Ethiopian Airlines 'Best in Africa'

Interview

Ethiopian Airlines has become one of Africa’s leading carriers, turning profit for most years of its 70-year-old existence. After being in India for the last couple of decades, Delhi-based Sales and Traffic Manager, speaks to Diplomatist on one of Ethiopia's major industries and an institution in Africa. Excerpts...

Q. Please take us through the journey of the Ethiopian Airlines over the last 70 years.

Ethiopian Airlines, formerly Ethiopian Air Lines Inc. (EAL), was created by the decree of Emperor Haile Selassie I at the end of 1945 as part of his modernisation effort, with a Pan-African vision of connecting the newly-independent countries of the continent and to help to change impressions of the country’s image.

The conclusion of World War II has ushered in the opportunity to establish a national civilian airline where Emperor Haile Selassie, dispatched a delegation to the founding conference of the United Nations to seek assistance from the United States. Then Trans World Airlines (TWA) of USA agreed to assist provided that the airline came up with the money.

In an arrangement sealed in the same year, TWA agreed to provide technical management and operation services while business management was provided by a board of directors split between the Ethiopian government and TWA officials. The official charter, signed in December, marked the beginning of Ethiopian Air Lines (EAL).

Ethiopian Airlines has come along a successful 70 years journey, from a humble beginning to a leading African Aviation Group. Throughout the past seven decades, the airline has established itself as adept in all facets of aviation services: technology leadership, network expansion and aviation mentoring.

Ethiopian as a Pan-African airline has continued to accelerate this development through its extensive and convenient air connectivity options to 92 international destinations in five continents across the globe and 19 domestic destinations. As a result, African cities are now much closer to each other and to the rest of the world than any time in the history of African aviation.

Technology Leadership

Ethiopian Airlines is always at the forefront to introduce cutting-edge aviation technology and state-of-the-art aircraft — from Africa’s first jet aircraft in 1962 on through to the first B787 Dreamliners in the world outside of Japan in 2012. In June 2016, we will receive our Airbus 350, the latest world class aircraft. As a result, we are consistently recognised as an aviation leader. In 2015 alone, we were honoured with a host of awards — including ‘Airline of the Year’ by AFRAA, ‘Best in Africa’ by the Passenger Choice Awards, ‘International Airline of the Year’ by Business Executive Excellence, and many, many more. We are always proud of the work we put in every day and night to build Africa’s reputation, and we continue to receive recognition for our efforts.

Ethiopian Airlines is the fastest growing airline in Africa. In its seven decades of operations, it has become one of the continent’s leading carriers, unrivalled in efficiency and operational success, turning profits for almost all the years of its existence.

Ethiopian commands the lion’s share of the pan-African passenger and cargo network, operating the youngest and most modern fleet to 92 international destinations across five continents. Ethiopian fleet includes ultra-modern and environmentally friendly aircrafts such as the Boeing 787, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-200 Freighter, Bombardier Q-400 double cabin with an average fleet age of five years, which is less than the aviation standard. In fact, Ethiopian is the first airline in Africa to own and operate these finest aircrafts.

Ethiopian is currently implementing a 15-year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that will see it become the leading aviation group in Africa with seven business centres: Ethiopian Domestic and Regional Airline; Ethiopian International Passenger Airline; Ethiopian Cargo; Ethiopian MRO; Ethiopian Aviation Academy; Ethiopian In-flight Catering Services; and Ethiopian Ground Service. Ethiopian is a multi-award winning airline.

Q. Last year, Ethiopian Airlines operated an all-female flight. Tell us something about that.

Ethiopian airlines operated an all women functioned flight on November 19, 2015, from Addis Ababa to Bangkok for the first time in its history. The flight was aimed at manifesting Ethiopian airlines corporate conviction of ‘Women Empowerment for a Sustainable Growth’.

The flight was conducted fully by women staff; on ground and in the sky from flight deck crew members and cabin operations to airport operations, flight dispatchers, load controller, ramp operations, baggage handling, flight planning, cargo handling, on-board logistics, Aviation safety and security, ticket offices, catering, air traffic controllers and global call centre. Senior female executives were also onboard that flight.

Ethiopian Airlines has invited the whole world to watch this remarkable victory, to show that how women are capable of performing even very challenging tasks like this. As the Ethiopian Group Chief Executive Officer Mr Tewolde GebreMariam mentioned at the event, it is a great honour for the company to have competent women aviation professionals in every aspect of the field, which portrays Ethiopian as gender responsive organisation that strives to pursue its underlying stance of being an equal opportunity employer.

Ethiopian is very proud of their achievements and contributions both as a national pride for Ethiopia and a vital treasure for the world at large. It is the company’s sincere belief that this will continue with an enhanced magnitude and passion to sustain Ethiopian on its fast growth path.

Above all, this is an ample opportunity to inspire young African female students to believe in their dreams and embark to fill the skill gap for aviation professionals. Our world has more than 3.6 billion female population and equal engagement and equal treatment in all aspects of life will mean significant increase in global economic growth. Women are the continent’s greatest untapped resources; we are fully dedicated to ensure the increase in the number of women in decision making positions on top of key operational areas by consistently grooming and mentoring female employees for top managerial, technical and operational positions. Gender Equality will be an important issue in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Ethiopian is already on board to push this noble cause.

Q. What are the benefits that the Ethiopian Airlines get on being a Star Alliance Member?

Star Alliance is the first truly global airline alliance to offer worldwide reach, recognition and seamless service to the international travellers. It was established on May 14, 1997 by five airlines; Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, THAI and United.

Its acceptance by the market has been recognised by numerous awards, including the Air Transport World Market Leadership Award and Best Airline Alliance by both Business Traveller Magazine and SkyTrax. The network has currently 27 member airlines and offers more than 18,500 daily flights to 1330 airports in 192 countries. Together more than 430,000 employees serve over 640 million passengers a year with a modern combined fleet of more than 4,600 aircraft.

As a member of this most prestigious and longest serving alliance, Ethiopian has the privilege of offering the customers the widest choice of flights connecting to, from and within Africa and to the rest of the world. In addition to this, Ethiopian Airlines is able to offer worldwide flight connections at special rates for delegates and participants since Ethiopia is the political capital of Africa. This stems from the fact that the city is home to different international and continental organisations. Ethiopian also offers passengers great value via a wide variety of air passes and special fares including Round the World Fare, the Circle Pacific Fare and the Africa, Asia, China, Europe and North America Air pass.

Above all, there are member airline benefits both in terms of revenue generation and cost reduction. Member airlines work on joint initiatives that include for example, fuel, fleet coordination, co-location and information technology projects, so Ethiopian benefits in this regard as well.

Q. Ethiopian Airlines is No. 1 in Africa when it comes to efficiency. What is the success mantra that helps it command a lion’s share of the pan African network?

Ethiopian has over the years built a brand anchored on Pan-Africanism, and today our widespread presence in Africa and the whole world is a testimony to this remarkable achievement. Pan-African values are embedded in our Vision, Mission and business operations to provide clear guidelines and inspiration to our staff, customers and all stakeholders. Our Pan-Africanism has helped us grow very fast to become an airline of choice for both international and regional air travellers. It has helped us build a huge presence in the global civil aviation industry with the ‘Pan-African Spirit’ being our unmistakable identity.

We are very confident that we know Africa better than anyone because we have been serving the continent for the last 70 years. As a veteran, primary African carrier, we believe we know the special needs of especially the African customers and that we are better placed to serve their needs. For this significant success, we can raise some key points as a basic motive such as:-

Dedication and Commitment

Existence of uniquely dedicated and highly committed workforce led by experienced and seasoned executive management and board of Directors. Highly skilled and dedicated employees – we have a dedicated and skilled workforce used for employment even by our competitors.

Self-sufficient in training of aviation personnel, who embody the values and spirit of Ethiopian Airlines, through our aviation academy.

Developing Strong Leadership Team

Team which can cope with the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous type of operating environment. Highly skilled and vigilant management efficiently navigating through difficult situations (Fuel surge, Ebola, Conflict situations, etc).

Connectivity

Efficient network of connectivity based in a strategically advantageous located hub, which enables us to connect Africa with the rest of the world better than anyone else.

Ethiopian has positioned vast Intra-Africa network better than any Airline, providing its customers the best connection with minimum layover in Addis.

Ethiopian has multi-hub strategy: One brand with multiple products: one of Ethiopian strategies is to have multiple hubs in Africa connecting it with our main hub, Addis Ababa, as well as hub to hub connections. Next to the main hub, Ethiopian has established its second and third hubs in Lomé (Togo) in partnership with ASKY Airlines and at Lilongwe, Malawi with Malawian Airlines. Ethiopian and ASKY have been successfully serving the needs of passengers travelling within, to and from West and Central Africa through the Lomé hub and enabling them to benefit from the easy and convenient connectivity options offered by Ethiopian extensive and coordinated passenger networks.

The third at Lilongwe, Malawi with Malawian Airlines: Ethiopian has partnered with the Malawian Government and private interests in the country to establish Malawian Airlines in Lilongwe. Ethiopian has 49 percent equity stake as well as the technical and management contract for the new airline.

Currently, Ethiopian flight departure/arrival is characterised as to depart in the morning and arrive in the morning and the same pattern follows the night flight. Ethiopian is on its way to add mid-day flight that will follow the same pattern.

Ethiopian is a customer-focused airline, which offers to business travellers to and from Africa the most convenient connectivity options, on-board the most modern and most comfortable aircraft. As the economic output of the African continent increases, Ethiopian is seeking to leverage on that growth by expanding its fleet and put Addis Ababa at the heart of a global hub and spoke system.

Latest state-of-the-art Aircrafts: Our flights from Europe, the Americas or Asia are almost all served with 787s or 777s, offering maximum comfort to our customers. Similarly, our flights to Africa are operated with the 787s in the major markets and the 737-800 NGs with Sky Interior in the lesser dense routes. In terms of network convenience, product offering and service delivery, there is no airline that gives better value-for-money than Ethiopian for business travellers. Currently, Ethiopian is a Pan-African global carrier operating 77 youngest fleets in the continent with an average age of less than 5 years, which is under the industry average age and currently serving 92 international destinations across 5 continents with over 230 daily departures.

Ethiopian, being a Star Alliance member, offers its customers with connections to 1,330 airports in 192 countries and more than 18,500 daily departures offered by member airlines. Ethiopian Frequent Flyer Program offers passenger to accrue miles for boarding on operating airline for code share flights among Star Alliance partner Airlines even when the traveller has made reservation with another airlines flight number. And the passenger is a beneficiary in using Star branded own lounges upon Star Alliance lounge access policy.

Q. What are your views on the Indian aviation sector? What steps, do you think, are imperative that the Indian government must take to provide the much-needed fillip to the sector?

Ethiopian Airlines has been providing reliable air service to India for the last almost 50 years to New Delhi and 45 years to Mumbai. Currently with the double daily flights to Mumbai and as of March 26, 2016 to Delhi, Ethiopian is also providing ideal connectivity options for passengers travelling between India and its 52 destinations in Africa.

Africa-India traffic is witnessing a significant rise owing to the economic growth of the two regions and their increasing trade, investment and tourism ties in addition to the travel demand of the large Indian community in various African countries.

We aim to become the airline of choice for travel between Africa and India by offering seamless and convenient connections through our main hub in Addis, and we can say we are doing great in this regard.

India being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, providing passenger and freight services to/from would strengthen the flow of investors and tourists from both countries and facilitate business further. Moreover, it has tremendous contribution in building the growing economic, political and social relationship of the continents and particularly of the two countries.

Generally the aviation sector in India has grown enormously and we expect it to grow even more. In India, cargo sector is liberalised and it is open sky policy. If the Indian government liberalise the passenger flight operation as well, it will help the aviation sector to grow more than this.

Q. What is the importance of operating the environment-friendly fleet for airlines, given the vulnerability of the travel and hospitality industries to global or local shocks?

It is well known that the issue of environment is the most critical issue of the globe and many airlines are trying to reduce their contribution to the climate change through different activities. Ethiopian airlines, being part of the aviation industry and understanding the seriousness of the current environmental problem, is playing a vital role by supporting a long term strategy to reduce the impact of its environmental footprint and challenging global warming and climate change. As is underlined in the company’s mission statement, Ethiopian is dedicated to contribute positively to the socio-economic development of Ethiopia in particular and the countries it operates in general by undertaking its corporate social responsibilities and providing vital global air connectivity.

In 2008, Ethiopian has unveiled plans to plant trees throughout Ethiopia, and launched a long-term environmental campaign known as FLY GREENER.

Above and all, Ethiopian airlines has modernised its fleets with more fuel efficient aircrafts in order to confirm its commitment to conservation and mitigation of the environmental impacts. It has currently 77 ultra-modern and technologically advanced and environmentally friendly aircrafts such as B-787, B-777 and B-737-800. In addition to their comfort and contemporaneousness, these airplanes also enable the airline to fulfil its green corporate social responsibility with greatly reduced carbon footprint and less engine emissions.

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