Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Most of the world's news channels have enjoyed the story of the Boeing Dreamlifter landing at the wrong airport last week. Boeing's modified 747 cargo plane - reputedly the most voluminous cargo plane on the planet - is used to carry 787 Dreamliner aircraft parts from one factory to another. Whilst on one of its delivery runs, the pilots mistook one airport for another, and landed in the wrong place - about 16 kilometres away from their intended destination. Not a big deal, except that the runway where they landed was a tad on the short side. Aircraft need to have enough runway to land - and take off again. Generally, landing uses less runway than taking off. The runway at which this misfortuned crew landed was officially 'too short' for the aircraft to depart from, based on the 'handbook'. To make matters worse, the aircraft needed a special ground handling vehicle to facilitate its manoeuvring - just turning such a large aircraft is a challenge - made more challenging by the very narrow, relatively speaking, runway that they had put down on. At the airport where they landed no such vehicle was available. Not a big deal, just drive one up from the actual destination - just a 16km jaunt... except that that vehicle broke down on the way to the rescue! It should be noted that even at its top speed the support team would take over an hour to go the distance. All part of the adventure and learning process - and nobody got hurt, and no damage done - at least to the team involved. Apparently, some cars ran into each other on the main road near the airport, when drivers were distracted by the sight of such a large aircraft on the tarmac! 

Finally, the tug arrived, the aircraft was positioned and some careful calculations later the massive 'whale of the air' departed on, what may well be, the shortest flight of a 747 in the history of cargo flight - from one of the shortest runways! The accidental runway was only 2000m long - about 1000m shorter than would be acceptable for a 'recommended departure'. A fresh crew were flown in to make the trip (a big word for a 16km flight with 5km of runway involved between the two aerodromes), and they carried out a lot of calculations to make sure that their departure would be safe. All the same, the police did close down nearby roads in case of the aircraft being rather low over the road, and to avoid any more 'distracted driver accidents'. All in all, a rescue mission that worked, without incident, and ends this particular story of 'wrong place landing' with a smile. It is a nice story about aviation that has grabbed the worlds attention, and diverted it from the more depressing news of the week.

In all honesty, landing at the wrong airport is not totally unexpected. Especially in places where airports are pretty close together. In Ghana you would be hard pressed to mistake Kumasi for Accra or Takoradi for Wa! They are far apart, and totally different in appearance. In some parts of the world the airport density is high - and the runways can even be aligned - I have misidentified airports in the past - but not landed at the wrong one - YET! From the sky, especially in reduced visibility, it can be easy to mistake one for another - it really can. In the past, a passenger aircraft from the USA has over-flown its expected destination of Paris, France - and landed in Brussels, Belgium by mistake! Well, the pilots fell asleep and woke up looking at the wrong country! It is always embarrassing when mistakes like this occur - and even more so in aviation - because we expect aviators to 'always get it right'. It is worth noting that aviators do generally get it right, and therefore, when they get it wrong, it makes news. What is worth noting in this case is 'they got it wrong, they admitted their mistakes, they fixed it, nobody and nothing was damaged' (well, apart from a bank balance and some egos!). Best of all, they shared it with the world to learn from!

In the newsworthy story of the big-Boeing, there is much to learn. The radio transcript clearly indicates the crew and air traffic teams were questioning the airport - but the 'false positives' for the pilot and his first officer were enough for them to commit to their mistake. We have all had this happen to us. We think that all the signs are right, that we are on the right road, the people around us are making the right noises - and then we realise 'uh uh' we got it wrong. Driving around central Accra is always like that for me! Never base your navigation in Accra around the Kofi Brokeman sellers - they all look the same!

We have all taken a wrong turn - physical, mental or financial - and the key to recovery and a safe return to normal operations is 'identification of the error'. The sooner we identify the error and take corrective action, the better. At times we have committed to an error and have to land (hopefully without incident). Then we need to plan the 'departure from the wrong place in our lives'. It cannot be rushed - we will have to spend some time in the 'wrong place', we must call upon our friends to come with their tugs to help us reposition ourselves ready for take off. We must make our calculations for a safe departure - and we may have to manage the potential risks from having to use a runway that is not as long as we would like. We may have to change our crew around us - or even reduce our load enough to ensure safe operations. Most importantly, we must continue to head towards our destination - and never accept that landing 16km short is 'good enough'. We must push on, keep our aims and ambitions clear in our minds, overcome the challenges, make it happen - and then look back and learn how to avoid such a thing happening again.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Photo of the week November 20th, 2013

Patricia Mawuli (left) , pilot, flight instructor, engineer and role model, as well as Principal at the AvTech Academy, hands well earned certificates of experience to (from left to right) Fauzia Doe Kuebunya, Bernice Klutse and Mary Soda. These youngsters have spent the past three months living, working and learning at Kpong Airfield in the Eastern Region. Having hands on experience in jobs from mowing runways through basic woodwork, painting to engine servicing and CNC production to radio operations has widened their horizons and made them much more confident individuals. They have, alongside, covered a number of related technical topics including principles of flight, meteorology and engine components. 

In 2014 the non-flying training operations at Kpong will be focused on one day courses, for teachers, lecturers and students interested in using aviation and engineering to promote learning in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). To find out more please contact

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 ( e-mail

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Photo of the week November 13th, 2013

How do we define a community? Here we see three distinct 'micro-districts' in a small community. How did they develop? Why did they form that way? Why do some have metal roofing and others not? Where do they get their water from? How do they charge their mobile phones? Indeed, do they have any mobile phones? West Africa has so many communities where these questions must be asked - whether you count this particular collection of around sixty homes in the Volta region as one, two or three, they are infra-structurally isolated, and are working to find their way towards socio-economic sustainability. Photo courtesy of Medicine of the Move

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

'The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few', is a well quoted verse, but never before has it been so relevant than in our world today. Do note that this quote does not state 'the people are few', no, it states emphatically that the 'workers' or 'labourers' are few. There are always plenty of people around, but, it seems, never enough ready and willing to work diligently enough to achieve the bringing in of the harvest, efficiently, reliably, economically and in a timely manner. It appears increasingly rare to find any leader of industry to be confident of their human capital resources. It appears that much of the lack of growth in the economies of the world is directly linked to finding the right calibre of worker, or trainee ready to learn what it takes.

In aviation the needs are very specific, the training expensive, the lead time from 'start to useable' long, and the number of people ready to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed in the industry 'few'. Airbus and Boeing have full order books, there is the constant need for qualified personnel at all levels, from the cargo handlers to the 'honey dippers' from the pilots to the air traffic controllers. All the same, those willing to WORK in their position are, it seems, increasingly few. A lot of the challenges appear to be related to the 'attitude to work'.

What makes a good worker? One who is timely, willing, reliable, honest, ready to learn, happy to be at work, pleasant to work with, knowledgeable, ready to share their skills and knowledge, and I am sure that we can all add to our list of 'good worker qualities'. Now that we have that list, how many of them apply to ourselves? Hmmm! That is more of a challenge! Perhaps it is a worthwhile exercise to give a list of qualities to your staff or colleagues, and ask them to rate the 'importance of each skill' from 1 to 5. Then, ask each of them to rate themselves in each of the qualities using the same scale. Finally, ask them to rate each other! It will, without doubt, quickly emerge that 'good workers' are hard to come by.

I think that, for me, the five most important attributes of a good worker are 'honesty', 'timely', 'cheerful', 'pleasant to work with' and 'willing to learn'.

There is nothing worse than working with somebody you cannot trust. They say one thing, and then do another. They ignore you when you speak, leaving you wondering what is going on in their heads. They fail to make eye contact with you, and you are left wondering if they are ready to respond in an emergency - or will they be a liability in such a scenario.

Timeliness is critical to the success of any operation. There is nothing worse than being ready to roll, and waiting for the person who is walking slowly up the road, knowing full well that they are behind schedule, not giving a hoot about who it affects. I admit, we are all late at times, but the 'timely' person will be seen to be trying to make the deadline, even if they have issues with transport or personal challenges. Making the effort to be timely is the first step towards achieving it. Of course, in the West African context, timeliness is a challenge - yet the mobile phone goes, so often, unused to express to those waiting that 'one is running late'.

A cheerful worker is wonderful thing. I hate the poo-poo faced workers. C'mon people, we have to work, so lets be cheerful about it. It may be a smelly job, but it is a job, we have a harvest to get in, and we can do it with our chins in our boots, or our smiles at our eyes. I know which one is the most pleasant to work with, and I know which one is more likely to get rewarded by management as well as co-workers. At the toll booths in Ghana it is rare to get a big smile and a 'thank you', but when you do it lifts you up for the whole day! Imagine how much more the workers in offices and factories can improve the working conditions, if they stop complaining and start rejoicing at having work, and the opportunity to do it cherfully!

When you work with somebody who is ready to learn, it is fantastic. They want to absorb knowledge, to better themselves, to make progress in their personal understanding of their work and the world in general. When you have a colleague who is not interested in learning any new tasks or even just some general knowledge, it is depressing. We all have the capacity to learn more - to understand more - but when you find a 'closed vessel' you realise that you are wasting your time investing in them.

These are only a few attributes of the 'worker of merit', but even with just these five, success should be just around the corner. Ah, what does that mean? It takes years to build confidence, gain knowledge and climb the tree of life. So many workers lack the skill of patience and expect everything to come to them 'now now now'. It does not work that way. It takes many years of working at the bottom of the tree before you can rise up a few branches. One thing is certain though, and that is 'a positive, honest and hardworking worker, will climb quicker than others'. 

Back to our 'honey dipper'. You may not know what 'the honey dipper' is in aviation. The honey dipper is the person who empties the toilet waste tanks on the airliners. It is, without doubt, one of the least glamorous jobs in the industry. Here is a conversation that, reportedly, took place at one airport.

Consultant: 'I am carrying out an employee satisfaction survey. How do you enjoy your job?'

HoneyDipper (with a big smile on their face): 'The pay is really bad. The hours are unsociable. I get covered in other peoples waste products. I go home smelling bad at the end of the day. I don't even get any perks from the airlines.'

Consultant (wafting the air in front of their nose): 'If it is that bad, why don't you quit?'

HoneyDipper (looking at a 747 taking off and smiling as his eyes track the metal bird across the sky): 'WHAT! Give up working in aviation? You have to be joking, I get paid to be around things that I love, and I help to ensure that every airline passenger has a pleasant flight. Change jobs? You have to be crazy!'

How we look at our employment changes how we work. Working in something that pleases us above seeking financial reward is key. Perhaps with a better outlook the real, worthwhile, workers would be many more.

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, November 6, 2013

Photo of the week November 6th, 2013

Ease of access to remote communities is directly related to health, education and economic development. This 'bridge' in the Konobo district of Liberia shows the conditions that are still widely found across West Africa. In many ways this community is fortunate enough to have even this limited access. 

So many of our communities are infrastructurally isolated - not always even in need of a bridge, perhaps in need of just a basic access road that is commutable even in the rainy season. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, 'Ghana lives in her villages, not in her cities' and 'If the village perishes, Ghana perishes too'. What are you doing to ensure that the villages of Ghana move towards infrastructural integration and support towards our indigenous production of food stuffs and other items? Photo courtesy of David Pablo Cohn

Monday, November 4, 2013

November 4th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

As a teenager, I made enquires regarding joining the British Royal Air Force, at the recruitment centre in Brighton. I was quickly told by the recruitment officer 'NO WAY'. His reasons were, I am sad to say, valid. Asthmatic, compromised spinal column, recently undergone five major surgeries, and let's be fair, not really physically acceptable. The recruitment officer could not get away from me quickly enough - I am sure he even shook his head at the idea that I could ever fly! It was one of those days when, as a young person, you grasp a door handle 'wondering if it will open'. Well, the RAF's door didn't even vibrate, let only open a crack! It did, however, set something else in motion. 

That was one of those days that could have knocked me down for the count, but it didn't, it was, for me, a machining moment. It removed a piece of metal from my corporal billet, and made a little round corner instead of a 'what can that area become' part of my life. A closed door can be a good thing, a directionally guiding thing, in one's life.

Having spent two years in a very strict public school, on a scholarship, I had learned to embrace the structure and discipline that the services represent. Those two years had more of a formative effect on my life than any other two year period. I learned so much about internationalism, varying cultures, the need for discipline and the need to learn from every moment of your life.

I am a firm believer in rules, discipline, in the concept of drill, organised bodies, structure, physical training, maintenance culture, chain of command and 'order'. Such an environment is not unique to the world of the armed forces - and nor should it be. The wonderful thing about aviation (non-military) is that it also requires the concepts of order - to the nth degree. Aviation requires the very same discipline as any force, and there is no escaping the parallels. The difference, ultimately, is the purpose for which we fly. The skills sets are not very different, the 'life on the line' component is the same, in many instances, as is the 'responsibility for others'.

A well managed airfield has a 'military look' to it. The order, the regulations, the adherence to standards. Of course, the military had a great deal of input to aviation historically too - but it took them some time.

In 1903, when the Wright Brothers made their historical flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the military of the day 'were not impressed', frankly, they were not even interested! These machines were seen as 'gadgets' and 'a flash in the pan' - horses and motor vehicles were 'the future' in the military minds of the day. The Wright Brothers could envisage military uses, and realised that Government contracts would boost their fledgling industry. Sadly, their approaches to American authorities of the day were treated, it appears, with contempt. In fact they spent two whole years trying to get Government on board, without success. Consequently, in 1908, they travelled to France to make demonstrations - and to dispel rumours that they 'did not really have a flying machine that worked'. The Europeans loved the concept of Aviation - Santos Dumont was already working with his Demoiselle and Louis Blériot was working on his own designs, taking inspiration from the visiting Americans. Blériot went on to cross the English Channel in 1909 in his own machine. We will never know how much impact seeing the Wrights fly had on him, but it had some. 

The Wrights then went back to the USA, and having been embraced by the Europeans, their own Government was now interested in their work. Between 1909 and 1915 the Wrights sold fourteen aircraft to the Army, as well as pilot training. The idea was that their aircraft could be used for observation. Clearly, a good use for any aircraft! The onset of World War I, led to massive investment and development of military aircraft around the world - a massive change in attitudes, led by the needs of the day. Of course, we all see the outcome of the aviation developments, both military and civilian, that have occurred in the hundred years since.

Apart from the 'defensive and offensive roles' that aircraft in the armed forces have played, the most important use, from my civilian perspective, has been that of the air-ambulance.

The first use of powered aircraft for evacuation of injured parties appears to have been in 1917. Yet, it was not until the late 1920's that custom built aircraft to carry injured persons were introduced. One of the most amazing facts about using aircraft to carry injured parties, is that the use of air-evacuation for causalities, in times of conflict, can reduce the mortality rate from around 60% to under 10%. The main reason for the success of air-evacuation is the reduction in time, and transport trauma, in reaching hospital or clinic services. Even a small, slow aircraft can take away the road trauma, caused by riding on bumpy rural tracks, and reduce time 'from incident to care' from tens of hours, or even days, to less than an hour. Of course, it requires skilled pilots, appropriate aircraft and a desire to see it become a reality.

Ghana has not been excluded from the concept of air ambulance. In August 1964, Kwame Nkrumah declared his desire for a network of airstrips and an air ambulance service, in his speech at Takoradi. Sadly, the concept was never realised. Of course, it does not take the military, or even Government, to establish air ambulance solutions.

Civilian air ambulances operate all over the world - some commercially, charging many thousands of dollars for a short trip to save a life of one who can pay, others operate a low cost or even 'no cost' humanitarian service (often with much simpler aircraft). What is necessary, in each case, is that the authorities embrace the concepts, and work with the providers of service, to ensure appropriate and security aware solutions.  

I look forward to seeing light aircraft used to improve and save lives in rural Ghana, and I believe that the door to that realisation will soon open. I really do believe that something is about to change. I know that there is the desire, and I believe that in the coming years we will see communities with their own airstrips, and aircraft operating for humanitarian purposes to them. However, without order, discipline, standards and rules in place (and applied), along with active co-operation between the authorities, communities and those with the desire to make it a reality, it will remain firmly on our wish list. 

My hand has been on the door handle of humanitarian aviation solutions in Ghana for many years, and I hope that, soon, that door will open positively, to the benefit all those in need of 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