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Business News Thu, 28 Mar 2002

Ghanair losing hold on traditional routes

Ghana Airways, bugged down by 150 million dollars debt, is fast losing its hold as the most preferred airline not only on the West Coast, but to destinations previously known as peculiar to the national carrier. This is attributed to the unpredictable schedules of the airline that had most often been delayed or cancelled altogether, leaving passengers in the cold.

A GNA report quotes officials of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) as saying on Wednesday that it had received several applications from numerous airlines to increase the frequency of their flights to and from the Kotoka International Airport. The airlines include South Africa Airways, British Airways, Kenya Airways and Lufthansa. They either want to operate daily flights or increase their schedules.

Ghana Airways was known as the most reliable on the West Coast but debts, management problems and equipment have bedevilled the airline making it almost impossible for it to run some of its usual routes the way it used to.

A source at the Ghana Airways said in interview that Ghanair, the dominant carrier in West Africa with schedules to nearly all the national capitals had had to reduce or cancel some of its routes. Ghana Airways has cancelled its three times daily flight to Abidjan and daily flights to Dakar, Senegal making room for Ethiopia airlines to operate to those destinations.

It, however, goes to Liberia and Sierra Leone daily. "But even then, sometimes they do not fly," an agent who requested anonymity, said. Ghanair's code-sharing arrangement with Ethiopian Airlines has been suspended due to what one official called "financial reasons".

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The national carrier, however, still flies to Lagos twice a day, one in the morning and another in the evening. The Johannesburg route is hanging in the balance, as the flights there are not regular.

The London route has been reduced from four times a week to once a week. The New York, Baltimore, Washington, Rome and Dusseldorf routes have also been reduced to once a week.

One of the travel and tour companies interviewed said the New York route "is not even guaranteed since anytime you access the Ghana Airways booking system on the computer, you are told:' the link to your host is not allowed', even though, there might be a flight."

South African Airlines (SAA), that used to centre its operations in the Southern African Region has ventured into the West African sub-region and is fast making a significant impact with its timely schedules and strategic routing system. The same can be said for Kenya Airways, the newest airline on the block.

Ghana Airways was recently suspended from the clearinghouse of the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) and officials and Aviation authorities say this was having serious consequences for the airline. The suspension has affected its relationship with other airlines and brought into question its credit worthiness.

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Ghanair, which has lost about two-fifth of its passengers on its North American route due to the September 11 attacks on the US, has debts of 90 million dollars in overdue suppliers credit and 60 million dollars in loans.

The situation is made precarious by creditors' increasing demand for payment of overdue supplies. Ghanair is the only airline in West Africa that has international accreditation (AAA rating). The liquidated Air Afrique also had it.

It must be noted that most airlines worldwide have been hit heavily by the September 11 events and have received significant doses of capital from their governments to keep them afloat. The US government recently doled out five billion dollars to support its airline industry while countries in the European Union have also taken steps to support their aviation industry.

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