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Africa’s biggest airline fights for ‘survival’ amid pandemic

Ethiopian Airlines  CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told an aviation conference in Addis Ababa the coronavirus pandemic was “a temporary problem” – comparable to a natural disaster or a spike in oil prices.

Several weeks later Africa’s largest carrier is locked in what Tewolde describes as “a struggle that we’re performing for survival”, ramping up cargo operations while seeking to defer lease payments on aircraft.

“To be honest with you, I had never thought that it would reach this stage,” Tewolde told AFP in an interview this week.

“I had never thought that it would spread like this at this speed, and also in this magnitude. It is just too fast and too expansive and it’s beyond imagination.”

Across Africa, airlines stand to lose $6 billion in passenger revenue in 2020 compared to last year because of the coronavirus, the International Air Transport Association has predicted.

Ethiopian Airlines, the state-owned jewel of the national economy and a vital source of foreign currency, says it is facing a revenue loss of $550 million from January to April alone.

“If you put yourself in my shoes, the only way for Ethiopian Airlines is to expand or refocus its resources, energy and time on businesses which are not affected by coronavirus,” Tewolde said.

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