The effort to establish a new national airline, which has been on the drawing board since 2017 following the collapse of the second one – Ghana International Airline – a decade ago, has taken an unexpected new turn with the signing by the government of Ghana of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Egypt Air for the establishment of the planned new national flag carrier.
The MoU effectively puts paid finally` to earlier plans which had been far advanced, for Ethiopian Airlines to serve as the technical partner and majority shareholder in the proposed new airline. Government claims that the partnership with Ethiopian Airlines has been dropped due to lack of agreement over key issues such as routes, funding, and tenure of the management contract among others, but has declined to give details. Ethiopian Airlines on the other hand has remained tight-lipped on the issue.
However, Ghana’s Aviation Minister, Joseph Kofi Adda claims confidence in the capacity of Egypt Air to nurture Ghana’s proposed new airline to success, asserting that “once the airline is set up, it is expected to play a key role in passenger and cargo transport within the continent and between Africa and other parts of the world”.
The selection of EgyptAir as Ghana’s partner for the launch of the new home-based carrier follows a series of engagement with the senior management team of the airline over the past two weeks. Aviation Ministry officials claim that Egypt Air is offering a better deal than Ethiopian Airlines. However no details have been made public as to the specific terms of the MoU.
Indeed, aviation industry experts and analysts are expressing doubts as to the likelihood of the MoU actually being concretized into a new airline, with some going as far as suspecting it is simply a political gimmick aimed to make voters think that progress is being made in that direction ahead of the December polls.
While this is uncharitable, there is good cause for doubt; this is the third MoU signed by Ghana’s Aviation Ministry with an airline towards a partnership for establishing a new national flag carrier for Ghana. Before it signed an MoU with Ethiopian Airlines in 2018, it had signed a similar one with Air Mauritius in 2017. At various times the Ministry has also claimed to be in major discussions with Turkish Airlines and Africa World Airways to partner Ghana. None of the MoUs and discussions have borne fruit.
EgyptAir currently operates scheduled passenger and freight services to more than 75 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Announcing the deal, EgyptAir chairman and CEO Amr Abu El-Enein said the new airline had plans for routes throughout the continent and for connections to North and South America.
The new company is described as being “affiliated” with the Ghanaian government, rather than state-owned. The Government of Ghana wants to get the new company off the ground, but then would supposedly take a back seat, allowing private investors to hold a majority stake and having aviation industry professionals run the operation.
This is because many African airlines suffer adversely from government control or interference and indeed this was the major cause of the unsustainability of Ghana’s two previous attempts to own and manage a national carrier itself – Ghana Airways collapsed in 2004 and Ghana International Airline folded up in 2010, the latter leaving government with a US$160 million debt despite operating for only a couple of years. Ghana has noted that the continent’s most consistently successful airline, Ethiopian, is state-controlled but that the government in Addis Ababa takes a hands-off approach to its day-to-day operations.
Egypt Air has had its sights on Ghana for quite some time – in 2012, a small Ghanaian domestic operator, CTK CiTylinK Airlines, said that EgyptAir planned to take a 49.9% stake in its business. However, the company collapsed before any link could be established.
Interest in the proposed new partnership between Ghana and EgyptAir will be intense in the United States because in 2019, the government of Ghana signed an MoU with Boeing for three Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners in anticipation of launching a new national airline; but there has been no further progress on that front either.