Ethiopian Airways – oft cited as a doable SAA saviour – simply did an area deal

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – 1/19/2020: Ethiopian Airlines Airbus 350-900 takes off from London Heathrow Airport. (Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

  • Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline by fleet size and destination, has partnered with CemAir.
  • The interline agreement allows both CemAir and Ethiopian passengers to travel on a single ticket, eliminating the need to check-in more than once.
  • Ethiopian offered to support South Africa’s embattled airline, but SAA was unable to minimize its debt and resolve ongoing labor problems.
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The largest airline in Africa, Ethiopia, has announced a partnership with regional operators CemAir in the form of an interline agreement. This alliance connects smaller South African destinations with airports on five continents through single tickets, reducing multiple check-ins and baggage collection.

Amid the global aviation downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ethiopian Airlines continues to serve South Africa consistently while other operators are canceling flights due to regional restrictions. With almost 130 passenger planes flying to more than 100 international destinations, the connecting flight to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa is still the strongest connection between Africa and the world.

This is particularly true of the South African route of flight Ethiopia, which offers daily flights between Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International and Addis Ababa even during the height of the second wave of the pandemic. Connecting flights to Europe and the Middle East come at a time when major airlines serving these regions, namely British Airways and Emirates, have suspended flights due to tightened travel restrictions.

The partnership with CemAir, which serves regional airports along the Garden Route and the KwaZulu-Natal coast, provides easier access for those traveling to or from South Africa. The interline agreement allows passengers who book with Ethiopian Airlines to travel through South Africa’s regional airports without having to check-in again when connecting at major hubs.

Previously, CemAir passengers had to book two tickets in order to connect to Ethiopian Airline’s international itinerary. Similarly, international passengers entering South Africa via Ethiopian Airlines would have to book two tickets to reach smaller regional destinations.

“Ethiopian is a strong partner, and given the significant changes in the South African aviation industry, we look forward to working closely with them as we expand our network both domestically and beyond,” said Miles van der Molen, CEO of CemAir.

One of these big changes in the local aviation industry, besides the challenges that Covid-19 brings with it, is the precarious situation of the South African airline. South African Airways (SAA), which was formed nearly a year after being forced to bail out businesses in 2019, is unlikely to recover from a number of serious financial and operational problems.

And while the corporate bailout plan has been passed, the SAA could still be liquidated if administrators fail to find equity partners beyond the government’s exorbitant and controversial bailout.

In October 2020, Tewolde Gebremariam, Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines said he was involved in discussions about a partnership with SAA. The planned project included the provision of aircraft, pilots and maintenance work by Ethiopian Airlines for SAA under a contract with the South African government.

Nick Fadugba, Chief Executive of African Aviation Services (AAS), described Ethiopian Airlines as “preferred strategic investment partner” of SAA.

However, SAA’s debilitating R10 billion debt and ongoing labor problems are elements of the undertaking Gebremariam was not ready to undertake. The Ethiopian boss has expressed his willingness to return to the table if the South African government can resolve these two sensitive issues.

Until then, and amid the ongoing global pandemic, Ethiopian Airlines continues to enter into codeshare and interline agreements with other operational entities while SAA’s future is pending.

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