UK-based investment fund Zotus Group is to finance and provide operational support to Ashanti Airlines to establish GhanaAirlines, the country's new national carrier currently finalising its certification.

According to the Ghana News Agency, the new airline will debut in the 3Q23 on domestic routes before entering regional and intercontinental routes to London Heathrow (UK) and New York JFK (US). The start-up has already obtained its Air Carrier License (ACL) and is in the final phases of obtaining its Air Operator's Certificate (AOC).

The Zotus Group, in the first official announcement on GhanaAirlines, confirmed it was providing "significant" funding for the start-up as Ashanti's operational and financial partners, but did not disclose an amount. "The Government of Ghana has confirmed it has awarded Ashanti Airlines and its operational and financial partners, the Zotus Group, the tender to operate the national carrier, GhanaAirlines, out of Accra commencing in 2023. Ashanti Group was shortlisted among others through a competitive process and subsequently received Cabinet approval for the Strategic Partnership on February 24, 2022," the Zotus Group said in a statement.

The UK funder was co-founded by former England footballers Emile Heskey and Davison Simango, who played a crucial part in securing the winning bid for the aviation contract from the government of Ghana, the statement read. "Heskey, who has been at the forefront of the Zotus Group, provides a strong operational and finance partner for the airline, having secured significant initial funding for the start-up."

"Heskey will lead a credible board of directors along with aviation start-up supremo Hitesh Patel, business development expert Davison Simango and well-known public relations director Alex Rayner. The airline is currently recruiting for several C-suite roles to drive the airline forward."

Heskey commented: "There is a lot of work ongoing already to get the airline ready for start-up; we are in the market sourcing aircraft to start our operations with a significant focus on cargo and passenger manifests from the British government. It is with this support we anticipate a successful business model from the outset."

For its part, Ashanti Airlines is led by Ghanaian entrepreneurs Ernest Ofori Sarpong and Osei Kwame Despite. Their bid beat the Ghanaian management consultancy and brokerage JNH Group; Ethiopian Airlines; and EgyptAir. The latter two had separate Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with Ghana in the past to revive a national carrier, but neither materialised.

Initial information on the deal suggested the strategic partner would hold a 49% share while local individuals/corporate institutions get 41%, with the government left holding 10%.

According to the Zotus Group, Ghanaian Transport Minister Kwaku Ofori Asiamah was at the centre of the negotiations, having formed a committee to oversee the tender process. The company said Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo and the UK Prime Minister's Trade Envoys Lord Popat and Baroness Hoey had supported their bid to create a new pan-African aviation hub.

Previous flag carriers Ghana International Airlines and Ghana Airways folded in 2010 and 2004, respectively.