Fri, 14 Nov 2008 Business & Finance

Ghana Makes Stride In Ultra-Light Aviation

By Daily Graphic

Ghana is taking the front seat in ultra-light aviation and its locally made planes can even save lives in remote areas. In an effort to raise money for the NGO, Medicine on the Move, aviation enthusiasts converged on the Kpong Airfield at the weekend to witness WAASPS' third annual Light Aviation Air Show.

The charity event included lectures, flying displays and a medical drama which highlighted the possibility of aviation complementing the country's healthcare system.

Medicine on the Move is a humanitarian organisation providing treatment, equipment and supplies for medical treatment, with particular focus on trauma cases.

WAASPS is Ghana's first ultra-light assembly, training and air work facility and it supplied planes for the NGO.

Co-owner Jonathan Porter said some remote communities could not receive swift medical attention due to poor roads and infrastructure.

However, flying medics could significantly improve a patient's chances of survival, as a trip from Kpong to Accra is cut from nearly two hours by car to 20 minutes by air.

He hoped that the future would see staff trained as both medics and pilots so that personnel could both treat the patients and fly the planes.

Mr Porter added that the planes were built predominantly by three female Ghanaian engineers under his supervision and encouraged more local construction.

He said their aircraft had stirred much interest in countries such as Kenya, Chad, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe and that a group of Nigerians were preparing to train at the airstrip this week.

Mr Porter, who is qualified to train private ultra-light pilots (PUPs), accentuated that safety was the main priority, saying that any slight engineering fault could cause disaster.

“If you miss one bolt, one screw, one centimetre on a landing, someone dies,” he said.

When using the planes to treat medical cases in the bush, inhospitable flying conditions could spell the difference between the pilot saving his own life or someone else's.

“If I fly, I may kill myself. If I don't fly, someone else will die,” he said.

He explained that ultra-light planes were perfect for West African conditions because they only needed a small runway for take-off and landing, they were cost-effective and burnt less fuel than higher compression aircraft but could cover the same distances.

He hoped that the industry would expand to achieve better returns of scale because WAASPS's current operation costs were 30 to 40 per cent higher than an equivalent venture in Europe.

Spectators were treated to the first ultra-light formation flight to be performed in West Africa by four Ghanaian and international pilots to show how versatile the aircraft could be.

One plane even attempted to land on a moving 4x4 vehicle and successfully touched the car's rooftop mid-flight.

With the assistance of WAASPS, Medicine on the Move aims to expand its reach to neighbouring Togo, Burkina Faso and Benin in the future.

Story by Elise Beacom

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