Interview

Ethiopian Airlines – The secret of success!

Im Oktober letzten Jahres feierten Ethiopian Airlines (ET) und der Flughafen Wien ein verbindendes Jubiläum: Einerseits verbindet Ethiopian Airlines seit bald 76 Jahren Addis Abeba mit der Welt – wie die preisgekrönte Airline und am schnellsten wachsende Fluglinie Afrikas bereits im achten Jahr fliegt regelmäßig nach Wien fliegt. traveller-online nahm diese Jubiläen und den International Women’s Day (08.03.22) zum Anlass, um mit der Area Managerin Austria & Eastern Europe von Ethiopian Airlines, Saba G. Kassaye, über die Entwicklung und Präsenz von ET in Österreich, aber auch über Frauen in Managementpositionen zu sprechen. Das Gespräch fand auf Englisch statt.

traveller: Congratulations on 75 years of Ethiopian Airlines - while as a human being you are already a bit “used up” at this age, ET is still youthfully, dynamic on the road even after the difficult months of the crisis. What is the secret of Africa's largest and most profitable airline?

Saba G. Kassaye: The secret to Ethiopian Airlines success lies within its well experienced management staff and hardworking employees. Through our 75 years of existence, we had always been aspiring an even greater success, we never limited our capability and worked hard to achieve more, learning from the hardships that we face along the way. 

How important is Ethiopia's home carrier in its own country?

As a flag carrier of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines is a symbol of a nation‘s strength. It is one source of pride for Ethiopians. The company’s belongingness to its people is widely felt in its home country. Ethiopian also greatly contributes to the country’s economy.

What does Ethiopian Airlines mean by a forward-looking corporate culture and what is the focus of the company's 15-year strategic plan “Vision 2025”?

Ethiopian is a visionary airline; we are always working to achieve more than what we already have. We plan for the future and work hard to achieve it. Ethiopian Airlines’ vision 2025 will see it become the leading aviation group in Africa with Seven business units: Ethiopian International Services; Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services; Ethiopian MRO Services; Ethiopian Aviation Academy; Ethiopian ADD Hub Ground Services, Ethiopian Airports Services and Ethiopian Express Services (Domestic).

Do flag carriers have to become more flexible in order to be able to compete with low-cost carriers in the future and also to meet changed customer requirements (rebooking and cancellation options)? Do airlines have to rethink their payment methods because the old pattern no longer fits the post-crisis era? Do Airlines need a new pricing system?

Airlines are continuously working to provide flexibility and convenience to passengers digitalizing their processes and adapting to new innovations. Traditional payment methods are inconvenient for passenger especially after the pandemic hit thus airlines are changing to digital options to be contactless and get all the service in once click.

How “cheap" can flying be in general, and especially on long-haul routes, in order to still be considered socially acceptable?

Our fare differs from destination to destination and from season to season, and almost all out destinations are long hauls. The shortest flight is to Ethiopia with six hours and 15 Minutes duration at 546 Euro and longest flight would be to Brazil, SAO 21hr and 30 min with a price starting from 749 Euro. But as you know, price varies from day to day with all terms and conditions.

ET continued to fly to about 130 destinations without interruption during the hot phase of the pandemic - even Vienna was only suspended for a short time. How economically “healthy" were these months?

The pandemic had a huge economic impact on Ethiopian. However, because of its far-sighted diversified business model, it was able to survive through the crisis and come out to be among the very few airlines, which were able to come out profitable. We continued to operate amidst difficulties, because we value our customers and are committed to serve in good and bad times.

Was cargo ultimately the lifesaver for ET? What is the importance/share of total annual revenue of the cargo sector for ET?

During the outbreak of the pandemic passenger travel had dramatically dropped. Ethiopian Airlines diverted to the cargo business in these times as it is part of its diversified business plan. Ethiopian cargo, along with Ethiopian MRO and other lightly affected business group of Ethiopian played a significant role in keeping the airline stay afloat.

What is the importance of Vienna and the Austrian market for ET?

Currently we have more than 130 destinations and all are network important for us to reach our goal and meet “Vision 2025”. Vienna is at an ideal location, as Addis is to play as a gateway or Hub for the Eastern Europe market. Vienna is one of the most preferred and important area among our European destinations.

Ethnic traffic, business- and leisure travel - what is the weighting of these segments on the Vienna flight in outgoing and what is the focus in incoming? Is Vienna more of a business destination than a tourist destination for ET?

ET is an option for leisure travel, especially with its extensive-network within Africa but also to popular destinations in the Indian Ocean.

Is vaccination compulsory for the crew/employees of ET?

For the safety of the traveling public, we had already started operating our flights with fully vaccinated crew. Ethiopian had provided the vaccine for its employees and advices them to take the shot.

As a woman, you hold a management position in an African aviation group - what is the ratio of women to men in management positions in the group?

Ethiopian is an equal opportunity employer. We have women working alongside men in all areas of our operation including management.

Does a woman in a management position - especially in times of crisis - act differently?

We are committed and dedicated and wise decisions makers. We try our best to find solution and cannot stop until we solve it.  We are transformational leaders, which act as inspirational role models, foster good human relationships, invest in our teams, develop the skills of followers and also motivate others to reach beyond the scope of their job descriptions. These are all qualities we as women have and helped us to achieve more during this crisis.

Do women have to work harder, prove themselves more, to get into management positions? Are women in leadership positions sometimes underestimated?

Unfortunately, our current reality all around the world is, that women must work harder to prove their worth into management position. I am very fortunate to be part of an organization, that doesn’t differentiate people based on their gender, but on their performance, responsibility, qualities, actions. I really can say, I had equal chances at Ethiopian Airlines, despite the global disparity between genders. Ethiopian Airlines, in this case as well is the exception, treating everybody equally.

Advantages and disadvantages of "being a woman" on the way to top managementpositions?

I can answer only from a general point of view and I can affirm that the fact women are perceived as more sensitive and sentimental in comparison with men represents both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on the circumstances. I personally don’t share the opinion of women being the weak gender; what is stronger than a woman who can be a mother, a wife, and a leader, all at the same time? 

Once a woman has reached a management position, what is the situation like in terms of acceptance (both male and female)?

I like to think that we as society have overcome that mentality in which, once in a leadership position, women in this position must be accepted by other women, men and vice-versa.

Respect must prevail, regardless of gender, social or professional position. Once we respect each other, know others and our own worth, act professionally and ethically, the “acceptance” comes easily. 

If I remember correctly, ET used an „all women flight crew“ on the occasion of the inaugural to Buenos Aieres - can we also look forward to an "all women flight crew" in the route network for this year's International Women’s Day at 8th of March?

Yes, we are very happy that this year all women operation flight will be to Frankfurt!

What‘s your wish in the near future?

My wish is to see the world to be in peace. If there is no peace and compromising with one another, then our children will grow up with poison and our world will be demolished. We only have one life and one world, which we all need to cherish and use it wisely and properly.

Thank you very much for the interview!

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