The pandemic has caused a drastic drop off in travel and airlines around the world have been struggling. But one bright spot in the industry has been in Africa, where the continent’s largest airline has been thriving.
Ethiopian Airlines, based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, serves 62 African cities and about 120 destinations around the world. It flew roughly 12 million people in 2019, but the following year, the customer numbers fell by 85 percent as the coronavirus weighed on travel. The company faced the biggest crisis in its history as planes sat idle.
Fitsum Abady, the managing Director of Ethiopian Cargo and Logistic Services said, “The pandemic was much deeper as of March, so the passenger aircraft were grounded as of March.”
But the severe situation also created a window of opportunity for the firm. European and American Airlines had been transporting medicine and medical devices to Africa, but without passengers. The flights largely halted in March last year. With Africa in need of supplies and the firm in need of business, Ethiopian Airlines saw an opening. They decided to take on the challenge of transporting covid related medical equipment to the continent.
They started renovating 22 of their 110 aircraft last April, removing passenger seats and turning them into cargo planes. The firm became one of the earliest airlines to shift its business model from transporting passengers to freight during the pandemic.
The managing director said, “the management decision was fast, to move to the Cargo.”
China plate, another key role in the strategy, as it was willing to accept international flights and ship out medical supplies. It was the first country to be affected by the pandemic and many airlines had reduced service there as passenger numbers plunged. But with its new fleet of cargo planes, Ethiopian Airlines instead expanded flights to China.
It went from sending about 45 flights a week to four cities. To about 100 a week to seven cities. Between March and June 2020, the company transported about 50000 tons of aid from China to Africa,
While many airlines around the world have struggled, Ethiopian Airlines has pulled in about 45 million dollars in profit in the first half of 2020. The company’s next plan is to transport vaccines, it has purchased refrigeration containers that can be loaded onto planes and manufactured freezers that can maintain a temperature of minus 25 degrees at airports.
At this time, we are expecting, half a billion-dollar business only from pharmaceuticals, according to Fitsum.
The ability of Ethiopian Airlines to improvise during a major crisis has allowed it not only to survive but thrive. It now has ambitions of becoming a major international airline, transporting vaccines and pharmaceutical products all over the world.