Though its employees may disagree, the demise of Zambia Airways has provided an ideal opportunity to test the latest move towards a more liberalised regime in African aviation. But Lusaka is not alone in facing a major challenge: Ghana Airways is experiencing problems at every turn as it aims for privatisation.

The Zambian government pulled the plug on its flag carrier at the beginning of December under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Western aid donors had threatened to suspend economic aid, totalling $800 million a year, if the government bailed the carrier out by drawing on a $30 million Kuwaiti oil purchase facility.

Zambia Airways is believed to have had debts of $70 million and was struggling to hold on to its two Boeing 737s, after the rest of its fleet had been repossessed. None of the airline's management were available for comment. However both Assefa Ambaye, Iata's regional representative for Africa, and the African Airlines Association's director for corporate and industrial affairs, Aberra Makonnen, agreed the impact on air transport links in the region would be minimal.

The historic overcapacity in Africa will ensure aircraft are available to maintain good air links with Lusaka and a recent reaffirmation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration should see its implementation and an easing of the introduction of new services.

Makonnen says regional carriers can use the commitment to gradual liberalisation, agreed at the African Civil Aviation Commission meeting last September, to fill the gap. In a two-year programme starting this month, all African nations have agreed to unlimited third, fourth and fifth freedoms within their respective regions of northern, eastern, western, southern and central Africa. Fifth freedoms between the five regions will be capped at 20 per cent of capacity.

Meanwhile outside interference on its New York service - potentially its biggest revenue earner - is the latest setback in Ghana Airways' attempts to turn a profit in preparation for privatisation. The government has not yet set a date for the sell off but showed its commitment to the privatisation pro-gramme by floating a mining company on the London Stock Exchange last April.

In August, the US Federal Aviation Administration included Ghana in a list of nine countries banned from flying to the US, just as the flag carrier was set to launch its Accra-New York service. The carrier got around the FAA ban to launch the New York route by wet-leasing a World Airways MD-11. In October, Ghana Airways' cargo handling monopoly at Accra's Kotoka airport was broken through the establishment of a joint venture involving UK-based Gatwick Handling.

The problems continue. Now the airline says unspecified 'agencies' are trying to 'sabotage' the New York operation.

Singling out the feeding of 'ghost names' into its reservation system, both in the US and Accra, the carrier adds that it is 'taking steps to neutralise' these activities and 'identify the culprits.'

The preparations for privatisation include: continued redundancies - the carrier hopes to reduce its employees to 800 by the first quarter of 1995; the spin off of ground handling and catering into wholly-owned subsidiaries; a fleet review; and plans for a management systems reorganisation. A technology transfer deal with Alitalia allows Ghana Airways to do some of its own maintenance.

Source: Airline Business