For the first time in Africa’s aviation history, Ethiopian Airlines, which happens to be Africa’s largest and most profitable airline, has just proven to the whole world that the era of African companies being bullied to submission by big multinational companies based in the west is over.
In the classical case of David versus Goliath, Ethiopian airlines took on Boeing, one of the biggest names in global aviation, and emerged victorious, proving worthy of its name and true representation of ‘the new spirit of Africa’
Aircraft giant Boeing later admitted that a key sensor malfunctioned on an Ethiopian Airlines flight which crashed, killing all 157 people on board.
"It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it, and we know how to do it,” said Dennis Muilenburg, chief executive of Boeing, acknowledging that their software was at fault in a video statement.
"We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent accidents and are relentlessly focused on safety to ensure tragedies like this never happen again," he added.
For decades, the script was the same whenever there was an African air disaster with the conclusion being almost always the same; the airline would be blamed for poor maintenance, ancient planes or poorly trained pilots, and often a combination of all three.
In the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines fateful crash, like a well-rehearsed script, some western media houses quickly run away with reports that the pilots of the ill-fated flight were the ones at fault and did not train to fly the new model of the jet on a simulator.
In their ignorance fueled by ‘western utopia,’ there was no way a big ‘respected corporation like Boeing which is more so headquartered in the land of the ‘free’ could be at fault, no it had to be Africans fault.
In their biased reports, it had never occurred to them that while they were busy fanning anti-immigration rhetoric in their western capital Africans airlines had come of age and were now rivalling European airlines and giving them a run for their money.
This is not the work of an ‘African dictator’ but according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) data released for the year 2018.
Had these western media houses paused for a minute to reflect, they would have come to a very different conclusion and be slow to cast an accusing finger in the African direction since within just five months before the Ethiopian airlines crash, a similar plane belonging to Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 also crashed just minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board in a strikingly similar fashion.
News of the 737 Max model being grounded worldwide did not even stop ‘harden and biased’ western media accustomed to viewing everything African using the colonial lens from saying ‘wait a minute are we sure what we are writing is factual or propaganda?’
Tragedy often brings out the best (and sometimes the worst) in people and in all this tragedy the Ethiopian government, Ethiopian people and the entire Ethiopian Airlines staff led by their CEO Tewolde GebreMariam should be commendable and painted a picture of ‘African pride’ even in their most trying moment.
They all stood firm and unified in the face of accusations during the entire trying period.
Mr GebreMariam, who has had a long career in the industry and has overseen fleet investment and impressive network development strategy, was especially categorical in ensuring the legacy of his pilots would not be soiled by overzealous western media houses out to get their kicks and clicks out of yet another African tragedy.
The pilots, Yared Getachew, age 28, had logged over 8,000 flight hours under his belt while his co-pilot, Ahmednur Mohammed had flown 200 hours. The two did everything in their power and followed Boeing safety recommendation to the letter to try and stabilize the plane to no avail.
“As far as the training is concerned ... we've gone according to the Boeing recommendation and FAA-approved one. We are not expected to speculate or to imagine something that doesn't exist at all," GebreMariam said.
Mr GebreMariam has since been absolved and the souls of all 157 people who perished can now at least rest at peace.
For many Ethiopians, Ethiopian Airlines is a national symbol which they are fiercely proud of and most were injured by the western propaganda.
“This is the symbol of the country,” said Ahmed Zekaria, chief curator at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies museum in Addis Ababa.
The crash that killed all 157 on board “is a really sad story, you can’t forget, but it’s not our mistake. It’s now an international problem that Boeing has to handle.”
During the press briefing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges also called on Boeing to review its aircraft control system. Still, the officials stopped short of saying the plane has a structural problem.
However, it is also true that not all western media houses joined the bandwagon of badmouthing and chastising Ethiopian airlines and that restraint goes to show not all of them are a bunch of bad apples, it is just a sad case of a few rotten apples.
Ethiopia too mostly evaded criticism partly due to the success of the airline founded more than half a century ago under former Emperor Haile Selassie.
The carrier has since expanded beyond its home market with a hub model that pulls in passengers from around the world to Addis Ababa and sends them onward to cities across sub-Saharan Africa.
So effective is the Ethiopian Airlines model that the carrier has been profitable every year this decade, a run never seen in the African aviation industry, where relatively low levels of travel, limited business demand, and fleets dominated by inefficient planes make it almost impossible to make money.
Addis Ababa has since evolved into an African centre of expertise for the industry, with a recently expanded pilot school and world-class maintenance facilities that service planes from as far afield as Mozambique and Nigeria.
“Of course it’s not like Emirates or Etihad Airways because of the back-up or finance but this airline is doing very well,” said Afework Telila, an Etihad pilot who used to fly for Ethiopian told Bloomberg.
Their fleet is dominated by new aircraft models including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus SE A350 wide-bodies, as well as 737s.
“Its connection in Africa is one of the best, nobody has that kind of connection. You want to travel in Africa, you don’t have to think twice.”
In a region where flag carriers are often government playthings, Ethiopian airline is a beacon of corporate free-thinking, that is despite being 100 per cent owned by the Ethiopian state.
Ethiopian Airlines success story goes on and on but one thing remains constant, one cannot wish away the airline and the west has much to learn from Ethiopian airlines and much of Africa’s aviation industry just like African airlines can and should learn a thing or two from the west.