Ghana International Airlines (GIA) the struggling national-not-so-national carrier has been drafted in by the Government of Ghana to airlift stranded Ghanaian would be Hajj pilgrims to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage. It is one major vote of confidence for the airline and something akin to eating the humble pie by the government.
With Ghana Airways, the former national carrier, showing no signs of recovery, it was quite clear that it would go under. The NPP Administration inherited the Ghana Airways excess baggage on the assumption office and immediately went to work trying to save the airline or allow it to go the way of many other airlines: liquidation.
The search for a replacement was on, even before the national carrier could inhale or exhale its final corporate breath.
A number of airlines and consortiums expressed interest in strategic partnership or even starting up a new airline altogether but efforts were often confused, complicated and seemingly half-hearted. Some withdrew their offers and after months of negotiations, an American/Ghanaian consortium, with Ghanaian government involvement won out and Ghana International Airline (GIA) was born.
GIA started off with the good will of Ghanaians at home and abroad and the airline almost immediately gained a reputation for punctuality – an important ingredient in the rather volatile airline business. GIA corporate headquarters at Silver Star Tower near the international airport in Accra was a hive of activity and optimism. All the signs, at least on the surface, indicated a brand new profitable venture.
But unbeknownst to the traveler, whose only interest was efficiency and affordability, it was already facing major turbulence in its share structure, corporate plans and relations with the government had also started straining dangerously. These were not propitious developments – not unusual in the airline business – but things were getting to a head and not fully one year in its life, the relations between government and airline so soured that the managing director of the company was sent packing from the country and all of a sudden, the airline became vulnerable.
The government announced a new management and the airline settled into a flight pattern ominously akin to its predecessor. Cancellations, delays and all the other ailments that finally brought Ghana Airways down started manifesting in the fuel ducts of the airline and the goodwill started evaporating. Ghanaians at home and abroad started deriding the airline which like the final days of Ghana Airways, was clearly now an embarrassment to the country.
Foreign giants like British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, meanwhile increased their frequencies and market share. New entrants like Air Maroc and Virgin Nigeria started muscling in and are now gradually building up their market share.
GIA became, just like Ghana Airways, the poor relation at the Kotoka International Airport.
But a lifeline, thanks to the near Hajj fiasco, has been thrown to GIA. With the government's decision to contract it to airlift the pilgrims to Mecca, the airline has also been given, even if grudgingly, a vote of confidence. In times of emergency, only a national airline can be called upon to perform over and above the call of profits.
ADM has been at the forefront of support for GIA and this decision comes not only as a vindication for GIA, but ADM's principled support for the airline as well. The paradox here is that it had to take the national embarrassment of a near Hajj fiasco for the nation to wake up to the realization that a national airline, no matter how distressed, is there to serve the national interest and must be given all the necessary support for growth and development.
Should GIA succeed in this national assignment, it would have proved the case for a national airline many times over!