Now Ethiopian has a private eye

The East African nation, Ethiopia, has been successfully running the largest airline in Africa-Ethiopian Airlines. The national carrier in recent years has transformed into an aviation group comprising eight profit centers with an annual income of six billion US dollars.

Getachew Mengistie

Getachew Mengistie: "To avail an equitable air transport service all over the country we need to have the required air transport infrastructure.”

Ethiopian Airlines Group is wholly owned by the Ethiopian government.  However, the country that owns the largest African airline has not been able to build a vibrant private sector in the aviation industry. The general aviation is at its infant stage. Private investment in the aviation sector is limited to the operation of small private airlines that operate charter flight services. There are about twelve private airlines operating in Ethiopia but none of them operate scheduled flights.

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) now seems to be determined to change this narrative. Getachew Mengistie, Director General of ECAA, said that aviation has been creating job opportunities and generating the much needed foreign currency for the country. “Air transport has been contributing to the GDP of the country by facilitating trade, investment and tourism. To avail equitable air transport service all over the country we need to have the required air transport infrastructure,” Mengistie said.

Currently, there are 22 airports and four of them are certified to operate as international airports. There are few air strips but civilian heliports are nonexistent. “We have less number of airports as the development and administration of airports has been carried out by only the Federal government,” he said.

According to Misrak Tilahun, Deputy Director General of ECAA, the authority has issued a directive and regulation that enable private investors, regional governments, and city administrations to engage in the development and administration of airports. “They can build and operate air strips and heliports after obtaining the permits from ECAA,” Tilahun said.

Investors first secure the investment license from the Ethiopian Investment Commission while the ECAA conducts the technical evaluation and safety audits as well as grant the operational permits. “We have signed an MoU with the Ethiopian Investment Commission that enables us to cooperate in issuing licenses,” she added.

Airport development is not the only investment area that is open for investors. According to Mengistie, the authority encourages investors to engage in air transport service. “They can establish private airlines that transport passengers and cargo. They can render agricultural spray services using airplanes and drones,” Mengistie said.

The ECAA also calls up on private investors to invest in MROs, aviation academies, and aerospace manufacturing. So far there is no private MRO center operating in Ethiopia. Private airlines are forced to fly their aircraft to Nairobi Kenya for heavy maintenance, which costs them direly.

Ethiopia anticipates establishing an aerospace manufacturing industry. Mengistie said foreign investors can partner with Ethiopian investors to establish MRO centers, aerospace manufacturing plants and aviation academies. “They can build drone assembly plant,” he added. Foreign investors are also allowed to invest in the domestic airlines.                                

Kaleyesus Bekele

Kaleyesus Bekele

Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Kaleyesus has been serving African Aerospace magazine as correspondent since 2013.