By Chinelo Obogo

Ethiopia has consistently pushed for the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) which it says has many significant advantages for the continent including enhanced connectivity, economic growth, lower airfares, increased tourism and improved air connectivity.

But to date, only 34 African countries have signed up for SAATM, with the Group Chief Commercial Officer (GCCO), Ethiopian Airlines, Lemma Gudeta, saying that currently, African airlines can only boast of less than 20 per cent of traffic out of Africa.

He spoke to aviation journalists recently, expressing disappointment that SAATM is not working at the level they want it to work.

Africa’s connectivity underdeveloped

The air connectivity in Africa is not really developed to the level that Africa really wants to be and this gives us a real opportunity to increase our market shares and also the number of passengers per fleet. Ethiopia is also the second most populous nation in Africa with 124 million people and it is next to Nigeria. We have to have an air transport that can accommodate this huge population. Africa in general needs very strong connectivity and to do so, you need a reliable airline in place.

At a time, we had 25 airplanes and today, we have grown to 146 airplanes in our fleet. That is due to the hard work of men and women of Ethiopian Airlines, working all over the globe, including Nigeria and other western African countries.

Single Africa Air Transport Market

The Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) is the programme of African Union (AU) agenda of having a free airspace in Africa. This is a very important project and that is why Ethiopian Airlines is championing this strategy from day one. Today, we have seen very good progress. Majority of Africans now welcome African airlines than they used to be.

The introduction of Africa free trade area is also a SAATM programme and Ethiopian Airlines is truly benefitting from that kind of an engagement because African airspace has to be liberalised and African airlines should have a fair share of the continent’s air transportation. Currently, African airlines can boast of less than 20 per cent of traffic out of Africa. SAATM will create a better opportunity for airlines to freely navigate in the air transport industry and freely connect industries in Africa in a better way than non-African airlines.

SAATM is working but not at the level we would like to see. In every journey, there is a start, there is a mid-journey and there is a climax that we want to see. SAATM in the next 10 to 15 years from now, might reach the peak we wanted.

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Incident between Ethiopian Airlines aircraft, Qatar Airways

It was just an incident that happened and that it was not serious from the report that we are reviewing. The aircraft has very sophisticated systems to avoid any possible incident of that type. Therefore, we strongly believe that there is no foul play in this incident, rather it is something that will happen in the industry.

Firm orders for new airlplanes

Ethiopian Airlines is planning to add an additional 120 aircraft very soon. The fact is that we ordered those aircraft to join our fleet when we looked at our journey in the last 10 years, making tremendous improvement on our service, customer service delivery and cargo before we decided to increase the destinations that we are flying into because by 2025, the plan is to have a minimum of 209 international destinations in 32 stations.

You know for us to operate those stations, we need a minimum of 217 airplanes for us to properly navigate to where we are heading to. Definitely, we are going to add more because we need to replace some of the older airplanes that we have now. By 2035, we are expected to have 217 airplanes, which is in line with our Vision 2035.

Nigeria Air

Ethiopian Airlines did a tremendous job to establish a national carrier for Nigeria. We were invited by the national government of Nigeria, we passed through the proper bid evaluation and we were chosen as a preferred bidder at the time.

We spent a lot of money on the Nigeria Air project and we even went to the level of acquiring three Boeing 737 Max aircraft. We have already paid and entered into a contract, there is no option than for us to take those airplanes. We are going to use the airplanes here in Ethiopia and we have partners in Africa; a very successful one in Togo in Asky Airlines and we have others in Zambia and Malawi. Two of the aircraft have already arrived and the third one will follow later.

Ethiopian Airlines is a very reputable carrier and we are a company that knows what it does. We were invited by the Nigerian government, we replied, were awarded the bid and we strongly believed that whatever we did was according to the law of Nigeria. Initially, we were advised that the entire process would be further investigated and we were waiting to get a reply from the Nigerian Government on their findings to the process. We are confident that the Nigerian government would let us continue the project as soon as possible.

For me, I reviewed the opinion of the minister of aviation and aerospace development in Nigeria, Mr. Festus Keyamo and we truly respect his opinion and his decision but we are confident that the Nigerian government would give Ethiopian Airlines a chance to serve the country by establishing a strong, reliable airline which the nation deserves.