Monday, December 22, 2014

The African Animals' Christmas Party

Down by the edge of the rain forest, in the depths of Africa, there once lived a giraffe called George. He was a large giraffe with a wonderful pattern all over his body - he was very beautiful.

Sadly, George was not a happy giraffe. His home was as lovely a place as you could imagine – with fresh, green leaves and fruit trees for him to wander through. There was more than enough food for him to feed on all year round. The sun shone almost every day… and the moon shone brightly almost every night. What more could a giraffe hope for! All the same, George was not a happy chappy.

The reason that George gave for being so very unhappy was simple – he felt ugly and useless. Yes… ugly and useless! But that was all about to change...

Early one morning – one fine, sunny morning – Eric the elephant plodded past, on his way to the water hole. He trumpeted ’’Hello, George. How are you today?” 

“Not very well,” replied George, speaking through his nose, as he did when he was sad. 

Worried about his friend, Eric sat down, with a great thud, to listen to the problem. George – pleased that he had someone to talk to – sat down near Eric. A giraffe sitting down is quite a sight. He managed it by winding his legs under his body and bending his neck so that Eric could hear him from where he sat. George did find it difficult to get down to the same level of the other animals!

“What’s the problem?,” asked Eric gently. “Have you got a sore throat? Or perhaps you have an itch on your foot and can’t reach to scratch it? Do tell me, George – I’d like to help you.”

“Well," began George, feeling a little silly, “I’m not actually ill. But I do have a problem.” George heaved a huge sigh. By this time, it was rather late for Eric to get to the water hole before the other animals. So he settled down to listen patiently to George.

“I’m not very happy,” murmured George, still speaking through his soft pink nose.

“Why ever not,” replied Eric, amazed by his friend’s response and wondering to himself if he had missed his morning bath for nothing. By this time, Mick, a naughty little monkey from a nearby tree, had joined the pair of animals chatting on the ground. Mick bounced into place next to them and picked little creatures and seeds from his dark brown fur. Mick really liked to groom his hair every morning and every evening.

“Well, I’m not u-u- useful like both of you,” explained George nervously, with a little stammer. “Eric can lift things with his trunk and Mick can climb trees and do all sort of clever things with his hands. All I can do is keep my head up in the clouds and eat the leaves off the trees - well, the top of the trees at least. The other animals even make jokes and ask me 'How’s the weather up there, George!' I don't like it."

The friends looked uncomfortably at each other. “If I want to scratch my leg,” continued George tearfully, ”by the time I bend all the way down, it’s no longer itchy! If I have a sore throat, I need a litre of medicine, my neck is so very long. I’ve got funny spots all over me, so that I look like a chequers board! I’m just so, so ugly and so, so useless.”

With this final outburst, George struggled to his feet and ran off into the rain forest, feeling as though he looked like he would soon fall over in his hurry to leave his friends.

Eric and Mick looked at each other. "I don’t understand why George is so upset – I think he’s a beautiful creature… and so elegant,” began Eric. “Look at me, so big and clumsy.” and with that, Eric deliberately bumped a coconut palm so that a coconut would fall next to Mick. 

“And look at me,” replied Mick, whilst happily picking up the coconut, "I sometimes wonder whether my mother had the measuring tape the wrong way round when she made me. I’ve got such long arms and such short legs! But we’re all different and all useful in our own way.”

“If only George could see how useful and needed he is,” suggested Eric. “I’m sure that would make him feel happier. I don’t know how we might help him.” 

With that Eric and Mick each went their own way, wondering if they could ever help George to feel better about himself.

Two weeks later, all of the animals of the rain forest begun planning their Christmas party – it was already November and there was no time to lose. There was much roaring, beating, grunting and calling by those present. But George was not there, I am sad to say. Those animals present decided that they would have a proper Christmas tree, down by the water hole. It was a splendid idea!

George, being the best writer, wrote a letter to the Garden Centre in Sweden – 

“Dear Garden Centre in Sweden,

We, the animals of the deep rain forest in Africa, would like to order your very biggest and nicest Christmas tree. Please send it to;

The Animals’ Christmas Party,

The Water Hole,

Deepest Africa.

We will pay in pineapples, coconuts and bananas when the tree arrives.

Thank you very much and Merry Christmas to you all.

Yours sincerely

Mick the Monkey,

For The Animals’ Christmas Party.”

He then added his paw print, put it into an envelope and took it to Raymond Rhinoceros who put a four-banana stamp on it.

Simon the Stork then carried the letter all the way to Sweden, since he was migrating that week. Along the way he got a little lost, and had to ask a seagull which direction to take as he had never delivered any letter to Sweden before. Finally, he dropped the letter right in front of the Swedish Garden Centre's gates.

All of the animals waited excitedly, wondering if their letter had made it. 

Then, one day – about a week before Christmas - the biggest brightest, greenest and nicest Christmas tree you ever did see arrived in the rain forest of deepest Africa. Brought by the whale that morning to the nearest sea port, then strapped to the back of a delivery elephant for the remaining part of the journey by land. Amazingly the Christmas tree had arrived from Sweden. 

It wasn’t long before the news of the tree’s delivery had spread via the bush telegraph to the other animals of the rain forest. As they all gathered around, eager to get a good look at the long-awaited tree, Eric the elephant stuck the Christmas tree into the ground using his strong trunk. The tropical birds begun to fly in with all sorts of pretty fruits to decorate the tree – mangoes, pineapples, pawpaw, bananas, oranges and some fruits that nobody knew the names of… The tree looked wonderful - and smelt like the best possible tree ever!

Just as dusk began to fall, the fireflies flew in and landed, each taking up their position on the end of a branch. Then, all at once they started to glow - lighting up the tree with more dazzle than even the best trees in London, Paris or New York. 

The happy animals all sang Christmas carols around the water hole… all that is, except for George, who was hiding behind the tallest mango tree, wishing that he could feel even just a little useful, and not quite so ugly.

After having sang “Whilst shepherds watched their flocks by night”, the animals were getting ready to return home to their nests, trees, holes and other places where animals sleep.

Suddenly, Larry the lion thought he could hear someone crying. “Shh” he roared into the crowd who were busily wishing each other ‘good-night’. He continued, “I think I hear the sound of someone crying." His voice was very deep and very posh. 

From the biggest to the smallest, every animal became silent. They tilted their heads to try to hear better the noise that Larry had reported. 

One by one, they all heard, from somewhere nearby, the faintest, saddest weeping.

Gloria the gazelle stepped towards the water hole, and peered deep into the water. To her surprise she discovered the worlds one and only freshwater starfish, sobbing quietly.

“Whatever is the matter?”, asked Gloria. Startled, the little starfish lifted her body and opened wide her little eyes. Timidly she replied, “I’m just so unhappy- I can’t join in like you for the Christmas tree party. I’ve got five feet, not four like each of you. I can only crawl along, so when the dancing begins I get left behind. And now I’ve disturbed your evening by crying and making you all sad on such a lovely, happy evening – I never get anything right." She lowered herself and closed her eyes, hoping that nobody could see her anymore.

Gloria turned to the animals, who by this time were anxious to hear why the starfish should be crying on such a joyous occasion. When she explained the problem, it was quickly agreed that, if she wanted to, Stella the starfish could sit on top of the Christmas tree, to remind the other animals of the star in the sky the day that the baby Jesus was born, many years ago, on that first Christmas Day.

“Would you like to be the star on top of the tree?”, asked Gloria the Gazelle.

“Oh, yes, please!”, replied Stella, suddenly smiling at the thought of doing something useful and being able to join in the festivities. She wiggled her way out of the water, at the same time wiping away her tears and blowing her nose using different tentacles. Then, with her eyes open as wide as ever, she headed towards the Christmas tree and started to climb up its trunk. But she’d never done any climbing before and quickly discovered that it was not easy. She fell down.

Before Stella had time to cry, because once again there was something she was unable to do, Mick the monkey swung forwards, using Gloria the gazelle’s neck as a pivot. “I’ll carry you to the top of the tree, he said gleefully. Stella wrapped herself around Mick’s wrist, looking like a bracelet, and Mick began to climb. 

"Ooooh, ouch, eeooww", cried Mick, jumping to the ground with a gentle thud, "The needles on this tree are too prickly for my paws!" he whimpered, and carefully placed Stella the starfish on the soft grass.

Stella begun to cry again, “I’m useless, I’m ugly...”

"Don’t worry," comforted Eric the Elephant, "I’ll lift you up to the top of the tree on the end of my long trunk." Stella climbed onto the tip of Eric's trunk and he stretched up towards the summit of the tree. Stella was holding on tightly, so as not to fall, since she had never been that high before. It was a very, very long way down. Up, up, up she went on the end of Eric's trunk. 

All of the animals were, by this time, holding their breath, expecting at any moment to see the crowning glory of Stella the starfish at the top of the tree. When Eric discovered that his trunk was not long enough, a great sigh of disappointment run through the little group of friends. Eric lowered Stella back to the ground, close to the water hole.

Stella the starfish began to crawl quietly back towards the water, sadder than ever after such a disappointment… Then George the giraffe slipped out from his hiding place behind the mango tree. With a lot of hesitation George spoke to the crowd. “I know that Eric can lift heavy things with his trunk and Mick can do all sorts of cleaver things with his hands. I know that all I can do is to keep my head in the clouds - and eat the leaves off the trees. All the same, I wonder if I might be able to help Stella get to the top of the tree… that is, if you would like me to try.”

“Oh, yes, please,” chorused the little crowd. "YES PLEASE!"

So George got down on his knees, looking as though he was about to fall over, and told Stella to climb onto his soft pink nose. “Oh, that tickles,” giggled George as he gracefully stood up to his full height. In just a moment, George - his neck stretched to its fullest length - was able to place his nose at the top of the tree. Stella reached out one tentacle and took hold of the topmost part of the tree… the very biggest and nicest Christmas tree from the Garden Centre in Sweden. 

All of the animals clapped and cheered. "Hooray for George. Hooray for Stella.” And five of the brightest, happiest fireflies flew-in and landed on the end of Stella’s tentacles.

What a beautiful sight it was!

George blushed a little, never having been so pleased at being tall. He began finally to feel accepted by all of the other animals and smiled a giraffe smile. 

Just at that moment and to everyone’s surprise, out from behind another mango tree, on the other side of the water hole emerged another Giraffe. She called shyly “Hello, may I join you? You all seem to be having such fun.”

“Why, of course”, replied George immediately, now confident in his new role as Christmas tree decorator. 

Coming close to George, she introduced herself as Jemima. As she gave George a little kiss on the cheek to congratulate him on his efforts, George noticed that Jemima had the longest eye lashes he had ever seen. I think that you are the cleverest, most useful, most handsome Giraffe I have ever seen”, said Jemima, as they walked into the night with the other animals of the rain forest.

From that day on, George never felt useless nor ugly again. All of the animals in the rain forest had learned an important lesson; that each animal is different and able to do different things, but sometimes we have to look carefully to find just what each animal is able to do. 

George and Jemima now have two baby Giraffes and are teaching them how beautiful and useful they each are … in their own way. 

Have a Merry Christmas and know that you are beautiful and useful!

Monday, July 14, 2014

July 14th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

For the past few years, you have been reading 'Fresh Air Matters' with me in every Monday Edition of the Ghanaian Business and Financial Times, and online at - and we have covered many topics! 

Over these years, this column has upset, encouraged, supported, inspired, motivated and educated, it has, I am led to believe, touched many people. The many e-mails and other feedback received has inspired me, and thus this has been a two way process.

Sitting down to create over one thousand words every week takes a lot of time and energy, and in these days of challenges we all have to manage our resources. Therefore, over the next few months I will be concentrating my writing on books in progress. My biography has been requested many times, and is well advanced, as well as some children's books that have been hanging on the end of my pen for many years. George the Monkey, Cyril the Giraffe, Edward the Elephant and the long travelling around the world 'Tales of Mumford Mouse'; all stories that I have told to many children, all from the fresh organic fields of my imagination - from long before my first step on the African continent. Now, I have new characters hatching and looking for paper to spill onto: Kwame the crocodile, Kwesi the Cattle Egret, Ama the Hoopoe, Hanna the chicken, Ellis the Monitor Lizard - and others are all hatching their stories in my mind. There will be a special character, one very close to my heart, called 'Patricia the Pilot', who will have her own series of adventures - and those stories will be heavily based on the true life transformation of Patricia Mawuli from living in a simple, traditional home in the bush to building and flying aircraft in Ghana, along with the struggles, challenges and achievements along the way. Each of these stories, as and when they publish, will have three aims: to enthral, to educate and to inspire. The target age group will be from 8 years to adult - for I hope that all the grownups will read these stories to their children, grandchildren or just to the next child they find themselves having to entertain. I hope that these stories will carry the energy and momentum to drag folks away from their computers, tablets and smart phones - a much needed transformation in our society. We all need stories. We all need inspiration. We all need to take a fresh look at reading!

The time it will take to bring these embryonic characters fully to life will draw on my creative time, energy and resources. Therefore, Fresh Air Matters will be taking a break for a while. However, I will still submit articles and items to the Business and Financial Times as the 'inspiration and opportunity' hits me, which will, generally, also find their way to the blogspot.

To those who have been upset by what has been written in this column: a) if it was the truth that hurt you, I offer no apology. b) if it was a misunderstanding, I seek to clarify. c) if it was your sensitivity, please grow stronger and d) if I was wrong, I apologise.

To those who have learned from this column, I am thrilled to share knowledge - it is an amazing gift - now go and build on that knowledge and use it to the good of mankind and the positive growth of our nation.

To those who have been inspired, I am humbled, and inspired in return. Take your inspiration and keep it warm, never let the fire die down, fan those flames and let the bush fire spread to all around you. All it takes is a well placed idea to change the world.

To those who have been encouraged, stay strong and never let anybody get you down - you are your own person! Each and every one of us can do anything we want - it is inside of us, and we 'can-do', if we are ready to take the bull by the horns and accept that there will be good days and bad days!

Whatever your walk of life is, please remember that 'Fresh Air Matters' - whether it is the air that your breath, or it is related to aviation, we know that we must always have it! Without the air that we breathe we would soon cease to exist, and likewise without aviation our modern society would not be the same. Imagine spending weeks in a boat to get to Europe or the USA... months to get to China or Australia. What would be the consequence of not being able to express deliver mail or parts across continents? Consider not being able to visit another country for just a few days or hours... Aviation is the life-blood of our new society, and as essential to our economic survival - just as oxygen is to our beings.

I hope to be back with you all soon, and look forward to hearing from you by e-mail if you get a chance. 

To quote two of my fictional heroes; 

'May the Force be with you.' 

and may you 'Live long and prosper'.

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The NTSB report on last year's Flight 214 accident, in California, is now in the public domain: The report states 'The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew’s mismanagement of the airplane’s descent during the visual approach, the pilot flying’s unintended deactivation of automatic airspeed control, the flight crew’s inadequate monitoring of airspeed, and the flight crew’s delayed execution of a go-around after they became aware that the airplane was below acceptable glide-path and airspeed tolerances.' 

In all honesty, there are no 'big surprises' in the investigators findings. Pilot error is the common thread found throughout its many pages. As always, the future safety of aviation will be determined on how we deal with the two questions: a) Why did this happen in the first place? and b) How do we prevent it occurring again? 

It is all too easy to put the blame on others, but when we are 'in command', we must take responsibility. We are given power and we must not abuse it. We must not take it on if we are not competent to do so, and if we find ourselves getting into hot water, we must seek advice and support from those who can help appropriately, in time to avoid a disaster.

Flight 214 was coming into an airport where an automated landing aid was not functioning. Not a problem if you are current with visual approaches, as you should be. Visual approach means that you look out of the window, you see what is happening and you adjust power, attitude, track, etc in real time, using small adjustments to keep everything as it should be. The crew were, for whatever reason, 'aiming short', and 'touched down short', resulting in damage to the aircraft (a write-off), property and, most devastatingly, life. We must all LEARN from this accident. If we fail to learn from it, those who died, gave their lives in vain. If we learn from it, their sacrifice will save many lives in the years to come.

Do you wear a seatbelt when you travel in a motor car? The law says that you should. Early cars didn't have seatbelts. They were added to save lives. Then, because people didn't wear them, the wearing of them became law. Think about that next time you put your seatbelt on: 'People died so that seatbelts would be introduced and made law, to protect me and my family'. 

What about that 'rear view mirror' or 'wing mirrors' on cars? Again, early models didn't have any... It resulted in many accidents. Then, in 1906 in 'The Woman and the Car', written by Dorothy Levitt, she wrote "carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving", she goes on, "hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic". A few years on, and all the cars had mirrors - for safety reasons. 

In the same way, we have to learn from the demise of other business, countries and systems. We must learn from the mistakes and misfortune of others. It is one of the reasons we read history, it is one of the reasons that we watch the news or read the newspapers! Being aware of the mistakes of others allows us to stand on their shoulders - to get a better view of what is ahead - and to adjust our path in order to make better progress.

I ponder trends, past and present. I look at a variety of plans for the route ahead. It is possible to predict where additional challenges might be found - quite accurately, with practice. Finally, it is necessary to propose a solution, which takes as many of the risks and challenges into account. I never manage to cover all of the bases, and I am always ready to 're-evaluate', pondering on the progress made, reassessing the plans, re-predicting the outcomes based on new knowledge gained and then, if necessary, proposing a change of route. Just as one does at the front end of an aircraft, constantly. 

The fuel crisis of recent days was not a surprise. If you had your ear to the ground, and considered all the factors available in the public forum, a fuel crisis has been looming for many weeks. It was always 'just a matter of time before the bubble burst'. Many of the people I know made sure that they kept their fuel tanks topped up, and their gensets full. Thus, for those who planned, the crisis in its early days was more of an inconvenience than a crisis. But for those who failed to ponder, plan, predict and propose, it came as a 'shock', a 'surprise' and quickly became a crisis. 

The same can be said for the floods that hit Accra each year... and so many other challenges that hit us. 

None of this should be a surprise for us in Africa. We have a wonderful African story about the Vulture who complains during the rainy season that 'he must build a house during the next dry season', but when the dry season comes he neglects his good intentions and fails to prepare for the rains. Thus he suffers when the wind blows and the rain falls, and although he complains, he has no cause for complaint, for he failed to ponder, plan, predict and propose.

We can put the blame on others, we can all march in the streets, we can go on the TV and radio chat shows and complain. However, we must be careful not to be like the vulture... Over the past 20 years, I have often seen the same people complain, year in and year out... and I have seen others, who 'complain-eth not', who take action to prepare for the next challenge - that is surely coming their way.

It seems that many nations have the false belief that the 'Government' is responsible for all the decisions in the nation. Sorry, but the Government is not. The Government is charged with the responsibility to create an enabling environment for 'business to do business'. That includes, creating and maintaining transport infrastructure that works, ensuring adequate health and education systems and overseeing safety in various sectors - plus ensuring a level playing field, without corruption or nepotism. Government has no place in business, but must ensure that business has its place, securely in society. 

Business, the true backbone of a nation, is thus enabled to create a sustainable development platform. Extraction, farming, processing, production, services, etc, and with them all, growing new jobs and opportunities. The workers, in-turn, must take their place in diligent productivity, and thus the success of a nation is born. Break any of the links in the chain, and the system fails. Yes, the problems often start in the cockpit of the nation - the seat of Governance! BUT, it does not stop there. We have many more entrepreneurs than Members of Parliament, we have many more workers than civil-servants - and thus it is the work of the many to ensure that a nation prospers - despite the few that may not always be working towards the greater good. 

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

June 30th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Today the year is roughly at its mid-point. It reminds me of the question 'Is your glass half-empty or half-full?'. Traditionally, we propose that those who say 'half-empty' are the pessimists, and that those who say 'half-full' are the optimists. It is all about how we see 'our lot'.

Imagine you are in an aircraft with half-full, or half-empty, tanks of fuel. How would you see it? Would it be 'time to turn back'? or would it be 'time to plan how much further you can go'?

I often tell people 'I will go in any direction, as long it is forwards'. I have also been heard to say 'Don't look back, because that is not where we are going'. It is always good to have a balanced outlook, with an awareness of where we have come from, and an ambition to reach our destination. Sadly, most of us lack the means to get where we want to go in the shortest possible time. That does not mean 'give up', it means 'change your outlook'.

Let us return to the glass. This is how I see it.

Whether my glass is half-full, quarter-full, or just got a few drops in it, I am thankful for what I have, rather than what is lacking.

When I only have a glass, without any contents, I am thrilled to own a glass - for it is a start.

When I have a broken glass, I am able to collect the shards and melt them to make some wonderful glass beads (I live in Krobo-land, after all!).

When I do not have a glass, I am fortunate not to have wash it. (but I look forward to getting one if I can!)

You see, it is all about perception. You determine your state of mind. You determine your positive outlook, and that makes you a pleasant person to be around - or a negative one, if you want to self-destruct and wallow in self-pity...

Eleanor Roosevelt, a First Lady of the USA, stated that 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent'. In other words, YOU determine your state of mind, not what others say about you. You determine your mental position, and you are able to ignore what others say, it is your choice.

Our future really is our choice. Not what we own, not what we do, but who we are, how we feel, and our personal happiness, and success, is simply a state of mind away.

Being a pilot, such a state of mind is essential. We all have moments when things 'go wrong' or at least look that way! It is normal, we fly machines! On a recent flight with a young person on their first flying lesson, the oil pressure gauge suddenly deflected well past normal - into the red zone. There are four possible reasons for this to happen.

1. Oil pressure has gone crazy-high. Something is seriously wrong with the engine, and it could stop any moment.

2. The gauge is faulty and misreading.

3. The sensor has failed and is mis-sending.

4. A wiring problem has occurred (a broken wire or a connector issue).

We were at two thousand feet, and could not simply pop outside to take a look at the wiring and sensor. We did tap the gauge - but to no avail. So, we had no idea about the exact reason. The most probable reasons were 'a broken wire' or the sensor connector had come loose, or corrosion had stopped the signal coming along. Oil temperature was stable, so it was probably NOT an engine problem, but all the same action had to be taken. So, it comes to a decision point 'continue and ignore the signs', or 'land at the earliest possibility'. With either choice, caution has to be maintained, in case the issue is related to engine function, and if it is, the propeller could stop spinning at any time, so a route to enable an emergency landing, if needed, must be maintained.

Since 'there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots', it was time to cut the lesson short and head back to the airfield. The student and I had a discussion, and although we both felt that it was 'nothing to worry about', it was prudent to land and find the cause of the problem.

At that point, one's state of mind can enter into 'panic' or, by choice, 'remain calm'. Panic would only create a problem. Panic or over-worry only detracts from your performance. Being aware of the risks, and remaining calm, flying with every bit of your training at your fingertips, is the key to getting back on the ground safely.

I explained that we would take a 'steeper angle of approach than usual', going on to give the reason 'just in case the engine does decide to quit, which I doubt, but we have a warning signal on the panel'.

As I pulled the power back the gauge flicked to normal, and then went back to a full-deflection into the 'red zone'. We were less than five hundred feet off of the ground, and my ears were fully tuned to the engine noises, but from now on, I would not look at the gauge. If the engine were to quit, I would need to do nothing more than I have done on every flight, 'fly the plane'. With or without the engine, I must simply remain in control, making the right decision every second.

The engine continued to purr, and we landed without incident. Post flight inspection found that the connection to the sensor had corroded, and broken down, just behind the spade, within the heat-shrink. Ten minutes later a new connection was made, the log-book entries made, and the aircraft ready for flight. The 'issue' was one of 'communication'. The sensor was unable to get its signal to the gauge because of a broken wire. The little 'flick' of the sensor on approach was probably due to vibrations, on engine power change, that made a momentary connection.

The successful landing could have turned into a drama, if we had not remained calm and looked on the positive side of our situation, being ready to deal with an emergency if it happened, but remaining focused, and in control, flying with what we had. Yes, it brought its moments of added 'concern', but at no point did we let the concern get in the way of our moving forward and taking the right decisions. Focusing on the 'gauge' would have meant not looking out of the cockpit... which would have led to a disaster!

Life really is just like flying a plane. You must learn to read the signs, and to accept that sometimes, generally through lack of communication, the wrong signals - or no signals - get sent, and you must not become focused on those issues, but you must always 'look ahead', 'fly your plane', 'move forwards', and be ready to make every landing a smooth one.

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23rd, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The company I work for was recently privileged to be audited by the Ghana Revenue Authority. What lovely people they are. Seriously. Much as I was uneasy about 'what they might behave like', they did a thoroughly professional job, going through every piece of paper for several years, and asking lots of technical questions. They showed a real interest in the business, its practices and what it did. They were totally professional. It was a very positive experience. Well done GRA! 

They advised on how to 'better comply' with the system in a clear and precise manner. What I found hardest was the 'education about policy in Ghana' that damages local development. I was shocked to realise that our 'Tax Laws' can be terribly 'anti-Ghanaian' and most definitely 'anti-rural development'. We talked about my feelings, with the GRA and our own financial auditors, and much as those professionals in taxation and business law could understand my point of view, they pointed out, quite rightly, that 'they didn't make the rules'. So, we are being, through economic and policy impact, forced to support larger foreign companies, and to avoid spending money in the local economy. Simple - those are the rules. Did that wake you up? Does that make you 'angry'? Or, are you nodding your head?

Well, let me explain.

I work in aviation and engineering in rural Ghana. It is a happy choice. I used to try to support local businesses where possible for supplies. Wouldn't you? But I can't any longer. Let us look at the most striking 'anti-rural development rule' that makes no sense: Withholding Tax.

Withholding tax is, in effect, a punitive tax on the purchaser and the supplier - and particularly anti-rural development. It states that for certain purchases (above a nominal amount), you must 'withhold 5% of the purchase amount, and go physically to a tax office, pay it on behalf of the company you are purchasing from, get a certificate and take it to the company - or make it available to them'. So, for the seller, they lose 5% of their sale (even if their profit margin is less than 5%), and for the purchaser, well, they incur a) additional paperwork, b) transport costs, c) time and effort costs, d) a delay in access to the product (since you may have to take the certificate for the 5% to them), and d) probably an increased price from the seller to cover the 5%. BUT there is good news! Some companies are EXEMPT from the 5% withholding tax! Yes, they are bigger companies - and YES, they are in the urban areas - and YES they are often foreign owned... So, the smaller, local, companies are 'being restricted' from market access and growth because of the rules. Still not convinced? Let me give you an example.

If I purchase GHS11,750 of product from a company in Tema (with foreign ownership and lots of foreign nationals on their payroll), they are exempt from the 5% withholding tax (GHS500), and will give me a VAT receipt. I can pick up the product, pay the money and even get the GHS1,750 VAT allowed against my sales in a matter of minutes! However, had I wanted to 'facilitate my local economy', and to obtain the same items from my local supplier, being ready to write off the VAT against convenience and supporting the local economy (since they are not VAT registered), I find that then I have to send a person to the tax office to pay 5% of the purchase price - and that the 'seller' is going to add that amount to the price he is quoting, since he is only make a few percent on the sale anyway. Yes, that is the reality of withholding tax. It makes us seek out larger companies in urban areas who are exempted. It prevents the growth of smaller, particularly rural companies (because access to the tax offices is more challenging, time consuming and transport intensive). Withholding tax is, albeit unintentionally, a de facto punitive tax on rural development. But it is the law, and so, we will no longer make larger purchases in the rural areas. We will not be 'practically enabled' to boost the development of our local area, simply because the rules were written for those in the urban areas. (Perhaps they will change if somebody reads this). I don't like it. I don't think it is fair on the small Ghanaian businesses - but we didn't bring the rules, we must simply follow them.

This leads us to the new currency control rules. I may be in the minority (?) by being concerned about their effects, but I know that I am not alone in feeling their effects. The new 'amended rules', leave me further concerned for the development of Ghana's (especially rural) businesses. Rather like the 'withholding tax being an urban concept', the same goes for the 'currency controls'. 

The statement last week states 'Exporters of services such as hotels, educational institutions, insurance companies and others may receive payment in foreign currency from non-residents.' 

This winds me up as much as the fact that Aburi Gardens, Mole Game Reserve and other places have a two tier charging system 'one price for Ghanaians, and another for so called foreigners'. (How would a Ghanaian feel being charged more than an American or European to enter an event in the USA or Europe - regardless of the economic ability?)

Rules should be the same for everybody. Regardless of where you are from - or where you are based. So, with the new rules, a 'white person', resident or not, can easily use foreign currency - since nobody will ask questions. BUT a resident Ghanaian cannot enjoy the same economic benefit of using foreign currency that they have in their possession! Wow! I am left wondering about how this came about? 

But it gets worse... even non-residents still cannot purchase GOODS with foreign currency (the new rules are only for services). AND Ghanaian businesses cannot insure their foreign purchased items in foreign currency - making the Ghanaian entrepreneur the one who is 'disadvantaged', or so it seems to me.

Remember, this whole currency thing is based on the URBAN economy - those with ready access to a FOREX bureaux, banking systems and infrastructure! (Forex bureaux really are hard to find in the rural areas!). Consequently, a visitor who is travelling in our neck of the woods cannot legally purchase items using their foreign currency - and cannot change the money locally - and the Ghanaian entrepreneur would be breaking the law to take the foreign cash. Another blow to rural development.

Surely, if we want to make our wonderful nation attractive to investment, tourism and development - urban and rural - for Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians - we need to level the playing field. Right now the economic playing field is heavily inclined towards big business, foreign owned and in urban locations - and the economic ball is running down the pitch at speed, leaving rural areas without practical access to much needed development - by LAW! 

At least that is how I feel - living and working in rural Ghana, speaking to rural dwellers and rural business folks. Perhaps many of those reading this are working in foreign owned urban businesses - and are enjoying the rules that favour their game... Just remember, unless greater equality and distribution of wealth is established, it will eventually strangle the market of demand, and the whole nation will suffer. We all need rural development to drive nationwide economic growth and sustainability. We need policies and rules that level the overall playing field - urban and rural, foreign and national. Simple as that. These are my views, and perhaps I am wrong... I would love to hear your views on these matters... so drop me a line.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

June 16th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

If you board a bus or train, in certain countries, you will find 'Priority Seats' - often made available by law, if not out of consideration for the clientele of the service. These are seats set aside for the elderly, pregnant, disabled or otherwise infirm. Anybody can sit on the seat. It has no special device to detect and eject any able-bodied person who should use it. It operates on a trust basis. If there is a shortage of seats, and nobody who is 'eligible' for the Priority Seat is aboard, then anybody may sit on the seat. Should an eligible party board the vehicle, it is expected that the seat will be liberated in favour of the person in greater need. It is not easily enforced, but there is general 'protocol' - a sort of 'herd method of enforcement'. Most people respect the needs of others less able than themselves - or in more need than themselves - and are ready to ensure that the Priority Seat spirit is enforced. It is a simple, human need, combined with human compassion solution. The setting aside of resources, and making of resources available, to those in need is the backbone of a humanitarian society. It is all based on the concept of 'priority', and not that the biggest and best get everything, but that those who need get what they need. It requires a working understanding of the difference between 'need' and 'want' across all sectors of the society.

'I want to sit down on the bus.', is one thing, but 'I need to sit down on the bus.' is another. Of course, there will always be the person who is selfish enough to say 'I need to sit down because I want to sit down.', those people are the ones who spoil positive development of society - often labelled with unpleasant names by those with the better attitude.

I used to be in a wheelchair, and perhaps that has changed the way I think, but let us imagine a more pragmatic approach. Let us decide that today you will not give up your seat to a less able person, you decide that 'you want it, so you need it'. Now, jump forward a few years... How do you feel when you are less able and get treated the same way? You are unfortunate enough to be struggling - unable to stand for long... or perhaps you are with your heavily pregnant wife... and you now NEED to use that seat, but, everybody else has taken your demonstrated lead, from before, and decided that they WANT that seat... You may have created your own reverse scenario - and suffer accordingly. Remember, we 'reap what we sow!'

'Ah, but we are in Ghana and we are all in need.', is a simple response - and one that I have heard too many times as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour by people who should know better. But it is not valid, for our degrees of need in our society are still very noticeable - as are our degrees of greed! Our society is burdened with a number of people who struggle to differentiate between their needs and their wants. Their wants are perhaps better seen as 'greed', and it has a devastating ability to damage our society. The word that is essential in understanding this challenge, and to finding a solution, is 'Priority', as in Priority Seats. 

When there are abundant resources, there is no issue with everybody having what they want - but when there are constrained resources, that is where the men are separated from the boys and the sheep from the goats. That is when the leaders, in all walks of life, are given the opportunity to shine - to stand out, to stand up and to be counted. Sadly, we seem to be in a world where those who 'have' are less and less likely to do the polite - what we often call 'the right' - thing. 

Why is it 'right' to respect 'priority' in society? Because that is what makes us human. If we wish to behave like animals, we would be like the wild dogs, hunting down our prey as a group, but once we achieve a kill, we fight to take the biggest portion - or if possible, the whole carcass. There is no a single human society without a 'wild dog' amongst them, but fortunately, our humanity has an amazing tendency to rise about that level of barbarism. Should we ever lose that ability, we will lose our humanity. 

Of course, priority is present on the roads and in the air. The 'Rules of the air' state that powered aircraft must give way to non-powered aircraft... for example, hot air balloons and gliders have priority over aircraft with engines. It also states that the glider must give way to the hot air balloon! Basically, the more able (as in more controllable) aircraft will always give way to the less able. Once again, aviation reflects the basis of a successful society! 

The same rules exist on our roads... but are rarely seen being applied. The vehicle on the roundabout (i.e. in motion) has priority over the vehicle 'joining' (not in motion) the roundabout... or so the rules of the road (the highway code) states. Yet, we see time and time again these rules, established for safety, being completely ignored - and often by those who should know better! The vehicle wishing to join the highway from a side road (not in motion) must give way (in fact we have signs that state that very requirement) to the traffic in motion on the highway. Yet, we see accident after accident due to the driver joining WANTING to join 'NOW NOW NOW', and not having the self-discipline demanded of all road users. They do not NEED to take the risk of causing an accident - but they often perceive that they are 'more important' than those already on the road. Their desire to save a few minutes may, and often does, cost lives. If you think that following the rules, understanding and respecting priority, and the associated safety is expensive and time consuming - try an accident! 

It is not just about training and education - it is about 'mindset'. You can develop a mindset that is humanitarian, safety, need and development orientated - or you can slip into the animal world of barbarism, careless, greed and selfishness. The choice is yours. 

Why not put the word 'Priority' up somewhere in your office or home, and ask yourself each day 'what is your priority - and does somebody else deserve being given priority'? I am sure that you will find a greater peace, and ultimately a happier life, perhaps less rich in financial terms, but much more wealthy in terms of your humanity. 

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

June 9th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Each week I sit down to write this column, not knowing exactly what will spill from my fingers onto the keyboard. Whether it is about safety, education, economics or our political challenges... I always find a clear and strong correlation to the world of Aviation. Of all the things that mankind has developed, flying machines are the most amazing - and have a need for a very different approach, if you wish to survive! I have often said 'the closest creation to a living being mankind has ever achieved is the aeroplane'. Planes are amazing - they really are. If you have never flown in a small plane, you have not lived. You have not seen the planet from above; you have not experienced the breathtaking beauty of three-dimensional freedom in the skies; you cannot appreciate the life of a bird; you have not been in the elevated position of seeing the world from above; you are, simply put, incomplete. 

Imagine that you had never sat in a car or a tro-tro... you could not 'know what it is like'. However, after the fifth or sixth time in a tro-tro, or any other motorised vehicle, you are 'immune to the sensation'. It becomes 'boring'. Flying is not like that, not at all. I have made thousands of flights - and every single time it is awe-inspiring. You would not believe how much so, unless you fly! I aviate most weeks, generally over the same parts of Ghana, in the Eastern Region, and I find that it is always vibrant, new, exciting and amazing. Flying really is 'spiritual'. It moves you deep inside, it opens up your mind, your heart and your spirit. Flying is incredible. You may even feel as if you could reach out and touch the face of God...

There is nothing magic about the act of flying - it is simply physics. Four forces working together; Lift, Drag, Thrust and Weight. You need enough thrust to overcome drag to enable forward movement so that the air over the wing generates more lift than the weight of the ensemble - and you are flying. It is that simple. The theory of flight is a science, but flying itself really is the ultimate art form. As a pilot you paint your way through the sky, you carve holes in the air, you ride the invisible waves of the wind, you become one with the currents of air, and then, when the time sadly comes around, you control with precision the moment and position of contact between machine and planet. Just writing about it makes me woozy! It is not a new feeling... in fact one of the Royal Air Force's World War II Spitfire pilots wrote:

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

John Gillespie Magee Jr., 1941

To this day, those same sentiments and emotions are held in the minds and hearts of every impassioned aviator. Aviation is, it seems, a sort of 'religion'. It is a way of living your life. The rules, if allowed to flow through your whole existence, are strong, worthy and positive. Those who break the rules of aviation are doomed, one day or another, and it catches them up. You cannot cheat on an aircraft - you cannot break the rules of the air, for if you do they will slam you with a mortal blow. Yet, if you respect the rules, work as a team, ensure the planning and the maintenance, hold to the values of honesty and attention to detail - you reap the rewards - not just in the air, but on the ground also.

How can it affect you on the ground? Well, one of our ex-students is now working in another country, in a nice new job. It has nothing to do with aviation. Yet, when he met me recently he said 'Aviation has changed the way I work - it has made me a better person, and a better manager'. I asked him to expound, and he explained 'I find myself making quicker and better decisions, seeing the impact of things and being able to navigate my job and life better'. 

Aviation is about rules, and rules, when applied fully and daily, make for a more defined, fulfilling and successful life. Without rules, without values, there is no purpose, no satisfaction and no order. This is the basis of successful human - and society - development. 

It is not surprising therefore, that as we see the rules of development and economic growth being dropped into the waste disposal unit, we find that there is a growing dissatisfaction, and a lack of achievement around the world. Those countries with strong, honest and corruption free regulatory frameworks grow faster and more sustainably than those with a more 'laissez faire' attitude. The corruption riddled, rule ignoring societies appear to be the ones that slip down the slippery slope of despair for their people, finding instability and poverty as their reward.

You cannot take an aircraft into the air without all the parts in place, proper training, good health and a suitable support structure. Well, you can, once... but it won't end well. And so it is with our society as a whole. We must get all the parts in place, ensure proper training at all levels for all citizens, a stable and effective health system - and make sure that our support structures are solid - whether that is our relationship with the international community, ECOWAS and the WTO or with international investors, who shore up accelerated development. Then, and only then, can we enjoy safe and sustainable 'flight' - provided we maintain all the factors that get us there.

Of course, the same applies to a business, a family or even a school or college. Like it or not, Aviation lays down the basics that are proven to work, and we can all learn from them - whether we want to fly or not!

Well, I am off to fly now - following the rules, and enjoying the benefits.

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

June 2nd, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

After last weeks column, I have been asked to explain more about Crew Resource Management, and so I will indulge, with pleasure. Those who know me well, know that asking a simple question will often lead to a complex, detailed explanation, following the D.E.E.P. principle. Describe, Explain, give Examples and Provide an opportunity for the person asking to use knowledge transferred. So, here we go.

DESCRIBE: CRM, as defined on Wikipedia (not the best place to find a definition, but it works for this purpose) is 'a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have devastating effects. Used primarily for improving air safety, CRM focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making in the cockpit.'

CRM was introduced to the airlines in response to the human relation challenges created by the flying environment. Following the investigation and analysis of causes in the United Airlines Flight 173 crash in 1978, CRM became a fresh set of letters in the Aviation Alphabet Soup. The trigger crash was caused by the plane running out of fuel - something overlooked whilst the crew were distracted with a landing gear problem. It raised a load of questions about 'who does what' and 'who should take responsibility' - it changed the way we look at the 'workings of a flight crew'. The American NTSB (National Transport Safety Board) subsequently recommended CRM training for all US airline crews. Even NASA (North America Space Agency) picked up on the importance of CRM and provided a detailed workshop on the topic, in the wake of the report. United Airlines were the first airline to implement CRM training for its flight crews in 1981, and that has since become a worldwide standard. It has made flying safer - and the principles have trickled down to the smallest aircraft - and out of the aviation industry to a much wider audience. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the lowest cost, with highest return, investments any airline can make - and for that matter any organisation.

EXPLAIN: So what is it? Well, once we understand that most accidents - whether in the air or on the ground - are caused by humans, and that no one person can have eyes and ears on everything at any one time, we can begin to put together CRM. It is the practice of using ALL human resources available - all of the time. Just because there is only one Captain, it does not mean that she must be able to do everything herself. It brings to the forefront the ability of those in charge to accept, embrace and encourage safety related inputs from all available people - whether they are 'specifically trained' or even 'totally new to the situation'. It is about accepting that the 'person in charge' is not 'infallible', and that all can bring their observations, recommendations and experiences to the table, in a fluid, real-time and no-blame culture environment. It is about the team leader and team members working as 'one set of eyes, ears, noses and decision making units' - it takes good leadership and good follower-ship skills - or integrated team work - to make effective.

EXAMPLES: Let us consider two aviation examples, since that is the home of CRM. We will first look at that flight which triggered this life saving system, remembering those who gave their lives on that flight, for their sacrifice which has made our lives safer today:

The aircraft took off with plenty of fuel - far more than it would normally need. The cockpit crew, Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer, were all experienced. During the approach the landing gear gave problems, leading to time spent trying to resolve the issues. Along the way the Captain asked about fuel, the Flight Engineer gave him updates - simple statements. As the troubleshooting progressed, the Flight Engineer issued several statements about fuel remaining, and finally stated 'three minutes', and the Captain, knowing that he had five minutes to touchdown, appears to have completely ignored the condition telling the First Officer to 'shut down the fuel boosters on touch down'. It is all in the cockpit recording transcript! Remember, the mentality at that time was 'The Captain knows best', and the idea of challenging him was, for many people, 'unthinkable'. Sadly, they never made the airport. The fuel ran out on approach - just as the First Officer had 'warned' but not taken 'responsibility' over. Of course, it is more complex, and there is no blame on individuals - this was a team failure, but it gives you an idea of a non-CRM situation. This lack of Crew Resource Management - the failure of the team leader and team members to work as 'one set of eyes, ears, noses and decision making units' - is found in all industries around the world - and in many Government Agencies also.

On the positive side, I will give an example of my own experience.

I was flying from Kpong to Techiman with a very low hours pilot. We took off and headed towards Akosombo to intercept the Afram leg of Lake Volta, flying a visual route and taking the most scenic options! As the flight progressed, the weather was building up from the South, but we were good to stay on course. My colleague provided regular observations on fuel level, fuel consumption, distance to run, etc. I was busy flying the plane, and watching the weather from the South. Then, I heard over the intercom 'Cylinder head temperature rising'. Enough words to get my attention to the little round gauge that had gently been going from the green towards the red zone as we flew along. It had escaped my attention, simple - I am not infallible. We changed engine regime, monitored the temperature and kept it within the limits - we all ended the flight safely, thanks to CRM. In our local conditions it is easy to get occupied with 'the bigger picture' and to miss out on the details - but there is where your 'crew' come in. Having an 'open management' environment, where the experienced as well as the inexperienced are able to bring observations and recommendations to the table, and they are welcomed, is at the heart of CRM - whether in the cockpit - the car - the hospital operating theatre - the home or the workplace.

PROVIDE AN OPPORTUNITY: Next time you are in a car - as a driver or a passenger - try to think about how you can add to the safety of the trip. As the driver, encourage your passengers to share in the information gathering - as a positive, inclusive leader. As a passenger be ready to point out hazards and keep an eye of the fuel gauge - just in case! Never be afraid to remind the driver to wear their seatbelt - or the correct shoes to drive in.

In business, it is all too easy to think that the 'Director' must know all that is going on - and to keep quiet, letting them take the blame if it comes around. However, all employees are the eyes and ears of the Director - and the company. Relaying key, pertinent information to the top can improve operations, safety and profits. As a leader of industry - think about how you can implement CRM into your operations - in a 'no blame' culture. As an employee - remember that even if 'the company is not for your father', it puts the bread on your table, and you owe it to yourself, your colleagues and the management to become a Crew Resource Management asset.

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 26th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Time and time again we hear of aircraft getting into serious trouble through lack of Crew Resource Management. Arguments and lack of listening - not only in relation to other crew members but to passengers also. It is not only the people at the pointy end of the aircraft who have eyes and ears - but everybody on board. Imagine every aircraft is like a small country. The Pilot is the President, the co-pilot his vice, the cabin crew are the cabinet... and the passengers the voting public - or the people. It is no different - the people put their trust in the crew and will end up at a destination, in a particular condition, based principally upon the leadership of that nation.

It is no secret that the economic challenges of Ghana are getting a lot of attention. Whether we consider the just ended National Economic Forum, or the mass of media chatter - in the newspapers, on the television and, in true Ghana style, extensively on the radio chat shows.

It is as if we are trying to create a national CRM approach to running the economy. CRM being Crew Resource Management - or the ability to get everybody on board to contribute towards the safety of an aircraft - in this case our nation.

For a long time we have enjoyed eleven Black Stars playing football with about ten million coaches shouting at them what to do, and how to play. The vast majority of those shouting never get heard. I sometimes wonder if people understand that shouting at a TV set does not assist nor inform the players being watched - even more so when it is not being shown live! Of course, the TV and radio commentators are also hot at shouting instructions, observations - and at times other things (not always polite), all to no avail. Sport is all about a nation shouting what to do, whilst the players just do what they think at the time.

Of course, when watching the WHOLE field, from a place removed from the pitch, you can see a lot more - you can make a better decision - and even if not heard - you can shout out fantastic instructions. When you are watching the replay you can be even more precise in your deliberations. For the players, it would be nice if they could have all of this information gathered, condensed, filtered and delivered directly to their ears whilst playing... but that would actually be against the rules!

When it comes to running a country - or flying a plane for that matter - the rules are actually very different. The outcomes are, of course, much more important. Losing a football match is embarrassing. Losing value on the national currency is devastating. Losing an aircraft is a disaster. Winning a football match makes you feel good. Running a successful economy generates jobs and futures. A successful flight is 'expected'. It is no wonder, therefore, that our 'economic team' have a lot more on their shoulders than the Black Stars. With it, they have every need for the feedback from those with a different angle of view, and for some, the benefit of hindsight - having seen something similar before!

What becomes more interesting is that we are ready to bring on board foreign coaches for the black stars - and foreign pilots to fly our aircraft - but we are appear reticent to take foreign advice on our economy. The 'home grown' solution is laudable - but we must also remember that we have a lot to learn and gain from embracing the fact that Ghana is NOT alone. We are a part of the WORLD. The WORLD wants Ghana to succeed. The WORLD wants to see every Ghanaian earning loads of cash, buying new cars, etc. - simply because trade is now an INTERNATIONAL game. 

Let us look at the European football teams - they embrace African players to give them an edge... and that is just a game. How much more must we embrace international players when it comes to the economy? You always employ the best pilot for the job - regardless of their nation of origin... How much more important to engage the same when it comes to National Success?

It is wonderful to see so many people making their observations about how to fix the economy. It really is. Seeing the masses wanting to make their contribution means that we have a National Team, with a desire for economic success. However, there are times when we simply lack the experience, and would benefit from cross-cultural inputs. I know that in my line of work I am pleased to take advice from people of any nation, gender or belief system - if they have the relevant experience, and a positive attitude, to add benefit and value to operations. Of course, advice may need to be adapted to the local challenge - but at the end of the day, we now live in a melting pot of cultures, a mixed bag of races, with rainbows of colours and all in the village we call Planet Earth. It really is just a tiny spec of dust when we consider the cosmos - and we need to get down to work together - all nations - as one, towards a Planet Wide Economic Solution. That is just a big team. Imagine that the Black Stars represented 11 different nations, all playing together. Then one of them decides to run around and create his own goal posts on the side of the pitch... the other players would simply carry on playing, ignoring him. If he then decides to join the game of nations, and to work as a team - everybody embraces that change of heart and readily plays together - aiming at the ONE goal. Not all players will have possession of the ball for the same amount of time. They don't all earn the same amount of money. they are not all the same size, weight, age or even live in identical houses. BUT they do all work together.

It is the same with the crew of an aircraft. Each person has a role to play, and the passengers too. But it is only if they all work together, including the passengers following the lead of the crew, stepping out of line if necessary for a safety matter, that the flight leaves, travels and arrives safely - in the right place, at the right time. We have all seen what happens when just one passenger - or one crew member - decides to sabotage a flight. Often such 'hijackings' appear to be motivated by good intentions - seeking asylum and a better life, for example. However, it if it is a negative action in relation to the needs of the majority of those aboard - and the world in general, when the plane lands that individual simply loses their freedom - no matter their positive or negative intentions.

So it is with our economy, unless we all work together - like a football team, or the crew and passengers of an airliner, we can quickly end up in the wrong place, with a loss of earnings, dashed opportunities and reduced freedom. We must share our visions, but the crew at the top must be ready and willing to bring to fruition a successful outcome where all arrive at their destination, winners, with a better lot than they started the journey - experienced, equipped and ready to move forwards on the next adventure.

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Communication - in all of its forms - is the basis of safe operation of aircraft around the world. Most air-to-ground, ground-to-air and air-to-air communications are carried out using industry standard Aviation Band Transceivers (Transmitter/Receiver). Most radio transmissions rely on 'line of sight' transmission, which works very well for aircraft in the sky and within a certain distance of operation (it varies on the strength of the signal being sent, terrain, atmospheric conditions and the power of the sending/receiving equipment). Radio is not sufficient for all that happens, and no longer meets the communication needs of the modern aviator - especially for larger aircraft. Consequently, there is a host of other information that can be sent and received - often using satellites. Don't forget the receipt of position information using GPS (Global Positioning System), and the aircraft engineering data that can be sent using a variety of systems to provide 'health, position and condition' information, fully automatically, as was used to narrow down the search area for the Malaysian MH370 flight. Sometimes aircraft can lose all their electronic communications - so what happens then? Fortunately, the air traffic controllers will generally keep an eye on the aircraft using radar, and work to help the pilot who has lost all comms. But what happens in that case when such an aircraft is coming into land? Well, there even exists a 'visual communication' system of shining lights from the tower to the aircraft using, internationally agreed, 'steady or flashing' red and green lights. In aviation we understand that communication is key to everybody working together safely, efficiently and happily - whether by voice, lights or data transmissions. A pilot without good communications is going to be disadvantaged in many ways.

It is sad that 'on the ground' humankind is struggling with communication! People 'not speaking to each other', lack of clear communication - and understanding - in so many aspects of our lives. Do you ever feel as if 'no matter how clearly we explain something' others simply do not grasp it - or perhaps ignore it? Perhaps it is a communication problem!

Apart from 'face to face', 'letters' and the printed media, our modern communication systems rely heavily on technology. Television, a simplex system (transmission in one direction only), dominates the promulgation of information from a few to the many. Telephones are duplex systems (allow transmission in both directions), and are essential tools in the modern world of personal and business communications. Most of us use our telephones every day. In many developing nations it is not uncommon to find people living in the simplest of accommodation, often without access to a toilet, mains water or electricity, who own and use a mobile phone. Being able to speak our communications quickly and efficiently across the planet has become an accepted part of our lives - even without understanding all that goes behind it, almost anybody can master the use of a telephone in a matter of minutes. The telephone has changed all of our lives - and if used properly, makes them better.

The telephone network is not just about voice! Data communications over the telephone network has been around for a long time, from the acoustic coupler to the modern day smart phone, we have found ways to send words, images, video and all manner of data across our telephone networks.

Today, if you are not 'connected to the net' you are a seriously disadvantaged person. When I am in Accra, my smart-phone allows me to send and receive e-mails at lightning pace. I can look up prices of items, download technical data, take and send photographs and videos in a matter of seconds. I can download the latest applications that will make my working life more efficient and get updates automatically. Access to information, and the ability to transmit information is key to success in the 21st Century.

Sadly, when I am back at Kpong Airfield in the Eastern Region, I do not enjoy the same connectivity. Phone lines appear to be becoming more and more unreliable - and with it data access. A simple phone call to the USA about parts needed for a machine may take five or six dropped or poor quality calls to get the information sorted out. Data, well, that is worse.

Recently we were sent a very large programme file - essential for our operations. It was impossible to download in the rural area. A 200km round trip to the city just to reliably download a file was called for. That is not competitive. Not at all. But that is the reality of our telecoms. Sending a simple e-mail can take twelve hours or more - just waiting for connectivity.

It is, therefore, good to see that the NCA (National Communications Authority) has been putting pressure on the telecoms companies to improve their quality of service across the nation. But it is more than that.

If we want to see growth in our rural areas we MUST ensure better telecommunications solutions to those areas - it should no longer be a 'wish', but become a 'necessity'. 

Whether it is sending an e-mail; downloading an updated file for the Engine Control Unit of an aircraft or the latest fix to a programme you are using to run your business; being able to access the latest weather satellite image for planning your work activities; the ability able to send a photo of your product; to check on the assembly order of a piece of machinery, or whatever, the need for business to be better connected for smoother operations is clear. But it goes far beyond than that.

Universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, lecturers, teachers, doctors, nurses, students and parents who lack reliable and responsive connectivity are disadvantaged in the world of learning and problem solving. Books are fantastic, and I never want to see a community without a library, but on-line access to data is more rapid, more wide-reaching and more effective than any other information retrieval system out there.

Let us say that in a discussion between a teacher and student the question is asked 'can starfish live in Lake Volta?' It is easy to say 'I don't think so', it may even be possible to say 'No', but to access the reason, you would be hard pushed to find it rapidly in any book readily available - but on line, you can read about the vascular system and be given the reasons in a matter of seconds, adding reliably to your knowledge in real-time - if you have the connectivity. 

What about all the new information coming out daily - work on genetics, use of pesticides, best farming practice, new policies, grant opportunities, etc? Those who have access to communications have the power of access to education, information and opportunities in the palm of their hands. 

I get frustrated at the time it takes to send the Fresh Air Matters column every week... a task that should be as simple as pressing 'send' may require that I change location, work with a variety of different modems - or tether to my smart phone - just because I live in Rural Ghana, and not the city. How much more frustrating is it for a student wanting to research a topic - waiting minutes for page of information to download that takes just seconds for their competitive student in an urban setting.

Lack of effective, reliable and responsive communications systems distributed equally across the people will inevitably result in an underclass of 'low-connectivity' - lacking the ability to connect and communicate to better themselves educationally and to develop their businesses. 

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

May 12th, 2014

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

After my suggestions last week for 'essential outcomes of education', I was asked about some particular 'expectations'. I had proposed that all students should be 'indelibly stained with knowledge and the ability to apply it in the world of work', giving examples of certain understandings and skills sets, that for me at least, are essential in all aspects of living and working.

Let us consider in more depth some headlines that have raised a little controversy!

Understanding of ratios

These are essential skills - whether in the workplace, kitchen or on a building site. Correct understanding and execution of ratios is required everywhere. The most common one that gets 'guessed at' is the mixing of concrete - a product we all rely on. A standard 'general purpose' mix would be a 1:2:4 or 1:2:5 mix. That is one volume of cement, with two identical volumes of sand (head-pans, wheel barrows or even buckets, the basic volume of measure does not matter - the ratio of them does!) and then four or five identical volumes of stones. If you have a car engine, it will be working on roughly a 15:1 mixture of air to fuel in the combustion chamber (cylinder). Then there is the ratio of herbicide concentrate to water and the dispersal per acre or hectare... or the mixture for a two stroke engine (chainsaw, outboard motor, some small gensets, etc)... I could go on with examples, but the point is that so many people are unable to identify, work reliably with, or adjust accordingly - and safely - when it comes to ratios!

Cartesian co-ordinates (2 and 3 dimensional)

It really does perturb me that so many people are not at ease with Cartesian coordinates - you know, X, Y and Z axis - and plotting thereon. X is generally referred to as the horizontal axis (also called Y=0), Y is generally called the vertical axis (also known as X=0) and Z is the axis that comes out of the page at you! Z adds '3-dimesnionality' and the ability to locate a point in 3D (real world) space. 

Unless you understand the basics of co-ordinates you cannot produce any parts on a lathe, mill, press, cutter, etc. - manually or under computer control (CNC).

Without an excellent understanding of co-ordinates you cannot use a Computer Aided Design (CAD) programme to produce a drawing... or Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) systems, you cannot do so many things that are considered essential in today's world of information.

Take a look at your mobile phone. The mould for your phone was produced on a CNC mill. Yes, it was. That mill was controlled in X, Y and Z by a simple computer programme, called a G-Code part programme. A sample of the sort of code it would contain (along with an explanation in brackets) would be as follows:

G90 (use absolute co-ordinates, ie work from the axis datum)
G00 X10 Y30 Z0 (position the tip of the tool at X10, Y30 and usually Z0 refers to the top of the work piece, at maximum speed)
G01 Z-0.25 S2500 F100 (plunge the tool into the material with a spindle speed of two thousand five hundred revolutions per minute and a feed rate of 100mm per minute)
G01 X102.52 Y50.35 (move in a straight line to these coordinates which would cut away the top .25mm of material along that line)
G91 (use relative co-ordinates)
G01 X25.6 Y0 (move in a straight line, with the same tool, spindle and feed-rates, at the same depth, since we have not changed Z)

Well, I could go on (and often do), but it really is very simple - and we all have tens of thousands of items and parts around us that are produced using simple systems like this. I have taught G-Code programming to many young people, often as young as seven years old - but it only works when they have the solid basics of co-ordinates. It is not difficult, but it is essential - and it is sadly missing in too many students, teachers and those who should be better equipped.

Able to rearrange a formula to find an unknown variable - correctly.

Well, we have to do this all the time, if we want to be efficient. Just last week I had to rearrange the voltage divider formula V1=V2(R2/(R2+R1)). Without it I could have destroyed a very expensive piece of equipment. Understanding simple re-arrangement of formulae is key to working. Failure to understand can lead to expensive mistakes. Perhaps the most simple, everyday formula that we use is that for another 'hot topic':

Work seamlessly, accurately and quickly in problems related to distance, speed and time.

Distance = Speed x Time. Which is the same as Speed = Distance / Time. Which is the same as Time = Distance / Speed.

The same formula, rearranged to give us the 'missing value'. Of course, you must use consistent units (don't start me on the misunderstandings of unit of measure), so that distance should be in, say, kilometres, time in hours and therefore speed in kilometres per hour. Failure to ensure that the 'appropriate units of measure for the problem are in place', would invalidate the whole thing.

For instance, I know that is approximately 90km from Kpong Airfield to the Accra Mall. I know that it takes me, on average, 90minutes to get there. 90minutes is 1.5hours. So, my average speed is (90/1.5) - or 60km/hr or 1km/min. That was easy, but the principle works for all distances, speeds and times. Yes, we need to know time, speed and distances and be 'mentally conversant with them' to ensure that we are optimised in our travel and timely in our arrival! For pilots this is essential learning since we recalculate our distance, ground speed, and estimated time to arrival on a regular basis!

Be aware of the how light, magnetism and electricity behave and how they can be used in practical applications.

It amazes me how few people are conversant with aspects related to how light travels - and the speed at which it travels. Understanding how shadows are formed; the fact that the image of what you see is 'upside down' on the retina of your eye and that your brain rotates it to make it look 'normal'; how rainbows are formed; why a day is perceived as misty, foggy, hazy, etc. Light travels at 299,792,458 metres per second. It is very fast. Sound only travels at 340.29 metres per second. That explains why, when you see lightning, the sound of thunder comes much later. The sound of the collapsing air hitting together in the vacuum caused by the plasma, called thunder, takes about 3 seconds to travel one kilometre, whilst the light from the lightning (a stream of plasma created by interaction between charged particles in clouds) can cover one kilometre in roughly one three hundred thousandths of a second - what we call, wrongly, 'instantly'.

Magnetism can seem almost like magic, and once was considered as such! The way magnets attract and repel each other is fascinating - but it is more than that. Magnets and magnetic fields are present in so many things around you. Lady's handbags often use magnetic catches, closures on some cell phone cases, the motor that creates vibrations on your phone, the heading determined by a compass in the ship or plane that you travel on, the generators at Akosombo dam, the alternator in the motor vehicle you travel on, and so much more... But what about the magnetic field that surrounds our planet. Earth is a BIG (VERY VERY BIG) magnet. Our planets iron core emits a magnetic field that protects us from cosmic radiation, it provides the field with which we navigate - and is essential to so many animals that use the earths magnetic field in migration patterns. 

Magnetism is even more exciting when we see it along side electricity... but I surely do not need to identify the plethora of items that we all use every day that rely on electricity! Understanding it is essential.

Therefore, knowing the basics of physics and nature, and how to use mathematics to calculate effects, creating new and exciting products should be, without any doubt in my mind, made a priority for every student - and if you are an adult and don't understand it, you should take the time to grasp it, it will open up your world and enable you to do so much more.

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

May 5th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I was privileged to have a long chat with a person heavily involved in an European airline recruitment and training programme recently. Aviators are like fishermen, and love to tells stories about what they do, their flights, their challenges and their achievements - and we passed many an hour sharing stories, and learning from each other - for we both accept that we are always learning more.

We discussed the challenge of recruitment in all areas of aviation, and work in general - from pilots to receptionists, cabin crew to sanitation workers. It became clear that both of us were concerned about the standard of education worldwide. How come, in today's world of amazing access to information, internet, educational establishments, well financed, expensive training programmes, etc that so many young people leave school or university with so few retained and repeatable skills - and frankly, little retained and useable knowledge.

I do not accept any excuses whatsoever that ANY student can leave school without being equipped with the majority of the following knowledge set, abilities, skills and attributes - and for them to be so engrained that they remain a working part of their daily life:

·         Multiplication of 2 numbers below 10 in their heads, accurately and repeatedly.

·         Addition and subtraction of multiple numbers - regardless of size, on paper, accurately and repeatedly.

·         Solve a simple problem involving brackets, powers, multiplication, addition, subtraction and division - with or without a calculator.

·         Understanding of ratios, squares, roots, Cartesian co-ordinates (2 and 3 dimensional) and simple graphing.

·         Correct use of average, mean, mode, maximum and minimum in relation to a series of numbers.

·         Able to rearrange a formula to find an unknown variable - correctly.

·         Rapid, accurate mental calculation of 10%, for any number.

·         Know and apply knowledge related to basic 2D geometric shapes.

·         Have a working understanding of circles, angles, areas and volumes.

·         Work seamlessly, accurately and quickly in problems related to distance, speed and time.

·         Able to read out loud, clearly and correctly a previously unseen passage, and then describe and explain what was read.

·         Easily create an accurate written report on events that have taken place.

·         Accurately and succinctly summarise a document, book, report or passage, using original words and structure.

·         Speak, understand and communicate freely in English.

·         Without preparation, speak for one minute on a given, non-prepared, topic without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

·         Understand the basics of elements and molecules, along with a grasp of reactions and various states of matter.

·         Be aware of the how light, magnetism and electricity behave and how they can be used in practical applications.

·         Be able to apply in real life conditions the basics of leverage, centre of gravity, pivots, pulleys and use of/conservation of energy (in all its different forms).

·         Understand the properties and behaviour of, and apply that knowledge in relation to, a wide variety of materials, such as wood, metals, concrete, plastics, glass, rubber, etc.

·         Understand the basics of planetary movement and their effects especially in relation to the sun, moon and our solar system.

·         Grasp and be able to explain the principles of an internal combustion engine.

·         Know the human body (parts and how it works).

·         Understand and apply the principles of good nutrition.

·         Have a working understanding of disease, infection, infection control and good health practices (including family planning).

·         Be able to identify on a globe or map the continents, major countries and features.

·         Understand the concept of longitude and latitude - and use co-ordinates to locate places on maps or globes.

·         Know how the telephone (fixed and mobile) works - and know how to use one appropriately.

·         Have good computer skills (operating system, word-processing, spreadsheet, etc).

·         Understand and use the internet, including e-mail, with ease.

·         Be risk aware, ready to take appropriate risks and mitigate against accidents.

·         Be well presented, with good personal hygiene and a positive, proactive approach to community cleanliness.

·         Be honest, timely and reliable.

I could go on, but that is my basic list (you may have other items, or contest some), but the core is there.

How much of the above knowledge/skills/attributes set do you have? More importantly, would you employ somebody who does? Now, ask yourself, why are we not seeing these basics coming out of the schools and universities? It would be easy to blame the teachers and lecturers - but frankly, I think we need to spread the blame to where it lies: Approximately 60% belongs to the educational system and its values. 20% lies with the educators and their fear of working outside of the syllabus/exam/results cycle. The balance, lies with the lack of pressure to change the system from parents, family and employers.

Education has become a miserable game of 'certificates' and 'qualifications'. It has lost its basic meaning - that of enabling our young people to read, write and calculate; becoming independent thinkers with solid working principles related to the world around them; then enabling them to apply those principles to think, work and change the world around them to become a better place. If we were to return to the basics, we would see better workers, a better society and a renaissance of inventiveness.

Sadly, there is a belief that ticking boxes and passing exams is what education is about. Well, it is not. Education must be about enabling thinking - and encouraging doing. As a qualified examiner and assessor, I can tell you straight up that the mainstream education system is flawed. I quit being an examiner for a major board after being appalled at the manner in which exam questions were phrased and the answers marked.

Where I work, in the aviation and engineering sector, we have been trying to recruit personnel, to train up, with the right attitude to work, the right thinking processes, the right personality and a lot of commitment. During interview we ask, 'what did you study?' in order to slant our questions towards the candidates field of interest. Sadly, we have found that the majority of candidates have retained little of practical use from their studies, and lack the basic foundations of a free-thinking, work-orientated individual. We have never asked to see any certificates - for a certificate means absolutely nothing if the candidate cannot answer questions from their field of study, express themselves clearly in verbal and written form, learn new skills and topics dynamically and problem solve in the field. 

Sadly, I fear that our education systems will continue to decline - with just a few glimmers of hope when an educational establishment, with strong leadership, is prepared to stand up, stand out, and to do it differently. Valuing independent thinking and personal achievement alongside academic achievements has always been the strength of a few isolated, often criticised, institutions - but those are the institutions that create the thinkers that change the world - and the candidates with an advantage in the world of employment and entrepreneurship.  

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