Ghana Airports Company seeks to turn Accra Kotoka International Airport into a major hub for West Africa

26 November, 2018

Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL) MD John Dekyem Attafuah said recently that the company plans to recoup loans received for the construction of a new terminal at Accra's Kotoka International Airport. But in order for that to happen, "the airport must be busy".

GACL therefore intends to make Ghana the "major hub" serving the West African sub-region, with Mr Attafuah noting it is working hard to attract new airlines, develop new routes and encourage airlines to boost existing capacity. He said: "We believe in this project and that's why we embarked on it. We delivered the terminal, we must now maintain it, market it, protect it and build on it to achieve higher heights. We have no doubt we will be able to achieve the objectives we've set".

According to the CAPA - Centre for Aviation Airport Construction Database, the new Terminal 3 opened on 15-Sep-2018 at a cost of USD275 million. GACL delivered the airport in close collaboration with the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), with whom it entered into a five-year technical and airport management co-operation agreement in 2014 and which is due to end on 28- Feb-2019. ACSA has a good track record in foreign airport management with experience in India and Brazil.

The project was partially funded by the African Development Bank with a USD120-million facility, and is expected not only to improve air transport in the country, but to contribute towards boosting the country's economy, reducing the cost of doing business, improving competitiveness and "making Ghana a country of choice".

Other works in the pipeline include improved intermodal access. The airport's master plan specifically allocates land to a dedicated bus and train terminal and the government intends to enter into a public private partnership (P3) to build it.

In East Africa the two busiest airports are at Addis Ababa and Nairobi, with 6-8 mppa each, but in West Africa the pecking order is not so clear. Even Murtala Muhammed International in Lagos, the busiest airport in the most populous country on the continent, Nigeria, counted only 6.3 million passengers in 2017 (though it should be well over seven million in 2018).

CHART - Annual capacity levels at Kotoka International Airport are set to decline in 2018 for a second successive yearSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG

In comparison, Accra Kotoka International totals around two million ppa. Only an estimate can be made because official figures are not available after 2015. Its seat capacity in 2018 is 4.3 million, marginally down on 2017, which was itself a little down on 2016. But there is enough there to suggest the facility has something to build on towards its ambition.

Kotoka does not have a particularly well-developed domestic air network, only 11.3% of passengers are on domestic services. However, Ghana only has three domestic airports - Kumasi, Tamale and Takoradi.

After the collapse of its national carrier, Ghana Airways, back in 2004, the main airline in the country is Africa World Airlines, Ghanaian-registered but a joint venture between the national pension fund, Hainan Airlines, the China-Africa Development Fund and SAS Finance Group. It has 16% of weekly seats at the moment but is merely a local regional West Africa carrier, flying 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145s.

CHART - While it only has a small home offer, there are several global airlines with a presence at Kotoka International though, including Emirates Airline, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM and British AirwaysSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 26-Nov-2018)

Ghana has a market-based economy with relatively few policy barriers to trade and investment in comparison with other countries in the region, and is endowed with natural resources. Ghana's economy was strengthened by 25 years of relatively sound management, a competitive business environment, and sustained reductions in poverty levels, but in recent years has suffered the consequences of loose fiscal policy, high budget and current account deficits, plus a depreciating currency.

Key economic concerns facing the government right now include the lack of affordable electricity, lack of a solid domestic revenue base, and the high debt burden. However, prospects for new oil and gas production and a tightening of fiscal management are likely to help Ghana's economy in 2018.

There is no reason why Kotoka International should not become the major aviation hub for the region, especially if it can attract private capital to future airport projects while Nigeria fails to come to terms with its own privatisation attempts. But it will require the same determination and pride that drove the new terminal project, and then some.