Initiatives like Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) are essential to develop the air transport industry in Africa further and enable the continent to accelerate its socio-economic development, Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Mesfin Tasew told ENA.
He stressed that Ethiopian believes that air transport is a catalyst for socio-economic development of countries and is also instrumental to promote cooperation between countries.
“Today we fly to more than 66 destinations in Africa and we believe it is not adequate,” the CEO stated, and added that the African air transport industry is still underdeveloped for different reasons.
The African air transport is underdeveloped and “whatever we have today; 80 percent of the passengers in Africa are served by non-African airlines. Though Ethiopian is the leading airline in Africa its share from the overall the African air transport market is relatively very small.”
According to him, restrictions put by countries are one of the reasons that have prevented Ethiopian from flying to more destinations in Africa.
“Even if we (Ethiopian) are growing, we believe that we cannot serve the entire Africa. So we need other African airlines to come develop and to work with us in cooperation. With this spirit − the spirit of pan-Africanism, we are assisting other African airlines in other countries to develop their competency, to expand their network and enabling other African airlines to take their share of the air transport market.”
Ethiopian has been helping other African airlines including ASKY Airlines, Malawi Airlines, and Zambia Airways while Congo and Nigeria Airways are on the pipeline, he pointed out. The airline is helping other African countries to set up their own airlines and develop their existing capacity.
Ethiopian Airlines, which commands the lion’s share of the pan-African network, has become one of the continent’s leading carriers, unrivalled in Africa for efficiency and operational success, turning profits for almost all the years of its existence.
The airline generated 5 billion USD revenues in the concluded Ethiopian fiscal year, the CEO revealed, adding that Ethiopian has special competency which enables it to find opportunities amidst challenges.
While all airlines were suffering from the challenges of COVID-19, Ethiopian airlines found the cargo business as an opportunity to transport personal protective equipment, vaccines, test kits and other essential goods, it was learned.
Mesfin stated that Ethiopian capitalized on enhancing the cargo business and that enabled it to compensate the revenue lost from the passenger business through cargo operation.
“We had only a limited number of cargo aircrafts around 13 full dedicated aircrafts but they were found to be inadequate so we quickly jumped in converting our passenger aircrafts temporarily into cargo and we did 25 of them. So, 25 passenger planes converted to cargo aircraft plus 13; the total number of aircraft that we deployed to transport cargo was 38.”
By operating so much cargo, Ethiopian was able to generate the above stated revenue in 2021/22 which is even higher than pre-COVID.
Yet, the CEO believes that even if Ethiopian is growing, it cannot serve the entire Africa. So other African airlines need to be developed and work with the airline in cooperation. “With this spirit − the spirit of pan-Africanism, we are assisting other African airlines in other countries to develop their competency, to expand their network and enabling other African airlines to take their share of the air transport market.”
For that, Mesfin underscored that the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), an initiative of the African Union to create a single unified air transport market in Africa, the liberalization of civil aviation in Africa and that serves as an impetus to the continent’s economic integration agenda, is essential.