Local private airlines engaged in charter flight operations disclosed that their businesses are hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
President of the Ethiopian Private Airlines Association Abera Lemi (Capt.) told The Reporter that most of the private airlines in Ethiopia ceased operation in March following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abera, who is also owner and CEO of National Airways, said that the private airlines mostly provide chartered flight services for tourists and VIPs. "We fly tourists and operate VIP flights for corporate executives. In the wake of the outbreak, the tourist flow came to a standstill long before the first confirmed case in Ethiopia was reported," Abera said.
"Company executives are not also coming so most of the private airlines in Ethiopia have ceased operations beginning of March. If we take our company National Airways, we had contract with an oil company in South Sudan but that was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were also working with Air Djibouti and that was also suspended," he said.
According to Abera, unlike many other African countries, the general aviation in Ethiopia is not well developed. "The general aviation got little or no support from the government in the past. The banking sector does not provide loans to the private airlines. Because there is lack of awareness on the role of general aviation. We have a successful and big national carrier but the general aviation is at its infancy due to various reasons. The environment does not encourage private investment in the aviation sector," Abera said.
Abera said despite all the challenges the private airlines are providing charter flight services to tourists coming to the country and contribute to the development of the travel and tourism industry in Ethiopia. "We compliment what Ethiopian Airlines is doing. We take tourists to remote areas where Ethiopian Airlines does not fly. We fly VIPs to regional towns and remote areas. So we play our role in the economic development of the country," Abera said.
Due to the adverse impacts of the COVID-19, most of the private airlines halted operations. Abera said that since the private airlines do not have a strong financial position even before the outbreak, the negative impacts of the COVID-19 has a devastating impacts on the general aviation. "We are still paying salaries to our employees but we have reached to a point where we can no more afford to cover our fixed costs," Abera said.
The Ethiopian Private Airlines Association has requested the government for financial support. Last month the association submitted a letter to the Ministry of Finance requesting financial assistance. The association is looking for loans to be used to cover the member airlines' six-month operational costs. "We are now seeking assistance to stay afloat and pass this challenging time. So that we would be able to resume operation once the COVID-19 ends. We are asking the government to help us out like they did to the hotel and tourism sector. Because we are also part of that industry," Abera said.
The association believes that the government would consider their request and give them a positive response.