One year on, Ethiopian Airlines was set to recover from its worst tragedy—then coronavirus hit

Ethiopian Red Cross workers carry a body bag with the remains of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash victims at the scene of the crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Mar. 12, 2019. Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s most profitable carrier, this week marked the first anniversary of the crash of the Boeing 737 Max Flight 302 that killed 157 passengers and crew . Government officials and executives planted trees and unveiled a memorial monument inside the headquarters of Ethiopian Pilots Association.

But after barely seeming to recover from the devastation wreaked by that tragedy the airline, like many around the world, is facing another existential challenge with the impact of the global coronavirus outbreak.

It faces this even while coping with an ongoing bitter conflict with its workers union and being forced to look inward for savings and cost reduction in anticipation of an ever-dwindling pool of travelers that is also experienced by other airlines.

And it’s not just passengers, even cargo flights to China and Hong Kong have seen a decline by 28%, reduced to 20 regular flights a week from 28, according to the Ethiopian Custom Commission.

Earlier this month, chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam told a gathering at the fifth Africa Aviation conference held in Addis Ababa on how ridership has been reduced by 20%, adding to the $40 million in lost revenue that the collective African aviation sector is facing. But as the global coronavirus crisis seems to worsen everyday, that early estimate may prove to be optimistic. Still flying. Over the last decade Ethiopian Airlines has gone from strength to strength, building itself into Africa’s primary airline and making Addis Ababa the key hub for the entire continent, overtaking Dubai in the process. The worry now is, in the middle of the severe downturn the global air industry faces Ethiopian might become a victim of its own success.

In particular, Ethiopian had made a big bet on developing the leading gateway corridor between the African continent and China helping to enable bilateral trade worth $208 billion.

As perhaps an insight into China’s overwhelming influence on Ethiopia’s developmental ambitions, the airline, owned by the government of Ethiopia has continued to fly to and from China despite calls to suspend its services to help curb the fast-moving virus.

Amidst rising criticism of Ethiopian Airlines’ continued flights to China, the airline cut down its February weekly flights from Addis […]

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