Ethiopian Airlines: When Excellence Precedes Reputation

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At the last count, about 12 world leaders and many global figures have sent in their condolence to the Ethiopian government and the families of the deceased in the Ethiopian Airline crash of 10th March 2019.  

More instructive are the tone, structure, and content of the condolence messages. Particularly inspiring was the message of the Prime Minister of Canada, Justine Trudeau. In a message shared from the official twitter handle of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Ahmed Abiy, he said, ” @justinTrudeau & @netanyahu expressed their condolence & support to the FDRE Gov’t and people. In a phone call with PM Abiy Ahmed, H.E. Trudeau shared his faith in the National Carrier, confirming that higher officials from Canada will soon fly the airline.” Similarly, the United States President, Donald Trump, also shared his condolence with the government and people of Ethiopia on the crash, and further requested for the grounding of all Boeing 737 MAX Aircrafts in the United States in response to the crash.

Boeing has also responded to the crash by grounding all 737 MAX Aircraft pending the completion of the ongoing probe into the cause of frequent air mishaps on this aircraft specification.

There has been a global call for the review of the safety or otherwise of this Aircraft, owing to the recent Ethiopian Airline crash. The global response no doubt punctures the faulty narrative promoted by a section of the western media – attempting to question the safety standards and competency of the pilots under the Ethiopian Airline employ.  One is not also unaware that there are companies behind the scene who are pulling the strings and funding a deliberate smear campaign against the airline. Surely, for an Airline that has eaten a large chunk of the market share and almost displacing other major players from their traditionally lucrative routes across the continent, one expected a pushback from competitors, sooner than later. The Ethiopian Airline story does indeed present a new high in service reputation, built on clients trust.  

No state-backed enterprise in Africa has in a very long while attracted this much global support and solidarity. This above all things speaks about the success story that the Ethiopian Airline has become.

Like everything Ethiopian, the Airline has become the pride of the continent on wings. During the past seventy plus years, the Airline has become one of the continent’s leading carriers, unmatched in the continent for efficiency and operational success, turning profits for almost all the years of its existence.

Operating at the forefront of technology, the airline has also become one of Ethiopia’s major industries and a veritable institution in Africa. The Airline dominates a large share of the pan African network including the daily and double daily east-west flight across the continent. Ethiopian Airline currently serves 100 international and 21 domestic destinations operating the newest and youngest fleet.

Last year the ever-ambitious carrier reached new heights with a litany of awards to the Airline and its management for service excellence, efficiency, and profitability.  

Simply put, the Airline has set the standard for running a state-owned enterprise in the continent.  Ethiopian Airlines now have new aircraft valued at around $332 million. It is wholly owned by the state and at present, it operates 96 passenger aircraft and freighters and has more than 60 fleets on order. These figures easily make the carrier the largest in Africa and have continued to create more destinations, opening up new markets.  

The secrets of the company’s success aren’t far-fetched. The country has put in place seasoned professionals and competent managers to oversee the affairs of the company.

In a chat with the award-winning Chief Executive Officer of the Airline, Mr. Tewole GebreMariam, in Johannesburg, South Africa, I sought to know his management secrets that have simply left many in awe of the company’s performance, and putting it quite simply, he said, ” everything you see is a product of the tireless efforts and diligence of the entire team at Ethiopian Airlines.”   I was easily absorbed by his humility in the 15 minutes discussion. For a man of many feats, Mr. GebreMariam carries no chips on his shoulders.

In 2016, Ethiopian Airline received The Africa Best Employer Brand Award for the company’s demonstrated excellence in building the Employer Brand, through a distinct identity that is visible through HR practices; policies & strategy as an Employer of Choice. This underscores the Brands perception among employees.

Human Resource Development has being one of the core pillars of the company’s long term growth plan, vision 2025. To that effect, the company has continuously nurtured HR practices, standard work ethics, and values that help her achieve her targets. The company believes that happy employees would lead to excellent services delivery.    

The Airline is not only a leader in passenger service provision in the aviation industry in Africa – it has built a reputation as the company of choice in training and retraining of aviation experts in the continent. The Ethiopian Aviation Academy is playing a paramount role in producing and fostering future leaders of the aviation industry. Investing over USD$ 100 million to revamp the academy, Ethiopian Aviation Academy is currently the largest and the most advanced center of excellence in developing skilled workforce not only for Ethiopian Airlines but also the wider African aviation industry.

The Airline has won several prestigious awards including Airline of the Year Award, for five years running, by African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Skytrax World Airline Award for Best Airline Staff in Africa and Passenger Choice Awards for Best Airline in Africa.

Ethiopian Airline also holds a substantial portion of the market share of passenger and cargo network operating the youngest and most modern fleet across five continents. The Airline fleet includes ultra-modern and environmentally friendly aircraft such as Airbus A350, Boeing 787, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-200 Freighter, and Bombardier Q-400 double cabin. It was the first airline in Africa to own and operate each of these aircraft.

The company is currently implementing a 15-year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that will see it become the leading aviation group in Africa with seven business centers: Ethiopian Domestic and Regional Airline; Ethiopian International Passenger Airline; Ethiopian Cargo; Ethiopian MRO; Ethiopian Aviation Academy; Ethiopian In-flight Catering Services; and Ethiopian Ground Service. Ethiopian is a multi-award winning airline registering an average annual growth of 25% in the past seven years.

While the 157 passengers of the ill-fated flight will eternally remain in our hearts, Ethiopian Airline owes them a duty to never lose sight of the long road ahead. The Airline has achieved so much, that appear difficult to blight, but, there are more grounds to cover and we can only wish for the best, as we unravel the root cause of the Crash.

For now, all I can say is long live the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and long live Ethiopian Airlines.

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