Solomon Gizaw (Captain), Managing Director of Abyssinian Flight Services PLC speaks the challenges in the aviation sector

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The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned last week pilots that planes operating out of Ethiopia’s main international airport – one of busiest in Africa – could be “directly or indirectly exposed to ground weapons fire and/or surface-to-air fire” if the country’s spiraling conflict nears the capital, Addis Abeba.

FAA cited that “ongoing clashes” between Ethiopian forces and the fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in the warning to pilots operating from the Addis Abeba Bole International Airport.

Such concerns are expected to be addressed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority.  Requested by Origins Media on the matter, Solomon Gizaw (Captain), Managing Director of Abyssinian Flight Services PLC replied, “The issue doesn’t require a sophisticated knowledge or being a pilot to investigate.”

The US FAA and Boeing Company took the liability of the 2019 plane land crashing in Ethiopia and to that of the Indonesia accident earlier due to the failure to comply with the safety procedures. The global media should have to challenge the US FAA authorities for they were clearly violated the law, which was to be implemented by the ICAO, according to Solomon.

Such a coordinated campaign is part of the US government and its affiliated media’s attack against Ethiopia. The fake news campaign has massively been more active especially since two months ago. They even have gone as far as labeling Ethiopia as a “failed state”, he elaborated.

He also questions the statement made by the FAA notes no reports of disruptions at Bole International Airport and “no indication of intent to threaten civil aviation,” but it says the risk to approaching and departing planes could increase if the Tigray fighters encircle the capital.

“That’s more of irrational statement for me,” Solomon says.

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority ordered in July 2021 that any in flights in the conflict-prone northern Ethiopia should be conducted over 29,000 feet or take liabilities otherwise, witnessed Captain Solomon.

Over the past 25 years, small private air operators began to emerge in Ethiopia, operating small aircraft with a capacity of carrying less than 50 passengers, (a regulatory maximum for private operators). These private charter air operators usually provide local flight services, mostly chartered flights, to remote locations for the diplomatic community, private entities and humanitarian non-governmental organizations. Abyssinian Flight Services is one of these few private air operators in Ethiopia pioneering new services in the industry and showing a consistent growth over the past 20 years.

Started from a pilot profession at Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), he returned to Ethiopia after 15 years of life abroad. “Returning to Ethiopia was my vision,” he says.

“But as the MAF business was a thriving one and they pay me a very attractive salary, leaving that luxury life and to decide returning back to Ethiopia was a difficult decision to made,” he said.

“I desperately need to work here despite the fact that even my attractive salary was not enough to set up my own flight service company,” he explained.  He finalized the licensing process in three months whereas there was an assumption to finalize authentications in a year at least.

Authorities at MAF pledged me that they provide a plane in a loan if I got certified to conduct the business from the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority. Accordingly, they offered me an airplane in a loan to be repaid back in 7 years.

“Thanks to God, now we are celebrating 22 years of our establishment,” he said, adding, “Though I love Ethiopia, it’s a difficult place to conduct a business.”

Among the challenges in the sector the Covid-19 pandemic has been a tough one for his business.

Services Abyssinia Flight Services providing

The aviation sector is not that much understandable thing for many. People take aviation as Ethiopian Airlines or Emirates Airlines, he says. But, there’s a concept of general aviation.

For instance, chartered plane immediately provides flight services unlike that of the main airlines. “This service is especially most preferable among billionaires who are mostly running of time,” he said. “We have been providing our services like ride taxi”.

“Asossa, Goba, Gore, Mizan-Tepi, Semera, Jigjiga and Jinka are the places where I have been flying across,” said Capitan Solomon.  “We prefer remote destinations where the Ethiopian airlines didn’t reach so far”

Concerning the Abyssinia Aviation Academy, so far, they have trained 150 pilots, which is among the most successful lifetime achievement for Solomon.

Registration requirements as well as the tuition fee trainees pay are not the most pressing matters for Solomon. Rather where they will join after graduation matters most. “The government should think about their future,” he recommends.

Countries have their unique potentials. Ethiopia is among the luckiest in terms of aviation industry, according to Solomon. “We’ve got very genius pilots—both the former one’s and the current one’s—who are most specialized in automated flights”.

The government should also give special attention to the aviation sector; he even he believes there must be an aviation adviser at the Prime Minister Office.

For instance, you can take the case of South West Airlines in the United States. Four low cost airlines have merged to establish this airline. Southwest Airlines is the US biggest low-cost carrier. Southwest has traditionally managed to offer low fares by flying out of smaller airports where it is cheaper to operate and relying on a single type of Boeing 737 plane to reduce its operation costs.

But the major airlines in the United States refused them the opportunity. After 4 years of legal process, the Supreme Court ruled that they can provide flight services. Today, they have more than one thousand 737 Boeing airplanes—they hired 55,000 professionals and you see such potentials in the US.

During the Dubai Airshow that took place two weeks ago, South West Airlines ordered 244 Boeing planes. In 2018, they have generated revenue of $22 billion and they netted $2.6 billion profit.

What about us? Why don’t we perform like the South West Airlines?—he asked. He believes that by so doing Ethiopia, the society at all and Africa in general will be the beneficiaries.

Aviation is an expensive enterprise. It requires huge capital and trained human power. Demand is a good thing but it doesn’t work in aviation unless we fulfill it, as he puts it.

Challenges in the sector

Ethiopian Airlines is older than the post-colonization Kenya. Today, Kenya has more than 400 private business owned air planes—including Boeing and Cessna Caravans. The aviation sector accounts for 5 percent of Kenya’s GDP.

If you go to Nigeria, you’ll find the Africa’s and Europe’s biggest private business jets, which are close to 150.

Life-saving or emergency medications such as kidney transplant are being conducted by the general airline service providers like us, Solomon said.

“The main problem is not lack of knowledge but the absence of it in the aviation sector,” as Solomon describes the case. “We took aviation as a luxury, which is wrong.”

Ethiopian Airlines, which is the biggest airlines in Africa, is working massively to speed up country’s development. “But, it needs grass root support from businesses like mine,” says Solomon. “If we provide the Airline with trained manpower, they can save up to 200 million Birr,” he assured.

Training of a single pilot in Ethiopia cost 2 to 3 million Birr, which is cheap as compared to other nations.

We have been working to graduate qualified and competent pilots in our academy, he explains.

The government should support us in the provision of land to construct maintenance hangar, he insisted. “We’ll cost $10,000 in order to get maintenance of our planes in Kenya. That’s huge lost for Ethiopia”.

“We spend more than 100 million Birr for the maintenance of planes abroad. That’s not solely our money; it’s also treasure of the country”.

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