Government’s decision to stick with its plan to partner Ethiopian Airlines in establishing and running Ghana’s third attempt at having a national flag carrier should not come as a surprise, despite the inevitable bad press the East African airline is currently having to endure following last Sunday’s terrible accident, involving a Boeing 737 Max 8, aircraft which claimed the lives of all 157 passengers and crew.
Early indications are that it is the aircraft itself, rather than the airline which was using it that was at fault, although admittedly it is too early in the ensuing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy to be sure. Indeed, until the pertinent technical issues behind the accident are confirmed blame will be placed as much on geo-political grounds as on technical grounds, which is why China in particular has rushed to announce the grounding of its American manufactured, Boeing fleet.
However, what is certain is that up till now Ethiopian Airlines has maintained an excellent safety record, which indeed is in part why Ghana has chosen it as a partner for its planned national carrier in the first place. Changing its partner over a crash such as this would not make much sense, being a one-off incident; after all, if last weekend’s accident had happened just a few months from now, it would not have even been possible for government to reconsider the ongoing partnership.
To be sure Ethiopian Airlines is revered, not just across Africa, but all around the world for its exemplary maintenance and safety records. One crash cannot change that, even if it eventually emerges that the airline itself was partly to blame.
Besides the accident, as tragic as it has been does not change the fact that Ethiopian Airlines is the most successful national carrier on the continent; and it is most instructive that both earlier incarnations of Ghana’s national carrier failed for reason of commercial shortcomings, not because of technical shortcomings. Simply put, Ethiopian remains Ghana’s best bet to ensure that history does not repeat itself with regards to the fate of its national flag carrier.
Here though, there are two aspects of the impending new airline’s operations where government would do well to leave Ethiopian Airlines to its own devices.
One is obvious – the management of the airline. Ethiopian itself has been successful because that country’s government has always left its management to the technocrats without political interference. Government’s role has strictly been that of financial shareholder.
The other though is less obvious. This refers to the strategic decisions, which have to be made right from the start, and which will be crucial in shaping the impending new national carrier’s commercial fortunes over time – the decisions as to which routes to fly.
It is instructive that Ethiopian does not compete concertedly on the most competitive routes =- those between Africa and the western hemisphere. Rather its biggest successes have come from routes between Africa and the Middle and Far East. In similar fashion if Ethiopian opts to concentrate on regional and other less globally competitive routes, based on its analysis of the potentials, the Government of Ghana should accede.
This will be easier said than done which is why we are emphasizing it. Traditionally, Ghana’s government has always aimed for the European and American routes, largely because those are the routes where public officials themselves stand to benefit from having a national carrier flying them. If Ethiopian says no, for commercial reasons, then government and its officials must put the overall commercial potentials of the national flag carrier ahead of their own interests.
Leave it to the proven experts, as with all other aspects of the operations of our next national flag carrier.