Lesson to be Learnt from Ethiopian Airlines

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What was cardinally important about the successful conduct of C-check on Boeing B737 Classic by Aero Contractors was the fact that the maintenance exercise was delivered by largely indigenous personnel. It has been over 30 years such feat was achieved in Nigeria.

But in Ethiopia, Ethiopia Airlines for several years has been conducting such high level of maintenance for its own fleet and that of other airlines in Africa and beyond.

In a recent visit to its operational base, Addis Ababa, the airline showcased itself, its humble beginning and all indications show that Nigeria and its airlines have much more opportunities than the East African country. The difference, according to travel expert, Ikechi Uko is determination, sincerity and patriotism.

Uko was of the view that the government of Nigeria and Nigerian carriers must have to work together with a purpose to achieve the goal of self sufficiency.

Ethiopia Airlines started from a very humble beginning to become a leading African Aviation Group in its 70 plus years of successful journey.

Ethiopian started operation with the first 5 C-47 aircraft, scraps of second World War, back in 1946 during its debut flight to Cairo via Asmara.

“Ever since, Ethiopian has been growing in leaps and bounds and has kept on introducing new aviation technology and systems, with so many firsts in the history of African aviation as an aircraft technology leader; providing the first jet service in the continent, availing the first African Boeing B767, the first African B777- 200LR in 2010 and the first African and second only to Japan B787 Dreamliner in 2012. In a continuation of that tradition, Ethiopian was the first in Africa to acquire Airbus A350 XWB, introducing the extra effect to the African continent,” explained the Managing Director of Ethiopian Airlines International Operations, Esayas WoldeMariam Hailu.

It was learnt that Ethiopian was the first African airline to operate the latest Boeing 787-9 in 2017 and that below the industry average, Ethiopian currently operates 95 of the young and most modern fleet, with less than five years of age, and has 61 fleet on order.

“Living its motto of Bringing Africa Together and Beyond, Ethiopian has created a missing link through its vast African network to 55 cities and more than 100 international passenger and cargo destinations, with daily and more flights, with a minimum layover in Addis Ababa. As a veteran African carrier, Ethiopian has positioned vast Intra-Africa network better than any Airline,” Hailu said.

The Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Captain Muhtar Usman in an interview with THISDAY noted that Nigerian operators need to be committed, humble and determined with a defined strategy to excel and this could begin by realising that they must have to pay their charges for the service rendered to them and they must have to abide by the rules, which are encapsulation of international standard practice as enunciated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

During the facility tour of Ethiopia Airlines operations, Hailu noted that commitment and discipline are the hallmark of the success of the airline.

The East African airline is currently implementing a 15-year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that would see it become the leading airline group in Africa with seven strategic business units. Ethiopian joined Star Alliance, the world’s largest Airline network, in December 2011, Ethiopian Aviation Academy (EAA) is the largest and the most modern aviation academy in Africa recognised as ICAO regional Training Center of Excellence. To train aviation professionals from classrooms to simulator training, EAA offers industry standard training for pilots, aircraft technicians; cabin attendants and ground services staff both for initial and recurrent students. The Leadership and Career Development Center is training thousands in Management and Leadership Skills.

“Our cabin crew training simulates real-time scenarios with training aircrafts designed for emergency drills and service training. Our pilot training school uses light aircraft for its basic training and simulators. Full flight simulators of all fleets Ethiopian operates are available for pilot training. Virtual Maintenance Trainers (VMTs) and various workshops feature our aircraft maintenance training. Beyond these, our academy develops standard training packages including e-learning and virtual classroom training. Trainee services include a trainees’ cafeteria, dormitories, an administration complex and a plush new auditorium. The academy plans to take in 4,000 students a year in its basic training programs,” he said.

The airline has full flight simulators for the most technologically advanced aircraft, which is a sign of the company’s commitment to leading Africa’s aviation industry, as well as bridging the continent’s skills gap.

“We have simulators for all the aircraft we fly; Boeing B787, B777, B767/B757, B737 and Q400. We will soon acquire the A350 simulator as well,” Hailu said.
For years Ethiopian has its own Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility and Hailu said the scale of the MRO operation in the airline is breathtaking. He described the facility as the largest MRO service in Africa and serves Africa and the Middle East. The facility is fully equipped with hangars, engine and component maintenance workshops with all equipment needed to repair/ overhaul aircraft, engines and components.

“Even if you have flown a lot you might have not fully appreciated the size of the largest civil jet engines until you are up close with these huge engines as you walk through the workshop. The MRO service was established in 1957 and it currently employs over 2,800 employees. Ethiopian MRO provides Line Maintenance services at stations where Ethiopian flies and extends the services to other operators at some of the stations.

What really helped Ethiopia Airlines was the ‘can-do’ spirit of the Ethiopians. From the inception of the airline they believed they could do everything, from flying their airplanes to maintaining them and training their personnel. Captain Usman of NCAA said for any airline to succeed it must be able to maintain its aircraft. Hailu also said that an airline would spend a fortune if it maintains its aircraft overseas.

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