ETHIOPIAN Airlines is accelerating efforts to convert passenger planes into freight aircraft as demand for cargo movement continues to rise. Africa’s leading airliner is keen to expand its cargo business which has surged after the pandemic-induced disruptions in supply chains.
The airline owns one of Africa’s largest and globally competitive Maintenance, Repair, and Operation (MRO) divisions. So far the Ethiopian MRO, which was launched in April this year, has excelled in converting air crafts into freighters.
The Addis Ababa based aircraft wing is now converting passenger planes into cargo jets as it eyes a bigger slice of the cargo trade. According to Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Mesfin Tasew, the Cargo business is expected to bring increased opportunities for the carrier which is boosting its capacity
‘If you look at the cargo volume during the last three or four years, it’s consistently grown throughout the industry compared to the passenger business. Ethiopian cargo operation is amazingly growing very fast, faster than the global growth rate. I have just come in recently and during those few months, I have seen its growth including its forecast. That’s why we will continue to increase our cargo fleet. This month we have added one more cargo aircraft and as you may have heard, we have ordered five new Boeing 777 freighter aircraft,’ Tasew said.
Ethiopian MRO, with its internal capacity, temporarily converted 25 of its passenger aircraft to freighters to boost its cargo capacity as demand for transport emergency medical supplies soared.
‘Our MRO has been able to convert 25 of our passenger airplanes…even the new ones such as the A350,787-9s and the 777-300s. We have been able to remove the seats and do the necessary analysis so that we will be maintaining the airworthiness of the airplanes and for the last two years we have been operating these airplanes to transport different emergency equipment throughout the world. We have been flying into areas where we were not landing before. So this is one part of the aircraft passenger conversion operation which we have working on. And recently we have been working on converting a passenger aircraft into a dedicated cargo airplane,’ said Retta Melaku, COO, Ethiopian Airlines Group.
Young Ethiopian engineers and technicians are behind all the work on these planes that’s enabling the Ethiopian flag carrier to convert these planes to freighters locally while at the same time-saving millions of dollars for the airline.
‘By combining our skills in engineering, structural repairs, aircraft maintenance, and then the expertise of the Israel Aerospace Industries, which is one of the leading cargo conversion companies in the world, we have been able to do an amazing job over the past few months. No doubt we will now be the centre of B 767 cargo conversion in Africa,’ Melaku added.
Currently, the Ethiopian carrier is getting most of its revenue from the cargo sector as the passenger-based business continues to gradually recover after the coronavirus slump.
ET, as the airline is famously called, believes the cargo business will continue to boom despite emerging challenges such as rising fuel prices
‘During the last one year we have seen a very big increase in fuel price and which has increased our cost.. obviously, not only Ethiopian airlines, but the entire airline industry has been affected; But as you are aware, the air transport industry is always resilient to withstand all types of challenges,’ concludes Tasew.