Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam speaks during a news conference amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia April 7, 2020. REUTERS-Tiksa Negeri

African skies could experience increased activity earlier than other continents due to the planned evacuation of people seeking to return home from across the world. This is the view advanced by Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, he said of the return to operations: “here in Africa we expect to be slightly faster in recovery,” this is against the backdrop that global flights are forecast to take up to two years to return to 2019 levels.

Air travel was one of the most impacted economic centres as most countries across the world closed their airspaces to passenger flights save in some instances for medical and emergency landings.

The European Union, the United States and a number of western governments had also arranged flights to evacuate their citizens across the continent with Ethiopian at the forefront of some of these operations.


Conversely, African governments – most recently Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda have all moved to evacuate stranded citizens from different parts of the world. Again, Ethiopian, one of few airlines that continued operations have been key in these flights.

Barely at the half-way point of the year, African carriers are estimated to lose some $6 billion in ticket sales. Demand for flights to Asian markets like China and India will particularly pick up faster than to Europe and North America, Tewolde said.

On the subject of bailouts, he stressed that Ethiopian – a continental leader – was not at the stage of seeking any such interventions but that they had other operational areas they seek government support.

“African governments will not be in a position to bail out airlines as much as in Europe and America,” said Tewolde. “Airlines are not flying or generating revenue and governments do not have the resources to bail them out. It is going to be very, very tough for most African airlines.”

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