Beta Tinz had a conversation with the country manager of Ethiopian Airlines; Madame Bezawit Mengesha, on the 75th anniversary of Ethiopian Airlines, and this is how the conversation went:
1- What is The secret behind Ethiopian Airlines’ success spanning 75years?
Madame Bezawit: we are volatile in nature and it’s not easy for an airline to survive for this long. I will go back to the very beginning. We started operations back in April 8th 1946. We started with 1 Aircraft; C47 sky trend. It was a joint venture business with an American airline. Ever since then, Ethiopian Airlines has been growing in bits and has kept introducing new technology into the aviation industry, particularly the African aviation industry.
We were the first to give her service in Africa and the second airline in the world to operate with dream liner B-787 as a Japanese airline did so first. And also we are the first to operate jet flights in Africa. So the existence of Ethiopian Airlines has been for long. With it’s innovative ideas, innovative management, hardworking work force, we were able to come this far.
Currently Ethiopian airlines owns around 128 aircrafts, young and modern fleets… the average age of our fleets are around 5years compared to the industry average, it’s very impressive especially for an African Airline whose European and American peers have lesser average fleet age. We also have 41 fleets that we are expecting delivery in due course of time.
We are living our motto: “bringing Africa together and beyond.” We have created a missing link between African cities, because previously, if you wanted to go to some parts of South Africa, East Africa even to Central and West Africa, you had to go to Europe first, and come back. The presence of Ethiopian Airlines has enabled movement to be easier within our continent. Currently we are serving 62 cities in Africa. No other airline operates on this number of cities in Africa.
Now we are implementing vision 2025 and developing vision 2035. Ethiopian airline is not only an airline, it’s an aviation group. We have 7 strategy business units: the international passenger service and Ethiopian express, Ethiopian aviation academy (1 of the biggest in Africa), aviation training for pilots, cabin crew, we also have Ethiopian maintenances (our maintenance is done in-house. We also offer maintenance services to other airlines), we have Ethiopian catering services, Ethiopian cargo and load services and Ethiopian airport services. These strategic business units complement each other and have played a great role in keeping the airline successful for this long.
Ethiopian Airlines also partners with other airlines in Africa. The motive is to extend assistance and to provide knowledge to other African carriers because most of the time Africa is dominated by other carriers. We have as objective to have strong African carriers, so currently we are partnering with 4 airlines and we are opening flights from 5 hubs, the major hub being Addis Ababa for Ethiopian Airlines. The 2nd hub is Lome; Togo, we are partners with Asky (our longtime partner) there is also Malawian Airlines, our hub there is located at Lilongwe, Mozambique Air and we are operating flights from Maputo and finally, Chad Air… we are operating flights from Ndjamena.
Thus the success of Ethiopian airlines is a combination of different factors but I want to stress that we have a very efficient work force all over the world no matter the country; Cameroon or Ethiopia, we have the same vision and everyone is working as one. The leadership also contributes greatly for the success.
2-How long has Ethiopian Airlines been operating in Cameroon, and what have been the landmark achievements so far?
Madame Bezawit: Ethiopian Airline’s presence in Cameroon goes way back to the 1970s, we started operations in Douala, though there were some interruptions. We restructured our services and started operations again in October 2003 still in Douala and by that time we were operating 3 flights a week thus our frequencies increased to another level. Due to requests from our clients and market assessment, we started a second destination in Cameroon back in October 2015 which was Yaoundé. We were able to serve our clients, international and national organizations.
Back then, it was not easy to travel from Yaoundé to different parts of the world but increasing our scope, we were able to support the system in that way. In addition to those two destinations, we have special flights from the Garoua international airport as well, for the past years. We have been working every year for a long time and we are happy to be able to serve in the Cameroon community.
It might also interest you to know that we are partners of the national carrier of Cameroon; Camair-Co, we are supporting the technical part. This collaboration has been going on for long now and we will love to continue to work together with and support the national carrier of Cameroon.
In all, Ethiopian Airlines has been serving Cameroonians, supporting the economy for long, providing first class services both for passengers and cargo, at affordable prices and also our connectivity to different parts of the world because Ethiopian Airlines is the fourth airline in the world with such high number of destinations. This has benefited our community here in Cameroon and also the huge capacity in cargo we have, supports the economy of the country.
3-Ethiopian Airlines, as many other Airlines has faced challenges due to Covid-19. What is the magic behind Ethiopian Airlines’ success admist the pandemic?
Madame Bezawit: We all know that COVID-19 has significantly challenged businesses worldwide especially the airline industry which has suffered significantly. We found a way to manage the damage. The only way was for Ethiopian Airlines to expand and reinforce our resources into those areas which were not affected with COVID. Specifically the cargo demand increased significantly because people’s movement were restricted so we focused on that and we made an early decision to move resources towards that, so this gave us a chance to survive the pandemic. The decision was taken in March 2020, so we looked for ways to cut our cost and concentrate all our resources into the areas which generate revenue. So we had to restructure our aircrafts, our passenger aircrafts…Around 45 passenger aircrafts were converted locally to cargo aircrafts to support our cargo business. By then almost 90% of our aircrafts were on ground because countries closed their airspace, nobody was interested in flying.
We were also offering maintenance services to other airlines, that was also another source of revenue for us.
4-How does Cameroon fit in Ethiopian Airlines vision 2035?
Madame Bezawit: For vision 2035, we are aiming to be the leading aviation group in Africa and to be a 25 billion dollar company with more than 200 aircrafts. Cameroon is our major market and we have been operating for long and with this this regard to vision 2035. We plan to extend our services and improve frequencies both in cargo and passenger service. In addition, we want to strengthen our partnership with the national carrier Camair-Co and we are very happy for the support of the community and the government for our business in Cameroon.
5-What are the challenges you face as The head of such an ambitious structure ?
Madame Bezawit: For me, I will say Cameroon is very welcoming. Everyone including the staff and our partners have been supportive to me personally. I was thinking there will be a challenge working as a woman in another part of the world but surprisingly I found that the society believes in women empowerment and the support from every direction is impressive. I am very grateful for this experience, I am considering Cameroon as my second home. Ethiopian Airlines has a very structured system, be it in Cameroon or any part of the world: a good structure, a good work ethic, a good work force. Thus it is easier for a manager to succeed despite all the challenges so basically my experience in Cameroon is very positive and I have learned a lot from the culture and the people and I am enjoying my stay here.