The increasing demand for domestic air travel, brought on by the need for safe, less crowded, efficient means of transport and increased political activity, has led to calls for more domestic airlines.
The inactivity of Unity Air since the resumption of domestic flight operations post-COVID-19 lockdown on May 1, 2020, has also meant limited available seats for the domestic market.
The indigenous airline became the first casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been inactive since the resumption of domestic flight operations and doesn’t seem ready to restart operations.
The procurement process for the acquisition of two Embraer 145’s for the airline to augment its single aircraft was also aborted after the current pandemic derailed its projections.
“We were in the process of acquiring two Embraer 145’s, but due to the COVID-19, everything has been put on hold for now,” a source close to the aborted deal said.
Though PassionAir and Africa World Airlines (AWA) have increased frequency in response to demand, the lack of more travelling options by air in-country has led to a significant increase in airfares.
An Accra-Tamale return flight now costs about Ghs 950; Accra-Kumasi and Accra-Takoradi return flights now cost between Ghs 800 and Ghs 900.
PassionAir and AWA, for instance, operate 20 flights per day between Accra and Kumasi—the busiest domestic route.
However, some travellers have stated that they were unable to secure seats to Kumasi and Tamale respectively on either airline last Friday and Tuesday respectively.
Industry data show that in 2019, a total of 16,499 people travelled by air domestically.
Attempts at reviving defunct domestic airlines
The aviation industry regulator, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), has held meetings with management of dormant airlines to ascertain the challenges and support they require to restart operations.
Though there are 13 Ghanaian valid Air Operators Certificate (AOC) holders – which allows them to operate domestic and regional passenger and cargo flights – as at March 2018, only seven are active.
A further eight airlines which hold valid Air Carrier Licences (ACL) are working with the regulator toward attaining an AOC to enable them start their operations. However, some have stalled the process by their inability to meet stringent regulatory requirements.
The need for such a meeting became imperative given the growing investment in on ground airport infrastructure, but there are not enough active airlines to serve the growing domestic and regional aviation market.
The airports operator, Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL), has invested about US$400million in constructing a new airport at Ho, rehabilitating the Wa aerodrome, and the construction of a new Terminal, Terminal 3, at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA).
The regulator has also spent significant sums in the acquisition of navigational equipment for the Ho, Wa, Tamale and Kumasi airports in recent times.
The demise of local airlines
Antrak Air and City Link led the growth of domestic air travel in the country more than a decade ago. They were later joined by Fly 540, Starbow and Africa World Airlines (AWA).
A combination of managerial fragilities, difficult operating environment, lack of financial muscle in a cash-intensive industry, and poor equipment choice are but a few of the challenges that brought most of the domestic operators to their knees.
City Link suspended operations five years ago due to various reasons. Fly 540 – a part of African Airline Group, FASTJET – also in May 2014 suspended all operations, saying: “The Company intends to fully focus on the considerable potential of opportunities in East and Southern Africa, and this legacy 540 operation is not, therefore, part of the core low-cost FASTJET model”.