By Ikechi Uko
The news that the Ghana Government has granted South Africa Airways (SAA), the 5th Freedom Traffic Right to operate on the Accra-London route changes the Aviation landscape in West Africa.
West Africa has a population of over 300 million People within 15 countries having over 40 Airports with the largest Economies in Africa. Yet there is no strong Airline in West Africa and no Airport hub in West and Central Africa.
So there is a battle on which of the Airports can become the hub for West Africa. As at now only Lome can boast to have at least 60% of passengers as transit. Neither Accra or Lagos carry up to 40% transit from their Airports so Lome currently can claim the title of the Transit Airport Airport in West Africa.
East Africa has 2 hubs in Nairobi and Addis Ababa while South Africa has the massive Oliver Thambo international Airport in Johannesburg. To establish a hub there is a need to first have an airport that has a good transfer desk and transit section with transit Visa or Visa on Arrival. You also need an airport with cheap Aviation Fuel. You will need an Airport with Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities. You would also need an Airline to drive the hub. As at today no Airport in West Africa has all the needed ingredients to be a hub. Ghana has moved fast to claim the spot. First it offered Visa on Arrival to all Africans starting from July 1st. Secondly it reduces the cost of Aviation Fuel by 25%.
Despite this reduction Aviation fuel in Accra is still more expensive than Lagos Airport in Dollar terms. The problem with Lagos is availability due to Foreign Exchange problems and the Cartel running the business. The cartel is so strong that it has been using the Nigeria media to wage war against the Government of Nigeria, False stories like the fake withdrawal of 14 Foreign Airline from Nigeria which is not true were obviously planted by Vested interest against a supine administration in Nigeria. Because of the weakness of the current administration in Nigeria a lot of false stories are appearing in The Nigerian media suggesting that foreign Airlines are abandoning Lagos for Ghana. The managers of British Airways and Delta have come out to deny the story. While blackmail and bad journalism are going on in Nigeria ,Ghana is working hard to correct its defects, already Ghana Based Africa World Airline has increased flights on the Lagos Accra route from 4 times a week to 11 and have applied for triple daily flights all in one month.
Though the MRO and Strong Airline is missing. Ghana is making up for the absence of a strong carrier by issuing 5th freedom rights to other Airlines to carry passengers from Accra. It has given 5th freedom rights to SAA to fly to Washington D.C. in the last one year. It has also given the same rights to Kenya Airways for Freetown, TAP Portugal to Sao Tome, Air Maroc, EgyptAir among others. Abidjan in Cote D’Ivoire is also striving to be the hub with an Airline Air Cote D’Ivoire and an improved Airport infrastructure it’s hope is supported by the French.
As part of its strategy Ghana decided to grant SAA more frequencies This was disclosed by Transport Minister Fiifi Kwetey at an event to mark the first anniversary of direct flight of SAA to Washington. This was from a report by StarFMonline.
According to him, the request which was made by the airline was granted due to the success it has attained with its direct flight to Washington one year on.
“We are confident that just as they have done very well on the current route, once this also goes through we will definitely see quite a lot of exciting opportunities on the Accra-London route as well,” Mr Kwetey said.
He added that Ghana has adopted a liberalized aviation policy in the bid to make it an aviation hub in Africa.
Since August 2, SAA, the only four-star rated carrier in Africa flies four times a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – to Washington DC on its A340-600s aircraft.
According to Gloria Yirenkyi, the country manager of South Africa Airways, the airline currently has 74 percent market share on the route.
The route in the past year has also seen a 14 percent growth.
She added that they might increase their frequency on the Washington route considering the demand.
South Africa Airways has already been granted the Firth Freedom Traffic Right to operate from Accra to New York and plans to activate its operations on the route by the end of the year.
Now South Africa has stolen a March on its Star Alliance partner and Africa’s leading Airline Ethiopian Airline who is building huge capacity out of Lome with its baby ASKY Airline. Ethiopian flies to New York from Lome and has also applied for 5th freedom rights from Accra. If Ethiopian Airlines are granted the rights from Accra then Ghana can rightfully push to be the magical hub in West Africa. But now SAA is the master of West Africa.
Lome is also giving Accra a good fight. It has a strong Airline ASKY and cheap fuel but no Visa on Arrival and though Asky has announced plans of building an MRO along with an Aviation academy to be ready in 2 years. Lagos that naturally should be the hub is huddled with operational difficulties and other issues. It has a large pool of international Airlines, strong Domestic carriers but very expensive and not readily available Aviation Fuel. It lacks MRO capacity and does not have very easy immigration environment the Nigerian Government is planning to start Visa on Arrival by January 2017.So the options are open for the Airports in West Africa to connect all the dots.
With such a huge population and vibrant economy it is an irony that West African depend on others to move around.
Things haven’t always been like this. Nigeria Airways, Ghana Airways and Air Afrique were major players but with the era of IMF induced devaluations and age old mismanagement they all collapsed. Today 80% of all traffic in West Africa is carried by non African Carriers and about 15% by non West African carriers.
Only ASKY is really profitable having declared a $2million profit for the first time in 5 years of Operation. But Asky is partly owned and Operated by Ethiopian Airlines out of Lome Togo. The other Airline making a difference is Ghanaian Airline AWA but that is also partly owned by Chinese giants HNA. Air Cote D’Ivoire also have international interest.
West Africa still offers the most lucrative route for many carriers. The link to USA from West Africa is the New Cash cow. With the exit of United Airlines from Lagos on July 1st 3000 seats disappeared on the US route. Ethiopian Airlines quickly plugged in a flight from Lome to New York. It started with a 3 weekly fight but after just 10 days added another flight to New York. With about 90 passengers coming out of Lagos everyday on its Lome flights it might soon go daily. SAA started its Accra Washington route 4 times a week last year and it is rated as the most profitable route for SAA. Delta Airlines with daily flights to Lagos and Accra are the Masters of the game. SAA has 3 fights a week from Dakar to the states and the Cape Verdian Airline has 2 flights a week. The need for more seats will soon lead to a dog fight on that route. Arik is the only West African airline with 3 flights to New York.