The Elizabeth, Virgin Atlantic’s office in downtown Accra

With the dust settling on the recent global financial crisis that had severe ripple effects on almost every kind of global business including the air transport business, many international businesses including airlines are beginning to see recovery in their revenue levels, and modest profits are being recorded by some.

One international airline that braced up in the recent turbulent economic weather to prove its mettle as one of the most creative and innovative in the air transport industry was Virgin Atlantic, all thanks to the unrivaled entrepreneurial spirit of its founder and chairman, Sir Richard Branson. Virgin Atlantic launched its operations in Ghana in May 2010 at a time many international airlines were not even contemplating adding new routes to their network, on account of the fact that the airline industry was barely recovering from the global economic slump that started from the second half of 2008.

“I don’t think any airline in the world got away without a big fall in its revenues and I have to say that 2009 and 2010 have probably been the hardest years for Virgin Atlantic as well. We’ve been flying for 26 years and never have we seen revenues drop away so dramatically or so quickly,” said Paul Dickinson, Virgin Atlantic’s Sales and Marketing Director in an interview with GB&F in Accra in December 2010. “Throughout this time we decided that we would not cut back on our products and services. So even when revenues were going down we continued to invest in new products and new routes such as the Accra route,” Dickinson adds.
When Virgin Atlantic launched its new Accra route in May 2010, Sir Richard Branson predicted the airline would carry more than 60,000 passengers in its first year of operation in Ghana. By December 2010, just eight months into its operations in Ghana, the airline was not just ahead of that prediction it was already covering all of its costs on both ends of the Accra-London route.

Dickinson said: “It has been a very encouraging start for Virgin Atlantic. One of the interesting things is that normally, when we start a new route it can take between 2 to 3 years or even 4 years for that route to break even and move into profits but in the case of Accra, we are already breaking even. We are not quite moving into profit yet, but we are quite pleased to say that just after a short number of months, the revenues we are achieving between both ends of the route are covering all of our costs and we are already in a break-even position.”

“We have seen a huge turnaround from one of our worst years in 26 years. Had it not been for the volcanic ash cloud in May this year (2010), we would have had possibly, our record year ever. So it’s gone from one extreme to another,” he added.

“We are particularly interested in this country (Ghana). As we have seen in this market, with the arrival of the oil companies, the telecom companies and others, you can see that people are back to doing business and that is true for all over the world.

We know that the economy of Ghana is at a turning point. We also know that Ghana has moved out of being recognised as a low income country to a middle income country and that spells out the recipe for success for us. And of course, we are aware of the oil industry and how that might change things for this country,” said Dickinson.

Nick Taylor, Virgin Atlantic Country Manager, West Africa Tosan Woode, Head, Sales & Marketing, Ghana
Paul Dickinson, Sales & Marketing Director Jonathan Harding, General Manager, International and Distribution


Obviously, the airline’s executives are very excited by the response from Ghanaians and business people who fly in and out of Ghana, in terms of their engagement with the airline; booking tickets; and flying with it to the UK and beyond to other places around the world.

“Before we came in there were older airplanes and high airfares but now there are (as Virgin Atlantic’s competition has brought in) new airplanes and low fares, so that is something we are really delighted to have influenced,” said Jonathan
Harding, Virgin Atlantic’s General Manager, International and Distribution, who together with Dickinson and another executive Nick Taylor flew in to Accra to acquaint themselves with developments in the airline’s new Accra route.

“We believe there are approximately 300,000 Ghanaians in the UK alone. And that is a huge community. So we want to create an environment on board our aircrafts with a blend of catering services in European and Ghanaian food. For our
in-flight entertainment we are looking at options such as West African movies alongside European ones. We are also looking to see whether we can introduce Ghanaian cabin crew onto Virgin Atlantic,” said Harding.

Happy with the results achieved so far, Virgin Atlantic is looking forward to expanding its operations in Ghana by increasing the frequency and spread of its flights to Accra, the airline’s fifth destination in Africa, after Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi.

Nick Taylor, the airline’s Manager for West Africa said: “Ghana has the potential to become an economic power house in West Africa. And so Ghana is an important part of our strategy. Going forward, the kind of ambitions we would have for Ghana would be to add more frequencies. We have extra flights for the Christmas period and we would really like
to increase by next summer (2011) from 3 flights a week to
4 flights and going forward to 5 flights and then daily.”

Richard Branson, Founder & Chairman, Virgin Atlantic arrives in Ghana with the inaugural flight in May 2010