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Opinions Thu, 11 Nov 2010

The Future Of Aviation In Ghana

Ten years ago there still existed three West African owned and operated airlines - Ghana Airways, Air Afrique and Nigeria Airways, proud flag carriers of 14 independent West African nations. Together these airlines operated dozens of modern aircraft, providing service to all corners of the world. The access to air transportation, operated by the national carriers was not only a matter of convenience and national pride; these corporations supported tens of thousands of important and well paying jobs throughout the West African region.

One by one, these once proud carriers folded and went out of business - Ghana Airways in 2005, Air Afrique in 2001 and Nigeria Airways in 2003. Thousands of jobs were lost, causing suffering to untold families and individuals, and seriously impacting the economy of the respective nations. It could be said that aviation in West Africa has never recovered. The fleet of aircraft that vanished from the marketplace represented thousands of seats that were no longer available - in many cases involving some of the most lucrative routes in the airline industry. It suffices to mention major destinations such as London, Paris, Rome and New York. Foreign carriers were only too happy to pick up the slack, to fill the vacuum. Lesser West African destinations were left with infrequent service or they were totally abandoned. Intra-West African service has suffered seriously and domestic air service within many West African countries is insufficient or non-existent. All told, aviation in West Africa today does not present a pretty picture.

The reader might now ask the reasons why. Casting blame is not why this article is written. Enough has been published about the demise of the three airlines. It is time to get from under these dark shadows and look to the future - and this future can be bright.

V.P. John Mahama visited in the United States in November 2009. The revitalization of aviation in Ghana was on his mind then, when he spoke in Louisville, KY about the need for positive changes from the prevailing, dismal situation of the industry in Ghana. The V.P, correctly, announced that the government was no longer prepared to subsidize failed airline companies. Ghana, and West Africa as a whole, needs a strong airline, that serves Africa and Africans - but this should not be a government owned and operated corporation, such as the three failed airlines. An excellent opportunity exists for a strong and well managed airline - created and operated as private enterprise. The government should only act in a support role that would be limited to the legal aspects of the company while facilitating healthy competition to the foreign carriers.

Lessons should be learned from the failed enterprises that were plagued by mismanagement and corruption. In spite of all the negative connotations the fact remains that West Africa is the last frontier in international aviation, where opportunities abound. West Africa is a mystery for the uninitiated, but a potential goldmine for those who have the gift to learn from the past and the courage to challenge the future.

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The failure of Ghana Airways, later compounded by the collapse of Ghana International Airlines (GIA) was a serious blow to the Ghanaian psyche. One would read comments on the Ghana Web and various blogs that Ghanaians were simply not capable of operating an airline. This is nonsense and it should be shown to the rest of the world that Ghanaians are ready, willing and able to prove themselves in the airline industry, just as they have done in so many other areas in today's modern world. The day will soon come again, when Ghanaian pilots, crew, management and staff will carry their heads proudly in cities around the world, where the Ghana flag will appear once again. Here, some basic rationale in support of this claim:

• It is not acceptable that some 30 foreign airlines serve Kotoka International Airport, reaping the benefits from operating some of the most lucrative routes in the world's air transportation system, while Ghana - the host country - does not operate a single international flight.

• It is not acceptable that Ghana has no operating carrier offering service for passengers or cargo to/from the neighboring countries up and down the coast of West Africa.

• It is not acceptable that the many capable staffs who had invested their lives in aviation carriers, are still without work and prospects in the industry. Ghana can offer trained and educated personnel to fill any position in the airline industry.

Over the last ten years that have passed since the three West African carriers ceased operations, there have been several important developments in the region that support the development and growth of a West African airline:

• Ghana has further developed a peaceful and stable democracy, becoming the favorite West African destination for business and tourism alike.

• The Ghanaian Diaspora abroad, whether in the UK, the United States or elsewhere has grown by leaps and bound. Ghanaians abroad have made a name for themselves as respected and successful citizens, who have the means to travel "home" regularly.

• West Africa, as a region is now peaceful. Conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have ended. This opens new opportunities for robust growth of trade and commerce throughout the area.

• Ghana has joined the club of oil exporting nations. An international airline is an integral part of the infrastructure that a modern Ghana is bound to develop.

• Ghana is in the process of advancing its export industries, - agriculture in particular. Roads have been built and the railways are being extended, to bring people and cargo to major centers. Ghana needs its own airline to make export markets accessible.

• Ghana already offers education to students on all levels. The country needs job opportunities for graduating students that an international airline does provide.

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Want to get involved?

This article is written by and Ingo Blondal a West Africa aviation and tourism expert - former resident of Accra and Joe Klatsi (aviation expert and Aerospace Engineer). Further articles on this subject matter are to follow. His writings represent the views of a group of individuals, located in West Africa and the United States who wish to see a new African airline rise from the ashes. It is an ambitious, but realistic and worthwhile goal. Should you share our opinions and wish to contribute in one form or another you can contact us at: aviationinfo@afrimeric.com.

Many Ghanaians have yearned for a new national airline to be born. Ghana has been without an airline for too long. Ghanaians used to have the option to patronize their own airline or to avail themselves of services offered by the many foreign companies. Today the Ghanaian option does not exist, while the UK offers flights by two British airlines and Delta Airlines from the United States flies to/from Accra twice a-day. Many West Africans who live in the US do still have to travel via Europe to reach their West African destinations. Imagine the thousands who have endured long waits at European airports, squandering time and money. All they want is to make it home in a comfortable and affordable manner.

Like this the West African has no choices. The Sierra Leonian cannot travel home for Christmas, as there are no seats - not even via Europe. If a seat can be found the cost is heavy. The same applies to many other Africans, who must accept the cost and the inconvenience - or stay home.

It is time for Ghana to accept the challenge. With diligence and hard work this ambitious project will be brought to fruition. We are convinced that thousands of Ghanaians are prepared to support our efforts in the spirit of national pride and unity.

Columnist: Klatsi, Joe