The International Air Transport Association [IATA], a trade association of the world’s airlines with 240 primarily major carriers that carry approximately 84 per cent of total Available Seat Kilometres air traffic in its report said Ethiopian Airlines is the fastest growing and most profitable airline in Africa.
This year, IATA also ranked Ethiopian Airlines as the largest airline in Africa in revenue and profit. Recently, Solomon Yadeta, General Manager, Ethiopian Airlines, Nigeria revealed in an exclusive interview with Lucky Onoriode George, Editor, African Travel Times magazine why the airline has been so successful and prominent on the continent of Africa.
May we meet you?
I am Solomon Yadeta, General Manager, Ethiopian Airlines here in Nigeria.
Ethiopian Airlines is no doubt a power house in the aviation industry, how did it all start?
Ethiopian Airlines started with just one dash aircraft that has grown over the years to a respected continental and international airline.
What was it like in the beginning?
From what I have been told and read since I joined the reputable organisation, it was Transworld Airlines that helped established Ethiopian Airlines that has grown to what it is today.
Again, Ethiopian Airlines first flight was to Cairo, Egypt. In the beginning, the airline could only take limited passengers and cargo, as you will understand that the aviation sector was still at its rudimentary level at that time on the continent, if not globally.
Succinctly put, that 1945 bold step is in fact the beginning of African aviation as an aircraft technology leader providing the first jet service in the continent since its establishment; availing the first African B767 in 1984, the first African B777-200LR in 2010 and the first African and second only to Japan B787 Dreamliner in 2012.
ET has enjoyed many years of success, what is responsible?
The reason behind the successes of Ethiopian Airlines can be attributed to the vision of the management through the years. It’s been on record that over the years, the airline has been blessed with good management and structure that has enhanced its operations ability.
These factors have helped the day to day operations of the airline to be mirrored and planned ahead, doing the needy that has made very competitive by introducing modern aircrafts and venturing into new destinations based on the standard in the aviation industry.
Today, Ethiopian Airlines has been in the forefront of major innovations and is a standard bearer for all other airlines to follow in Africa.
Ethiopian commands the lion share of the pan-African passenger and cargo network operating the youngest and most modern fleet to international destinations across five continents.
When did ET start coming into Nigeria?
Based on available records, Ethiopian Airlines started the Nigerian route immediately after her independence. One month after. We have been operating into Nigeria in the last 54 years.
On your website, its published there that Ethiopian Airlines is owned 100 per cent by the government of Ethiopia and surprisingly, it’s been successfully and profitably till date, what is the secret?
It is true that the airline is fully owned by the government and the secret for its successes so far has been that its management has been given full authority over its day-to-day management without government interference.
The free hand given the airline enables it to put in place good governance for the company that is today one of the factors that has made it very successful.
Another reason is the dedication of the employees that are making so much commitment in their various tasks and that has also helped in making the airline what it is today.
How many flights does your airlines operates into Nigeria?
Currently, we operate daily flights into Lagos and Abuja; and four flights each into Enugu and Kano respectively. Arithmetically, that would give you about 14 flights; technically it’s about 18 flights weekly.
How many destinations worldwide?
Presently, we operate international destinations and 18 domestic destinations as well. Out of the 83 international destinations, 49 of them are in Africa and the rest 34 destinations cut across Europe, Americas and Asia. In all, Ethiopian Airlines operates to five continents.
You have been here for sometimes now, what would you say have been your challenges?
The major challenge we are facing which we expected though, is that there are many operators in Nigeria and many more are also coming, this a major challenge for the airline industry in the country and becoming very competitive. As a challenge, we accepted it and we are prepared for the competition and our share of the market.
How do you handle it?
Because of the stiff competition in the Nigerian market, we started to find other means of making us more competitive by improving on certain aspect of our operations. Especially incentives for the travelling public for Ethiopian Airlines to be their choice by providing more services that value added to the passengers to choice of modern aircrafts that we deploy on the very important market.
How would you describe the aviation industry in Nigeria?
The aviation industry can grow a lot, many more passengers and cargo flights are queueing up to enter into the market every day.
As a member of the Star Alliance, what does ET gain?
As a member of the Star Alliance which we joined in December 2011, Ethiopian Airlines gives its customers seamless a travel experience allowing them access to 21,900 daily departures, 1329 destinations within 194 countries.
There are additional free baggage allowances and lounge services among others wherever they are travelling to.
If an airline does not belong to either Star Alliance or One World, what do they stand to lose?
Ohhhh! There is so much to lose.
Like I said earlier, the benefit seamless connectivity and baggage allowances, a passenger flying any of the airlines that does not belong to either of the groups, you most likely to face delay and an unpleasant travel experience should there issues with the airline they are flying.
As for Ethiopian Airlines, our passengers travelling on any of our Star Alliance members’ airlines, they also stand the chance of additional baggage allowance. The benefits are enormous.
Ebola is ravaging West Africa, how does this affect your airline?
Ebola has really affected us, especially following a ban of flights to and from some of the worst affected countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Besides, some passengers on their own decide to put off their travel plans on hold pending the containment of the outbreak of this deadly disease.
Until the travelling public regains the confidence and the convenience of travelling, airlines like us will continue to experience a lull in the industry. However, we hope the situation will improve very soon with the global efforts and mobilisation for Ebola containment.
What measures put in place by Ethiopian Airlines?
As you are aware, we got full information from the World Health organisation [WHO] on how the Ebola Disease can be transmitted and the detailed information was laid out to our employees on all our routes especially that they have to take precaution.
Before passengers are boarded, we take their body temperature, in case of any suspected case and with that, we protect our passengers and employees. This is apart from other measures put in place by the various governments of the destinations we fly to expectedly.
How much has the Ebola outbreak affected your airline, percentage wise?
Sincerely I cannot say categorically, but between July and now, it has affected not just Ethiopian Airline, but all the international schedule operating into Nigeria.
Apart from Ebola outbreak, the recent incident at the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed building that killed some pilgrims, is also another blow for an airline like yours, how are you shaking this off?
Once again, you are right, most of the pilgrims coming from east and southern Africa travel with us regularly and this will also affect our volume temporarily and again we hope that the situation will normalise very soon.
What is the relationship between ET, travel agencies and tourism in general?
We have excellent relationship with the travel agencies in Nigeria. They like our airline and this relationship can only get better.
How come there is no relationship between Ethiopian Airlines and your country’s national tourism agency selling your local destinations here in Nigeria like some African countries are doing?
Before now, we were not really doing that, but Ethiopian Airlines has established its own holiday company [ET Holiday]. The sole purpose of the initiative is to bring in African passengers into our country with sole aim of holidaying. In no distant future, you will see our efforts and visibility.
One notable factor of ET that most aspects of your operations are manned by Ethiopians, how is ET able to do so?
From conception, it was not long before an Ethiopian team assumed the management of the airline from our initial foreign expats. Ever since, the airline has been taking students directly from the universities that were eventually groomed in our training centre and over the years, they gained experience and that has been continuously passed on.
Within a short time, those trained too also took over the airline’s key operational positions which we have sustained till date and that is one of the reasons Ethiopian Airlines has been very successful over the years.
Ethiopian Airlines has been adjudged for some years now as world’s 7th most profitable and Africa’s most successful airline, what is your airline doing to sustain this achievement and what package do your airline have for the Nigerian travelling public?
One of the best ways we are doing this is the continuous improvement by constantly adding modern aircraft to our fleet, limiting transit time at our Addis Ababa hub as well as ensuring that our Nigerian and other passengers’ baggage and cargos arrive their various destinations on schedule.
Good enough, we have the capacity and ability to deliver on all these.
How is the travelling public responding?
They have been responding very well and which is why today we fly into Lagos, Abuja, Enugu and Kano.
What else are we expecting from Ethiopian Airlines?
Ohhhhh! Ethiopian Airlines is being restructured and we are currently implementing a 15-year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that will see it become the leading airline group in Africa with seven strategic business units: Ethiopian International Passenger Service; Ethiopian Regional Service; Ethiopian Cargo; Ethiopian MRO; Ethiopian Aviation Academy; Ethiopian In-flight Catering Service and Ethiopian Ground Service.
Again, the academy will not only train staff for our airline alone, but also train for African airlines. As you aware, Ethiopian Airlines is a multi-award winning, including SKYTRAX and Passenger Choice Awards in 2013 and has been registering an average growth of 25% per annum in the past seven years.
How is ASKY, an airline that Ethiopian Airlines has a major interest that is based in Lome, Togo?
ASKY is doing very well and within a short period of time, it has reached 20 destinations airline in West Africa. Together with Ethiopian Airlines, we are trying to cover the whole continent.
Apart from the European and the Middle East Airlines, you also have the likes of Kenya and South Africa Airways to contend with; now the Nigeria government is planning a national carrier of its own with an European airline as technical partner that we have experimented and failed twice in the past, what advise can you give to the authority on the best way out?
Ethiopian Airlines has operated here in the last 54 years and we have become part and parcel of this country and Nigeria and Nigerians can consider Ethiopian Airlines as the national carrier or national airline.
What is your message to Nigerians?
We are a pan African airline; we are growing fast and operating some of the best aircrafts on the continent and the best safety record. Without mincing words, we know Africa better than anyone. We want more Nigerians to give us the opportunity to fly them either within Africa, Asia and the Americas; we are in the best position to serve them better.