When a Nigerian airline thinks it has matured it heads to Accra. When they lose out on the route they eventually collapse. Only a few airlines that lost on the route eventually survived. It’s usually a sign of tough times for the airlines, writes,WOLE SHADARE
The big question
The question on the lips of many aviation enthusiasts and stakeholders is what makes Accra attractive for Nigerian airlines? Nobody has readily come forward to offer an explanation as to what would make more than three airlines jostle for the road. Could it be so lucrative to warrant airlines to throw big aircraft on the route?
History is replete with many Nigerian carriers that have in the past forayed onto the Lagos, Abuja-Accra route. Virtually all the carriers like Arik, Medview, Bellview, Dana, and Aero Contractors, among others, have either ceased operations or left the route completely.
New airlines eye Accra
At the moment, two Nigerian carriers are finalizing the necessary regulatory processes to enable them to start scheduled passenger operations to Accra, Ghana.
Enugu-based United Nigeria Airlines and another yet-to-be-named Nigeria-registered airline have indicated that they were ready to serve the Ghanaian market this year and boost intra-regional connectivity.
The five main regional airlines servicing the Kotoka International Airport, ASKY, AWA, Air Cote D’Ivoire, Air Peace, and Air Burkina transported 304, 000 passengers in 2022.
The entry of the two new Nigerian-based airlines is expected to further increase the regional passenger throughput this year. Nigeria will then have three of its main airlines servicing Accra, Ghana.
United Nigeria Airlines currently operates mainly domestic flights within Nigeria-servicing the Abuja, Asaba, Lagos, Owerri, Port-Harcourt, Yenagoa, and Enugu airports were designated through diplomatic channels to start flight operations into Ghana last year.
The airline joins the list of Nigerian carriers designated through official channels to operate flights between Ghana and Nigeria.
Africa World Airlines (AWA) remains the only Ghanaian registered airline designated to operate commercial flights into Nigeria.
AWA currently operates scheduled flights from its base in Accra to Kumasi, Takoradi, and Tamale. For regional flights, it services the Accra-Lagos-Accra and Abuja-Accra routes.
What could be the attractions for Nigerian airlines, as three of her carriers could be in the race to scramble for the Accra route? Medview, Arik, Aero, and Dana made Accra their fortress, providing air services to the city and connecting flights from there to other West and Central African countries.
A top official of one of the airlines toldAviation Metricthat government can turn the West Coast routes into domestic operations because Nigeria has dominance and in doing so, this will get some returns for the country.
The Accra route is supposed to be an international flight, but many see the Lagos-Accra route more as a domestic route rather than an international operation because of its proximity to Nigeria – just a 45-minute journey by air and less than six hours by road.
A few years ago, Airbus estimated only five other cities in Africa will become an “airline megacity” – Accra (Ghana, West Africa), Lagos (Nigeria, West Africa), Luanda (Angola, Central Africa), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia, East Africa) and Nairobi (Kenya, East Africa). Johannesburg, South Africa is already a megacity.
Going down memory lane
Nigeria Airways had a troubled and erratic time during its 56-year history. In 2003, a new airline, named Transatlantic Airlines, operated for a few weeks before it collapsed, leaving hundreds stranded. Next, the joint venture attempted by Virgin, resulting in the creation of Virgin Nigeria, also had a brief and colourful life before Virgin divested itself of the association.
The remnant operated domestic and regional routes as Air Nigeria. Bellview Airlines had a similar poor track record. Founded in 1992, it finally disappeared in 2009. The owners then began a new carrier called FirstNation Airways. Both nations have a repetitive tale of failure in aviation.
Ghana Airways, on the other hand, ceased operations in Aug- 2004, shortly after it was banned from US airspace. Ghana Airways suffered a wealth of problems including under-capitalisation and pre-mismanagement. The carrier’s fleet, comprised of Soviet-built Ilyushin jets, could only be serviced in Russia.
Ghana Airways served Russia but it was a loss-making route – most passengers were government officials who travelled for free. Ghana International Airways (GIA) was established to replace Ghana Airways when it folded. GIA launched operations in Oct- 2005 but was plagued with similar problems to Ghana Airways.
In May-2010, GIA ceased operations, making it the second causality to Ghana’s aviation industry in six years. Nigerian registered carriers appear locked in a keen competition to determine who takes the biggest pie out of the West African aviation market.
With the eyeing of this route by these two Nigerian carriers, competition will be keener as they would eat into the traffic of AWA, ASKY, and Air Peace which have enjoyed a stronghold on the route.
Of the lot,only ASKY is really profitable, having declared a $2 million profit couple of years ago for the first time in five 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 Africa World Airlines (AWA), but that is also partly owned by Chinese giants HNA. Air Cote d’Ivoire also has international interests in Air France.
At a point, the lucrative Accra-Lagos route with about 10 daily flights collapsed leaving only AWA and Arik as survivors. AWA had struggled on the Lagos route since it started flights there some years ago.
Eventually, it settled for four flights a week until the collapse of three Nigerian competitors Dana, Aero, and scaled-down flights by Medview, AWA increased flights to Lagos from four to 10 weekly flights, stepping into the gap.
The signs were there for all to see, the passenger paid more than three times the cost of a 50 minutes flight. It got worse as the market shrank.The prices will go up unless there is an increased supply of seats by one of the other airlines.
Again, before now, four of Nigeria’s notable airlines, Arik Air, Aero Contractors, Med-View Airlines, and Dana enjoyed a good run within the sub-region operating daily scheduled and chartered flights to countries like Ghana, Togo, The Gambia, Benin Republic, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and even as far as Sao Tome and Principe.
From the look of things, United Nigeria Airlines would deploy its arsenals, which include low fare, comfort, friendly–in–flight service, and on-time departure to attract passengers to it.
Right use of equipment
The biggest winner on this route is turning out to be the Ghanaian carrier AWA. It had applied the right equipment, an Embraer 45, and changed schedules many times to find the right spot and timing.
It has established smart schedule integrity for its evening flights, always leaving almost on time. Now with the forex crisis in Nigeria and AWA’s price stability, its only disadvantage was the fact that most Nigerians don’t like small planes but have gradually embraced smaller aircraft.
AWA would be the first Ghanaian carrier to survive the brutal competition on the Lagos Accra route. Other attempts by Antrak in the past failed woefully.
The over-supply of available seats on the route helped depress the market, coupled with shrinking economic activity in Nigeria. Dana had started daily evening flights to Accra with an MD 83 aircraft to join Medview which has a daily morning flight using a B737-400.
Considering the rush for the West African route, especially the domination of Nigerian airlines, stakeholders have expressed concern over the over-saturation on the route, hoping the bubble won’t burst.