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Business News of Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Source: Daily Graphic

Air traffic slows on Takoradi-Accra route

The Accra-Takoradi route for domestic airlines has become very expensive to operate due to low passenger patronage and load factor.

As a result the burgeoning air traffic flow that greeted the early days of the oil discovery in the Western Region in 2007, the market for domestic flights to Takoradi, the capital city of the Western Region, grew sharply, mostly with the sudden growing interest of the business community in the region.

Domestic and regional airlines including CityLink, Antrak Air, Starbow and Fly 540 started daily flights to Takoradi, using the Takoradi Military Air Strip as their temporary landing port. However, the number of airlines plying the route reduced from four to two.

Checks by the GRAPHIC BUSINESS from Takoradi has revealed that even with the existing airlines, some ply the Accra-Takoradi route to and fro, almost empty but had to pay full cost for their daily operations, which has resulted in their dwindling interest in the Takoradi route.

Again the twice-daily flights being operated by some of the airlines has reduced to once a day. That aside, several flying schedules have been reduced to only morning and evening flights and these are currently operated by Starbow and Antrak.

After the discovery of oil in June 2007, the exploration and development and production stages of the country’s first oil made air traffic heavy.

That aside, there were several exploratory rigs offshore and people who worked on these rigs flew to the Kotoka Airport and connected to Takoradi.

Industry sources told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS that the factors accounting for the slow traffic on the Accra-Takoradi route varied.

Foremost, although the country’s Jubilee operations were underway, many international oil companies (OICs) that were carrying out appraisal and development on oil blocks, had to cap the wells and wait for some government approvals and also source funding for the next stage

“This has contributed to a general decline in the frequent flyer class that constituted a chunk of the customer base of the domestic airlines,” a source at one of the domestic airlines told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS.

Industry experts told the Business Graphic that they were not surprised that some of the airlines had withdrawn their services because they rushed into the business.

The source said in the airline industry it was the survival of the strong, saying “how can you fuel an aircraft at the cost of about GH¢3,500 excluding the crew salary and allowances and fly to Takoradi with only 14 or 20 passengers in an aircraft which has a seating capacity of 90 persons.”

It said the cost of running flights on the route had forced many of them to focus their attention on other areas, adding that “one of the problems could also be attributed to the fact that many were not able to pass the flight safety auditing and have had to back up or be grounded.”

Checks on travel agents and airline operators indicated that they have very good packages in terms of pricing which should under normal circumstance, attract the traffic to their direction.

The tickets cost between GH¢49, GH¢70 to GH¢89 and GH¢140 for a one-way flight.

When the Graphic Business visited the Takoradi Airport at about 17:00hrs on January 30, two of the aircraft coping with the reduction, Starbow and Antrak airlines, seemed to be in serious business.

While Starbow’s flight SG-SBC, with the capacity of 90 passengers, was fully loaded, Antrak Air was preparing passengers for boarding. However, the airlines’ airport officials were quick to explain that it was not always the case.

The two domestic airlines have however resolved not to fold up operations to Takoradi but to rather implement new marketing strategies to whip up the interest of customers to travel by air.

The Chief Commercial Manager of Antrak Air, Mr Kweku Antwi-Boasiako, said it was expected that when the activities of the oil and gas industry players, especially the OICs slowed, it would affect their operations.

He said they were expecting that operations would pick up from the middle of the year, when most of the OICs would be returning to their operations.

The chief manager said when more rigs were offshore and those working back-to-back or rotation workers fly in and out, their businesses would become bullish.

Mr Antwi-Boasiako said the operators were aware that the market would not continue to be buoyant all year-round, but it took “strong hands to hang in there when it dips.”

He said to remain in business, “we have lined up some marketing strategies that we are going to pursue vigorously to ensure that we achieve the expected results and stay in business,” he said.

One of the interestingly things the Business Graphic found out was the travelling public’s preference for unscheduled flights, where the aircraft waits for passengers and takes off only when it is full.

The operators say sometimes without prior booking, somebody walks in and wants to travel the next moment or with the next available flight.