How Ethiopian Airways offered a vaccine lifeline

When Brazil had too few vaccines to deal with the lethal third wave of coronavirus, Ethiopian Airways got here to the rescue. It transported 3.5m Sinovac jabs from Shanghai to São Paulo, through specialist services at its hub within the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in April.

“I really feel that our environment friendly and well timed supply of vaccines will save hundreds of thousands of lives that might have been misplaced,” says Tewolde Gebremariam, chief govt. Having overseen the growth of Africa’s largest service since 2011, he has not solely navigated the pandemic however led its push to move Covid vaccines throughout Africa and past.

Based in 1945 by Emperor Haile Selassie I — its headquarters constructing is H-shaped in his honour — the state-owned firm’s hub in Addis Ababa is among the largest and most fashionable African cargo terminals, in a position to deal with 1m tonnes a 12 months.

To date, Ethiopian Airways has carried greater than 27m vaccines to 24 international locations. It has a 54,000 sq m freezer facility in Addis Ababa for Covid-19 vaccines that may hold the temperature at -25C, and is creating a facility to make sufficient ice to maintain vaccines ultra-cold when wanted.

Ethiopian Airways Boeing 787 © Alamy

Whereas most airways on the continent suffered badly throughout the pandemic, Ethiopian Airways has stored flying by changing a lot of its planes to hold cargo, together with huge long-range passenger plane. “We had been very inventive in eradicating seats from the aeroplanes,” Tewolde says.

The airline, which has 132 plane, together with 12 devoted cargo planes, has additionally delivered Covid-related medical tools to almost each nation in Africa, in addition to to Latin America, after refitting 25 passenger plane for cargo. Tewolde says cargo was a “lifesaver” after passengers “vanished in a single day”.

Tewolde Gebremariam, chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines
‘We had been very inventive in eradicating seats from the aeroplanes’, says Tewolde Gebremariam, Ethiopian Airways chief govt © Mulugeta Ayene/AP

Ethiopian Airways’ income from its passenger enterprise fell by $1bn in 2020. However, total, the group made $220m in revenue final 12 months due to cargo, upkeep and different companies.

Analysts attribute a lot of its resilience to its state proprietor, which doesn’t demand dividends and may hold prices down. Tewolde is assured the airline will make cash this 12 months, too.

Extra tales from this report

One problem from earlier than the pandemic was a crash two years in the past that killed all 157 individuals aboard a Boeing 737 Max plane. The corporate is within the “ultimate stage” of talks with the producer over compensation, says Tewolde.

Extra not too long ago, the airline has been accused of treating ethnic Tigrayan employees unfairly because the northern area of the nation stays gripped by a brutal civil struggle with the federal government. Tewolde rejects the accusations as “fabrications” and re-emphasises his focus is on surviving the pandemic.

“We expect we’re the one airline on the earth that has managed this unprecedented international pandemic disaster . . . with none bailout cash from any supply,” he says. “And with none lay-off of workers or decreasing their salaries.”

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