Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Photo of the week March 27th, 2013

As the rainy season threatens to begin in earnest, the rural dwellers of Ghana watch patiently as the brown patches of bushland turn slowly to green, signalling the time to begin the planting of the rain-fed crops. Interestingly, even around the Volta Lake, where irrigation should be a matter of course, 'rain fed' dominates agricultural activity. Imagine the yields, employment, food security and socio-economic sustainability that could be achieved with appropriate irrigation, education and infrastructural support to our rural communities. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Barely a week goes by without me being asked one of two questions.

1. I want to learn to fly and to become a commercial pilot. Can you help me?

2. I have a commercial pilot’s licence and can’t find work. Can you help me?

The answer to both questions is ‘YES!’ To the first question, I answer ‘consider another career, and look to flying as something you do for yourself. Never consider flying as a way of making money, but do consider learning to fly as a personal development goal. Flying is like driving a car, most people learn to drive for their own development, few learn to drive because they want to drive a bus for a living!’

Right now there appears to be a surplus of pilots in the world. Changes in regulations, economic pressures, misleading reports, etc. have created the situation where you have about a one in a hundred chance (from first lesson to commercial pilot placement) of getting a job. Considering the immense amount of money it takes to get a commercial pilot’s licence, it is probably best to seek to fly for pleasure (Ghana has a wonderful national licence that is relatively affordable, limiting flying to 2 seat aircraft, but providing the stepping stone to future licences), and to enjoy the amazing joy of flight. Perhaps, seek to expand your skills towards some humanitarian flying and wait and see what the industry does. At least if you have a basic licence you are attractive for sponsorship down the line, if the industry improves.

To the second question, I have to shake my head and put on my ‘you can’t be serious face’. In fact I do that a lot these days. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to get a commercial licence – close to $100,000 to obtain the ATPL (Air Transport Pilot Licence), and the chances of ever recuperating the amount you invested is tiny. Very few pilots ‘make it’ compared to those who start. You must only pursue this dream if a) you have the passion to take it on and b) you can afford to spend that amount of money and NOT get a job at the end! If you have the qualification, and you can’t find work, then consider another career and just keep to flying for fun, as you can afford. Oh, and don’t complain to me about the ‘repayment on your loans’, you should have done your research before borrowing that much money. This is a tough industry, and you should have gone into it with your eyes wide open. You demonstrate a lack of risk assessment (an essential skill in the cockpit) if you failed to consider ‘what do I do if I can’t get a job at the end’ before you embarked on the project. Do I sound harsh? Perhaps, but this is not a new phenomenon. Learn to fly, by all means, but do not get yourself – or your family - in a financial mess by doing so.

Now, if you seek to become a crop spraying pilot, then the numbers change. But so do the risks. Good aerial dispersal pilots are hard to come by. The risks are higher in other ways. In France I was told ‘a crop spraying pilot works six months of the year and spends six months of the year in hospital’! Thus reflecting the relatively high number of accidents – many of them fatal – recorded. Aerial dispersal is about getting up before dawn, working low level, carrying large quantities of potentially health damaging chemicals around you, and knowing that ‘if anything goes wrong’ you have little option but to take the trees in your face. All the same, it is a great career for those who want to fly, scrape a living (it is not well paid) and to help the agricultural and public health sectors. You must be exceptionally quick witted and have reactions as lightning fast as a green mamba striking a rat in the bush! If you are a trained aerial dispersal pilot, you just need to wait for the next accident, often a death, for a job opening! Oh, I sound harsh again!

Of course, if you are not interested in making money, but more interested in making a difference, then there is the ‘humanitarian pilot’. My chosen line of work. I love it. I get paid in smiles – miles of smiles – and love every minute of it. In fact, I love the potential it gives me to fly low and slow over communities, changing lives as I go. I love the training of young people aspect, the twenty four hours a day, seven days per week, three hundred and sixty five days of the year - aspects of maintenance, flying, materials development, community meetings, teaching and training. I love it. But it is not a ‘good return on investment’. It is not ‘attractive’ financially. But it satisfies (and satisflies) me.

Would I recommend others to do what I do? Only for those who are ready to take the sacrifices that accompany it. It is not easy. It is tiring. It is amazing. It has its risks. It does not pay the bills. You do not get a social life with it!

So, then I come to the pilots in Europe and the USA who contact me ‘wanting to come and gain some hours flying humanitarian missions’. No. That is not what we do. Our missions are flown by our locally trained young people. Those who are LONG term, committed and desirous of taking help to their own people. It takes a lot of training to be ready to go out on a drop mission (we work on four years). It is exhausting, and it draws on skills that are not generally taught (just like aerial dispersal). Experienced commercial pilots often insult me, coupled with their declaration ‘but I have a commercial licence and four hundred hours’ or even those who have ‘thousands of hours’. Such experience is of little use when you consider low-inertia, high revving engine, bush flying operations in areas where you do not let go of the stick and throttle for many hours in a row. It is like telling me that you have driven a bus all of your life so now you can drive a racing car. Fortunately, some of the pilots in Europe and the USA are ready to come to Ghana to share their experiences with our trainees. Ready to come to learn how we do what we do, and to help us to train our young people through sharing their experiences – they are ready to come out for a few weeks to a few months, paying their own way, covering all of their costs and their flight training, supporting the young people they teach; being a part of the development. To such pilots, I take my hat off and thank them from the bottom of my heart – and I enjoy flying with them too! Such pilots are few and far between – but treasures to behold!

So, I guess the answer to a career in aviation is that it is only for those who really want it, regardless of the sacrifice, regardless of the type of flying, regardless of the risks. If you want a salary, then take a desk job. If you want a life - and will not count the costs – financial, emotional and social, then fly!

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, March 20, 2013

Photo of the week March 20th, 2013

Here we see a built in Ghana CH701 aircraft en-route to a health education drop run in the Afram Plains, flown by Patricia Mawuli. Early morning mist can be seen rising from the lush Volta Region vegetation below. This aircraft can remain airborne for more than 12 hours, with a range of over 1,600km, but most importantly it is taking much needed educational materials to communities far from the paved roads, touching lives with inspiration and a clear demonstration of Ghanaian determination and ability to change lives, positively and sustainably, through the use of engineering and aviation. Photo courtesy of Rex Pemberton. Aircraft built and maintained by WAASPS Ltd and mission flight co-ordinated by Medicine on the Move - Medicine on the Move is currently seeking sponsorship to expand its health drop operations, planning to drop around one thousand health packages in 2013.

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Over the past few years there have been sporadic reports about passengers refusing to fly upon hearing that there was a female pilot in the cockpit. A quick trawl of the search engines and you will find reports of several incidents related to ‘gender fear’.

I find it hard to comprehend why a passenger on an airliner would insist on disembarking simply due to the gender of the pilot. Personally, I am always pleased to hear that a woman is up at the pointy end of the aircraft, I feel a little bit safer! Women are, in general, less likely to take risks and to be ‘more gentle’ on the controls. I see it every day as I watch women land ‘v’ men land aircraft. It is hard to believe that such attitudes still exist in the world… or is it?

Here in Ghana there is an on-going debate over the ‘bride-price’. There exists a lot of confusion over terminology and the ‘bride price’ in Ghana is often, mistakenly, called the Dowry. A Dowry is what is given to the groom when marrying – it is given by the family of the bride. Conversely, the ‘bride-price’ is what is demanded by the woman’s family in return for the release of the woman to marriage. In some cultures both are practiced, often extravagantly, as a way to demonstrate that both families are able to provide such items.

In most western societies these practices have all but vanished. The idea of putting a ‘price’ on the head of a human being is seen as ‘unacceptable’. Instead, the families of both the bride and the groom are encouraged to assist the couple on their journey together, providing support to them, be it financial, material or moral support. There are, of course, good and positive examples of both ‘bride-price’ and dowry being used to the constructive establishment of a couple’s life journey.

In a loving family environment, where the people getting married and starting their life together matter, the money and articles changing hands are nothing more than ‘designated wedding gifts’. Items and cash being used to give the newly-weds a little head start on life together. This is good.

For example, in the ‘bride price’ weddings I have witnessed, the idea of a ‘suitcase with clothing, cloth and cooking utensils’ for the bride is common place in the ‘price’. How wonderful! The husband ‘to be’ can choose suitable items for his wife ‘to be’, and ensure that she has those things that will give her dignity and independence on day one. I applaud that concept.

Sadly, the ‘bride price’ in some of the families is far from ‘positive’. Lists that include many bottles of alcoholic beverages – often stating that they must be ‘foreign Gin’ or ‘foreign schnapps’… one such list that I witnessed, requested 24 bottles of hard liquor for the men in the family to consume. It makes me wonder if such a family is in need of counselling from Alcoholics Anonymous! Alcohol has no place in a marriage – it is well documented as a ‘destructive liquid’ and the root cause of failure in many relationships.

Then there is the demand for ‘Holland Cloth’ for the ‘in-laws’. What is wrong with Ghanaian cloth? Are we using marriage as a means of causing financial flight from the country? If such a list is ‘traditional’ then surely ‘Ghanaian cloth’ is what we should see! All the same, giving something to the ‘in-laws’ as a gift is perfectly acceptable – provided that the ‘in-laws’ are supportive and loving towards their offspring!

But the thing that repulses me most in the ‘bride price’ is the money. You cannot and should not put a price on a human being. Giving of gifts, which should be done from the heart and not from a list, is one thing, but asking for a set amount of money in exchange for a human being is repulsive. It is degrading – how can any amount of money represent the value of a human being’s heart in love. No person can ever pay the value of a human heart – for it is a priceless item, and one that can only be rewarded with an equally loving heart, beating in unison.

I was told that ‘the better educated and more pretty a girl is, the more money the family will ask for’. How disgusting! How can you tell me that a girl who cannot read and write is worth less than one who can use a computer? How can one’s appearance affect one’s value?

Then the argument gets thrown in ‘but the family raised the girl, they educated the girl and as such they need to get a return on their investment’. Now, my blood is boiling.

When a child is conceived, is it conceived as an investment? Did the parents lie in their bed one night and say ‘let us make children so that we can raise them and sell them?’ Is that really what is going on? Surely not. Definitely not. I see mothers with their children, thrilled at the magnificent miracle of life. Lovingly playing with the fruit of their love; hoping for the very best future for them. Sadly, it seems that the men folk control the ‘bride price’ and listen little to the voices of the loving mothers – and rarely at all to the wishes of their daughters.

It seems that the system is driven by the greed of some of the men. Hence the alcohol (for I do not see the women getting drunk in the same way as the men). Hence the ‘valuing of the girl’ as an item (since it seems that the men get to spend most of the money). Perhaps the men folk need to get pregnant! I cannot imagine them taking the same line if they have carried that human being inside of them, feeding the child, taking care of their needs in return for nothing more than a smile and the love that only a human child can give to its parent. Sadly, too many men, in all cultures around the world, fail to engage in the bond that is on offer from their children.

I regularly come across situations where the boys in a family are given far more support towards their education than the girls. The girls seem to be seen as simply ‘objects for working the fields, cooking, making babies and perhaps a ‘bride-price’ one day’. The concept of ‘bride price’ reinforces my perception that, in some families, the girl children are still not given the same value as human beings as the boy children are. It is time for families to love their children regardless of their gender, to respect their child and human rights, and to support them in their choices, giving each and every one the freedom to reach their full potential, without fear, and with support.

Culture and tradition are organic, they grow and change. It is my fervent desire to see a positive growth in our cultures and traditions towards recognition of the freedom of each individual, regardless of their gender or social background. Let us enable all of our children to live full, free and successful lives without trying to put a price on their heads or impediments in the way of their education, development or happiness. Let us see some more ‘Girl Power’ on the Better Ghana Agenda!

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, March 13, 2013

Photo of the week March 13th, 2013

Yesterday, the 12 March 2013, saw the first aerial supply drops into the Afram Plains. One of the communities, called Abomosarefo (meaning land of the hunters), was hosting a football competition, and play was suspended whilst the excited children cleared the school field, ready to receive vital information about Schistosomiasis and related matters. Aerial supply of health education materials increases the impact of the message and creates massive interest in the contents. More importantly, the timely, cost effective, nature of aerial delivery makes it increasingly attractive in the more rural parts of Ghana. The pilot for the first run into the Afram Plains was Patricia Mawuli, and Lydia Wetsi (a disabled student pilot) acted as drop master. All of the deliveries landed perfectly and the communities visibly showed their excitement at receiving such support. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, March 11, 2013

March 11th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is that time of year again… A special time… Our favourite time at Kpong Airfield. It is actually the BUSIEST time. A little stressful. Very time consuming, and very diverse.

For the past few years we have celebrated the anniversary of the first woman ever to obtain a pilot’s licence by flying young women from the rural areas of Ghana. It is a logistical challenge, a financial challenge, an engineering challenge, a piloting challenge, a ground crew challenge. It is magnificent!

In 1909, Raymonde de la Roche sat down to eat with the French aviator Charles Voisin. We are left imagining the discourse of flying stories, where he appears to have suggested learning to fly to the young woman. A daring suggestion, especially since Raymonde was the daughter of a plumber! Voisin, who later died in a car crash, personally tutored the energetic girl on her quest to beat the bonds of gravity. On March 8, 1910 she received the first pilot's license awarded to a woman – I bet that caused a stir! This turn of the twentieth century boundary stretcher was also an engineer and, although she died at the age of 36, she achieved amazing things in her time on, and above, the surface of the planet. She entered air races and set records; she flew balloons and left a legacy. Ramonde de la Roche made it clear that women can do, and can do well! That first woman’s pilot licence, issued by the French Authority, opened the door for Aviatrixes around the world.

In celebration of that first licence, co-ordinated by the Women of Aviation Worldwide, pilots from around the globe use this week to stimulate young women into aviation. Girls and women are given their first taste of the air, and it changes their lives, opens their imaginations and empowers in ways that cannot be imagined.

I can already hear the moan of ‘why only the young women?’.

Let me share some facts with you about ‘Only young women is necessary.’

There are many pilots throughout the world, yet less than 6.0% percent are female. How does that compare to other professions? Apparently, according to the U.S. Department of Labour: female boat captains and operators (8.2%), female police and sheriff’s patrol officers (15%), female doctors and surgeons (31.8%)

Furthermore, only a tiny percentage of that six percent are black African women. Of course, our particular interest is in West Africa where the statistics become ‘insignificant’ and need addressed. History has proven that women make excellent pilots. In my experience, rural West African women are trained from birth towards aviation excellence, but are rarely given the opportunity and even more rarely given the encouragement and support that is necessary to succeed.

Rural Girls have to be tough to survive here. From an early age they are carrying water, working with open fires and hot oil, balancing everything on their heads, learning to plan in the most challenging conditions. If you doubt that fact, take a meal in a remote community – be amazed at the work that went into getting that food ready! The challenge of preparation; fetching water from great distances; thinking about how, what and where to source the ingredients; multi-tasking with other duties; managing a meagre amount of funds to feed a large number; constantly battling against the elements; deftly timing the hand between the fufu mortar and pestle to retain all fingers; and the list goes on!

These are the very skills that keep a pilot alive. The balance is essential, and, in my experience, the ability to balance shifting loads on the head creates a very ‘sensitive’ set of instruments in the head of the young woman. If they are given the opportunity they can transfer that skill into incredibly smooth control management in an aircraft.

The quiet determination to walk and carry great distances, establishes a determination, coupled with two key strengths – physical and mental – and these are both essential in the cockpit. Non-aviators may not realise that flying can often require physical strength – not short term ‘ugggg uggg’ strength as you would to pick up something and load it onto a truck. No, aviation requires the strength of continued application and adaptation. Forces on the controls can be a challenge, in both the arms and the legs, as the stick and rudder forces bite at you during turbulence or a long descent in a strong crosswind! None of the young women we train ever complain about this. They seem to take it in their stride, they appear to be ‘pre-conditioned’ for such a workload!

Planning, and long term-isms are genetically implanted into women. The ability to take on a task and work at over many months, despite the challenges, despite the discomfort, and at the end to make even more effort than they initially thought physically possible, really is the strength of a woman, and the reason you can read this today. Childbirth is about extreme long termism. From conception there is a need to adapt, to change the way you do things, to handle the demands in blood flow, nutrition and then of course to ‘deliver’. But that is not the end of the story. A child has to be brought up. Despite your tiredness, despite the past nine months of carrying that load, despite the pain, the mother must take care of that dependent young person even more from the moment it parts company with her umbilical cord.

For the next eighteen or more years, the woman will, in general, be the point of reference – the GPS of life, the ‘Air Traffic Controller’ of their offspring. This maternal instinct, the ability to struggle long and hard, often without any ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ is essential for a successful career in aviation. Rock on women, you are the mothers of us all, and the young women have what it takes to make pilots – great pilots – pilots of distinction!

With all of this in mind, consider bringing up a ‘career in aviation discussion’ with young women at the dinner table, just as Charles Voisin did, and perhaps you could inspire the next generation of pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers, etc.. Make it clear to the young women you know that ‘they can do it’ and that ‘they can do it well’ – be ready to support and encourage them. I look forward to hearing that women pilots break the 25% barrier… sadly, that appears to be a long way off. All the more reason to work harder daily to encourage the young women we know to strive to change the skies!

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, March 6, 2013

Photo of the week March 6th, 2013

'This natural monument on the road to Adawso stands proudly against the morning sky. There are many sites rich with tourist, agricultural and economic potential all around us. The nearby ferry crossing from Adawso to Ekye-Amanfrom takes you into the one of the rarely-visited marvels of Ghana, the Afram Plains. Full of potential, with rich soils and easy access to irrigation, a willing population, and relatively easy to clear for agricultural and tourism opportunities The contrast of driving down from the Kwahu Ridge towards the Afram leg of the lake, magnificently lined by natures artistry, against the flatness of the land on the other side of the 3km crossing is dramatic. If you have never visited the Afram Plains, make an effort to do so, and discover a part of Ghana that holds great potential. Photo Courtesy of Patricia Mawuli'

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 )