Chatting the African Skies with Ethiopian Airlines

10 Min Read

Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopia’s national carrier is one of the fastest growing airlines out of Africa. The airline solely owned by the government has become a force to reckon with not only in the region but in the World’s aviation industry. Our staff writer sat down with the airline representative for a chat.

Tell us a bit about Ethiopian Airlines by giving us a short background

Ethiopian Airlines (EAL) is a flag carrier of Ethiopia. Ever since its establishment in 1945, EAL has become one of the continent’s leading carriers, unrivalled in Africa for efficiency and operational success, turning profits for almost all the years of its existence. Operating at the forefront of technology, it has also become one of Ethiopia’s major industry player and a veritable institution in Africa. It commands a lion’s share of the pan African network including the only daily East-West flight across the continent. Currently, EAL serves 95 international destinations and is fully owned by the government.

How much of Africa do you cover?

Ethiopian covers 55 points in Africa starting with its debut flight to Cairo with C-5 aircraft in 1946. Ever since, Ethiopian successfully introduced new aircraft technology and system to the African sky providing the first jet service with B767 to the continent. Ethiopian continues its unrivalled pace by introducing the technologically advanced B787 Dreamliner in 2012 being only second to Japan. The inclusion of the Airbus A350 and the latest B787-900 to its growing fleet demonstrates Ethiopian thirst for new generation aircrafts and its culture to remain at the forefront of African aviation.  It is the first to acquire the aircrafts in Africa maintaining its old age tradition of introducing new aircrafts to the continent. Currently Ethiopian operates 97 aircrafts with an average age of 5years which is remarkably below the industry average.

What is your experience with doing Business in Africa and what advice would you share with those looking to invest in the continent?

The African Aviation is not growing as much as its body mass. There are structural and policy problems in Africa like for instance the Yamassakouru Declaration that calls for the African Air to be open to all African carriers which is not yet implemented. This lack of enforcement has produced limited intra-African air connections. There are other infrastructure problems and fuel cost is also very expensive in Africa compared to the rest of the world.  In much of the sub-Saharan Africa the required infrastructures to support and lift the African economy are missing. The human resource lacks the required skills and competent professionals leading to bad governance and poor administration that hinder business in the continent.  However, the future looks bright as we have already started training our young professionals, building the roads, airports, power grids and IT backbone needed to boost the African economies. It is my hope that once this is completed we will see growth in imports, exports, and regional business which will make Africa strong economically and socially.

Any advice to Africans out in the Diaspora looking to go back home to invest and build the continents economy?

No doubt Africa is rising. Studies show that the African diaspora is increasingly viewed as a key to realizing the development potential for Africa. Though there are visible challenges, it is a high time that the diaspora plays its role in developing Africa. It is believed that there are a number of professionals in the aviation industry who can play a major role for the betterment of  their beloved continent’s aviation Industry. Therefore, the initiative has to be from both the diasporas and their Governments in participating to build a strong economy.

What are some of the things in your opinion that make Africa special?

In my opinion the factors that drive connectivity and make Africa special include the fact that Africa is versatile and continuously growing, its location positions it to have a good working relationship with other continents, the continent has plenty of unexploited natural resources as well as its immense youthful population.

There has been a lot of talk about Africa rising, what is your opinion, do you have specific examples?

Yes, it is rising. Africa has been a continent known for famine, war and dictatorship. There have been outbreaks of civil wars in the continent with far reaching consequences. There was displacement and famine which affected the majority of people. This has immensely reduced an many Africans are now leading a better life. Governments have started practicing democracy and good governance. This has brought much of investment both foreign and local. There is a great deal of focus on education, health care and other infrastructures which help build the economy. As a result, we have seen a decline in some of the deadly diseases like malaria and AIDS, an increase in the life expectancy of the population and a child mortality rates decline across Africa. We have also witnessed social justice inequalities being wiped out with just a mobile phone with which anyone in any part of rural Africa can transact in e-finance E-learning, E-commerce, Telle Medicine and Video Conferencing or other basic activities.

What is the future of doing business in Africa?

There is more hope than concern. Africa’s future is booming as it lays foundations to attract more investment. Africa has the youngest population size and a large body mass with unexploited resources. There is a huge investment opportunity for those who dare to invest in Africa. On top of this there is a good start in practicing democracy and good governance which leads to security and stability and create an environment for business investment and tourism.

What has been your highlight as a company in doing business in Africa?

It is all about the ease to do business in Africa. Though the opportunity is growing, the fact that non-African carriers manage more than half of the African sky is something that has got to do with lack of commitment from the African side to the Yamassakourou declaration. Despite these problems, Ethiopian Airline has managed to turn the problems into opportunities and recorded a continuous success story in the African Aviation industry.

What can be improved in terms of doing business in Africa?

As I said before more needs to be done on policy framework that is compatible with the global standard. The business regulations need to be the least cumbersome. In addition, African countries have to practice good Governance and build democratic culture.

What can Africa do to be better and as strong as other international blocks like the EU and the ASEAN?

In simple terms commitment to the one united Africa concept and pursuing policies as such is vital to become as strong as the other international blocks. In fact, in his famous speech at a meeting in Addis Ababa in May, 1963, Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana emphasised the need to establish a strong Union of Africa States in order to secure stability in the continent to produce social justice and economic well-being. Though they couldn’t agree at the time on the formation of AU from OAU decades later it has become a reality and a very good start which I believe  may also lead in the future for a common currency like EU.

Any interesting upcoming products for the African Market?

In line with our growth strategy, we will inaugurate various new points in Africa, Europe and America in the year 2018. Nosy Be in Madagascar, Barcelona & Geneva in Europe, Orlando in the United States and Buenos Aires in Latin America are some of the new routes we are planning to add in to our extensive global network.

Particularly Ethiopian will launch Buenos Aires on the International Women’s day to commemorate and be part of the social justice movement that is celebrated every year globally on March 8. The inaugural flight will be an All Women Operated Flight in order to mark this important occasion and as part of our commitment of mainstreaming gender into our core business. We believe there is no better way to celebrate women’s economic, political and social achievement than this.

Compiled by Linda Ogwell-Teunissen