Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31st, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The phrase 'In aviation, the only way to end up with a small fortune, is to start with a large fortune!' has been the bedrock of airline, aircraft and related developments around the world. Freddy Laker, Richard Branson, etc. can all testify to having pumped in more money than they ever anticipated to create their businesses - often more than the GDP of many countries - most have lost their shirts! Richard Branson has subsidised and bailed out his own airline - he runs it as a matter of pride - because he likes aviation and can afford to like aviation!

It is easy to say 'I want to start an airline', or even 'I want to own my own plane', but you must remember that you must have money - more than you will imagine at the outset - to pursue such a direction. I remember my first aircraft. I was wisely advised 'make your first aircraft a new one'. I followed the advice, and worked hard enough to be able to save up to afford it. A second-hand aircraft would easily have cost me double that of a new aircraft - over the first few years. I have seen so many people purchase used aircraft, because 'they could not afford a new one', nor wait to save up, only to lose it all, because of the unseen costs involved. It sounds cosy: 'I have seen a used aircraft for half the price of a new one!', but then it needs more spent on it in the first few months or years than the difference in cost of the new one! We have a couple of used aircraft at Kpong, that we could put up for sale right now - but we won't. Simply because we know that if we sell them, the owners will have to spend more than the cost of a new aircraft in the first three years. We may not be good at business - but we are good at ethics and thinking about sustainable solutions. These aircraft will be gracefully retired and put on display in our new learning and discovery centre, scheduled to open next year, as part of our investment into the education of the wonderful young people of Ghana. We have a long term approach, not a 'look good quick' approach to our sector development.

Sadly, I do not get the impression that everybody understands what development really takes. Let us take just one of the topics in the news at the moment; RICE!

Ghana has a massive imported rice bill - an estimated $300,000,000 of imports per year (it grows annually as the rice demand grows in the country). So, somebody says 'that is crazy, let us grow our rice needs ourselves! We can grow all of our own rice - we have land and people and we could even export some!' Sounds good? Sounds amazing! We have lots of land and lots of people without jobs - so lets give them all some rice to plant and wish them luck! Sadly, it is not that simple. 

Let us look at the real cost of our imported and domestic rice. First of all, Ghana has one of the most diverse rice import profiles of Africa. The last time I studied rice (yes, I really did) in 2002/4, Senegal imported a lot of rice - but mainly the 'lower cost' options, such as 100% broken - well below the cost of what it could be grown for in Senegal! Ghana imports a very wide variety of rice - but not so much of the 'low cost rice' options - and much of it 'unlikely to be able to be grown cost effectively in Ghana'. Yes, Ghana has grown rice over the years - but local sales have been limited, especially because Ghanaians are very discerning when it comes to rice! 

Perhaps the most successful 'Grown in Ghana Rice Project', in quality terms, was the Kpong Farms project of the 1990's. I was privileged to have written some software for the project at the time. Out of interest I drove past the site, just last week. The fields are empty, fallow for years, the buildings have all but collapsed inwards on themselves, maintenance has not been carried out recently - if at all. Even the little yellow JCB used for ditch and dyke maintenance - that only needed a simple valve to get working ten years ago, is still sitting in the very same place it was ten years ago. 

In the North of the country there was a major project about 12 years ago, I believe it funded by the French... apparently, that also is no longer in place. So, I look out at Prairie Volta - which was just a few years ago heralded as the saviour of Ghana's rice needs. Prairie took over the Quality Grain site at Aveyime (oh, there is a story of finances lost behind Quality Grain too!). They started with a few hundred hectares and planned for ten thousand hectares of rice. They stared with fantastic investments - bulldozers, tractors, aerial dispersal aircraft (one was damaged beyond repair before it even sprayed for the first time). Prairie have not visibly grown rice for a while now - they need 'more investment'... 

What about the Kpong Irrigation Project? Yes, they grow rice more or less on an family farm lot basis, but look at their yields - they are generally below economic return levels. I can visit a village on the lake edge, and see their rice - which is fine for 'personal consumption' - the quality is not going to make it to market - not without massive infrastructural investments (that includes proper roads, sustainable power, mechanisation and clean water for hand washing in order to produce a Ghana Standards Board approvable product).

Finally, we look at the project in Sogakope, they are growing 'social rice' for local consumption, with a number of out-growers. They are subsidised by an American patient loan operation - and they will certainly need a great deal more investment - and/or government subsidies - to continue. 

It quickly becomes evident that the millions upon millions of dollars spent on getting rice production going, has not really yielded viable results. The small farmers are probably not being cost effective in their production, and the larger operations have a history of failing - not just once or twice, but repeatedly. Remember, many other countries provide heavy government subsidies to farmers to help them survive...

The rice numbers are relatively easy to work with. There is a 'break even' calculation - even with the production of rice. Let us put that break even point at a hypothetical six tonnes per hectare, for a given variety. In order to achieve that production you need a number of factors to be in place. 1. Suitable, irrigated land. 2. Inputs (fertiliser, herbicide, fungicide, etc). 3. Implements (tractors, laser levellers, harvesters, etc). 4. Post harvest handling equipment (dryers, sorters, silos, baggers, etc) 5. Transport to market (on good roads). 6. Labour - from qualified to basic - but all must be motivated and ready to work extremely hard for little money - for that is the reality of farming around the world.

The land must be fertile, close to a water source, with pumps and filters to ensure that water is in the right place, in the right quantities, at the right time. It takes a long time to prepare such land. If you started on virgin land today, you would be lucky to see your first harvest within 24months. You must be prepared for breakdowns of tractors and pumps and have a fantastic maintenance mentality, to manage large swathes of land for rice growing in this part of the world.

Rice requires a lot of inputs (fertilisers, herbicides, etc) - and they are generally imported items - requiring that hard to find item called 'foreign currency'. Obtaining that foreign currency to start-up operations is one thing, but what about maintaining the foreign currency flow to secure future supplies? If your yields are low, and the currency exchange rates shifting - not to mention the cost of duties, clearing and the horrendous transport costs to move the inputs to the farm site, it is possible that you cannot afford the inputs for even your second harvest. The last time I shipped a container from the USA, it cost me more to clear and move that container from Tema port to our site (less than 60km) than the transatlantic crossing. West Africa is an expensive place for transport!

The implements needed for cost effective, marketable quality, rice production need to be procured, shipped, maintained and will need trained operators and maintenance teams. For the good quality implements you need a very qualified operator - many have built in, programmable computer devices with sub-inch differential satellite guidance systems - and require somebody with an above average education to work them properly. Too many of such machines have been consigned to the refuse dump (or borla site), due to inappropriate use and lack of maintenance - often simply because of the cost of spares (requiring foreign currency!). The initial investment in quality farming is high, and the maintenance costs in Ghana are much higher than many other parts of the world, resulting in increased cost per kilo of the finished product - at least if you want to reinvest and expand the farm.

Post harvest equipment is expensive - and much of what we have in Ghana already has not been used. Look at the KIP - they have some fantastic kit - even gas dryers - but the cost is too high for the local farmers to use them. Hence the open air concrete slabs with goats, birds, mice and other vermin running through the rice, which is often turned by foot - yes, the human foot turning system! The labourers walk through, turning the rice by naked foot, because they cannot afford to use the handling equipment. This happens elsewhere in the world too - but not for the quality of rice in demand - that requires modern, well maintained handling equipment.

Transport to market from rural areas is killer - our local costs of transport are amongst the highest in the world - and will surely get even more expensive. The poor quality of our roads increases the maintenance costs (I estimate that wear and tear on a vehicle over 50,000 km in West Africa is about the same as 200,000km in Europe). Add to that the transport losses (rain, vermin, weevils, bags falling off the lorry at checkpoints, etc) and your real cost of local production is rising rapidly. Sadly, I cannot imagine the point being reached where Ghana is an exporter of rice - even if we produced more than the local market could consume. If we cannot export from our rice farms, that means 'growing rice in Ghana will not generate the foreign currency returns needed to sustain such farms'.

Labour is an ongoing issue. Our education system is poor - especially in the rural areas. I am exhausted at interviewing candidates - even from our universities - who are unable to understand English language instructions, even able to articulate understanding of their supposedly studied topics - and who are unwilling to work in the manual labour sectors - such as farming! It is very hard to find the right staff - even in small quantities - who are both ready and able to learn the skills needed - and committed to the development of a rural operation. 

So, the bottom line is, it is easy to say that 'we need to grow more rice', but we must have the money (lots of it) to set it up - and we must have the long term farmer subsidies - and foreign currency availability (with a stable exchange rate) to ensure that the farmers can import the millions of dollars of tractors, inputs, spares, etc necessary to ensure that they do not become another wasteland referred to as 'that used to be a rice farm'. 

The bottom line is, that in order to imagine that we could grow our own rice, cost effectively, and stop relying on imports, we would probably have to find over 200,000 hectares of land, about one thousand suitable tractors, thousands of silos and a import a workforce from the Philippines or China to ensure that it ran smoothly - and don't forget the government subsidies that will be needed to make sure that it doesn't collapse!

Surely, we can see from this that 'we should look at the real issues', and support projects that are more achievable than pursue yet another headline that sounds good, to those who do not use a calculator, to establish what the real bottom line is?

In the 1990's Ghana boosted NTE (Non-Traditional Exports), liberalised foreign currency access, did away with the foreign currency forms, made exports easier (the NTE customs form), and that led to the stable growth that was seen in the last decade. Today, we seem to be focusing back on the same policies that have failed in the past; currency controls, consumer rather export ambitions and we are rapidly moving away from the policies that have worked so successfully before. 

If we, as a nation, had a vast fortune to spend on these ideas, and did not mind ending up with just a small fortune at the end, I would be jumping with joy at the idea of building the fifty plus aircraft for aerial dispersal, that would be needed for such a massive rice field expansion! To close this longest ever column, I will simply ask you 'If you do not have enough money to purchase AND MAINTAIN a tractor, will you buy a farm or will you look for a more suitable investment?'

Next week, I will continue to be even more contentious and look at what we can do to be able to sustain our desire to eat rice, by earning the money from more practical and applicable solutions...

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, March 24, 2014

March 24th, 2014

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

In the coming days, Lufthansa will begin their new service from Accra to Frankfurt with a shiny Airbus A330-300. It is always exciting to fly on wide-body jets, and the upgrade from the previous Boeing 737 will give travellers that 'larger experience'. We wish Lufthansa fantastic success with their new offering - and look forward to seeing their frequency increase, and for their pricing to be more keen!

Many of you know that, historically, I am a Boeing fan, but should be aware that I have, in recent years, come to appreciate more fully the different flavours of airliner design - and enjoy all of their differences equally! My visit to the Airbus production line, in Hamburg last year, opened my eyes wider to the Airbus concept - and thus I look forward to my next trip to Germany in the Lufthansa 'big bus'. (Consider the A320 as the 'baby bus', the A330 as the 'big bus' and the A380 as the 'biggest bus' !).

The design concepts for all the major airliner manufactures are rapidly converging, despite the marketing hype. Therefore, the big difference when we travel is now down to the airline. Sit in a 'low-fare' airline aircraft of the same brand and series as that of a major airline, for six hours, and you will notice the difference! Baggage allowance, seat quality, in-flight entertainment, catering and cabin crew approach, can all add up to make the difference between a pleasurable flight and an experience you will want to forget! 

Let us be honest, our airline trips are major investments. We often spend more on single trip abroad than we might on purchasing a second hand car - even when travelling economy! If we are choosing a second hand car, I am sure that we generally put more thought into that purchase than we do our airline tickets! Travelling is a major investment, and it is time we considered a bit more what we are buying - and why.

Are we simply going from Accra to XYZ-town? Not really. We are entrusting our belongings and our souls to somebody we have never met, and we will be 'encapsulated' aboard a machine that we do not get to 'look under the bonnet of'. We will, willingly, and after emptying a large sum of money from our accounts, board an aluminium tube with hundreds of other people - trusting the machine and the team to look after us. That is no small thing.

Once aboard we hope to 'enjoy' our temporary incarceration - and with that we anticipate service, smiles, good food and suitable entertainment. Oh, yes, the entertainment! Whiling away many hours sitting aboard an airliner can be magnificent - if we are comfortable and distracted - but it can be horrendously boring and buttock-numbing if we make the wrong choice! Perhaps you prefer to work aboard? Great, so do I! Therefore that in-flight entertainment is all the more important - to keep the other passengers content whilst you concentrate! Gone are the days of the 'one screen for all' solution! Gone are the days of 'lets all sing a song to while away the time'. Today we expect video on demand, with games and a selection of fifty or more entertainment options! This has made travelling with children several orders of magnitude more enjoyable - for parents and other passengers alike!

There is an old travel adage that says 'time to spare, go by air'. It relates to the ever increasing amount of time we have to spend at the airport waiting to pass through check-in, security and boarding - and then to clear formalities on arrival. That makes the timing of our flights really important. 

Departing or arriving in the thick of peak hours can add a lot of stress to your journey - especially at the Ghana end of the trip! Our airport facilities are often 'pushed hard' to cope with the numbers - and our baggage carousels appear to have their own agenda! Being on an early flight out from, and an early flight into, Accra adds a lot of pleasure to a trip. For me, the onward travel time after clearing, when I come home is several hours, and getting in that hour or so earlier can change my arrival nights sleep, and hence my productivity the next day. (Lufthansa make a plug of being the 'early bird' in this respect - and I applaud them for their efforts to keep that place!).

I have flown with all the major airlines, and many of the less well known ones too. Often constrained by budget - or availability of seats. Some, I would do all that I can to avoid again. I have my favourites list, and Lufthansa just moved even further up that list with this new aircraft coming on line - and their 46% increase in capacity! 

At this point, I hear the old 'what happened to Ghana Airways?' rumbling. For the record, I loved Ghana Airways. Flew them many times. I also flew with Ghana International Airlines with pleasure. However, we must be realistic at this point. Ghana is not in a position to operate its own airline right now. If we had kept Ghana Airways and its infrastructure in place, and not cannibalised it, I would sing a different tune. But we have, for one reason or another (you know and I know what we think they are), managed to dismantle one of the biggest prides of this nation. It is not practical, nor financially prudent to return to those days. Let us be honest, many bigger and more financially secure nations have abandoned their national airlines, so we should pack away our guilt now. We must accept the past, and seek other solutions. The world is changing and all the time we have outstanding airlines offering great service to and from our nation, safely, efficiently . These activities are generating many jobs in Ghana, for which we should be thankful. If we want to invest as a nation in aviation infrastructure, let us sort out our arrivals procedure! Let us make our ground experience in Ghana one to be proud of. After all, we have that big AKWAABA to share with the rest of the world - and those arriving at Kotoka should feel it once again - not just read it and hear it - but feel it to their core. 

I must confess that I have not felt the Great Ghana Akwaaba at Kotoka for a long time, and I miss it. My wife and I get treated far better arriving in European countries than we do in our own... it did not used to be that way... so let us return to our core values, focus on making the arriving in Ghana experience one to be proud of - and then let us enjoy again the comments of international visitors (crew and passengers) about how wonderful it is to arrive in Ghana - not to hear that they were delayed, had challenges with visas, felt harassed, bullied or frustrated at their arrival in our home. 

Thank you Lufthansa for having the confidence in Ghana to increase your capacity here, we trust that you and your passengers will find that Ghana will rapidly increase its welcome, ease its procedures and that your crews and passengers alike, will yearn to return to our land - where people matter, and a welcome really means that Great Ghana Akwaaba in every sense, for every step on our soil.

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, March 17, 2014

March 17th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Perhaps it is just me, but it seems that there are fewer and fewer people with positive outlooks these days? I get the impression that every time I ask somebody 'how are things?' or 'how is business?', that I have unwittingly volunteered myself to be their counsellor as they pour out their tales of woe. It is as if I have looked at the instruments in my cockpit, and they are all crying out to me 'something is wrong!'.

It is true that things are tough, but it is also true that there are answers to the challenges... the issue will always be 'are we ready to take the action necessary to resolve our situation?' - even if it means changing course, perhaps even landing somewhere different to our original goal.

As pilots we are trained to 'plan for the worst and hope for the best'. It does not stop there. We continuously take actions that will reduce the risk of the worst and improve the possibility of moving towards the best.

Join me on a cross country flight. Every six minutes we check our Fuel (current level, planned level and actual burn rate); make sure that our Radio is on the correct frequency and make any calls that are necessary; we go over the Engine instruments, making sure that everything is in the 'green zone' and also listen to our engine; we cross check our compass to make sure that we are still going in the right Direction; a quick check of our altimeter for our current Altitude; and then cast an eye over our Airframe to reassure ourselves that everything is as it should be. Even if everything is looking perfectly fine, we still look at where we might land in an emergency! Yes, this is a check that we do EVERY six minutes. It is called the FREDA check for those trained on the Ghana National Pilot Licence. It is primarily about checking all is going well, and giving peace of mind to the crew... On nine hundred and ninety nine out of every thousand checks, all will be well... but then there is that 'one time'. Normally it is just a blip, but then, sometimes that 'one time', is followed by several others... and that is when our training, decision making and skills come forward.

Let us assume, just for instance, that on this particular FREDA check that we find our fuel appears to be going down quicker than expected - and our engine temperatures are rising - just within the acceptable range, but rising. We can choose to ignore the signs and hope for the best - or we can plan for the worst, and hope for the best! 

We have two concerns: 

1. Fuel burn is greater than expected: We can quickly reassess whether our remaining fuel, at the indicated new burn rate, will still take us to the destination - and also work out where we could reach if it won't.

2. We can take action on the engine temperatures: reduce the power setting/engine loading, perhaps trade some height for airflow to cool the engine. We would probably choose to avoid climbing. If our planned route had a essential climbs left along the way, we must consider whether we should choose a different route or even destination.

In this example, we will estimate that we will still will have enough fuel to reach the destination, but instead of having 2 hours reserve, it will drop to just 30 minutes. Our change in engine management has stabilised the temperature, but it is not coming down to where we would like it to be. 

We must make a choice now: a) Land as soon as possible at the nearest available airport, or b) push on and hope for the best. Let us see what happens if we choose b).

We continue, and try to ignore the growing signs of engine unrest around us, we stop checking every 6 minutes, because we don't want to know what is going on... then, we feel a lot of heat on our feet, and notice that the fuel level is dropping much quicker than before. We are no longer in a position to reach an airport. The engine suddenly splutters, the heat on our feet reaches unbearable levels - there is a final squeal from the engine - and... it stops. We will have to land just where we can. The available field is very short and rough - and we rip off the undercarriage, nosing over and destroying the engine and airframe. We find ourselves a little cut and bruised, hanging in our seatbelts - in hostile territory, with little water available and no visible way out of our predicament... but we must also ask 'who got us into this predicament'. Did we not ignore the signs? Our instruments were screaming at us! Let us hope that somebody comes to find us soon...

Now, let us go back in time and take a)...

We immediately divert, but we notice as we continue that the fuel level is dropping even quicker than before - and even with the action we have taken the engine is still getting hotter, albeit slowly. We decide that we must start looking for a place to land - and start hunting the most suitable location to put down. A clear strip, near a water source, and hopefully habitation. We see one, and cross check our instruments, we could go a little bit further safely, we monitor, and decide to move on for another minute; it is still not looking good; we will go back to that relatively safe place to land. If we don't we realise that we will risk damaging the plane itself or landing somewhere less hospitable. Pulling the power back, carrying out our emergency landing checks, we make a controlled, managed and damage free landing in the chosen field. The local people come out and greet us, and quickly organise a team to work with us to ensure that the aircraft is secured. We realise that our mixture setting was wrong, and that accounts for the increased fuel burn and the subsequent engine/heat problems. We are going to spend some time fixing it, and we will need support to move the aircraft by road to the nearest airport - but we are not far from one. Paperwork completed, and inspections carried out, we soon we find ourselves refuelled, and back in the air. We have lost some time, we are a little embarrassed, we are out of pocket, but our aircraft is fully functional and we are ready to face another adventure - because we took the right decisions in a timely manner. We wanted to push on, of course we did, but we realised, and accepted, that it would not be safe to do so - and appropriate action was taken.

Which of the two gave the better outcome? 

In your life, business and relationships, when you can see and feel things are not going as they should, and the instruments, fuel burn and noise tells you 'do something', I can assure you that it is better to take action early on, rather than continuing blindly, hoping that the problems will solve themselves. They rarely do. Instruments (whether aircraft instruments, or those people around you), are there to guide you in your decision making. It is good to heed them - or you just could find yourself in hostile territory, without power, without water, with a broken machine, hoping to be rescued.

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, March 10, 2014

March 10th, 2014

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I am pleased to be a citizen of Planet Earth, also known as an 'Earthling'. I am not pleased at the bizarre passport name and colour bias nonsense that exists within so called 'countries' on our planet. The stigma, pride, arrogance and at times outright obnoxiousness that people put around their passport and so called 'nationality' frankly irritates me. Accidents of location of birth appear to have such a massive impact on how people are perceived, treated, mistreated and given opportunities - often beyond that of colour or gender. Sadly, we see that, far too often, those 'with money and influence' are able to transcend such barriers, but not so the general population. Worse still, 'country-centric-isms' have become a rooting medium for hatred, isolation, unrest and, ultimately war. Recent international news provides proof positive of this observation.

It always amazes me how many barriers to travel are put in the way of genuine travellers, yet those with less than honourable intentions seem to manage to teem across the political borders drawn arbitrarily across the planet. Perhaps it has more to do with money than personality? More to do with modern day greed, than modern day need.

Let us voyage backwards in time 120 years:- 

No aeroplanes - the Wright Brother's first flight was in 1903.

No mobile phones - the first 'mobile' phone was in the 1970s, but was not very mobile at all, and reasonable handhelds emerged in the 1980s. Actually, even land-line telephones for the masses were not common until the well into the twentieth century, despite the invention of the telephone in the 1870's. 

No electronic general purpose computers - ENIAC, Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was first operational in 1946, and the IBM Personal Computer was not born until 1981.

No television - John Logie Baird got that started in 1926.

No BBC radio broadcasts - they only began in 1922! 

If you wonder about motor vehicles - well, we have Mrs Bertha Benz doing the first 'long distance (106km) motor vehicle ride' in 1888 .... and the first mass produced car, the Model T Ford was not introduced until 1908.

So, 120 years ago, it was complicated to contact people, go places and communicate in general. It took longer to send a note to the person across the street then than it takes to send a text message to anybody on the planet today. To get a letter to Australia, 120 years ago, would take months - compared to the fraction of a second that our modern communications systems permit not just text, but also images to travel. People would take days, weeks and months to go places, and thus travel outside of a fairly limited radius was restricted to all but the wealthy. 'Visa and passport controls' were not common. Movement control was far more 'practical' than 'political'.

If we consider a country like France, 120 years ago, it would probably have taken longer to travel from the south to the north then, than it takes a citizen of Ghana, today, to travel to the other side of the planet. 

It is easier to travel today, work mobility is more acceptable - and needed, travel and social integration has reached a higher level of maturity than ever before and technology has made our planet, in effect, the size of a small country of 120 years ago.

Aviation, telecommunications and information technology, have created a planet where we must reconsider our 'nationality' - and our attitudes to those who migrate around the globe to work, study and, in most cases bring with them positive economic development through their movement. 

Sadly, negative aspects of nationalism, wide spread racism, deep rooted xenophobia (fear / hatred of foreigners or strangers) and simple ignorance, all continue to block our planet-wide growth, peace and security. Where we hear calls for 'nationalistic protectionism', we realise that there is a lack of understanding of direction in regards to the 'new planet' that we now live on.

I have lived and worked around the world, and am happy to call Ghana 'my home corner' of the planet. I know others who prefer 'cooler climates', and those who prefer 'more convenient living conditions', but for me there is no place like my home in the bush lands of Ghana! Sadly, I do not always feel welcomed - but nor do others who have travelled to a new home elsewhere.

My wife and I have a good friend in London, who is regularly insulted and told 'go back to your own country'. She has a darker skin than me, originates from Ghana, and has lived in the UK more years than me. She has probably contributed more socially, and paid more tax in the UK than me too! She is torn between living in London or Ghana. Yet, when she visits Ghana the work and employment ethic drives her away to the more 'transparent and functional' life in the UK.  

Conversely, I first came to Ghana twenty years ago, have paid my taxes, and contributed freely to the society here - far more than in any other country or region that I have lived in. Of course, I also get told 'go back to your own country' on a regular basis, since my skin is a little lighter. I find it most offensive when I hear folks saying, in effect, that 'Ghana does not need the rest of the world'. For the record, this planet is my home, and I enjoy helping the people here. I am helping people from my planet - those who I see in need - regardless of their nationality, skin colour, gender or creed. I am a proud, contributing, citizen of Planet Earth - who has settled in a part called Ghana! I really do not give a jot about the colour of peoples skin, shape of their eyes or noses, type of hair, their passport or religious books - I care about people, the people with whom I live and work. They are people, from my - our - planet. We are all Earthlings, so please let us consider ourselves to be 'of one tribe'.

Nonetheless, we all live and die under the rules and regulations of the part of the planet in which we dwell - for better or for worse. I look at the current 'nationalistic' sentiments that appear to be driving changes in policy in this part of the world - particularly currency, investment, visa issues and, with it, development. I must admit to being concerned at the rising potential for isolation from these developments. If our politicians were to remember that we live on 'one planet', would they take a more 'cosmopolitan' approach to our policies? 

If we look at the so called 'more developed' nations, we see a much greater integration of 'foreigners' into their systems. The United States of America is a shining star of a multi-national society, they operate a Green Card lottery to bring diversity to their shores - they regularly 'embrace' their illegal immigrants even - giving them citizenship and full integration! People from all over the world have been integrated into the European nations - and enjoy that same full citizenship, land ownership, employment and business opportunities - with it a sense of belonging - all the time contributing widely to economic growth in the corner where they live. Such countries have rules, but it appears to me that the 'more you integrate diverse cultures and people' the greater 'growth and development' is enjoyed by all. It is not without its problems, but the benefits really do outweigh the disadvantages.

Please remember that we are all Earthlings, and that the sooner we see a truly global freedom of movement of people, goods and services, the better our planet, economy, and prospects for future generations will be.

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, March 3, 2014

March 3rd, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

How many times will we complain about the 'lack of a maintenance culture', and yet still do nothing about it? As an aviator, I understand the essential need for appropriate, timely, maintenance. Without our regular checks, and associated actions, aviation would quickly be an extinct industry - along with its aviators! There will always be something or other that goes wrong, despite maintenance; you can ask Boeing and Airbus about that! Yet, the simple reason that we all have so much confidence in aviation is that the people in aviation take everything about it, including maintenance, seriously. The aircraft cleaning team take their jobs as seriously as the cabin crew, the Air Traffic Controllers take as much responsibility for the safety of the passengers and aircraft as the refuelling personnel... and of course, the engineers and finally the pilots - all take their jobs seriously, knowing the importance of preventive, line and heavy maintenance. It is all about understanding the importance of appropriate and timely action when things are not as they should be.

Oh, that is all very well for aviation - they have peoples lives at stake, so it makes sense... but what about other industries? We all remember reading about a construction here and there that has collapsed, apparently through inappropriate (read that as lack of) steel in the concrete columns... plus, most likely, an apparent shortage of cement in the concrete mix itself, coupled with the decision to ignore cracks or other signs of an issue developing. Here the risk to life is as great as in an aircraft. In fact, it is, in my opinion, worse. Those who travel in a plane, generally, have an appreciation of the 'risk' involved. How many of us consider the 'risk' of a building collapsing when we go to work, shop or lunch? Of course, buildings need to built to standard - AND maintained to standard - to protect lives and livelihoods. 

Recently, we decided to 'restrict access' to the tower at Kpong Airfield. Why? Because we spotted a little bit of rot in a timber. Not enough to make it 'unsafe' but enough to require maintenance. Yes, we even inspect our structures regularly - and take appropriate action! Here is the fun part - once we started replacing 'any bit of wood with signs of rot or lack of strength' we found several other members that would, if not changed, decay further and create issues down the line. We definitely changed some parts that didn't warrant the short term expense. Now, we have a tower that is a good as new and back in full service. It would have been cheaper to 'leave it longer'... It would have been cheaper to 'only change the worst looking ones'.... it would have been cheaper to take a very different approach to maintenance... but it would not have been appropriate in our mindset of 'an aviators approach to safety'.

We can, as always, look at motor vehicle maintenance in our part of the world - but should not do so unless we also look at the condition and maintenance policy of the road surfaces. So much of the damage to our vehicles comes from the poor quality of our roads. How can we expect a tro-tro or taxi driver to care about the holes in the body-work of his vehicle if they see that the roads have more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese? Somewhere, somehow, we need to set the example of 'responsibility for a safety and maintenance aware culture'

Perhaps some of our challenges come from a lack of understanding of what we are supposed to do in our work. I remember a time in Europe when a 'toilet cleaner' was a profession - and it was not a popular one - in fact people would look down on this essential work - because of the image portrayed that they simply 'clean toilets'... It really is an essential job, but you won't find many 'toilet cleaners' in Europe anymore. Interestingly, the toilets are cleaner where there are no toilet cleaners...! How's that? The title, and with it the perceived importance of the job, changed. 'Health and Sanitation Worker', is the title in vogue. It expresses far more the importance of the job. Cleaning toilets is not just about flushing and scrubbing a toilet bowl. It involves a lot more - and without those who do the full task of cleaning, washing, disinfecting, changing toilet rolls, towels, etc., there would be a lot more disease around - and our visits to the 'washroom' would be unpleasant to say the least. Sometimes, just a change in the title of a job, along with recognition of what it involves, can change attitudes.

If a driver sees himself as a 'driver', and that is all - he drives until the vehicle breaks down and looks for a 'fitter' who simply 'fits' a new (or more often used) something. Perhaps our taxi and tro-tro drivers should be renamed 'Vehicle and Passenger Safety Managers'! Would a fitter take his job more seriously if he were referred to as a 'Vehicle Structure and Maintenance Controller'? I know the importance of recognition - and I suspect that many of our challenges come from failure to recognise the demands, and requirements of a job. Thus we endure lackadaisical attitudes and, consequently, rising accident rates.

When we look at the overall infrastructure, and the economic challenges around us, we realise that 'maintenance' is needed far more than the current 'wait till it breaks and take action' mantra that appears to have permeated almost every corner of society. With that, I include the Government Agencies. We are told that it is twenty five times cheaper to maintain a road than to wait till it needs replaced. Yes, we can save millions of Cedis simply by maintenance. Perhaps, and just perhaps, we could promote such a change in the approach to road maintenance by changing the name of the Ministry of Roads and Highways to 'the Ministry of Roads and Potholes', making the potholes a clear responsibility - and action point! I did have a long list of suggestions for renaming Ministries and departments, but have omitted it, leaving them to your imagination! 

Before we conclude, let us look at most important machine in every organisation and administration: The Employee. 

Employees need maintained - and, just like a computer, upgraded. Maintaining the personnel in an organisation is essential for sustainable growth and a positive working environment. Such maintenance of the mind, spirit and skill set of one's staff is generally done through training programmes. Such programmes need not be expensive, but they do need to be effective. All staff should undergo some health and safety training - and all staff should be 'assessed and encouraged' in their functions - even if simply done in-house .

Pilots undergo 'recurrent training' on a regular basis. During such training the pilot is expected to show 'how and why' they carry out certain tasks. The practical part may be done in a simulator, or in an aircraft. The instructor/assessor will create scenarios to see what and how the pilot does. It is all about keeping daily skills honed, and ensuring understanding. Statistics show that recurrent training reduces accidents, improves pilots knowledge as well increasing their ability to cope with stressful situations when they occur - with much improved decision making. It saves money in the long run too!

Training should be seen as essential to our staff, in the same way that we view changing the oil in our engines. It makes everything run smoother, and reminds our personnel of their roles and responsibilities...

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