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Opinions of Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Columnist: Myjoyonline.com

Ben Aklama writes: What shall we do with the Ho Airport?

A politician friend told me recently that the government does not know what to do with the Ho airport. He said all companies who come to promise to fly the route go and never return.

This discussion got the two of us pondering over the history of the $25 million Ho airport.

Many Voltarians welcomed the news of an airport or aerodrome, as some prefer to call it, with mixed feelings.

While others thought it was the least of priorities for the region, others felt it held the key to the region’s economic development.

Those who argued for the airport said it meant business moguls who have little time on their sleeves could dash down to the region very quickly to do business and return.

Others said visits to our tourist centres will skyrocket because it will become very convenient to visit the country’s greenest region.

The President of the Republic of Ghana, at the time, John Dramani Mahama, on the sod cutting day for the Ho airport was hopeful that the airport would “open up the Volta Region, attract investors and boost agriculture, trade and other socio-economic activities in the area.”

As expected, the cost of land around the airport rose to the sky’s in astronomical drama. One could hear business men discussing hotels, restaurants and real estate businesses around the airport if one listened closely to the ground.

Over a year after the completion of the Ho airport, we appear not to have an idea of what to use the over $25 million facility for.

The $25 million project, which was scheduled for completion in September 2016, has a 1,900 metre runway, a traffic control tower, a 1,150 capacity passenger waiting area, an ultramodern airbus terminal, and an automatic fire detection and control system.

Volta Regional Minister Dr. Archibald Letsa indicated earlier this year that the Ho Airport was “complete except for a few security installations” adding that “personnel from the Ghana Airport Company Ltd. have been posted to the facility”.

Dr. Letsa also noted that Government and Ghana Airport Company Ltd were working to secure airlines to travel the route.

In a recent Facebook post, Dr Letsa wrote “a delegation from Ghana Civil Aviation Authority arrived in Ho this morning to explore the possibilities of establishing a Flight Training School at the Ho Airport”.

It is worth noting that those who thought an airport was not a priority for a region with bad roads connecting its capital to the region’s major economic hubs like Aflao, Hohoe and the likes warned that the airport will struggle to get passengers and consequently suffer in getting airlines to travel the route.

The Daily Guides’ Fred Duodu reported in 2015 that “despite the pomp and pageantry that welcomed the sod-cutting of the Ho Airport, the President of the Volta Regional House of Chiefs (VRHC), Togbe Afede XIV, reiterated the concerns of many experts and business-inclined residents of the Volta Regional capital.

According to the eminent chief, who is known as an astute businessman, the Ho Airport “will become a white elephant if it does not get the needed regular patronage it requires to remain operational and relevant”.

An opponent to the idea of an airport in Ho who did not hide her stance on the matter, Elizabeth Ohene, wrote in a publication in the Daily Graphic “it is not a good idea to site an airport project simply on the basis of giving a region an airport or what our Nigerian cousins would call ‘federal character’ …I hope sincerely it doesn’t, but I fear that this project might end up as a disaster and I can see some unkind people calling it ‘Dramani’s Folly’ even if it does get built”.

Madam Elizabeth Ohene went on to cite the example of such ‘folly’ in Spain called the ‘Ghost Airport of Castellon.’ Over 80 million euro was used to build this airport between 2007 and 2011, but it never hosted a flight. In July 2015, the Don Quixote airport, whose cost had by then risen to 1 billion euros, was given out for a paltry 10,000 euro.

Togbe Afede is on record to have said at an interaction with the Asogli youth on January 29, 2018 that “plans were afoot to establish a pilot training school and an aircraft maintenance and repairs centre at the Ho Airport and called for support”.

Another publication in August 2018, reported Togbe Afede promising to get the Africa World Airline, a company he Co-Chairs, to fly the route.

The lack of interest in flying the route by airline companies is probably a clear vindication of persons who urged caution in the siting of an airport in Ho, but now that it is already built, what shall we do with it?

I seem to share Togbe Afede XIV’s thoughts on this matter, for making the airport a flight training and Aircraft Repair Centre, given the circumstances does not sound like a bad idea.