The first phase of the upgrade and expansion of the Tamale Airport has been completed and duly commissioned by the H.E President of the Republic of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama. The event coincided with the airlifting of Hajj pilgrims direct from the Tamale International Airport to Mecca to fulfill the religious requirement.

The project consisted of extending the runway from 2,480 metres to about 3,940 metres, and the installation of a complete lighting system to accommodate bigger aircraft so as to serve as the second international airport in the country.

It is meant to serve as an alternative to the Kotoka International Airport (KIA). The project became prudent due to the growth in airlines servicing the Kotoka International Airport and the growing demand for domestic air transport.

Tamale is the second-busiest domestic destination in the country. The project is being undertaken by Brazilian company Queiroz Galvao Construction with funding from the Brazilian government.

What an alternate means?

Currently none of the regional airports has the capacity of accommodating wide-bodied aircraft such as the Boeing 747- 800 series. With the upgrade, Tamale Airport will have facilities comparable to that at KIA and will thus allow aircraft which for any reason cannot land in KIA be diverted to Tamale. This would have otherwise been diverted to one the neighboring West African countries and hence revenue losses to the GACL and the State at large.

Upgrading and expanding the Tamale airport also feeds into an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirement for States to have an alternate airport that has similar capacity as the main airport in use in the country.

ICAO regulation stipulates that “No person may release or takeoff an aircraft without a suitable takeoff alternate specified in the flight release if it would not be possible to return to the aerodrome of departure “. This makes it mandatory for countries to make provision for alternate airports before airlines commence operations.

Annual Hajj Pilgrimage

Upgrading the Tamale Airport to international airport is expected to halt the annual ritual where pilgrims from the northern part of Ghana spend days in Accra before connecting to Mecca. The expansion of the airport will aid facilitation of Hajj pilgrims direct from Tamale to Jeddah and also increase economic activity in the region. The airport will also provide services to the sub-Saharan regions including Burkina Faso and Mali.

Financial Viability

To enhance the financial viability of the airport, the Master Plan includes the development of the airport into an aerotropolis. That involves the development of an airport city which essentially will provide one stop airport support facilities including hotels, conferencing facilities, shops, restaurants etc. This will be a mix market high density commercial development to serve as economic growth node. It will also generate employment and improve income in the local economy.

Boosting economic growth, trade and tourism

An upgraded Tamale Airport will make an economic impact at different levels, especially boosting the tourism sector. Export of fruits, artifacts and handicrafts from the three northern regions will be the biggest beneficiary. Besides exports, patronage of handicrafts by individual travelers could improve the economic fortunes of small scale makers of handicrafts, especially women. From all indications, it makes economic and financial sense to expand and upgrade the Tamale Airport as an alternative international airport to KIA.

It will decentralize international travel and cut the down on the situation where people drive long distances from the north to catch international flights in Accra. Worldwide, there are several beneficial linkages between expanding air traffic and the growth of tourism.

The Mole National Park, the Hippo sanctuary of Wechau, the Crocodile ponds of Paga, one of the largest parks in the West Africa will benefit from an upgraded airport. However, having to travel from Accra to Damongo either by road is always an unnerving task compared to making the trip by air. It is envisaged that if tourists have the opportunity to travel direct from Europe and USA to Tamale enroute to the natural reserves of Mole and Bui, tourist volumes could increase, and the people of the north will be the better served, economically.

Creation of employment

Tamale Airport is the only facility with minimal or least encroachment. This means that there is enough land around the airport for future expansion. The upgrade will also attract investors to provide services such as Fixed Based Operations (FBO) and Maintenance, Repair and Operate (MRO) services at Tamale Airport. Such services at the airport will create direct employment in the area.

A Tamale International Airport concept is attractively waived into the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority’s plan. The SADA project, set in the Sahalian region of northern Ghana, is to boost employment creation, encourage non-traditional exports, and increase the production of food in the three northern regions.

Establishment of an MRO

The aviation industry revolves around Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) activities. MRO is the blanket term for all services relating to assuring aircraft safety and airworthiness. MRO service providers exist all around the world, with the majority of the market share focused on North America, Western Europe and Asia Pacific. From 2010 to 2014, the global MRO market is predicted to grow by some 5.2 percent from US$41.5 billion to US$50.8 billion.

Major airport operational hubs in the world have well developed maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities and the technical expertise to carry out major checks on aircraft. Globally, the MRO business has shifted from the developed world to the Asia-Pacific region and is showing potential to shift to the African region.

In Africa, countries like South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Ethiopia have successful MRO facilities as well as airports that operate as hubs. These countries have the largest considerable presence of maintenance facilities and capabilities in Africa. There is also considerable presence of maintenance facilities in Libya, Kenya and Tunisia. In other parts of the continent, these facilities are scarcely present, while generally, maintenance facilities are least present in West Africa.

MRO Opportunities in Ghana

Most airline fleets operating into Ghana are either directly purchased or leased. The leasing options require maintenance and re-delivery checks. Since most of the leasing companies are in foreign countries, there is opportunity for Ghanaian investors to Ghana take advantage to offer maintenance and re-delivery checks and other MRO activities.

Benefits to Customers

The benefit to airlines in availing themselves of the MRO services in Ghana include:

  • Cost savings
  • Faster turnaround time
  • Less ferry time in getting aircraft serviced in Ghana
  • Savings in fuel cost
  • Logistic cost

Benefits to the GACL/Ghana

  • Attract airlines in selecting Ghana as MRO hub
  • Operating an MRO facility in Ghana will raise revenue for the country in terms of taxes
  • Reduce pressure on foreign exchange reserves
  • Increased revenue (landing, Parking, Lighting etc)
  • Generation of employment for the community
  • Royalties from MRO services

Ghana has the potential of becoming an MRO hub due to the enabling political environment, growing aircraft fleet and geographical location as such should open the gate of opportunities for aircraft companies working in the MRO segment to invest in this untapped market.MRO facility is indispensable for the hub concept the country seeks to implement.

MRO Potentials for GACL

Establishing an MRO in Tamale Airport is essential to achieving the GACL mission of providing world-class facilities and services for the benefit of stakeholders. This is also important in achieving the vision of becoming a preferred global gateway and leader in airport business in West Africa.

With competitors such as Nigeria improving on the provision of MRO services to attract more airlines, KIA has no choice but to initiate and implement processes that attract investors in the provision of MRO services in Ghana. Some of the benefits to KIA and the nation as a whole are:

  • Save operators the inconvenience and cost of taking aircraft, for instance, to Europe or South Africa for maintenance
  • Setting up of MROs with extensive capacities in terms of spare stocks, supply chains and maintenance personnel and services in Ghana would boost cost-efficient maintenance for Africa airlines
  • Operating an MRO facility in Ghana will raise revenue for the country in terms of taxes
  • For a national airline to operate profitably, an MRO is required to reduce the cost of maintenance

The upgrade of the Tamale Airport to international status is inseparably tied to GACL’s mission “to provide airport infrastructure for the benefit of our stakeholders.” GACL will continue to perform and carry out its mandate and manage its resources in an efficient and effective way. It is development that will undoubtedly bring in its wake a plethoric trail of business, investment, tourism and trade opportunities.