Ethiopian Airlines Fights For Survival Amid Coronavirus Pandemic in Africa

In early March, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam informed an aviation convention in Addis Ababa the coronavirus pandemic was “a temporary problem” — akin to a pure catastrophe or a spike in oil costs.

In early March, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam informed an aviation convention in Addis Ababa the coronavirus pandemic was “a temporary problem” — akin to a pure catastrophe or a spike in oil costs.

Several weeks later Africa’s largest provider is locked in what Tewolde describes as “a struggle that we’re performing for survival”, ramping up cargo operations whereas looking for to defer lease funds on plane.

“To be honest with you, I had never thought that it would reach this stage,” Tewolde informed AFP in an interview this week.

“I had never thought that it would spread like this at this speed, and also in this magnitude. It is just too fast and too expansive and it’s beyond imagination.”

Across Africa, airways stand to lose $6 billion in passenger income in 2020 in comparison with final yr due to the coronavirus, the International Air Transport Association has predicted.

Ethiopian Airlines, the state-owned jewel of the nationwide economic system and a significant supply of overseas forex, says it’s dealing with a income lack of $550 million from January to April alone.

“If you put yourself in my shoes, the only way for Ethiopian Airlines is to expand or refocus its resources, energy and time on businesses which are not affected by the coronavirus,” Tewolde mentioned.

Yet even because the airline strikes to imagine a central function in Africa’s pandemic response — ferrying badly wanted medical tools throughout the continent — it could final not more than three months earlier than looking for outdoors monetary assist, Tewolde mentioned.

“Will we be able to sustain with only 15 percent of our revenue?” he mentioned, referring to the quantity sometimes introduced in by cargo.

“For a short period of time, yes. But for how long? Very difficult to predict.”

-Cargo boom-

In the early days of the pandemic, Ethiopian Airlines was criticised domestically for refusing to comply with rivals like Kenya Airways by suspending flights to China, the place the coronavirus originated late final yr.

But Tewolde mentioned he would make the identical name immediately, mentioning that Ethiopia’s first case of COVID-19 — the illness attributable to the coronavirus — turned out to be a Japanese man who arrived within the nation from Burkina Faso.

The airline’s China routes now type the spine of its cargo operations as international locations scramble to get their fingers on Chinese-produced private protecting tools and different items.

This job is made more difficult by the truth that passenger flights, which may carry cargo of their underbelly, are down so sharply.

“Right now, there is a severe short-term shortage of cargo out of China,” mentioned Craig Jenks, head of the New York-based Airline/Aircraft Projects Inc. consultancy.

Long-haul cargo charges are “at least double normal”, Jenks added.

At the beginning of the disaster, Ethiopian Airlines had 12 cargo freighters, and it has since enlisted “10 to 15” passenger jets to construct out its fleet, in some instances ripping out seats, Tewolde mentioned.

That capability falls wanting rivals like Emirates and Qatar Airways, however Jenks mentioned cargo might nonetheless probably give Ethiopian as a lot as 40 p.c of its regular income.

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-Crisis response-

Ethiopian has concurrently embraced work distinctive to the coronavirus period.

Top officers from Washington to Tokyo have praised the airline for repatriating their nationals — together with US Peace Corps volunteers primarily based in 12 international locations throughout the continent.

As the severity of the disaster turned clear, Ethiopian executives “reached out to the diplomatic community to offer further cargo services and highlight their ability to offer chartered/special flights,” a State Department official mentioned in a press release to AFP.

All informed the airline has “supported the transport of over 2,100 US citizens and legal permanent residents” to the tune of round $4.7 million, the official mentioned.

Ethiopian has additionally labored with Carnival Cruise Line, which earlier this month employed 4 charters to repatriate crew members docked within the US state of Louisiana.

The airline expects to be deeply concerned in Africa’s pandemic response.

On Monday it completed distributing the second batch of masks, testing kits, ventilators and different provides donated to African international locations by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

And final week the United Nations opened an support transport hub in Addis Ababa that may depend on Ethiopian cargo jets to maneuver provides and support employees throughout the continent.

Tewolde mentioned this represented “a continuation of our leadership in Africa” even in periods of battle or outbreaks of different illnesses like Ebola.

“All kinds of problems that Africa has suffered, we have always stood with Africa,” he mentioned.

-‘Whatever it takes’-

With the monetary toll of the disaster mounting, Ethiopian is in talks to defer lease funds on plane and it could search deferrals on some funds of $2 billion in debt, Tewolde mentioned.

The firm is set to not lay off members of its common workforce, although it might resort to pay cuts relying on how lengthy the disaster lasts, he mentioned.

The present cargo growth might begin fading in June, and passenger visitors might keep suppressed effectively after international locations elevate journey restrictions, he mentioned.

Yet Tewolde mentioned Ethiopian remained dedicated to long-term progress plans together with constructing a brand new $5 billion airport outdoors Addis Ababa.

“We will do whatever it takes to make sure that we survive,” he mentioned.

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This post was last modified on April 24, 2020 10:24 pm

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