Opinions & Features March 05, 2021 at 02:00 pm

Ghana wins ‘airport war’ with Britain – But how did the Africans threaten Britain into surrendering?

Nii Ntreh March 05, 2021 at 02:00 pm

March 05, 2021 at 02:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Ghana's Kotoka International Airport is the only international airport in the country. Picture: Daily Graphic, Ghana

British online news platforms as well as some newspapers have been awash this week with news that British authorities would now allow flights from Accra, Ghana to land in Heathrow instead of Gatwick as had earlier been proposed by British authorities.

Some of the reportage did very little to hide the disappointment with the result of the ‘airport war’ that was started by a proposal by the Brits late last year. British Airways had planned to redirect flights from Accra to London‘s Gatwick instead of Heathrow, the most prestigious airport in the United Kingdom.

Ghana’s Aviation ministry rejected this proposal, calling it “unacceptable”. But it did not stop there. The ministry also threatened that if flights from Accra were to land in Gatwick, Accra was also going to redirect flights from Britain to land in Ghana’s second-largest city, Kumasi.

The statement from the Ghanaians in January had read: “[Ghana] will advise itself and take a reciprocal action on behalf of our passengers in the coming days if our call for British Airways to rescind its decision on the movement to Gatwick airport is not heeded,” 

Initially, it seemed to many observers that the Ghanaians were bluffing. But the ministry doubled down in another statement as if to dare their British counterparts.

Compared to Gatwick, the Kumasi Airport does not receive international flights. Gatwick, which is some 45 miles from Heathrow, is considered less prestigious than Heathrow, even though it receives massive international airliners. Kumasi is a municipal airport and plans to convert it into an international station have been proposed by past Ghanaian governments for many years without concrete work. The city is also more than 100 miles from Accra.

The British authorities rescinded their decision and would from March 28, allow flights from Accra’s Kotoka International Airport to resume landing at Heathrow. The change to Gatwick would have affected passengers from Accra in two main ways.

Gatwick is much farther from the center of London than Heathrow is. That certainly would have been a cause for concern for passengers. Secondly, Gatwick receives far fewer flights these days, which means that current airport staff is only at the most minimal required number, a fact that would undoubtedly stress passengers.

So how did Ghana pull this feat off, seeing that it was inconceivable for British Airways flights to have landed at a non-international airport? It would seem the Brits did not want to find out how terrible an 80-year aviation relationship could get with Accra. British Airways’ relationship with Accra’s airport is one of the longest ongoing between the carrier and an airport.

The Accra airport was actually started as a Royal Air Force (RAF) base in West Africa during World War II. After the war, it became an international airport and was renamed Kotoka in the 1980s, after a former Ghanaian military officer, Emmanuel Kotoka.

British Airways management gave no reasons for its change in mind but a spokesperson reportedly said: “We keep our network under constant review and will be continuing our long-running service to Accra from London Heathrow.”

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