(MENAFN - Caribbean News Now) Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East.
By Ray Chickrie
For decades Caribbean leaders have talked about an air-link between the Caribbean and Accra, Ghana, but now the idea is picking up pace after the visit of Ghana's president Nana Akufo-Addo to the Caribbean in June 2019. The issue was discussed between president Akufo-Addo and his Caribbean counterparts in Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad.
Prime minister Rowley and president Nana Akufo-Addo during bilateral talks expressed optimism of reaching a possible "Air Services Agreement" that would include Caribbean Airlines (CAL) and Ethiopian Airlines (ET) because it was chosen by the Ghanaian government to resurrect a national airline.
I see the seriousness in the air link talk now between Ghana and the Caribbean. There is a committed government in Accra now, and Africa is the next economic frontier. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Africa. It's the most beautiful continent in my opinion. I have seen from the Maghreb to Egypt, Ethiopia to the Cape, and the Lakes of Uganda to Zanzibar. The population is young and smart and, I am happy to see less negative images of Africa today. In all of this, Ghana is blessed with stability and is experiencing economic growth.
A Caribbean, Ethiopian, Ghana Air-Agreement can take off now since Ghana has now entered visa abolition agreements with Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and the rest of the English speaking Caribbean. This will spur commerce and tourism, and above all, the rise of Guyana's oil and gas industry will require a great deal of skilled and unskilled workers. Business between Guyana and the rest of the world is increasing and this route can be profitable with a mega company like Ethiopian Airlines taking the initiative.
The opportunity to make this historical endeavour a reality, the Caribbean/Ghana air bridge, is more possible now that the aviation industry of West Africa and all of Africa has improved. Better infrastructure, more airlines, and the African Union (AU) the adoption of the Single African Air Travel Market (SAATM) have seen the African aviation market soar.
Certainly, tourism and business can sustain this route. However, with the oil and gas surge in Guyana, it becomes more possible. West Africans could end up moving to Guyana since that country is facing a severe shortage of skilled and unskilled workers.
Ethiopian Airlines (ET) has already invested 49 percent shares in the new Ghana Air and with its stellar record of profitability and new planes, ET is dominating the African skies. With serious will and visionary, the leaders of Ghana, Ethiopia and the Caribbean, can take concrete steps to make the Accra-Caribbean air link a reality.
However, there are other successful carriers in Africa such as Kenya Airways (KQ), Royal Air Maroc (RAM), Air Mauritius and Rwandair. They may have something to offer the Caribbean also. Morocco and Suriname are holding talks about an air link between Casablanca and Paramaribo.
Paramaribo in South America is the closest city to Accra. Accra to Georgetown or Paramaribo is about five hours. I mention Paramaribo because the government there has been talking for decades about an air link between Accra and Paramaribo. President Desi Bouterse and Jerry J. Rawlings have discussed the idea before. Suriname is now building a new and modern terminal with transit in mind. A new hotel is being built in the area too, and other major tourism plans are in the pipes.
But for this to happen, there must be a plan of action to make GEO, or Paramaribo a hub. Port of Spain, Trinidad is already a hub and especially now that the company is expanding its Caribbean network, it could become a feeder airline for a mega-company like Ethiopian Airlines or any African airline that wants to add the Caribbean to its network. LIAT and Caribbean Airlines can become feeder of this traffic to other cities in the Caribbean and Latin America network.
If Guyana and Suriname are seeking a deal with any big African airlines, they will have to have a locally based airline that will act as a feeder to that airline. Why LIAT cannot be stationed in Guyana and become a feeder for ET, KQ or RW if any one of these companies should enter the Guyana market? LIAT has said that Guyana is a major market for them and that the Guyana traffic has increased. Guyana should not sit back and watch LIAT collapse. This will be of great loss to the economic development of Guyana.
There is a shortage of airlift between New York City and Georgetown, Guyana and between Amsterdam and Paramaribo, Suriname. Royal Air Maroc can easily connect passengers from Amsterdam to Paramaribo via its Casablanca hub. This makes sense if one look at the strategic location of Casablanca. The possibility of Royal Air Maroc opening schedule service to Paramaribo was discussed when the Moroccan minister of foreign affairs, Nasser Bourikas visited Suriname a few weeks ago.
This is more reason why African airlines like Ethiopian Airlines, Ghana Air, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Rwandair, Royal Air Maroc and Air Senegal could be interested in the Caribbean. Furthermore, the six billion barrels of oil and gas found in Guyana, is a game changer.