The conduct of Arik Air on the Accra – Lagos route is strong evidence that the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has completely lost the plot for regulating the aviation industry in this country.
It is indeed true that some of the issues at the country’s airports are due to infrastructural deficits, many of which would be difficult to blame on the operators of the airport or the GCAA alone so long as the government continues to retain a worrying proportion of the revenues generated by the country’s aviation facilities.
However, there are also many problems at our airports that are due to weak, or outright deficient, regulation of service providers in the industry.
For example, the plain extortion racket being carried out by a ragtag taskforce under the cynical guise of preventing motorists who enter the Kotoka International Airport from parking in the wrong spots, and stopping commercial drivers from picking passengers inside the airport, is clearly the work of a towing contractor attracted to the scheme simply because the airport allows his company to impose spot fines without recourse to any laws or regulations. Spot fines that are extortionate and often imposed without any sense of fairplay.
The commando operations of these young men of the so-called taskforce, who carry no insignia or proper ID cards, involve throwing spiked rods under moving vehicles, physically assaulting motorists, and towing vehicles away with brute force. All under the watchful and contented eye of the airport authorities.
At the appropriate time, IMANI shall publish a thorough account of the degeneration going on in the aviation sector, an area that at one point appeared to be improving so steadily that its key leaders and institutions won public sector awards instituted by IMANI.
For now, we want to talk about Arik Air, and to wake up the aviation regulators and the Kotoka Airport authorities to their mandate of ensuring sound regulation of the industry by reducing the impunity with which airlines like Arik Air abuse every standard, rule, and best practice in the industry.
Year to date, Arik Air has not been able to achieve ‘on time performance’ of even 2%. That is to say, fewer than 2 out of 100 flights operated by the airline on the Accra – Lagos route take off at the scheduled time. With best practice ‘on time performance’ in Africa estimated by observers to hover around the 80% mark, 2%, or any performance around that bar, is completely unacceptable. To make matters worse, more than half of Arik Air’s flights monitored over a 6-month period experienced delays of more than an hour, with many departing after more than 3 hours past scheduled time.
The practical effects of this sad and, frankly, ridiculous situation include thousands of aborted business meetings; immense passenger stress; infants, convalescents, the elderly and young children suffering unbearable conditions, such as long hours languishing in sweltering terminals without proper ventilation, not to talk of air conditioning; and general disorganisation of travel plans in what is by far Ghana’s most important regional air corridor.
The Ghana–Nigeria air corridor is without doubt the nerve center of the West African integration process, and the sustained and persistent efforts by Arik to damage the prospects of this vital trade and people channel should be confronted with all the firepower the regulator can muster.
Insofar as Arik is currently occupying landing slots, in a licensing regime, that can be relinquished to other providers so that they can expand their capacity on the Accra – Lagos route, and so long as the aviation sector remains a regulated one, individual passengers are constrained from using market choice to punish errant firms. That is to say, they cannot easily dump Arik even if they want to do so. This leaves regulatory action as the only viable means to compel Arik to improve its conduct.
Arik’s atrocious on time performance record hints at something darker: a lack of fleet optimisation capacity. They are simply unable to manage the operational demands of running an airline. This further, then, raises concerns about their maintenance capacity. Sooner than later, serious safety issues as a result of chronic weaknesses in their overall operational model shall begin to emerge.
Arik has given every indication and posted every sign of a serious rot at the centre of their operations. The regulator has had ample time to act to compel the airline to mend its ways or lose its license. Yet, the mess persists.
We acknowledge that the other operators servicing the route, with the possible exception of Africa World Airlines, have challenges complying with best practice too. But the problem with Arik is that bad behaviour has become its only sure norm. It sometimes compresses consecutive flights into one service when it feels it has not been able to sell enough seats on a particular flight. It does this without regard to the several hours the passengers on such flights often have to stay stranded in the airport as it goes about its crooked ‘maximisation of sales’ business. Such unethical practices cannot continue without serious investigation, certainly not in any jurisdiction with competent authorities in charge of affairs.
The good people who use the Kotoka International Airport, and especially those who frequent the Accra – Lagos route, deserve a good explanation from Mr. Christian Dovlo, Mr. Abdullai Alhassan, Mr. Tony Lithur, Mr. Charles Asare, and the other key public officers who have been given the task to ensure a properly functioning aviation sector.
We cannot wait forever for action.
IMANI Center for Policy & Education is a research-based, advocacy, organisation based in Accra Ghana. Visit them at: www.imanighana.com