By Paul Ndiho
July 22, 2010
Ethiopian Airlines began its first flight to Cairo in 1946. Almost 65 years later, the airline is still going strong. Foreign pilots are flocking to the carrier, which remains one of the most profitable African airline in a troubled industry.
Ethiopian Airlines is experiencing steady growth, despite the downturn in the global airline industry, flying to 26 African destinations and the United States. Kagnew Asfaw, with Ethiopian Airlines, attributes the government-owned carrier’s success to its investment in its employees.
“From our point of view what differentiate one airline from another airline can only be its people because we buy the same aircraft, we fly the same routes. The only thing that differentiates us from others is the skill of our people.
Nearly 50 of Ethiopian Airlines’ pilots are foreigners, and it is recruiting pilots from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.
“The reason why we hiring foreign pilots right now is that our pilots, the ones which we train ourselves, are so skilled they are in demand with airlines of the region, and airlines from the Middle East, from Asia. They take our pilots. So, and we are growing so fast, almost 25% every year.”
David Wooten, a former U.S. Navy pilot from the U.S. State of Florida, joined Ethiopian Airlines in late 2009.
“I just turned 60, so I’m at the age that I’m really not a marketable commodity for many airlines, they’re looking for younger pilots, and certainly I don’t fit that mold. But Ethiopian recognizes experience that comes with age and they were willing to take me on as a Line Captain and I’m very grateful for that.”
Shrinking job opportunities in the west, forced the British-born pilot Toby Crew to look elsewhere for work. Now based in Addis Ababa, the 40-year-old says he was surprised when he heard about the job opportunities at Ethiopian Airlines.
“I’d been working for an airline flying the MD-11 before that went out of business in the States and with the economic downturn there were very few opportunities back home. Here in Ethiopia you’ve got a growing, profitable airline, that was acquiring MD-11 freighters and needed current qualified crew so it was a very good opportunity and here I am.”
Ethiopian Airline’s net profit more than doubled in 2009, but the company is not without problems. The airline review website Skytrax, gives Ethiopian Airlines only a 3-out-of-5 star overall ranking, and says that many of the carrier’s customers are unhappy with the airline’s customer service, baggage handling, and unexplained airport delays.