Ethiopian Airlines: air freight as a lifeline

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The airline Ethiopian Airlines has lost more than a billion dollars in revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic but has been able to stay afloat by developing its air freight business, explained the CEO of the company Tewolde Gebremariam in a recent interview with AFP.

As early as March, the first airline on the African continent adapted to meet a sharp increase in demand for air freight, allowing it to cushion the shock of the pandemic, which saw passenger traffic fall by 90 % in the world.

“We have been very quick, very flexible and nimble in moving our forces and resources on cargo,” explains Mr. Tewolde, who recalls that in normal times a good part of air cargo is handled by commercial flights.

“I would say that these interventions saved the company,” adds the man who has led the group for nearly 10 years.

To do this, Ethiopian was inventive: in addition to transforming 25 aircraft into cargo planes, by emptying them from their seats, it mobilized 20 other aircraft whose seats it kept, using the belts to secure the packages.

So far, the Ethiopian operator has not asked to be bailed out, has not laid off full-time staff, and has not requested a postponement of payment of its debts, assures Mr. Tewolde.

The company has already announced a “profit” of $ 44 million for the first half of 2020, without giving more details, the accounts have not yet been audited.

The slow recovery in passenger traffic – the total number of flights currently stands at 50% of 2019 levels – means the company remains in “survival mode”, according to its number 1.

Ethiopian is studying the possibilities of strengthening its links with other African companies, in particular the dying South African Airways, which has survived for years thanks to state aid.

Mr. Tewolde explains that he made it clear to the South African authorities that his company was “not interested” in taking a stake in or helping to pay off SAA’s debt.

“We told them that we could provide management, technical, fleet expertise, and that we could work on a commercial collaboration to restart South African Airways.”


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