in Air Transport / Features

A right Royal revival

Posted 29 October 2015 · Add Comment

Plans are afoot to revive moribund carrier Fly540 Ghana as Royal Fly-GH, as another new airline prepares to take off and serve the Ghanaian and regional markets before expanding into Europe. Alan Dron reports.

If everything goes to schedule, Ghanaian travellers will shortly have another airline from which to choose. It will mean another twist in the saga of the legacy carrier Fly540, which was acquired by pan-African low-cost airline FastJet in 2012 from its original owner, Lonrho Aviation.
Just under two years later, in May 2014, FastJet first suspended operations at the loss-making Fly540 Ghana, then sold it 13 months later to the UK-registered DWG-G Company, for a nominal $1.
Fly540 Ghana had no assets, other than its air operator’s certificate (AOC) – which had expired – and came burdened with $6.9 million of debts, said Samuel Wesley-Quaison, who will be president of the revived airline. Of that figure, $4 million is being covered by a bank loan guaranteed by Lonrho. The other $2.9 million is being provided by backers, who preferred not to be named at this point, he said.
Initial equipment for the revived Fly 540 Ghana, which will be rebranded under the name Royal Fly-GH, will be a single Fokker 100 sourced from Croatian aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI) specialist Trade Air on a one-year lease in a 109-seat, single-class configuration.
 
If the AOC is successfully obtained from the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Royal Fly-GH hopes to be operating by the time this issue of African Aerospace is published.
Using the Fokker 100 “gives us the opportunity to get into the market and to establish ourselves in the region”, said Wesley-Quaison, who describes himself as a businessman with a lifelong interest in aviation. He acts as a ‘company doctor’, going into failing organisations and trying to pull them round.
Wesley-Quaison said he preferred to remain in the background of the new company and allow management to get on with the job. Chairman of the revived airline will be Saif Al Mughairy, a well-known aviation figure in the Arabian Gulf.
Al Mughairy was previously CEO of UAE-based maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider GAMCO (now Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies) and managing director of the emirate’s offshore helicopter and executive jet operator, Falcon Aviation Services.
Initial plans are for Royal Fly-GH to operate domestic services from Accra to Kumasi, Takoradi and Tamale, to be followed by regional services to Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. “We have permits to operate to Abidjan, Freetown and Lagos,” said Wesley-Quaison.
At the time of writing, Royal Fly-GH was searching for two ATR 72-500s for the Ghanaian internal routes, but examples of the Franco-Italian turboprop were difficult to come by, he added.
 
Looking further into the future, the airline has ambitions to operate either the Airbus A319 (moving up to a larger A320 as routes mature) or the Boeing 737-700. Royal Fly-GH would like to obtain permission for services from Accra to London and to Hamburg and Düsseldorf. There are substantial Ghanaian communities in all three cities, said Wesley- Quaison, which could provide traffic on the Accra route.
The A319 was not a common type in West Africa, he noted, and pilots and maintainers in the region were more accustomed to the 737-700, which gave the Boeing an advantage.
However, the A319 was his preference, as it had an extra few hundred miles of range in hand over the Boeing contender, giving it a larger margin of comfort in flying into Europe.
A decision on the company’s first jet equipment, however, lies some distance in the future.
Wesley-Quaison said he believed the former Fly540 had been unsuccessful in Ghana because of West African attitudes towards airline travel.
Even if an airline advertised itself as a low-cost carrier, passengers in the region expected to get a drink and snack on board automatically as part of their ticket price. A traditional, low-cost airline with unbundled fares would find it hard to operate in the region, although that might change in the next five to 10 years.  
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