Ethiopian Airlines has offered to supply South African Airways with planes, pilots and maintenance services as part of a new venture with the South African government. This was made known by the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde Gebre Marium who said that they’re looking at providing operational assistance but aren’t interested in “helping with debt repayments or the cost of reducing the workforce”.

“We don’t want to deal with the legacy issues — the debt, labour claims and so on because that is very difficult for us not only in terms of financial outlay but also in terms of managing the restructuring,” says Gebre Marium. “We want to make it very easy for them to start the airline by providing aeroplanes, by providing expertise, pilots, technicians, leadership.”

SAA, which has been under bankruptcy protection since the end of 2019, is in need of roughly $600 million to refund tickets and pay severance packages to nearly 4000 former employees.

In early March, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebre Marium told an aviation conference in Addis Ababa that the coronavirus pandemic was “a temporary problem” – comparable to a natural disaster or a spike in oil prices.

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 has been praised by top Washington and Tokyo officials for repatriating their nationals – including US Peace Corps volunteers based in 12 countries across the continent. With the severity of the crisis becoming clear, Ethiopian executives “reached out to the diplomatic community to offer further cargo services and highlight their ability to offer chartered/special flights”, a State Department official said. At this point the airline has “supported the transport of over 2,100 US citizens and legal permanent residents” to the tune of around $4.7 million, the officials said.

The airline is expecting to be involved in a critical capacity in Africa’s pandemic response. Tewolde said this represented “a continuation of our leadership in Africa” even during periods of conflict or outbreaks of other diseases like Ebola. “All kinds of problems that Africa has suffered, we have always stood with Africa,” he concludes.

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