Royal entourage asks CAL hard questions: Why no direct air route to Africa?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A Caribbean Airlines aircraft

CARIBBEAN Airlines (CAL) officials were on the end of a royal tongue-lashing on Monday as they tried to explain to local businesses and the Ghanaian delegation accompanying Asante King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, why there is no direct air route from the Caribbean to African states.

Aylette Wright-Paul and Herbert Ghent, both of CAL, tried to explain at the 21st annual Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment symposium at the Trinidad Hilton, that there were several issues hindering the viability of a direct air route to Ghana. Demand and capacity to accommodate flights directly to Ghana were among the challenges.

“In order to make the appropriate decisions you need to have that market data,” Wright-Paul said.

“We did a brief fact-check before we came here and the market data for 2019 which would have been pre-pandemic indicated 61 people moving between TT and Ghana for that entire year.”

“Our fleets are complimented by Boeing 737 Max 8s, so in terms of range, yes they are able to cross the Atlantic but can they do it with people on board? So we may be looking at a different type of aircraft which is not in our fleet.”

Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon interjected saying that from numbers on movement from the Caribbean to Ghana, the number was much higher, to the tune of 250 people.

“I think you would want to have a wider understanding of what the numbers are going into several states into Africa.” Ghent said that was information CAL would have to acquire, in order to get a better, fuller perspective.

Wright-Paul also suggested that chartered flights specific to Ghana would be a short-term solution to the issues affecting the viability of direct flights.

Nana Otuo Siriboe, the Omanhene, or King of the Juaben traditional area, spoke after the panel discussion on behalf of the Asantehene Tutu II.

He made the point that colonial powers determined that it was worth their while to open direct channels of trade between Africa and the Caribbean over 400 years ago, at the expense of human lives.

“If 400 years ago they were able to do this, then surely we can now also take a hard look at the challenges that separate us and make the necessary investments to achieve mutual benefits, this time not at the expense of one another but for our collective good.”

He said while TT and Ghana will both benefit from a trade relationship, there are several bottlenecks to the process. Chief among the barriers to trade was a lack of a direct route between the countries.

He said despite the challenges that came with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the displacement of millions of Africans, Ghana and TT still share a common heritage passed down through music, dance and the arts.

He compared the lack of communication between TT and Ghana to a Ghanaian proverb.

“There are two fishes locked together with one stomach, but when they are eating they struggle among themselves because of greed and avarice,” he said.

“I see the same thing with these two sitting behind me,” he said, pointing to where Wright-Paul and Ghent sat. “Are we not the same people? So why should we divide ourselves?”

He said travel between Africa and the Caribbean is bogged down by lengthy journeys across the northern Atlantic with stops and transfers in the US and Europe which impedes change between Africa and the Caribbean.

“I hope the next time we have a symposium our friends who sat here would have solved this problem and we won’t be talking about this anymore,” King Siriboe said.