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Opinions of Monday, 8 October 2007

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Ghana International Airline And Passenger Safety

But for the grace of God, the entire country would have been plunged into a state of mourning when a Ghana International Airline flight with over 200 passengers’ enroute to London developed engine failure.

Reports have it that the London bound flight after departing Accra on the midnight of 26th September, 2007 came back to Kotoka International Airport after the pilot informed the passengers that one of the engines had broken down. At the airport the engineers are reported to have worked on the said engine. The flight resumed bound for London Gatwick. Just three and half hours inside the journey, it is reported that there was big ‘boom’ sound. Apparently one of the engines had broken down again causing the plane to drop significantly resulting in an emergency landing in the Spanish resort city of Marllorca.

Coming to think of it, was it not this same plane which was reportedly grounded recently at Gatwick Airport after it lost an engine in what was claimed had had been a collision with a bird? I think beyond the usual maze of face saving rejoinders, the management of CEO of the national carrier has got some tough questions to answer. Most importantly, was the crew not aware of the initial problem before leaving Accra? The second question is: why the airline did not cancel the flight when the plane came back to Accra after developing the fault? Was the airline afraid in cancelling the flight because of the cost it would incur in putting those who have then checked in at London-Gatwick Airport in a hotel and also getting a new flight for those who were at the Kotoka Airport?

Since its inception the GIA has been running the Accra-London-Accra route as if it is Accra-Nsawam-Accra where any rickety vehicle can be used. The airline appears to take the lives of its passengers for granted and as if passengers have multiple lives to experiment with.

My understanding is that the airline has only one leased aircraft which flies to London sometimes seven days in a week in addition to plying the South Africa route (I stand for correction). For me as a lay person I ask, with such a schedule, is there is any chance of any proper servicing and routine maintenance for the leased aircraft. Most of the airline’s servicing appears to be done at the airport when passengers are waiting to get on board the flight. That might explain why the airline is not able to meet their scheduled departure and arrival times in most instances. In other words the maintenance of the airline is not properly done.

I am told that for an airline like that of the GIA to undergo proper service of its fleet (which in this case is only one), it would require more than a day’s maintenance. But with passengers always waiting, the temptation not to do it might be great. But lest we forget, an aircraft is not like your ordinary Tico or Opel Astra which can be sent to the garage and be made available after few hours. Even sometimes when we send our cars to the garage we do not get it on the same day.

As a Ghanaian and a regular user of the services of the GIA on its, I cannot remain silent when passengers lives appear to be toyed with like this way. We need not allow a calamity to befall the nation before we arise from our slumber. That is why the TRUMPET OF CONSCIENCE as part of our duty of care to the good people of Ghana, is writing this piece to appeal to the consciences of the operators and the regulators-GIA, GCCA and Ministry of Aviation to rise to their obligations NOW!!

What is happening is not too different from how the defunct Ghana Airways was run. It so shameful that after fifty years of independence, a nation Ghana cannot boast of even a single aircraft fully owned by the national carrier not to think of running it properly. Beyond this the airline is saddled with severe delays and cancellations of flights without due regard to the rights and comfort of their longsuffering passengers. About a month ago I flew with GIA from London to Accra. The flight which was supposed to have departed at 11:25AM did not depart until some minutes to 3pm.

The airline must do well to win back the hearts of its disenchanted customers like myself. Now there is talk of buying their own plane, but my point is, if they have a single plane, why don’t they just limit themselves to flying three times a week to allow for proper maintenance for the aircraft.

The story of the Zambian national football team that perished in 1993 should be a lesson to the authorities of the GIA. As a result of the pilot ignoring the advice from the technicians the plane burst into flames after refuelling in Gabon en route to Senegal.

I am sure now I understand why the President John Agyekum Kuffuor does not been fly with the so called national carrier on most of his foreign journeys. Now to basic in-flight safety: on any serious airline, in-flight staff will ensure that all mobile phones, MP 3 players, laptops etc are switched off during take-off, landing etc., but not GIA. No wonder we still do not have a licence to fly to US airport. The Americans continued refusal to grant GIA a licence to fly there should tell us that we are simply not paying enough attention to safety.

At Heathrow Airport, a plane lands nearly every 30seconds during peak time, but even then, safety is of the highest premium. And our so called national carrier cannot even afford a properly maintained website. If you doubt this, check the GIA website: www.fly-ghana.com and you will see it still has information which has been there since January 2006 and none of the links on the website works. I think this is a national disgrace.

And what is the justification for a Ministry for Aviation if we cannot run a single national carrier with a single leased aircraft? And we say we are the gateway to West Africa. In any serious nation, an enquiry will have been launched immediately after this harrowing experience. So let me now ask the Minister for Aviation to launch an urgent inquiry into this fiasco before disaster strikes. A word to the wise….

Appiah Kusi Adomako, Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, Kumasi

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage. E-mail: appiahkusiy2k@yahoo.com