June 13, 2024
P.O.Box 613ER Gombilla House, Lamashegu Market, Tamale, Northern Region

6 years after completion – Ho Airport ‘ghost town’

The Ho Airport, developed to boost the economy of the Volta Region and adjoining regions, is still idle after nearly six years of completion.

A visit to the facility last Friday indicated that the airport was in good shape and was being well maintained.

However, since Passion Air halted operations on the Accra route in March 2022, the airport has almost become a ‘ghost town,’ begging to be rejuvenated to generate revenue that can help defray the $25 million loan secured for the project and settle other operational costs such as utilities.

Information sourced from the Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL) showed that about GH¢2.42 million has been spent to maintain the facility in the last two years, after commercial operations were halted.

The airline cited rising cost and low passenger numbers as reasons behind its withdrawal from the route.

Out of the total maintenance cost, GH¢1.59 million went into cleaning and janitorial services; external works, including weeding and horticulture services for airside and landside, as well as waste management.

The rest were used to maintain lighting and its controllers; repair defective 1Nr chiller, replace hydrant pillar valves, collective maintenance works on the firefighting pump, scheduled maintenance, as well as replacement and repair works on closed circuit television (CCTV), fire alarm system and fibre optic network infrastructure.

This means that the facility which was once envisaged to open up the region for trade and tourism and create jobs, although idle, is still costing the state an average of GH¢1.21 million per year to maintain.

Efforts to get the domestic airlines to restart operations have proved futile, due to various challenges such as grounding of aircraft for technical reasons, rising operational cost and low patronage of the route.

The context

The construction of the airport started in September 2015 and was completed in September 2018.

The facility consists of a runway of 1,900 metres long and 30 metres wide, an aircraft parking area, a terminal building to hold at least 150,000 passengers a year, a VIP and VVIP facility, a parking area for the staff and a nine-kilometre network of roads around the airport.

It also has an air traffic control tower, water reservoir, fire station and a standby generator, among other facilities.

The airport is about 165 kilometres (KM) or four hours’ drive from the national capital, Accra, with road transport fare now at an average of GH¢60 per passenger on a bus.

Passion Air started flights to Ho with rates starting from GH¢150 on a one-way flight before ceasing operations two years ago.

Ho visit

The Daily Graphic team which visited the Ho Airport on February 15, were welcomed with deafening silence, as there was virtually no activity.

The team spent about two hours in the vicinity and there was no sign of an aircraft or visitors.

The GACL officers on duty maintained, however, that the facility still received high-level government officials, and military and pilot training aircraft.

The team noticed that the terminal building was well painted and spotless although it has been idle for two years, which raises a lot of suspicion on whether it was deliberately cleaned for the Daily Graphic cameras or just a routine.

The team’s doubts were confirmed by the presence of more than four young women in T-shirts with the inscription “Spaklean” who were on cleaning duties.

There was also a man at the landside of the terminal with a hand mower.

The Daily Graphic team observed that parts of the grass at both the airside and landside were yellowish- grey due to the weather and guided burning to control the spread of bushfires at the airport.

It noticed that most of the officials, including GACL staff, air traffic controllers and security were on duty but there were no clients to be served.

The team also saw two transport service operators, the Progressive Transport Owners’ Association (PROTOA) and Mass Transport Union, who had been authorised to operate from the airport. 

Community reactions

The Local Chairman of PROTOA, Savior Akumani, in an interview, expressed worry about the discontinuation of commercial flights to the airport.

That, he said, had affected their business badly.

He therefore urged the airlines to reconsider their decision and start operations on the Accra-Ho route.

A resident near the airport, Benjamin Normegboe, said people in the region were ready to patronise the services of the airlines when they restarted operations.

“Recently, I had to go through the pain of moving from here (Ho) to Tema by road for vetting and returning the same day, if we had flight services like that of Kumasi it would have been less stressful,” he added.

Another resident, Delight Klutsey, who is a teacher in the community, stated that there was excitement in Ho in September 2015 when the sod was cut for work to commence on the airport, and so they were disappointed that six years on there was no activity.

GACL response

The Managing Director (MD) of the GACL, Yvonne Nana Afriyie Opare, in answer to Daily Graphic’s queries dated January 31, pursuant to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2019 (Act 989), said the Ghana Airports had continued to engage the domestic airlines to consider starting operations to Ho but the action had yielded fewer results.

“However, owing to various challenges such as the grounding of aircraft for technical reasons, this has not been possible.

The reduction in fleet size has adversely affected the airlines’ route expansion plans, as the aircraft in operation are being used to maintain service on existing routes.”

Towards that, she said the GACL was in discussions with Africa World Airlines (AWA) and its partners, Aviation Academy Ghana, to develop an Aviation Training Organisation (ATO) at the airport.

This includes the construction of an aircraft maintenance hangar and the development of an internationally recognised pilot training school offering European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification.

The MD explained that GACL made an offer to AWA for land to develop the ATO, which has been accepted.

“The GACL is currently collaborating with AWA to finalise the framework for the project.

It was expected that the development of the ATO would be the catalyst to draw other commercial activities, which will in turn create the ideal conditions for the domestic airlines to restart commercial passenger flights to the airport.”

On facility maintenance in Ho, Mrs Opare added that the airport was being maintained regularly with about seven core staff on duty, made up of rescue and firefighting service, aviation security and electromechanical staff.

GACL, AWA AMRO

On Thursday, February 8, this year, officials of the GACL and Africa World Airline (AWA) inspected sites earmarked for the establishment of an aviation academy and flight facilities at the Ho Airport.

The GACL team was led by its Managing Director, Yvonne Nana Afriyie Opare, while the Agbogbomefia of Asogli, Togbe Afede XIV, led the delegation from AWA, which he chairs.

The visit comes also in the wake of plans to build a hangar and other structures at the airport.

The two teams toured the runway and other facilities of the $25 million airport and held talks with various stakeholders, including representatives of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority and the Lands Commission in the Volta Region.

Nana Afriyie-Opare told journalists that the aviation school dream, when realised, would be a centre of excellence with very bright prospects of boosting the local economy.

“We are collaborating with AWA to develop a pilot training academy and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhauling (AMRO) centre and that will create employment in the area,” she said.

Togbe Afede commended GACL for its firm stance to support the project, which will later move beyond the training of pilots to the training of aircraft engineers and other professionals in the aviation industry.

“If trainee pilots come here and if we can service aircraft here instead of going to South Africa to do so, then Ghana’s aviation sector will be lifted to greater heights,” he said.

Expert opinion

An international aviation expert, Sean Mendis, stated that the domestic airline industry was suffering from a lack of capacity.

That, he said, meant that airlines were struggling to put enough flights on established routes such as Kumasi and Tamale.

“Consequently, it is the opportunity cost of operating to airports like Ho which is the deterrent factor – you can use the same plane to fly to Ho and make losses for one year as the route demand develops or you can use that same plane to Kumasi and make profits immediately.

This has been the challenge for airlines in the current environment,” Mr Mendis said.

Domestic airport charges in Ghana were already very low, so there was very little that GACL or anyone else could do to lower them further to attract traffic to Ho, Mr Mendis, who is a former chief operating officer (COO) of AWA added.

Another industry expert, who preferred to stay anonymous, said the planned pilot training centre was a step in the right direction to help keep the airport busy.

He said an airport did not have to be busy with commercial flights to be successful; it could be used for other services.

Multiple sources from both AWA and Passion Air indicate that the airlines did not have immediate plans to start passenger flights on the Accra-Ho route, citing the operational challenges stated above as the major factors behind the decision.

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