(Addis Ababa) The Ethiopian Airlines has lost more than $ 1 billion in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has managed to stay afloat by expanding its air cargo business, explained the CEO of the company Tewolde Gebremariam in a recent interview with AFP.
Posted September 29, 2020 at 7:12 am
As early as March, the continent's largest airline adapted to meet the soaring demand for air cargo, helping it absorb the shock of the pandemic, which reduced passenger traffic. 90% worldwide.
"We have been very fast, very flexible and agile in moving our armed forces and our resources on the cargo," explains Mr. Tewolde, recalling that in normal times a large proportion of air cargo is provided by the flights. advertisement.
"I would say these interventions saved the company," adds the man who led the group for nearly 10 years.
To do this, Ethiopian showed inventiveness: in addition to transforming 25 planes into cargo planes, by unloading them from their seats, it mobilized 20 other planes whose seats it held, using the seat belts to secure the packages.
According to diplomatic sources, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also did not hesitate to promote the carrier's freight services during his telephone conversations with foreign officials.
“Ethiopian was able to respond more nimbly than other companies because it was always run as a company. The state plays an important role, but there is little state interference in the way society is run, ”said Chiedza Madzima, head of operational risks at Fitch Solutions research firm.
Discussions about SAA
The Ethiopian also benefited from the United Nations decision in April to open a humanitarian center in Addis Ababa.
To date, according to its CEO, it has operated 360 cargo flights with Covid protective equipment in more than 80 countries.
For Mr Tewolde, the air cargo activity should remain strong as "the commercial flights we used to transport cargo in the bunkers are not currently in use".
The company also plans to provide "at least 40 devices" to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine around the world when it is ready.
So far, the Ethiopian operator has not requested a bailout, has not fired full-time staff and has not requested a deferment of payment of his debts, Mr Tewolde assures. .
The company has already announced a "profit" of $ 44 million for the first half of 2020, without giving further details, the accounts have not yet been audited.
The slow recovery in passenger traffic – the total number of flights is currently 50% of its 2019 level – means that the company remains in "survival mode" according to its number 1.
Ethiopian is even studying the possibilities of strengthening its ties with other African airlines, especially the dying South African Airways (SAA).
"Now is a good time to support other companies in the sense that we are in a better position," the CEO said diplomatically.
"Some of us will survive, others not necessarily. Some will need state aid if available, while others may need to restructure or downsize," said Tewolde.
Ethiopian participates in discussions about the future of the South -African company, which has lived on state aid for years.
Mr. Tewolde says he made it clear to South African authorities that his company was "not interested" in taking an interest in or helping pay off the debt from SAA.
"We told them we could provide management, technical and fleet expertise and that we could work on a commercial partnership to reboot South African Airways."
Ethiopian already owns shares in Malawian-based Malawian Airlines, and ASKY Airlines, a regional airline serving primarily West and Central Africa.
It also owns 45% of the new we Zambia Airways which, according to Mr Tewolde, should be launched "either in October or November".
Currently, African companies only operate 20% of flights to or from Africa, the CEO regrets.
"Our aim is to reverse this market share, namely that African airlines […] should take at least 50% of the market", ambitions Mr Tewolde.