Q. Congratulations on your new role. What will Ethiopian Airlines be like under your leadership?
A. Thank you. Ethiopian Airlines is today the largest airline in Africa. And it is one of the airlines playing in the global air transport industry.
We want this airline to be one of the 20 globally leading airlines by 2035. And this requires that it has to grow every year profitably.
To grow it has to expand its network, it has to add new aircraft, it has to follow a diversified aviation group strategy.
So, under my leadership, my plan is to continue the airline’s growth in a sustainable way by continuously building its internal capacity and giving world-class customer service.
Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine has been very bad for most companies. How have they affected your airline?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we successfully navigated the difficult times by identifying important opportunities.
When passenger flights around the world were suspended due to restrictions imposed by countries, Ethiopian Airlines identified opportunities in cargo operation and forecast its operation to transport essential cargo, including medical supplies and test kits.
We enhanced our cargo capacity by converting some of our passenger aircraft into cargo and that enabled us to generate enough money to continue operation through a most difficult time.
In addition, we have been focusing on other business lines like MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) to repair aircraft and purchase of customer airlines to generate additional revenue.
Will these define your forecast point as part of post-pandemic resurgence?
Our passenger traffic has grown and now we’re back to passenger operation. By June next year, we aim to fully recover from the Covid period, to be back to transporting the number of passengers we used to carry before the pandemic.
In parallel, cargo operation globally is showing some decline, particularly due to the impact of the Ukraine-Russia war and the Covid situation in China. Now we have reconfigured our aircraft back to passenger.
You earlier spoke about plans to buy more aircraft as demand increases. Will that include the Boeing Max aircraft that had problems earlier on?
We have close to 140 aircraft in our fleet, both passenger and cargo and we have slightly more than 30 aircraft on order, to be received in the coming two, maybe three-years’ timeframe.
We are constantly revisiting our fleet strategy. We have a fleet strategy which guides us on which aircraft model or capacity to acquire, in which year. This plan is revised constantly depending on the market conditions.
We don’t have any immediate plan to place order for additional aircraft but we are evaluating new aircraft models.
Your airline is the biggest in Africa, having spread tentacles almost everywhere on the continent. Yet there are other airlines trying to catch up with you. How are you positioning yourself to match this competition?
In the air transport industry, there is always competition between all airlines, both non-African and African. Unfortunately, the pandemic affected most African airlines badly but they are returning to the African air transport industry.
We hope the African airlines get back on their feet at the earliest opportunity. The market is big. We have enough market to work together.
But our main competition is not with African, but non-African airlines in the region, in Middle East and in Europe.
We will continue strengthening our position in the global air transport industry to effectively compete wherever we fly by providing better customer service, being more efficient and providing a more dependable service.
We encourage our African airlines to fully recover and in fact, we would like to assist them through different means. As long as they’re willing to work with us, we’re ready.
Lately there have been problems with your programme in Nigeria. Perhaps you could speak about it.
One way of contributing our share in development of the airline industry in Africa is to work closely with African governments to set up strong national carriers that can develop their national economies.
We have a partnership with Malawi Airlines and recently we have setup and are live in Zambia. It is a still a baby airline. Upon the request of the Nigerian government, Ethiopian Airlines has started discussions to set up a Nigerian flag carrier. We have advanced significantly in our discussions on the partnership agreement with the Nigerian government and Nigerian investors.
But some groups, mostly private carriers within Nigeria, were not happy with this arrangement and went to court claiming this new airline would affect their business. Our intention is not to kill or remove these airlines from operation. The Nigerian government’s plan is to have a dependable strong airline with a good on-time performance, good customer service and that meets the needs of the Nigerian public. We hope the issue will be sorted out and we can finalise our agreement to assist the Nigerian government.
The African Airlines Association proposed that airlines be allowed to hop from one airport to another while picking passengers instead of having to fly back to their hubs before continuing their entire flight journeys in order to open the skies of Africa and make flying cheaper. What’s your view on this proposal?
This AFRAA proposal is in line with the African Union initiative to liberalise the African airspace.
We support this. It will enable all African airlines to fly freely from town to town and city to city within the same country or across the border, to grow their business and better serve Africans.
Unfortunately, many African countries have been restricting traffic rights and preventing this from happening. But now many countries have agreed to implement the Single African Air Transport Market initiative. Airlines we benefit and the consumer will also benefit.
About your resumption of flights to the Tigray region, how important is this to your business?
The Tigray region is one of the administrative regions of Ethiopia. Among the 22 domestic destinations where the Ethiopian Airlines flies, three of them are in the Tigray region. Due to the conflict over the last two years, we had been forced to stop flying to the three cities. Now in line with the recent peace agreement, we hope the area will again become peaceful and Ethiopian Airlines will start flying to the cities. We are keen to start operating in the area.
On the other hand, the domestic operation, in terms of number of passengers, is about 10 percent or less of the total number of passengers we carry throughout our network. Even though it brings some benefit to our operation, it is not a big determinant to our growth efforts.
Which of the Africa regions do you think has been the best market for you?
We have a strong presence in all parts of sub-Saharan Africa. We have been connecting West Africa to the Middle East and Asia, and to some extent Europe. We have been connecting south and eastern Africa, mostly to Europe, but also to the Middle East and Asia. South Africa is also important to our operation.
Unfortunately, we don’t fly to northern Africa regions like Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. We want to develop these markets.
Ethiopian Airlines flies to most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which includes West Africa, East Africa, South Africa, and of course Central Africa.
Does the Ethiopian government have any control in the destinations you fly to?
No. Even though Ethiopian Airlines is fully owned by the Ethiopian government, the airline is operating as a private commercial company without any interference in our daily operation from the government. That is what one of the key success factors that enable us to be successful.
Source: The East African