Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 18th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Aviation is full 'catch phrases', we use them to assist us in matters of safety and promoting good judgement. One of my personal favourites is 'A superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid demonstrating his superior skills'. It means that a pilot who may well be able to fly his aircraft in heavy weather, or manage an aircraft with a defect, is smart enough to make the decision not to fly, or to land as soon as possible, in such conditions, thus avoiding the need to use 'superior skills'. It is a also a warning to those who may try to 'show off', without the skills to underpin their exploits. It reassures us that a 'no-go', or 'time to land', decision is the decision of a superior pilot, not a coward or a wimp. I remember being on a KLM flight out of Amsterdam, bound for Ghana, that was cancelled due to extremely strong winds, the team at KLM took a 'superior' decision - even if it was not a popular one - in the interest of protecting the lives of the passengers, crew and aircraft. All the same, the passengers went into 'riot mode' with cries of 'it is only wind'. Sadly, such persons failed to grasp the damage that wind can do - and perhaps did not value their lives as much as the pilot did! The decision to ground the aircraft was taken to protect, to keep the aircraft in a safe place, and then to resume operations once the storm was over. Such decisions are tough, economically damaging in the short term, but are taken to ensure the long term sustainability of the aircraft, airline and protect all of their passengers - as well as the crew. Some will be upset, some may bad mouth the airline - but at the end of the day 'they are alive' because of a 'superior' decision. To paraphrase the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, 'it is better to be a live donkey than a dead lion'.

There are other expressions that come to mind, not necessarily associated with aviation, but definitely related to living and working in West Africa.

'Don't listen to them, it is only Phd'. The famous 'Pull him/her down'. This is one of the most destructive attitudes that I have come across anywhere in the world. It is incredibly prevalent in certain cultures, and sadly it prevents all from developing positively. It is the desire of those 'who do not have or have not achieved' to damage the reputation of those who have or are trying to. It is often driven by jealousy, lack of understanding, as well as, in many cases, sexism. The ability to attack others, without rhyme or reason, just to try to stop them achieving, because of sour grapes, or simple jealousy, is the basis of the Phd mentality. Recently, Lydia Forson wrote an article about how 'successful women are insulted with the terms prostitute and you will never marry'. It was a classic story of how somebody will readily attack you verbally, attempt to tarnish your name and cast dispersions on your character - just because you have success. When it comes to pulling down the achievements of women, you can add to that list of pointless insults 'lesbian and witch' - and I am sure that successful women out there have a list of other derogatory terms used on them on a regular basis. It appears that the jealousy factor is such that these terms are bounded about to 'destroy' or 'pull down' a successful woman. Women can achieve by hard work, determination and, at the same time, 'preserve their virtue'. Ghana has a wealth of 'Women of Worth', yet it has orders of magnitude more 'Phd-ers' - many of whom appear to target women far more than men. 'Watch out for the Phd!' is wise advice, yet even for the most able and diligent people, the insults and attacks for rising above the status quo are wearing and distracting. 

'No good deed goes unpunished' is an old adage, and as true today as it was a thousand years ago. It appears that when you help somebody out, you will often feel 'punished for it'. We are all aware of this reality on our roads. Imagine you are driving from Accra to Tema one evening and see a man lying on the side of the motorway. He looks dead. In the second and a half he is visible in your car lights you cannot tell. He probably fell from a truck that he was sleeping on the top of... My guess is that the following will run through your mind in a few seconds...

'I should stop and see if I can help.'
'If I do is it a trap? Are there armed robbers around?'
'If I try to help, will I be accused of knocking him down, or even killing him?'
'If the police come along, and then there is a court case, and I am a witness, how many court appearances will it take?'
'Will I be asked for bribes if I help out?'
'If he is alive and I send him to the hospital, who will pay his hospital bill?'#
'If he is dead what could I do?'
'Will the family of this person end up hounding me for money for care, just because of being a good Samaritan?'

So, you slow down, looking for a way to pull over, but the other traffic is fast on your tail, their lights blazing and horns blaring, the decision would no doubt be made: - 'I cannot stop safely, and have to hope that somebody else will.' You sense relief at not helping, because you are more likely to be 'punished' than 'thanked' for helping out.

Why? Because we have all experienced our good deeds being punished. How many times have you helped somebody, only to wonder 'WHY?' a little further on. Nobody helps for the 'thanks', but we don't set out to help in order to be 'punished'.

All the same, we all hope that others will do some good deeds for us, and when they do, we must make sure that we do not punish them for showing humanitarian care and support.  

At the end of the day, we must all make decisions, tough decisions, always based on promoting each other, within the framework that we can, physically, financially and emotionally. I guess that is all part of 'being a superior pilot' and taking decisions that may be unpopular, but that ultimately ensure that there are more 'live donkeys than dead lions'.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

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