Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday marked 75 years since it began commercial flights, with CEO Tewolde GebreMariam warning of ‘a serious challenge posed by COVID-19’.
On April 8 1946, the company operated its first-ever commercial flight. It flew from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital to Cairo, Egypt.
The carrier’s initial fleet consisted of five C-47s acquired from the US government. It has since grown to 127 aircraft.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect international travel, Tewolde said tough times still lay ahead for aviation.
“The route we chose to overcome this challenge is to tighten our belt, change the way we do business and be agile,” he said in a statement.
A special event was held to mark the anniversary on a flight to Cairo.
Ethiopian is Africa's biggest airline by revenue and profit, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The pandemic has hit African airlines especially hard. According to the International Civil Aviation Association (ICAO), African airlines were at risk of losing $6 billion in revenue and 3 million jobs in 2020 compared to 2019.
Namibia folded its airline in February while the flag carriers of South Africa and Kenya have indicated they will need millions of dollars in cash assistance to fully restart operations.
To mitigate the damage, Ethiopian quickly jumped on the opportunity to move tons of medical supplies meant for coronavirus response in Africa.
On top of its 12 dedicated cargo aircraft, the company reconfigured 25 passenger planes to turn them into freighters to respond to increased cargo demand.
“We remain the only commercial airline that hasn’t sought government bailout and didn’t lay off a single employee,” Tewolde said.
Last December, the company announced the launch of a cold chain air freight to transport temperature-sensitive medicines. It has been contracted to deliver shipments of coronavirus vaccines to various countries in Africa.