Mesfin Tasew

Mesfin Tasew, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Ethiopian Airlines (ET), has said a situation in which African airlines control only 20 per cent of the continent’s aviation market is not healthy for the growth of the industry.

Tesaw, who is also in charge of ET’s Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) section, said this while speaking with travel journalists during a recent official visit to Nigeria.

He said the current situation whereby non-African airlines control about 80 per cent of the aviation market does not augur well for the continent.

His words: “You might have heard from different sources that today around 80 per cent of African traffic are carried by non-African carriers. It means African shares are only 20 per cent. That 20 per cent is carried by Royal Air Marroc, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air and South African Airlines mainly. The others are very small airlines.

“There is a big market for African airlines. We have to take our reasonable shares from this market. But we can only take these shares when we Africans partner. We are brothers as African citizens. That is what we are encouraging. Unfortunately, many start-up African airlines didn’t succeed. Some will start up and close. The problem is internal capacity, capacity in leadership, capacity in deployment of resources.

“We don’t have the right vision individually, so we have to cooperate on commercial front, maintenance, technical fronts, in developing human resources. One of the critical problems of African airlines is that we don’t have enough trained aviation professionals, so we have to cooperate, but unfortunately, we didn’t succeed for different reasons.

“One is lack of leadership, commitment from African governments and lack of discipline from those leading those African airlines. Airline business requires  discipline, discipline in leadership and commitment. We have to calculate that if you don’t control your cost, you won’t succeed. If you cannot develop a long time strategy, you cannot succeed. So the government has to play an active role, the driver role in facilitating the development of the sector”.

Tesaw also spoke on the recent closure of the Enugu Airport and how Ethiopian Airlines, the only international airline that lands at the airport, would cope: “Since the Enugu Airport is closed, to serve people in that region, we have planned to shift our operations to the Port-Harcourt Airport until when Enugu is ready. We will go back there.”

On ET’s massive investment in the MRO Department, he said: “As at today, ET has the biggest MRO facility in Africa. We repair all Boeing models of aircraft, except 747. We also repair Airbus A350 aircraft, the newest aircraft. We repair the Bombardier Q400 in Addis Ababa. We have six hangars; we have big engine shops; we have several components repair shops. We have been doing this for several decades now.

“Primarily, it was developed to support the operations of Ethiopian Airlines. We are supporting different African airlines from different parts of Africa, including Asky in Togo. I came from Addis Ababa yesterday, and I saw Arik Air Q400 going to Addis Ababa for  check. We repair many aircraft from Nigeria, including former Air Nigeria, Chachangi and Bellview airlines. We support many of them, even we have our engineers here supporting them.”

Tesaw said ET is not pleasantly disposed to having an MRO partner in Nigeria to work jointly. His words: “We are looking for a dependable partner to jointly establish MRO facility in Nigeria. We had some discussions earlier with some companies including Aero Contractors, but unfortunately we have not reached agreement with any party, but we are still looking for a partner to work together.

“We are ready and willing to support African carriers in respect of MRO services because it requires investment to establish MRO facilities which small African airlines cannot afford. It  requires trained human resources. We don’t have  many schools to train Africans as aircraft technicians, engineers and pilots. It takes time and experience.

“You have to get trained people. Even if you get trained people, you need some experience. Most African airlines are small and they cannot afford to have their own MRO facilities, so they need support. So Ethiopian airlines is here to support them in different ways.

“One approach is that when they do their airline operations, we give them what we call total maintenance support. It means we can send our people to their locations to maintain their aircraft initially. We can also deploy spare parts in their locations, so that they focus on transporting people and goods.

“As they grow, we encourage them to start their own small MRO capabilities. For example, they can do what we call line maintenance which means they can have few qualified and certified engineers to do small checks when the aircraft fly, like transit checks, rectifying some defects. Then, as they grow further, they can do major airframe maintenance. They can establish small shops to repair the wheels, battery shops and the like”.
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