Ghana joins airline competition fray with Dubai jet order

DUBAI (Reuters) - Ghana became the latest African nation to support the development of an international airline to boost its economy and develop tourism as its government signed a provisional order for three Boeing long-haul 787 Dreamliner jets on Tuesday.

The move at the Dubai Airshow, a focal point for Middle East airlines that have expanded their networks into Africa, came almost a decade after the collapse of Ghana’s flag carrier, but it left uncertain a proposed tie-up with Ethiopian Airlines.

“We need to be able to ferry Ghanaians to Europe, North America to Asia for business. We need to ferry them from those places back to Ghana to do business and enjoy,” Aviation Minister Joseph Kofi Adda told reporters at the airshow.

Ghana hopes to launch a new airline with Boeing’s 787-9 Dreamliners by early 2020 with flights to Europe, North America and Asia, while servicing routes within Africa with up to six smaller Dash 8-400 aircraft, which were also provisionally ordered on Tuesday from Canada’s De Havilland Canada.

Ghana’s government will hold a 10% stake in the carrier, which is yet to be named, and the rest will be held by the private sector, the minister said. Adda said he was in talks with regional carriers including Ghana-based Africa World Airlines to invest in the new airline, but no deal was finalised yet.

“If (one of the regional carriers) joins us as a partner, we will go together” on intercontinental routes, he said.

Adda made no mention of Ethiopian Airlines, which was reported earlier this year to have sealed a partnership agreement with Ghana to develop and run a national airline.

“The government are clearly throwing their weight and support behind the new venture,” said airline consultant Nick Fadugba, chief executive of African Aviation Services. “It is a signal that they are determined to do it with or without Ethiopian (Airlines), but if it has Ethiopian’s support then it will have a greater chance of success.”

The new carrier could boost Ghana’s chances of becoming an aviation hub in West Africa, Adda told reporters. Existing Ghanaian airlines do not fly on intercontinental routes, according to Adda.

However, the plans could overlap with Ethiopian’s affiliated hub in neighboring Togo, which is barely 100 miles away.

“The challenge for Ethiopian will be how to balance their hub in Lome, Togo, with a new hub in Ghana,” Fadugba said.

A string of attempts to set up airlines in West Africa has floundered for political or financial reasons.

But Ghana has seen a stable economic environment following the conclusion of a three-year lending program with the International Monetary Fund in March, and oil revenues that have boosted its growth to one of the highest in the region.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Ankit Ajmera; editing by Louise Heavens and Leslie Adler