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Ghana 2016 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Charles Asare, Managing Director of Ghana Airports Company Ltd., on increasing aviation capacity, bringing an outside approach to the aviation sector, and resilience amid global challenges.

Charles Asare
BIOGRAPHY
Charles Asare has over 25 years of experience in senior management, banking, and finance in Africa and the US. He was CFO and COO for GPHA Inc. of Philadelphia, and Director-General of SSNIT in Ghana. He managed HSBC Equator Bank’s West African operations and was responsible for Business Development in Corporate Banking and Finance as Assistant General Manager of Ecobank Ghana Limited. He currently serves as a Director on the Boards of CDH Investment Bank Ltd, Malawi, and Airports Council International, Africa Region. Mr. Asare holds an MBA from Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College, and a BA in Economics from Haverford College.

There are plans to increase Ghana's domestic aviation capacity. What are the main challenges to that development?

The challenge is how to fund expansion; domestic aviation is not as profitable as international aviation. Airports fund themselves via passenger service charges. A domestic service charge has been set low to promote domestic aviation, but the safety standards of airports must be standardized. We already have four regional airports: Tamale, Kumasi, Sunyani, and Takoradi. Takoradi is run by the military air force, though civilian aircraft do travel to it. We embarked on two additional airports last year. One airport is an existing runway of 2,000m and is in good shape, we just need to do some ancillary work. We then started a new airport, beginning with a simple runway of 1,600m by 30m. The project is supposed to be completed this year. Based on our cash flows, we may look at some of the other regional capitals. The president's vision is to have an airport in every region, both to promote socio-political development and to boost domestic aviation. Airport communities tend to have added value, hence we coined the phrase “Airport City.” We are planning to form JVs with developers for this.

Your experience has until two years ago been in the finance sector. What challenges did you face when you took over this company?

I spent 25 years in finance and banking, so I came to the airport with a new administration and a mandate to transform the airport in alignment with the President's vision to develop Ghana as a regional aviation hub. Our mission is to provide excellent airport facilities and be a leading airport business in West Africa. Following a self-assessment, we concluded that we needed two things: good infrastructure and excellent service. There was a big infrastructure deficit at Kotoka International Airport (KIA), so we embarked on a program to address that. The airport was overcrowded, most of the equipment was outdated and dilapidated, and there were issues with infrastructure, runways, bathrooms, the terminal building, and the baggage systems. We started to systematically address them all, and we have improved significantly to date, resolving 95% of the issues.

Why was Ghana's travel industry so resilient during the Ebola crisis?

We suffered by association, but only a bit. Our business at the airport is diverse, and our international market did not suffer. We were proactive from the moment it began. We have a health clinic attached, we introduced thermal body screening thermometers, and there was a lot of public education through posters and hand sanitizers at all the regional airports. The media in Ghana also helped; Ghanaians were aware of what was happening and it did not stop people from traveling.

You are about to launch your flagship Terminal 3 project. How will that affect your capacity?

We had a footfall last year of 2.5 million. The designed capacity of KIA is around 500,000, so the project is demand-driven rather than speculative. It will be a purpose-built international terminal, and we expect it to be completed around July 2017. It will be a first-class terminal facility capable of handling 5 million passengers a year and 1,200 passengers at peak hours, with six air bridges that can be expanded to eight. It will include 45,000sqft of space for commercial use, three business lounges, and approval for six baggage carousels. We looked to the capital markets to raise funds. The objective was to raise $400 million; we have to date secured $250 million, while the other $150 million has yet to be sourced. The airport has to offer a full complement of services, including hotels, food, waiting lounges, meeting rooms, security, car parks, and all of those related investments are going to have to be provided. Some of those we will provide ourselves, but those that are easier for the private sector to do will be sourced accordingly.