ICAO Day 2018

Some of the first time passengers

Some of the first time passengers

ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) Day is a day to celebrate and teach people about aviation. In December every year, for as long as some of the staff here can remember, MAF organizes a fun day at the Moshoeshoe 1 International Airport, where we use the planes we have available to give rides to kids. In the past, there have been over 250 children.

3 of our TU206G’s ready to go

3 of our TU206G’s ready to go

2018 has been a hard year for the team at MAF Lesotho. They started out the year short-staffed, which meant that fewer flights could be done due to fewer pilots and slower maintenance. The arrival of three new families mid-year (us included), while great news in the long run, added a lot of extra work for the team: we take man-hours out of the day to train, and so the pilots and mechanics can't just ‘do’, they have to teach as well. When we are all online and working at capacity, the three new families will provide some solutions to the short staffing problems, but until then, we actually add more work.

Ground crew working hard

Ground crew working hard

The last and possibly heaviest of blows to the team this year has been multiple personal losses by a number of local and international families. From children to husbands and wives, the team has been weighed-down with sorrow and challenge, seemingly every month. So, when ICAO day came around, not many people jumped up and down with excitement. In fact, most of the staff looked down at the table we sit around for our morning meetings, not ready to catch anyone else's eye who might be thinking about what they were thinking. Some folks were voicing their hopes that the weather might turn bad and give us a year off from the busy flying day that loomed.

However, as Saturday came around, the weather was perfect, 3 of our 4 planes were available, and lots of excited children awaited. The day went smoothly. The three planes flew an average of 73 children, making it a total for the day of 219 kids, many of whom got to experience flying for the first time.

72 Passengers for the day

72 Passengers for the day

What stood out for me, however, was not the terrified screams of some children who seemed convinced it was the end of the road for them or the joyful laughing as we landed safely back. Nor was it the fact that this was the first time I got to fly a MAF airplane solo (without an instructor). For me, what stood out, was how all of our staff, tired after a hard year, rose to the challenge. They didn’t just do the bare minimum, but they each completed their respective roles with joy, energy, and professionalism. What the day reminds me is that no matter how negative we might be feeling, or how hard the times have been, we have a choice how we face each day. It could be with dread and negativity, or it could be with hope and joy that will rub off on all those around us. I’m so proud to be part of the MAF Lesotho team, not because of anything I have done, but because of the light they shine to the community around us.

Sometimes the fastest way to run uphill is to walk

We all want things done now. Not tomorrow or next week, but now. We are probably tired of hearing about how our culture ‘these days’ expects things instantly: fast food, music and TV on demand, and can your internet ever really be fast enough?

Pre-flight checks

Pre-flight checks

I love running, especially far, and in the mountains. In fact, I have a race coming up just this week in Lesotho. It’s a 50km mountain trail race, but let’s just call it a ‘run,’ as the only person I am racing against is myself. The aim of mountain running is to move as quickly and efficiently as possible. Some people ask me ‘on a 50km race, do you ever walk?’ After an embarrassed laugh, I usually answer, ‘the question is “do I ever run?”’ The thing is, sometimes the fastest way to safely and effectively reach your goal is to take it slow, efficiently and deliberately. If you get your head down and keep a slow to moderate pace, before you know it you’ll be there.

Our first airstrip for the day, Nohana

Our first airstrip for the day, Nohana

I mention this idea because thats what I’ve been feeling over the past few months, as I slowly chip away at flight training here in Lesotho. It hasn’t been fast, and there’s a good reason for this: For me to get fully signed out as a safe and effective MAF pilot in Lesotho, its a process, and not a simple checking of the boxes.

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I started with local flights around Maseru, working at making the airplane more of an extension of my body before taking it into the mountains. Then, our chief pilot Bryan and I headed out for an overnight mountain checkout session. The majority of our airstrips here require new pilots to practice at them with an instructor on board, to ensure we understand every intricacy of them before going at it alone. We had a successful time, and managed to get 7 airstrips completed, after sweating it out doing landings, aborts and emergencies until I dreamed about them.

One of the reasons we don’t rush this process is because a key element to our safety structure is something along the lines of ‘If you are unsure about something, then don’t do it.’ If you have doubts about the wind conditions and your ability to handle it then don’t go do it. If you have a doubt that the airplane is 100% set up to land during your final approach then back off, get out of there and try it again.

So, pretty soon I will get to start operating to those 7 airstrips. Building experience and confidence, and then slowly we will add on more airstrips, little by little.

Waiting out some storms at Kuebunyane

Waiting out some storms at Kuebunyane

Sometimes it’s hard to not rush ahead and try and advance faster. Saying ‘no’ when the weather is marginal isn’t fun, or deciding to not land and collect a sick patient because the conditions aren’t safe, is a hard thing to do. Ultimately it means we can go out next time and try it again, day after day and year after year.

We couldn’t be effective in our mission here if we were unsafe, and to be safe, you have to take it slow. Like I said, the fastest way to run uphill is to walk.