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Airlines ‘ghost’ $25m Ho Airport

BY: Maclean Kwofi
The Ho Airport was constructed to boost tourism and trade in the Volta Region

The Ho Airport, which was envisaged to open up the Volta Region to trade and tourism is yet to come alive, five years after it was completed.

Since being declared fit for purpose, only 20 commercial flights have flown to the airport, with almost all those trips done with aircrafts that were not filled to capacity.

The airport has also processed only 350 passengers since commercial flights began in December 2021. It cost around GH¢150 per passenger to fly from Accra to Ho.

Indeed, Passion Air, which started commercial flights to the facility in December last year has since halted the operations, citing rising cost in the midst of low passengers.

Its sole competitor, Africa World Airlines (AWA), has also suspended plans to commerce operations on that route after a test-flight and a market analysis found that the prospects were dim, especially at a time when aviation fuel prices and general cost of airline operations were hitting the roof.

The development has left the US$25 million facility idle with fears that the continuous soaring of crude oil prices with direct impact on aviation fuel could gradually turn it into a white elephant for a region awash with tourism sites and a country seeking greater gains from tourism.

The airport is about 165 kilometres (KM) or four hours drive from national capital, Accra.

Challenges

The airline operators have attributed their lack of interest in the Ho route to low patronage, rising cost of fuel due to global events, and the depreciation of the local currency against major trading currencies, particularly the United States dollar.

Data sourced from the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) showed that the Ho Airport processed only 350 passengers in December and its it was opened through Passion Air. Its passenger throughput was a drop in the ocean when compared to the 722,721 passengers who traveled by air within the country last year.

Passion Air was flying two times per week (Fridays and Sundays) to Ho with rates starting from GH¢150 on a one-way flight.

Passion suspends

In a public statement issued in the third week of March this year, the airline operator stated that until further notice, it has suspended flight operations to Volta Region’s capital Ho, effective March 25.

The airline’s management said the decision was due mainly to low patronage, rising cost of fuel due to world events, and depreciation of the local currency against the US dollar.

Another issue raised by the airline for its decision to suspend operations was the requirement by the Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL) that Passion Air build an office at the Ho Airport.

“These challenges are being evaluated by the airline to ascertain the way forward. Passion Air wishes to apologise for any inconvenience this action may have caused you as a stakeholder,” the notice said.

AWA’s position

The Head of Commercial at AWA, Adedayo Olawuyi, in an interview with the Graphic Business in Accra on March 31, said AWA was initially building capacity to deploy into the Ho route but has subsequently abandoned that move due to what he described as increase in operational challenges.

He observed that aviation fuel, which contributes about 35 to 40 per cent of the airline’s cost of operations, has been increasing abnormally in the last few weeks.

“Over the last few weeks our operational cost has increased due to hikes in aviation fuel.”

“We are unable to predict what the future holds and so, we will not be able to enter the Ho market for now but if things look better and operational challenges are surmounted, we will reconsider our decision,” he added.

Let’s develop Ho

An International Aviation Expert, Sean Mendis, noted that Ho represented less than one per cent of the total air traffic in Ghana for 2021, so the suspension of flights there was unlikely to make any impact on the overall growth of the sector for 2022.

He stated that unfortunately fuel prices increment was not conducive for Passion Air to continue sustaining heavy losses while trying to develop that route.

It was not prudent for an airline operator to channel the same aircraft that could make profit in Kumasi or Tamale to Ho and lose.

Proximity to Accra

According to him, Ho Airport was too close to Accra for it to be sustainable as a standalone route between those two points only.

“There is a very limited market for people willing to fly on a 15-minute flight that operates only twice weekly.

“The value of Ho airport is to serve as a gateway for the Volta Region to the worldwide aviation system via a hub network in Accra,” he said.

Mr Mendis stated that it would require properly scheduled service by an airline that has been able to build solid partnership agreements with international carriers serving Accra, something that Passion Air has not yet been able to do.

“And so, we will need an airline such as AWA to use its expertise to develop the Ho route,” he added.

Other airports

Data shows that Wa Airport in Wa registered 198 flights and processed 4,696 passengers in 2021 alone.