Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Photo of the week February 27th, 2013

Water, power, aerodromes, roads and waterbodies. This image highlights the field evidence of items mentioned in the recent State of the Nation Address by President Mahama. Working from left to right, we can see the new water line from Kpong to Tema being installed, the essential main power lines to Tema from the Akosombo hydroelectric station, the Tema-Akosombo highway, Kpong Airfield (the busiest private airfield in West Africa) and the Volta River. Infrastructure is essential for development. Well maintained and functional infrastructure is the key to sustainable development. Photo Courtesy of WAASPS Ltd, operating Kpong Airfield, building light aircraft and teaching people to fly since 2005.

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Last week’s trip into the Afram Plains was magnificent. Ok, so my back felt like a thousand knives were being driven into my spine; but the pain from many hours of travel on poor quality roads, albeit in a good quality vehicle, was more than worth it.

We were welcomed by the DCE and his team – a dynamic and enthusiastic group. They demonstrated clear dedication to the area, and all that it has to offer. They were conscious of their rural challenges. With over 200,000 people and just one, sporadically good, narrow tarmac conduit, the 700+ communities of the Afram Plains are hidden from view. Their need is great; their potential is great, yet the access to the area is amazingly poor. These appear to be ‘forgotten people’ in terms of access and development.

Volta Lake Transport Company, who sponsored the transport component of our trip, are looking earnestly at creating more ferry ports to facilitate growth in the area, but that will take a few years. Much as the ferry ports will change dynamics, without suitable road infrastructure, they will not solve the challenges of intra-Afram-Plains travel. The next 10 to 20 years may see that being solved, but the people have needs NOW.

Our team spoke about the abandoned airstrip at Donkorkrom. The strip is beyond sensible recovery with a house built on one threshold and power lines run across another part. The clear desire of the leadership in the area to open a simple dirt strip for humanitarian use, and to enable the budding business persons to gain easier access, was clearly stated. We are ready to help, but my concern is whether they will get the support they need from the authorities in this regard. The last time we tried to help a community the authorities took over and the project died. Putting in a simple airstrip is a matter of two or three days work for a dedicated team, especially with access to a grader. Maintenance is not beyond the skills of any community in Ghana. In the Amazon rain forest communities hand-clear, and establish, regularly used bush strips, and yet in Ghana it is not commonplace. The main reason seems to be regulatory and the ability to complicate what should be simple and logical.

I heard with great joy President John Dramani Mahama, in his ‘State of the Nation address’, speak about new aerodromes planned for Ghana. He mentioned Ho, Cape Coast, Koforidua and Bolgatanga... all of which already enjoy good road access, and thus are ‘low on my priority list’, but welcome to see them getting a Presidential mention – and we will certainly use them (especially Ho and Koforidua!). I openly invite all those concerned about our rural areas to come to Kpong Airfield to see how traditional, low-cost, high-impact, community led and maintained aviation infrastructures can be implemented within a matter of months, if only we are serious about enabling our rural communities. I would suggest that such rural facilities be put under the direct control of the District Assemblies, and that they are given all the support of the Administration, and the relevant Authorities.

I know for a fact that many of the civil servants have been positive about such developments, yet are stymied by the leviathan bureaucracy and lack of rural development inertia, that appears to be deeply rooted in the traditional system. It is time to change that - and now.

Several years ago there was a conference aimed at stimulating light aviation. It was led by the Ministry responsible for the sector. It happened once. It raised these matters, and how readily they could change the access to the rural areas, changing lives positively and sustainably. Sadly, it was, apparently, a flash in the pan.

Meanwhile, the private sector has done its bit. Continued training and sponsoring young people from the rural areas, developing aviation solutions that are locally built and maintained by local personnel. Based on what we witnessed in the Afram Plains, and coupled with the apparent new desire in the President’s speech to see aviation reach every corner of the nation, it is time for a change of pace, regulation and attitude.

After our conversations with the DCE and his able team, we went on to speak to around 250 young women from the JHS schools in the area. What a wonderful moment. 500 eyes bright and forward looking. Smiles with giggles hiding behind them. These teenage girls representing the future of the Afram Plains. I enjoyed the ‘warm up session’ that we bring to a school visit. ‘Stand up’, is the first instruction. A shambles of chairs scraping, chatting and heads bobbing slowly to a common position ensues. ‘Sit down’, I bark, and the reverse happens. In my ‘Sergeant Major voice’, I roar that it should be done in unison, without noise. A few more ‘stand up: sit down’ calls and it is coming together. In a matter of minutes the young people are co-ordinated, moving as one, demonstrating that they can learn to be a disciplined group of one accord. Then we move to simple hand signals to generate the corporate movements. They are ready for their lessons.

Patricia Mawuli and her team went on to explain the four forces of flight and the functioning of the four stroke piston engine – the bright minds soaking up the technicalities like a Harmattan dried sponge the first rains of the rainy season. Then, as we always do, the talk went to health. Schistosomiasis, which is endemic in the Plains, was discussed and the ‘1,2,3 song’ (1. Do not bathe at the water’s edge, 2. Do not drink untreated water 3. Do not piss and crap around, use the toilet instead) was sung with gusto. A reverend sister from the catholic school looked a little shocked, but could still be seen to have a smile in the corner of her mouth, knowing that the message was hitting home – potentially saving lives.

Finally, we prepared the young people for our return by air. The Afram Plains is our target area for 2013. We plan to drop many health education packages to the schools in the coming months. Demonstrations of drop packages and explanations of what will happen were drilled into the vibrantly awake young minds. The message to be sent to all the communities in the Afram Plains that ‘you are cared for’ and ‘you are not isolated’. By air we can reach Donkorkrom, the capital of the Plains, in less than one hour. By road and ferry that is a minimum of ten hours. The Medicine on the Move team, in partnership with WAASPS and The AvTech Academy, will be doing all that they can to join hands, with the people and authorities of a similar mind-set, to shrink the gap that appears to be holding the Afram Plains back from reaching its potential.

If you have not visited Kpong Airfield, just 30km south of Akosombo, you should. See for yourself that rural aviation is not expensive, nor prohibitive – and that it can change lives sustainably. Kpong Airfield is open to the public most Saturday and Sunday mornings.

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, February 20, 2013

Photo of the week February 20th, 2013

Fish farming is clearly on the increase. Here we see a set of fish farm nets being set up on the shores of a small village along the Afram Leg of the Lake Volta. As the nets increase, apparently exponentially, around the lake we must consider the effects on rural communities. Fish farming is expensive, and failure to provide sufficient, appropriate food and care for the fish may result in a negative return on investment. Is there sufficient education about fish farming, and the relevant approvals for such activities, to make it a sensible investment, especially for those who appear to be putting their entire life's savings and efforts into such activities? Photo courtesy Marcel Stieber and Medicine on the Move

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

As I write this week, I am sitting on a Volta Lake Transport Company bus, heading towards the Afram Plains. Our destination is Donkorkrom. We left Kpong yesterday at 2pm, and spent the night in Kwahu. This morning we heading out for the first ferry crossing at Adawso, and will then drive the last couple of hours to our destination. In a little under 24 hours, we will arrive at the point which is less than 100km from where we started – less than one hours flight in the smallest aircraft.

There is no other way. The Afram Plains is as isolated as an island. I fly over it regularly, enjoying the magnificent views of this fertile, readily irrigated, land segment in Ghana. The relatively flat land mass is demarcated to the South by the Afram leg of the Lake Volta and to the East by the large of the water body. The North is bound by the Digya National Park and then to the East the isolation from the Ashanti Region is broken by a smattering of relatively inaccessible roads and tracks. The Afram Plains is as remote as it is magnificent. Well, unless you go by air! By air the Plains are easily accessible, and more magnificent than you can imagine. Sadly, the airstrip at Donkorkrom is no longer useable, as I witnessed five years ago when I first visited the area. Power lines and constructions have rendered the landing area, which should have been a lifeline to the area, too dangerous to use.

So, why this trip now? There are many reasons. The most important one is the people of the area. Even those living in the ‘capital’ of Donkorkrom have challenges reaching the many communities scattered, like maize seed sown by the gods, across the area. We hope to establish a regular air supply of health education, and related materials, to these people in the coming months. This in itself is not enough for the team from Medicine on the Move. As part of the trip to establish an agreement to begin the support, we will also be talking to the school children, sensitising them to aviation and making them aware of the potential aircraft movements over their communities. Patricia Mawuli, assisted by the student pilot/engineers from the AvTech Academy, will make presentations to the schools, enlightening them to the proposed activities, making them a part of the growth of their own communities and lives.

The AvTech girls will teach them some basics about how aircraft fly, as well as using the opportunity to sensitise the group to the issues of Schistosomiasis, Ghana’s second most socio-economically devastating parasitic disease. An estimated six million children are at risk in Ghana, and the lake communities are clearly at the highest exposure risk.

Personally, I detest road trips. I do not like to drive. I can fly for 10 hours straight, but can’t stand more than a couple of hours in a coach or car. For the people of the Afram Plains, access to the ‘outside’ world is forcibly a land and water vehicle trip that will take at least a day. They embark upon such trips without complaint. My aversion to road trips is to the advantage of the Afram Plains, because it means that we will be looking for a potential location for an airstrip whilst we are there. We hope that this initiative will be supported by the community, and the authorities. We hope to find a way to co-locate a new airstrip with the development of a VLTC ferry port at Agordeky. The need for airstrips in ‘access friction’ areas should be a high priority, and should be supported by the authorities. That does not mean that the authorities should DO everything, but rather that they should create the enabling environment for development. The last time we assisted a community with its airstrip development, the authorities effectively killed the project with charges, bureaucracy, and then by taking over and apparently abandoning it, despite the enormous effort by the people of the community.

The most vibrant light aviation facility in West Africa is private, it is well maintained and sees four to five thousand movements per year – more than most of the regional aerodromes in West Africa. The authorities have not contributed financially to the development; it has grown on its own merit. In the same vein, encouragement of community led and maintained facilities could lead to a safe, exciting, life changing, livelihood empowering solution, at one of the lowest costs for improved accessibility available.

The cost of putting in one kilometre of tarred road is far more than the cost of creating a simple airstrip for light aviation. The Afram Plains, like many other areas, has been isolated way too long. The work of the Volta Lake Expansion Project, coupled with improved air access and aerial supply of key health, education and other materials, should mark the beginning of new opportunities.

There is one other purpose for our trip into this fantastic part of our nation. The AvTech Academy is launching a new training programme, for a Diploma in Aviation and Technology, but delivered through a four year Vocademic Apprenticeship. What is most interesting about this new programme is the delivery method and non-payment method. The Vocademic Apprentice is not charged for their training programme, and is actually paid to learn, provided they complete their weekly assignments and tasks. This training programme is aimed principally at those from the rural areas with low income, providing access that would otherwise not be possible. If you consider the people in places like the Afram Plains, they are not only physically isolated, they are also often financially isolated, making access to education and opportunities limited for their wards.

The 46 week per year learning and working schedule includes accommodation, food, safety equipment and international travel for the most successful – regardless of their families’ ability to pay. It is earned by the young person’s ability to work, academically, vocationally and as an apprentice in real life, live projects. Aviation, engineering, robotics, computing as well as the provision of relevant training in English and Mathematics is integrated, and each Vocademic Apprentice will be given the opportunity to excel in their own way. Some may go on to fly, others to build aircraft, some may tend towards radio communications, and others to manufacturing and programming of robotic devices.

Of course, taking on a challenge of accessibility to education such as this is even harder for the young women. Therefore, the programme is exclusively for young women (those who have completed JHS, 16-19 with family support and encouragement to enter the programme).

I must admit that I feel privileged to be part of the team that is going in today to speak to the young people, to provide solutions to their challenges and opportunities for those young people with ability, but without the opportunity or resources to realise that ability through education – taking on some major challenges, all lead by the dynamic young Ghanaian women who are dominating the light aviation developments in West Africa.

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, February 13, 2013

Photo of the week February 13th, 2013

Ghana's young aviation enthousiastes are working avidly on a new module for one of their aircraft. This module will enable the aircraft to carry first aid equipment and supplies under the aircraft to assist in rural developments. They have designed and are building this innovative solution under the watchful eye of Patricia Mawuli, who has been key in the building of 8 aircraft here in Ghana. Patricia is soon to recruit new apprentices. If you know of an aviation, engineering, and health oriented young woman, post JHS, 16-19 years old and ready to undertake 4 years of serious working and learning, please e-mail for more details.

Monday, February 11, 2013

February 11th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Recovery from unusual attitudes is a flying lesson that I enjoy teaching. We take the student up in an aircraft, ask them to close their eyes, remove their hands and feet from the controls, and then the instructor ‘upsets’ the aircraft. There are several things we can ‘upset’. Putting the aircraft into a nose high, near stall condition; a near spiral dive situation; a steep turn; or set the aircraft trim hard back, reduce the power and put it into a incipient stall. Each configuration requires that the student pilot, when so instructed, opens their eyes, takes the controls and returns the aircraft to a ‘normal’ attitude of ‘straight and level’ flight.

Most students love this exercise. Opening their eyes, and assessing in a second what they will need to do to regain normal flight. The first thing is to ensure that the airspeed remains safe, and secondly to work on getting the horizon in the right visual location in the windshield. Once that is achieved, power, trim and all other systems are re-checked and the aircraft is back under control.

This past week was not a good week for me. We made some decisions over the past two-years that resulted in an ‘upset condition’ at the airfield. Recovering from that upset position has required all of the staff to check their instruments, position themselves on straight and level and to work towards re-establishing a site-wide ‘operations normal’ condition.

Two years ago we selected four students for scholarships to come to train to build, maintain and operate aircraft. They completed their SHS schooling and started their learning programme with us, in September. After going home for the seasonal break, they all came back with ‘issues’, and it culminated in all four students packing their bags overnight and one particular student telling us in the morning ‘My spirit has told me I should leave this place’.

Now, much as I am a man with a great deal of faith, I do believe that people often use ‘spiritual things’ as an excuse. I am not suggesting for a moment that there are no ‘spiritual things’, but I do propose that there is a lot of ‘blame the spiritual things’ being used as an excuse.

After much discussion and suggestions of re-consideration, the four merry campers turned their backs on full scholarships, including learning to fly, build aircraft, airfield operations, computer production programming, EMT training, and much more. Happy as Larry the Lamb on a spring day in a lush green field, they frolicked away back to their communities.

This left us confused, bewildered and a little bit angry. Then, my colleague stated ‘recovery from unusual attitudes’.

For me, and many others, the attitude of ‘quitting a learning environment where you are given so many opportunities and a guaranteed job at the end, to return to an uncertain future’, is simply not an attitude that I can consider ‘usual’.

We spent days, as a field team ‘considering what caused the upset’. We speculated that they wanted more time ‘off’ and less ‘mathematics and English’ (their maths and English needed brought up to a suitable standard). It was postulated that the ‘workshop and airfield maintenance component of the course’ was considered by them as ‘too hard’ or even ‘a punishment’ for them. One person felt they considered anything that did not involve sitting in the air-conditioned data centre as a ‘punishment’. Ultimately, nobody can grasp the reasoning. Perhaps we should just accept that their ‘spirits’ were stronger than their reasoning.

At times like this you are left with three options. 1. Quit. 2. Try the same formula again. 3. Change the formula and go at it harder.

Option 1. Is easy. Option 2. Requires little effort. Option 3. Will take a lot of effort and energy, and is far from easy.

One thing I learned as a young man, and have stuck to over the years, is that ‘if there is an easy choice, a bland choice and a hardest choice, the probability is that the ‘hardest choice’ is the right one.’

Sitting with colleagues and students we are now looking at what the best way is to recruit and train Ghana’s future ‘light aviation for rural development’ sector stars is. There are some things we will not change.

We believe that sustainable players in the development of rural Ghana should come from rural Ghana. They need to be sponsored, since the chances are that their families are already struggling with day-to-day life. They need to be full of potential and willing to work hard in the classroom, cockpit, clinic, workshop, and on the airfield, to achieve the goals set out. They must be ready to embrace a new way of thinking, one where anything less than the very best is not good enough. They must be prepared to get dirty and work in the heat, getting sweaty and smelly if necessary. They must not complain when they are asked to be on time, to learn practical trigonometry, or to run, or to rush out in the rain to secure an aircraft. They must be ready to take health education and care to the communities in the most remote parts of Ghana. They must be ready to embrace the challenges of doing new things in new ways. They must be the future ‘super-aviatrixes’ of Ghana and West Africa.

Until now, we have operated the training model along the three terms lines of a college. We have found that the ‘vacations’ have always resulted in problems. Parents find that paying even the most modest support for their wards a challenge and the prime language in their homes tends not to be English. Consequently, the young person often returns from their vacation exhausted from working at chores to help raise funds for their own education, and their language skills in English slide backwards. The home environment offers little academic support for their learning.

So, we are considering a different model. One that may or may not become a reality, but one that is not new in other parts of the world. We are considering paying students to learn and not working to the tradition school terms system.

Imagine a 46 week ‘learning and earning’ year with three two week breaks (just like in a job, but with a focus on learning new skills, accommodation, food, discipline and a little pocket money). Imagine, that the student is given vocational and academic tasks that contribute to their learning, but also are beneficial and productive to themselves and development. Imagine that, if you hand in all of your written work, complete all of your practical tasks and are an exemplary student, that at the end of each week you receive a small payment (perhaps GHS5 to GHS10). Short term goals, with short term rewards as part of a bigger picture, and relieving families of the burdens and struggles of educating their wards.

If we decide to go that way, and it is not decided, it would create a new wave of possibilities for education. There has been much talk of ‘free education’, but what if the private sector introduced ‘we will pay you to learn’? Please write to me with your reactions, because if we take this route, you will read about it here, in Fresh Air Matters, where recovery from unusual attitudes may require an unusual manoeuvre!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Photo of the week February 6th, 2013

The ghostly outline of Krobo Mountain reminds us that the weather has more control over our lives than we realise. Harmattan is back and visibility is below 2km. Fishermen are less able to fish in the deeper waters of the lake Volta, and remain within sight of the shore. As the dust annoys you on your office desk, remember the rural dwellers of Ghana whose very livelihoods are directly affected by this annual meteorological phenomenon. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move.

Monday, February 4, 2013

February 4th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

There is no doubt that we all learn something new every single day – it is just that some people take note of it, and share it more, than others. In aviation we must be conscious of our need to learn, and to share, as well as being proactive in that learning, including the sharing of our knowledge.

As part of our work at Kpong Airfield, we are involved in health projects for rural Ghana, and with that we learn all sorts of things above and beyond that of airframes, engines and aerial manoeuvres! We operate a small clinic for non-life-threatening-trauma, and it is getting used more and more. Teaching people the basics of simple wound care has changed the way that they consider a cut, and with it, we are improving lives and reducing complications. It always amazes me that so many people have little concept of what ‘antiseptic cream’ is, what it does, and how relatively inexpensive it is. (A triple action cream that really works is about GHS3 across Ghana). We still come across wounds where ‘various natural products of a non-sterile nature’ have been applied, complicating the case. I still hold to the fact that educating every person in this country in regards to minor cuts and grazes would save many ‘person-years’ of productivity each year, reduce the amount spent on travel to and from medical centres, reducing the overall burden on the health services and creating better lives in all parts of the country. I also believe it can literally save lives. Complications from a simple soft-tissue wound can lead to permanent disfigurement, gangrene, septicaemia, amputations and all the complications that come from these – even death. If you think I am exaggerating, it is estimated that many tens of thousands of people die every year from Septicaemia (an infection in the blood, generally from an infected wound) and related complications.

Education about health is key to many aspects of our lives. In aviation there are rules about pregnancy. (Every single person reading this is a direct result of a pregnancy – so take good note of what is coming up here!)

For passengers: airlines have strict rules about pregnant women, one states that ‘For travel after the 36th week for single pregnancies or after the 32nd week for multiple pregnancies, we can only carry you for urgent medical or compassionate reasons, and only on approval from our medical advisors. We may also ask that a suitable medical attendant accompany you.’ The same airline requires ‘a doctor to fill out a Pregnancy Information Form’ for all travel after the 28th week. These rules are to protect the mother, and the unborn children – as well as the airline!

 For women pilots: there is a ‘rule of thumb’ related to not flying past around 28/32 weeks into the pregnancy. The issues of harnesses and ‘full and free’ controls come in, as does the issue of possible ‘early labour’. Some airlines impose ‘no fly’ conditions on their commercial pilots for specific weeks of the pregnancy. Each country has its own Aviation Authority rules in relation to this matter. All the same, despite it being technically possible for a woman to fly at the controls of an aircraft up to the very day of her delivery; practicalities, risk assessment and common sense must prevail – especially if flying passengers or there are complications in the pregnancy! The same goes for driving.

I knew a flying instructor who only took a few weeks off before her delivery, and was back in the left seat a few weeks after – and she was a wonderful mother too! Kudos to any woman who loves their job and their children so much!

Giving birth has its complications, and death is more common in our part of the world than we may at first want to believe. Maternal mortality is defined as ‘the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy’. We are all painfully aware of the maternal mortality rate in Ghana at 350 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is better than Chad and Somalia, where 1,000+ women die per 100,000 live births. However, if we compare this to much of Europe, that rate is generally lower than 10/100,000.

What can we do to improve the situation of our women? Better ante-natal, delivery and post-natal care is the key.

The best option to reduce maternal mortality is to enable women to attend ante-natal clinics, have their babies in suitably equipped conditions, and to make regular follow-up visits to medical practitioners, with their babies, after giving birth. Already, I can hear somebody saying ‘That is not going to happen in Ghana, people here can’t afford it.’ If you believe that, you need to read the rest of this column NOW...

As I said earlier, education is key. So, let us all be educated about the actual situation in Ghana today. Since the 1st July 2008 a different approach to maternity care under the NHIS was introduced. Let’s look at the changes, made to improve the lot of women, together…

The ‘official-available-today’ benefit package for pregnant women is defined as follows:

‘All pregnant women not currently registered with the NHIS will benefit from the following:

Exemption from payment of the NHIS premium
Exemption from payment of the registration charge
Waiving of the waiting period between registration and accessing services

In addition:

any woman who presents at an accredited health facility with a pregnancy-related complication resulting in, or arising from, miscarriage or abortion will be entitled to the same benefits.
Any woman who, having delivered at home or in an unaccredited health facility, and who subsequently presents at an accredited health facility with post-partum complications during the six week post-natal period will be registered.
However, any woman who presents in good health during the six week post-natal period, having failed to register during the pregnancy or delivery period, will be assumed to be registering solely for the purposes of obtaining a free card and therefore she will not be registered.

The package of entitlements under NHIS registration has been established by law. While the initiative is specifically designed to increase uptake of antenatal, delivery and post-natal care, pregnant women will be entitled to access all services under the NHIS benefit package, as long as these are provided by accredited health facilities.

In addition, as children have been de-linked from the registration of their parents, the newborn is automatically covered by NHIS. As a separate NHIS card will only be issued at three months, however, the infant is included under the mother's cover for the first ninety (90) days after delivery after which s/he will be provided with his or her own card.’

Yes, I was as pleasantly surprised as many of you reading this now. Being pleasantly surprised is not good enough. Help to spread this knowledge – education can change lives – and in this case, up to 350 lives per 100,000 live births. Share this knowledge back to the families and especially the women in our communities and let us all encourage healthier pregnancies, healthier children and better future for us all.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail