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2004-08-02 07:22:00
Embassy Accra
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ACCRA 001583 



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 160345


1. (SBU) DCM, EconChief and FAA Regional Rep Ed Jones met
July 27-29 with the Transport Minister and Ghana Civil
Aviation Authority (GCAA) and Ghana Airways (GA) officials to
discuss the recent FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT)
suspension of GA's service to the U.S. Emboffs also
presented reftel points re FAA's request to conduct a
reassessment of GCAA safety oversight (reported septel).
While many passengers, including Amcits, are stranded in
Ghana and the U.S., GA management has focused more on
deflecting blame than resolving this situation. GCAA and GoG
officials also appear to be in denial. Post will keep up the
pressure on GA, GCAA and GoG officials to 1) deal with the
crisis, and 2) overhaul safety procedures and oversight. End

Sequence of Events


2. (U) After months of warnings over safety concerns, FAA
informed GA and GCAA on July 23 that it had barred one of
GA's DC-10s from flying into the U.S. GA disobeyed this
order, flying the aircraft into and out of the U.S. on July
24 and in again on July 26, whereupon the FAA grounded the
aircraft. On July 27, DOT notified GA that it had no
authority to operate to the U.S. because it had allowed its
Economic Authority (equivalent to operating license) to lapse.

Post Message to GCAA and Ghana Airways


3. (SBU) Following consultations with DOT, Post delivered the
following message to GA and GoG officials: GA allowed its
Economic Authority (EA) to lapse and has been operating U.S.
routes for roughly 2 weeks without this authority. Before
the DOT can reauthorize the EA, it must review GA's ability
to provide service to the U.S. in compliance with DOT and FAA
regulations. DOT will assess GA's financial capacity and
will consult with FAA on safety issues. FAA's ongoing
concerns about GoG safety oversight and its decision to bar
the DC-10 will complicate the DOT's assessment. Post also
reemphasized that this was a separate (albeit linked) issue
from the FAA reassessment of GCAA safety oversight (reftel).

Stranded Passengers


4. (SBU) Post initially received numerous inquiries from
Amcits stranded in Ghana and contacts throughout Ghanaian
society, trying to get information and help colleagues,
friends and family. Ghana Airways is reportedly not
answering its telephones and not providing helpful advice to
increasingly unhappy ticket holders. The number of calls has
dwindled in the last 24 hours, and we assume ticket holders
are creating their own solutions.

5. (SBU) Post is responding to Amcit inquiries that we

understand GA is exploring alternate means of transport (on
wet-leased aircraft) and ticket holders should continue to
try to contact Ghana Air and monitor news announcements.
However, we are also advising them to investigate other
options, as it is unclear how quickly GA will be able to
arrange replacement flights. (Comment: We understand DOT
and State are developing guidance for use with stranded Amcit
passengers. End Comment).

Ghana Air comments


6. (SBU) GA officials were unfamiliar with the Economic
Authority (or operating license), and asked whether the DOT
had proactively invalidated the authority (because of safety
concerns), if the DOT had notified the airline that the EA
would expire (and whether it should have), the duration of
the EA, what kind of paperwork was required, and the
procedure to obtain a re-issuance of the EA. They also
inquired how they could work around the lack of the EA in
order to bring back passengers stranded in the U.S.,
including whether they could wet-lease an aircraft.

7. (SBU) Post clarified that GA was responsible for allowing
the EA to lapse. Post also urged them to deal on these
issues directly with the DOT, especially related to finding
alternative transport for stranded passengers. (Comment: We
understand from DOT/FAA that GA is not working to resolve the
passenger situation as aggressively or creatively as they
should. End Comment)

GA and GCAA comments about flights


8. (SBU) GCAA and GA officials argued that they did not
receive FAA notification early enough to cancel the July 24
and 26 flights to the U.S. GCAA's Director of Safety
Regulations, Edward Akohene, stated that the FAA notified him
by telephone on July 23 and was told to expect written
confirmation via fax. He says he waited until late that
evening and also worked over the weekend, but never saw the
fax. GA's Head of Flight Operations, Capt. Johnny Yamoah,
also claims he did not see or hear of the FAA letters until
Monday morning (July 26), after the GA flight had already
departed Accra. (Comment: Akohene says he contacted GA on
July 23 to alert them of the ban. Apparently, neither GCAA
nor GA officials considered the verbal order not to fly an
unsafe aircraft into the U.S. sufficient to actually cancel
the flight. End Comment)

9. (SBU) Akohene and Yamoah also claimed that GA safety
officials did a "walk around" with FAA officials after the
plane landed on Monday, July 26, and the plane appeared to be
in good shape, with no obvious corrosion or leakage. Yamoah
provided a letter from the U.S. leasing company, BCI,
claiming that the appropriate safety checks had been made
(emailed to State, DOT, FAA). (Comment: Post will deliver
DOT/FAA points refuting these allegations, and clarifying
that FAA has had concerns about the banned DC-10 for months.
The UK banned this same airplane in early June for similar
reasons. End Comment)

Press Reaction


10. (SBU) Local media have reported the facts relatively
accurately, relying heavily on DOT's press release. Radio
coverage, especially on the call-in shows, have been highly
critical of the GoG and Ghana Airways management. So far, we
have not heard negative comments or criticism directed at the
U.S. GA and GoG officials have obliquely placed the blame
for the crisis on the FAA, repeating the above allegations
that the FAA fax was late and the leasing company endorsed
the safety inspection report.



11. (SBU) Post is in close contact with GA and GCAA, and is
strongly urging them to deal with the passenger crisis first,
and then work with the DOT to find a way to renew GA's
Economic Authority. Post will emphasize in meetings over the
next few days that it is incumbent on GA and GCAA to assume
responsibility for disobeying FAA orders to ground the DC-10
and explain what remedial steps they will take to ensure this
never happens again. Also, the GCAA and GoG need to take
necessary measures to assure aviation safety, especially in
light of the upcoming safety FAA reassessment (reftel).
Unfortunately, GA management is currently spending more time
avoiding blame than addressing the problems.

12. (SBU) Ghana Air is a sensitive political issue, made more
sensitive by election year pressures. This latest action is
big news here. We expect GA's continuing crisis to get a lot
of press and public attention in the short term, and hope
that pressure from the Embassy and Washington will make GoG,
GCAA and GA officials realize that this crisis is an
opportunity to overhaul Ghana Air. Business as usual will
likely result in the death of the airline. End Comment.