The Ghanaian government's decision to take full control of Ghana Airways marks yet another setback for the African airline industry. A number of African, mainly state-owned airlines, have ceased trading in recent years, as governments have felt compelled to end the constant flow of subsidies to support ailing enterprises. Yet there could still be a happy conclusion to the Ghana Airways story with the announcement that a US consortium is prepared to invest in the company.
In mid-August, the Ghanaian government decided that enough was enough: it sacked the entire board of Ghana Airways, ceased ticket sales with immediate effect and brought the operator under direct state control.
The final straw appears to have been the suspension of Ghana Airways flights to the US at the end of July on the grounds of inadequate safety standards and the lack of an up-to-date licence for the DC10 used on the route. The US Federal Aviation Administration decided to ban the airline after it had ignored two previous orders not to use the aircraft on the route.
The aircraft in question was the company's only operational plane out of a fleet of five, although it also employed lease aircraft on its West African services. Ghana Airways was therefore forced to try to lease a replacement aircraft to run on its four weekly flights to the US, as well as its European services, but President John Kufuor seems to have lost faith in the board of Ghana Airways.
In an era when airline and shipping safety receives massive publicity because of the threat of terrorist attacks, the US ban was always likely to hit the headlines. Apart from the financial impact of the US ban, the government viewed the resulting negative media coverage as a national insult.
The US ban was brought into such rapid effect that many passengers were left stranded on either side of the Atlantic. Some customers in Ghana were so angry that they refused to allow a pilot to board a plane until their return flights were arranged. The man was released unharmed after negotiations with Ghanaian police and no arrests were made.
DEMISE WAS NOT A SURPRISE
However, the company has lurched from one crisis to another in recent years, so its demise did not come as a surprise. Numerous chairmen and managers have tried to turn the company around but all have failed.
By the end of 2002, the company was unable to keep up its debt repayments and the government refused to provide yet more money. By June...