Domestic aviation booms in Ghana

Even though industry observers and analysts have not taken their eyes off the radar of Ghana’s domestic airline operations since flights grew from single digits to multiples per day, very few people, indeed, have been counting the numbers.

Few people can hardly believe their eyes when they look at the 2007 throughput of 85,166 passengers and compare it with the almost 600,000 figure as of 2013 in a country where less than five per cent travel by air. 

Reactions from industry players range from “Unbelievable!” through “Impressive!” to “Phenomenal!”

Accra-Takoradi, though, has proved to be a disappointing route for many people, not because it is not doing well, but because being the route to the busy oil city, much more was expected in terms of throughput than the figures are showing thus far. 

The surprise route is Accra-Tamale. With Africa World Airlines (AWA) doing three flights per day, Antrak doing two and Starbow, one, Tamale has turned out to be the goldmine airlines didn’t know before. 

What accounts for the Accra-Tamale boom? Analysts have found that on this particular route, it makes a lot of good business sense to fly.  Accra-Tamale is only one hour, maximum, by air but by road, it is almost 10 hours. 

The second reason is the NGO factor. Majority of NGOs are headquartered in northern Ghana.

The Accra-Kumasi route is still the busiest, and the reasons are obvious. The route links the administrative, diplomatic and business capitals of Ghana. Plus, which business person, with very little time to spare, wants to sit four-to five hours driving? For another, people ask themselves: who wants to risk accidents and possible armed robbery?

The latest to take full advantage of the Kumasi boom is Africa World Airline, the youngest of the Ghanaian-registered operators.  

Effective March 28, 2014, something interesting will happen to Accra and Kumasi’s skyline on a daily basis. At 10.45 a.m. — a time of the day when the skies are usually silent — the tail of AWA’s Embraer Regional Jet (ERJ 45) will zoom off into the skies. This will be AWA’s additional daily flight to Kumasi. The airline’s first flight for the day (every day) will still be 7:20 a.m. and the last flight for the day will be 3:10 p.m.

Samuel Abdul Razak Tachie, the Marketing Manager, says the timing is strategic. “That flight be for, among other passengers, those who would have arrived with the many early morning flights from Nigeria, with Kumasi as their final destination. Many come by the various Nigerian airlines from Lagos and some of them buy AWA tickets to fly Lagos-Accra-Kumasi.  

A Ghana Airports Company staff member summed up the domestic operations success story thus: “The myth surrounding air travel has been broken. You don’t need to be rich to fly. Even students are able to afford it.”

AWA is poised for the growth. The crew resource is available. Indeed, its latest batch of four pilots has recently returned from Switzerland after training, giving the airline a total of 16 solid Ghanaian pilots for the job. Size is also on its side. Its 50-seater ERJ 45 is an advantage: AWA, like the leopard that has smelled blood, is baying for more.

AWA is writing a success story. From a slow and uncertain start two years ago, it is arguably the most daring today. The airline’s performance in two years has been what Apiigy of AWA describes as that of a “toddling child. We fall down, we get up, trying to walk”. There was an almost zero-visibility in its first year – one flight a day to Kumasi and none to Tamale and Takoradi as at February 2013, and Apiigy recalls that “we had to strategise. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work.” 

A month later (by March 2013) AWA’s tail was visible above the clouds of Tamale. In May 2013, it added a second flight to Kumasi and in August, a second to Tamale. Last month it added a third to Tamale. Today, it is the first – and so far, only – Ghanaian-registered airline flying to Lagos. Starting with two flights per day, AWA is already planning a third into the Nigerian skies.

Apiigy’s analysis of the market is simple. “The flights in Ghana – and indeed, everywhere – will come to one thing: Reliability. It will not be fares. For any airline, reliability must be your DNA. And that is the reputation AWA aims to build. When AWA’s flight is late, it must be due to external factors such as the weather or delay by ground handlers.”

Shareholders in AWA include SAS Finance Group, of which Togbe Afede XIV is the CEO, SSNIT Ghana, Hainan  Aviation Holdings of China and the China-Africa Development Fund (CADFUND).

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