Tag Archives Engineering

Safety in the Ceiling

The higher you go, the safer you are.

One survival hack that pilots know is that altitude is your friend. When you are flying a plane, the higher you are, the safer you are. Why?

One may assume that flying very near the ground is the safer option. In case of an engine failure, you will not come tumbling down from 11 km up in the sky. If you are flying 100m from the ground, you may have an opportunity to get to the ground with a smaller thud, and possibly survive. The reasoning makes sense, but it is wrong.

Pilots know that the higher you fly, the more you have time to react to unexpected situations. This is because, with speed and height, the plane can glide for long distances, giving you an opportunity to find a solution. For example, a 737 flying at 40,000 feet can glide for more than 150 km after losing both engines. While this is just slightly over 10 minutes of ‘airtime,’ there is a lot you can do during that time.

If your engine goes off, you have some 10 minutes to try to restart them before you crash. You have some time to think about where to land. There might be an airstrip, a good highway, or a lake, within your lifeline of 150 km. This is the reason why the higher you are, the safer it is for you as a pilot, and of course, as a passenger in the plane.

It is for the same reason that planes at take-off climb so steeply – pilots buying altitude.

High altitude also means lower resistance, hence lower fuel consumption. A plane at a cruising altitude consumes less fuel.

Fly High

What life lessons can we learn from this?

It is good to have options and a margin to cushion us in case of the unexpected. It is good to have savings that can take us a long time. It is good to have room for the unexpected. It is good to be ahead of the schedule, rather than barely running to beat deadlines. It is good to have a good plan  

It is also good to have a steep take off which gives you room for safety quickly. This could be working extra harder when starting a business, saving more when you are young… etc. Work to get to the cruising altitude so that you can relax a little bit.

Avoid living on the edge. Be safe.

Take Risks

But it is not every time that high altitude is desirable. In combat, fighter jets may operate at low altitudes in order to avoid detection by surveillance systems and anti-aircraft establishments. This is a special application that is used as a survival tactic. You do not want to be shot down by an enemy.

This also happens in life. At times, we must make the risky decision of flying low. It could be because we are facing an enemy such as a lack of opportunities, time constraints, lack of a fallback plan, a do-or-die situation, or even adventure. While this is acceptable, it should not be the norm. I do not think that we are supposed to be in combat all the time. Only if it is unavoidable.


Chinese Engineers in Kenya

Posted on 3 min read

Chinese contractors have found a golden goose in Kenya, almost taking all the megaprojects in the construction industry. Most of the major state and private infrastructure that has been built in the last ten years have some form of Chinese signature in them. From roads, buildings, railways, to water and sewerage projects, Chinese companies have proved to be efficient and reliable. They show up armed with equipment, labor, and most important, capital which allows them to complete the project in record time.

The Standard Gauge Railway

Take the example of the Chinese-made Mombasa – Naivasha railway. The line was funded through a loan from China, built by a Chinese company, and now is operated by the Chinese. It is the Chinese railway in Kenya. Despite protests on the feasibility of the project and accusations of kickbacks and disregard for the environment during the construction, the railway line was eventually built.

But it is the manner in which the new railway is run that has proved to be a rip-off to Kenyans, more so to Kenyan engineers. To date, control panels and boards are written and programmed in Chinese. The primary language used in the operations by the Chinese people is the Chinese language. The engine drivers of the trains are Chinese, while Kenyan engineers are forced to do lowly jobs. Some forty Kenyans have been trained on to how to operate the trains, but they remain spectators as they are not allowed to do the real work.

At the same time, the Chinese have brought people from China to do menial jobs while Kenyans continue to grapple with joblessness. In some other projects, the Chinese have even been accused of ferrying everything from China, including the brooms to be used on-site.

Lack of Knowledge Transfer

From the onset of the project, there was no plan to ensure the deliberate transfer of skills to Kenyans so that they can take over the running of the project. Yet, the project costs Kenyan dearly, amidst a growing national debt. Why didn’t the government care about equipping its engineers to not only operate the Railway but also make them competent enough to build other sections that will need to be built in the future?

The problem persists not just in the Madaraka Express railway, but in other sectors as well. Highly qualified Electrical, Mechanical and Civil Engineers continue to grapple with joblessness, while mega projects are being handled by the Chinese. While it is understandable that they bring in certain expertise and skills, projects must be designed in such a way that they ensure maximum skill transfer to the locals. The overreliance on Chinese contractors also means that local construction companies have faced severe competition.

What Next?

The Kenyan government needs to prioritize the needs of its young people, and not focus on giving them a fish. That people from China are employed as engineers in a Kenyan railway, while many competent Kenyan engineers are jobless, is shortsighted and stupid. The worst part is that even very low-level jobs such as cleaners and security guards are being done by Chinese nationals, in a country that has very high levels of unemployment. Building the human resources should be a top priority for any country that wants to develop.