Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Mercy Ships

On Friday 7th November I was privileged to do a special flight for MAF. On board Alpha-Delta were Jo Lamb from MAF UK, Bert Van den Bosch (our MAF Madagascar programme manager) and Josh Plett, who was the pilot supervising me. We were bound for Toamasina (also known as Tamatave) on the East coast of Madagascar. Just over an hour in the air, or an 8 hour drive on twisty mountain roads. The purpose of this flight was to allow Jo and Bert to visit Mercy Ships (and Josh and I got to tag along too!)

Flying to Toamasina

Mercy Ships are an international hospital charity and their ship 'Africa Mercy' has come to dock in Toamasina for 8 months. They were due to go to Benin but due to the Ebola outbreak, the decision was made for them to come here. Usually the advance Mercy Ship team arrive in the country 5-6 months before the ship, to screen potential patients and make the preparations required. However, due to the sudden change of plan in this case, the team had only 6 weeks to get ready! So they have been using MAF to get around the country, saving them weeks of travel and enabling them to get everything done in time. It has given us the chance to get to know some of the team and support their mission.

Coming in to land at Toamasina

It was a privilege to be able to join them on their ship and hear some of their stories. The ship has over 400 staff from more than 40 nations including Britain. They will provide free medical treatment to Malagasy people. They are able to remove tumours, treat eye problems, carry out dental surgery and procedures such as treat a cleft palate or tongue-tie. The ship opened for life changing surgeries on the 11th November so there were already some children waiting on board for pre-surgery appointments.

Queue waiting to be assessed to see if Mercy Ships can help them

Mercy Ships also support those who can't be treated by giving the patient (or parent) an understanding of their condition and they pray for people who are suffering. Many people come with headaches or minor illnesses that do not require surgery while others come with more conditions that are incurable, like Down's syndrome. It is vitally important that their conditions are diagnosed and potential treatments explained to try and avoid cases where people spend all their money and pin their hopes (time and time again) on treatments that will make no difference.

Africa Mercy

Our visit was short and sweet as we needed to head back to the airport mid-afternoon to make sure we could get back to Tana before the rains start. We are now into rainy season here so after 3pm there are often thunderstorms which last well into the evening. The Cessna 182, which I am flying, is restricted to visual flight rules only here (so we're not allowed to fly into cloud). It is also 'burning season' where local people are burning down sections of the rainforest, clearing the land to grow rice. This is bad news for the rainforest as huge sections are being burnt each year and it doesn't grow back. It is also bad news for the pilots as our viability reduces and it becomes difficult to avoid thunderstorms. It felt a little uncomfortable to see lightening not far from the wing - something I'll have to get used to for the next 4 months!

Burning Season

Photos courtesy of Jo Lamb, MAF UK.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Flying update

Cessna 182 at Mananjary in the South East. This was the first MAF Madagascar flight.

Over the last 6 weeks I have been doing my Flight Orientation Training in Madagascar. The training covered aircraft handling, some tests on air law and weather in Madagascar and some training on how to look after passengers. It has been great to be back up in the air and to be on the final leg of the journey to becoming a MAF pilot. The first week and a half (15 hours of flying) were spent getting to know the Cessna 182. With it's diesel engine and high nose wheel it is a more challenging aircraft to land so quite a bit of time was devoted to flying into different airstrips, getting used to how it handles on finals. There were also a few MAF manuals that needed to be read so that kept me busy between flights!

Northern Madagascar

After completing a base check (where you are assessed on your ability to fly the aircraft in different situations) I moved onto LOFT (Line Orientated Flight Training) which is when I started flying with passengers on board.I learnt some of the routes and became familiar with some of the airports that I will be flying into as well as dealing with passengers, which was completely new to me. This includes loading their baggage, giving them a safety brief and conducting a safe flight. All this training was done in just 5 flights before a 'route check' assessment by the training captain to check whether I was ready to be the Pilot in Command.


With the route check complete, there is a further 12 hours or 4 days flying (whichever is greater) of supervised flying. This is when I am responsible for the flight and the official Pilot in Command, but another pilot comes along for the flight to help with unfamiliar areas of the country and give assistance with weather patterns that haven't come up in the initial training. I am still doing the supervised flying and really enjoying it. I am remembering more of the check list off by heart and becoming more efficient at doing what needs to be done on the ground in preparation for the flight. This gives me more time to spend chatting with the passengers and it is uplifting to hear about the work they have done or are intending to do once they have left the MAF aircraft. One of these trips was to Toamasina, where Mercy Ships have docked but I'll save that trip for another blog very soon!