parts – OH NO! They start with learning workshop safety and the role of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and then start working on general items – and they do a great job! This year they will be making items that we hope will be sold to help support their training – which is another skill – learning to be self-supporting!

The first aid (which is far beyond the standard first aid approach), is part of our commitment to ensuring health matters are paramount in development. The range of skills is wide – we cover learning about how to prevent Schistosomiasis, cleaning and dressing wounds, splinting, evacuation of an injured person, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, patient reassurance, initial disease identification, etc., which are key to having a smoothly run airfield, but also are clearly skills that can be carried to a wider audience – and are life skills that literally can save lives! Of course, they also learn to develop and deliver health education messages – as part of our commitment to health education and the promotion of sustainable socio-economic development of rural Ghana.

Perhaps the biggest ‘gift’ the girls that go through the AvTech Academy get, is that of personal development. The ability to stand up and speak clearly, in good English, without hesitation, deviation or repetition. To be able to speak with confidence to people from all walks of life, and to interact professionally, eloquently and to communicate effectively. I love to watch these young people change in the way they walk – moving more swiftly, with their heads held high, positively engaging the world around them using all of their senses – and putting safety into everything they do. To see a young person who can ‘do themselves justice’ and ‘believe in themselves’, watching their confidence grow and seeing them develop as leaders in their own rights – now that is what it is all about.

Personally, I don’t give two hoots for bits of paper and qualifications – they are worthless rags compared to WHO a person is, what they can actually do and apply. That is what aviation training is all about – regardless of whether it is a pilot or airfield tractor driver (not as easy as it sounds) – it is about pride in the job, precision and being a person who can hold their head up high and say ‘I CAN DO IT, AND I CAN DO IT RIGHT, WITH SAFETY AS MY MANTRA’.

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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