There's not a scintilla of doubt that this is an exciting period for aviation enthusiasts. On Saturday, September 15, 2018, the new Kotoka International Airport Terminal 3 began operations (Go Live!, they called it).
It was a deeply awesome feeling when I finally had my own Terminal 3 experience last week en route to the 73rd United Nations General Assembly. I could identify with the tangible national pride and a renewed sense of accomplishment that many Ghanaians displayed while we went through embarkation formalities. Many were those who asked that I convey their gratitude to President Mahama for a great job done; obediently I obliged, promising them I will do just that when I meet with the former President upon my return.
Many Ghanaians have subsequently been looking forward to experiencing history and the future at the same place – Kotoka Terminal 3 – that beautiful new edifice, as it is common knowledge, that it will be commissioned at a grand ceremony at noon tomorrow Tuesday 2nd October. To make the day even more memorable and befitting of the international accolades Terminal 3 is receiving, Emirates airlines had scheduled a flight to operate into Accra on that day, using the world’s biggest commercial passenger aircraft – the double-decker Airbus A380. The significance of the first ever visit Accra by this behemoth (the history); and a new terminal capable of handling these new, incredibly large double-decker aircraft (the future) must not be lost on us!
According to Wikipedia, Emirates is the world’s fourth-largest airline in terms of international passengers carried, and the second largest in terms of freight carried. It operates a fleet of more than 250 aircraft, of which 104 are Airbus A380s. They have 58 of these giant aircraft on order. So I can imagine the great pride with which Emirates airlines management put out a press release on 18 July 2018, saying ‘Emirates iconic A380 aircraft will operate a one-off flight to Kotoka International Airport (ACC) on Tuesday 2nd October, 2018 as the global airline joins local authorities in celebrating the opening of the Airport’s new Terminal 3’. The press statement went on to say that ‘we have enjoyed a close relationship with Ghana as a strategic hub to West Africa for over a decade, and are honoured to bring our flagship A380 to this vibrant city’. The participation of this aircraft in the opening ceremony was at the request of Ghanaian aviation officials.
Emirates has been operating a daily passenger service to Abidjan via Accra since January 2004 (a flight with designation EK 787). The airline started operations on this route with an Airbus A340 and quickly changed this to the newer Boeing 777 – 300 aircraft. The flight arrives in Accra at 11:35 am daily and goes on to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
On Tuesday 2nd October 2018, there will be a switch of aircraft used by Emirates on the Accra/Abidjan route to the world’s biggest passenger aircraft that has never visited Ghana before, and its arrival has been timed to place it at the centre of the commissioning of Terminal 3. The official commissioning of Terminal 3 by government was to be complemented by a separate ceremony by Emirates airlines focusing on the arrival of their special aircraft.
Compared to the Emirates aircraft that comes to Accra every day, this special aircraft has the following seat configuration:
14 First Class (6 seats more than the 777 that regularly operates on the Accra/Abidjan route)
76 Business Class (34 extra seats)
426 Economy Class (116 extra seats)
In summary, there will be 156 EXTRA SEATS on this special flight and it is important to note that NO EMIRATES FLIGHT WILL BE OPERATED TO ABIDJAN ON THAT DAY – Emirates has, at the request of Ghanaian aviation officials, decided to leave the aircraft on the tarmac in Accra for close to six hours to help us celebrate our big day.
To recap, Emirates put in place plans to do the following on Tuesday 2nd October TO SUPPORT OUR FUNCTION:
Terminate the flight in Accra (no continuation to Abidjan so no Abidjan passengers, revenue lost on the Accra to Abidjan leg, likelihood that Accra passengers alone cannot fill the entire aircraft, inconvenience to potential passengers who had planned to fly to Abidjan on 2nd October)
Schedule British/Ghanaian A380 Captain Nana Quainoo (picture of this great Ghanaian attached) and other Ghanaian crew to handle the flight on that day as a sign of partnership and respect.
Take a huge risk to bring in an aircraft for which they most likely don’t have ground engineering support for.
The icing on the cake is that the aircraft being operated into Accra is registered A6-EUV, the 100th Airbus A380 to be acquired by the airline. It is only 1.6 years old, and it has pride of place in the airline’s fleet. It is popularly known by the name ‘Year of Zayed 2018’, named to mark the 100th year since the birth of the founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan. What great lengths they have gone to, to celebrate what is essentially OUR DAY!!
Now guess what?
Insiders within the government confirm to me that there has been an indefinite postponement of tomorrow's official opening of Terminal 3 and that President Akufo-Addo will no longer be attending the high profile ceremony.
Now let us remember:
Based on a request from Ghana, Emirates put out a press release on 18th July, changed crew and aircraft schedules and finalized arrangements to fly the A380 to Ghana. Who has let them and Ghana's image down so badly?
When did we know that this event was ‘postponed indefinitely’, and did anyone bother to let Emirates know? If so, why are there still murmurings in Dubai?
I am reliably informed that passengers who tried to get first class tickets were told that the entire First Class cabin had been blocked off for Emirati and Emirates airlines VVIPs. If this is true, what are we going to do with our VVIP guests who planned to attend a Presidential Commissioning?
Is this not too much a price to pay because of bad politics and petty partisanship?
If it is not the case of destructive politicking, what possibly could account for this late notice of indefinite postponement of the commissioning which has led to a last-minute scramble to inform invited guests (financiers, contractors, other partners etc.) traveling from all across the globe that the event has been postponed?
Granted that this episode will be quickly forgotten, and another issue will come up soon to drown this one out, but I would plead that this decision is revisited, if at all possible, because we may not care, but in other places, someone’s word is his/her bond. Ever tried buying a rug or attire in a market in Dubai or Tehran? Time spent bargaining, drinking coffee with customers and reaching an agreement on prices matters even more than money. Words matter. Agreements matter. Trust matters. In the larger scheme of things, this may not be a big issue, but it doesn’t portray us as trustworthy partners, honestly.
As Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament, I am terribly worried about what this pettiness does to brand Ghana and the ramifications for future strategic partnerships with the international business community with its resultant effect on the already struggling Ghanaian economy. And as for our official ties with the United Arab Emirates; if what I am picking up is exactly the case, then we must begin to tighten our seat belts for the turbulence ahead in our diplomatic relations.
Thankfully, Emirates is still going ahead with their own function to mark the arrival of the aircraft in Accra. Forget how our fellow Ghanaians who work with Emirates will feel about this – they will get over it. Forget about the effect it will have on operations at the new terminal – life will go on, commissioning or no commissioning. But remember that actions have consequences, and trust cannot be bought with money.
If we can do something about this embarrassment, let us do it NOW. 24 hours is a long time in aviation (and politics). EK787 (A6-EUV/A380/02OCT2018) has not taken off yet. Let’s put our best foot forward and fly above the pettiness!!!!