Monday, February 3, 2014

February 3rd, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is over twelve years now since they killed it. Well, it appears dead - but it may just be in a coma. Exactly who put it into this condition we do not know, even though blame is given out freely. But it appears to be dead, with no visible signs of any attempt of resuscitation being made. It went into this state, along with many other things, on that fateful 11th September 2001. We all remember that day and the tragedy of the moment. But only a few of us appear to mourn the demise of an aviation legend that was snatched in the immediate aftermath. 

I grew up able to visit the cockpit of an airliner. All that you needed to do was ask to 'visit the flight deck', and if possible the crew worked to make it happen. My children grew up visiting the cockpit on every flight they made. They will always remember visiting the crew in flight on their first trip to Ghana aboard 9G-ANA, the Ghana Airways DC10. 

I have two very powerful memories that impacted my life in the cockpit of airliners. The first was on a regional flight to Edinburgh. I had asked to visit the flight deck, and been granted the visit. The captain asked me to strap into the jump seat (the seat between the flight crew, just behind them) and we talked avidly about the instruments and the challenges of the short hops these regional planes do. I was not a pilot - I was a 'wannabe pilot'. I had taken a few lessons at a local flying school, but was far from completing my licence - both in time and finances. The weather was poor. Fog, with visibility below 700m, awaited our arrival. As the captain made the 'prepare for descent' announcement, I got ready to leave the cockpit, but he said, 'No, you asked lots of good questions. Stay there, you will enjoy this.' I was about to witness an auto-land - that is when the aircraft lands itself! I watched the altimeter unwinding, then, with barely visible runway lights we heard and felt the screech-boom of wheels touching down - all without control input from the crew. Immediately the 'disengage' was hit and the captain took over control from the computers. Just recounting this moment as I type has me smiling broad enough to span Africa! It was so special, and a story that I have told, re-told, re-lived and relish. It inspired me in so many ways - and made me want to learn more about auto-pilots and auto-land.

The second one was with Cathy Pacific, flying into Hong Kong on a business trip. The crew allowed me, a mere passenger, once again to sit on the jump seat as we aimed for the checkerboard near the court house and turned between the skyscrapers onto the final approach to land. It inspired me, enthralled me and made me more determined than ever to complete getting my own pilots licence.

These were 'special privileges' to be on the flight deck for landing, even before 9/11 - but if you asked, you generally got a treat! If you ask anybody who was privileged to experience even a brief cockpit visit in flight, and they will extol the impact it had on them. I can remember so many of the amazing moments - some were more 'worrying' than others. A particular regional flight made me aware of the MEL (Minimum Equipment List) - something that was new to me before obtaining my pilots licence. I had boarded a small plane on a regional flight within a European country - the cockpit door was open and the captain smiled as I boarded. I stepped left and asked politely 'can I visit the deck in flight?' Immediately, he pulled down the jump seat and said, 'Join us for take off'. I flew the whole trip at the pointy end! I still did not have my pilots licence, but I knew a few things about instruments at this time. I asked why certain instruments weren't working. The reply was 'We don't need them all to work'. I was shocked, but then learned about the MEL! What a great way to learn about 'risk managment'!

These visits, from childhood into adulthood, impacted on my psyche. They inspired me. They educated me. Without them I wonder if I would ever have started to learn to fly - or even completed my licence. I never wanted to be a commercial pilot - just to fly. Those moments provided anchor points for my learning and inspired my desire to do more, and to be more, than just another 'Techi' flying around the world to make or fix things. My heartfelt thanks go to my employers of years gone by for sending me on so many business trips! The journeys certainly had more impact on me than the destinations!

Such inspirational moments have been killed with the worldwide ban on cockpit visits. It is a travesty. It is not some terrorist group that made this happen. It is not some Civil Aviation Authority that caused it. It is not the ICAO or any other group - no, we can blame them - but it is not them. It is a monster, a creature with tentacles so long, deep and penetrating that it can bring even an elephant to a standstill - that is where the blame really lies.

This monster is gaining power of such magnificent proportions it is reaching into our lives daily, wrapping its tentacles around our throats, restricting the air that we breathe. It grips our hearts and stops us caring for others. It binds our legs and stops us stepping out. It even reaches our bank accounts and freezes our spending. Worse still, it can be found in the central bank, preventing action of an innovative nature - it reaches into all aspects of our society with serious consequences.

This monster has taken over the twenty first century world - and it appears that nobody, not even the mighty military forces of the world, are ready to take action to kill it. In fact, it appears that the armed forces and world powers are busy feeding this monster and making it stronger. Perhaps they are encouraging it to gain more power?

This monster that has killed innovation, inspiration and so many potential acts of human kindness is called 'FEAR'. It is the fear of another 9/11 or another bank crash - or simply losing ones job. Let us be honest, even our politicians are fearful of speaking their minds, in case they are being recorded! Fear is taking over the world, and it will kill us all, making us bland, insect-like drones of the master fear givers. 

There is nothing wrong with being cautious. But we must ask ourselves why we see so little innovation; so few people stepping out, trying to make a positive change in the world. What we have created, by allowing the tentacles of fear to wrap around our society and lives, is a 'stagnation of inspiration'.

We all know that stagnant water is not good, not healthy and a breeding ground for disease and vectors of disease. So is stagnation of inspiration. Let us stand up against fear - let us stand up against the suppression of inspiration - and let us revive the inspirational spirit for the benefit of each other, our children and our grand-children.

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

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