Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam. Picture: REUTERS/JEAN BIZIMANA
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam. Picture: REUTERS/JEAN BIZIMANA

Addis Ababa — Ethiopian Airlines is willing to provide aeroplanes, pilots and maintenance services to beleaguered rival SAA as part of a joint venture with the government.

Africa’s biggest airline is offering operational assistance, Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said in an interview in Addis Ababa. The carrier is not interested in helping with debt repayments or the cost of reducing the workforce, he said.

“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,” the CEO said. “We want to make it very easy for them to start the airline by providing airplanes, by providing expertise, pilots, technicians, leadership.”

Ethiopian could provide more modern Airbus SE 350s and Boeing 787s, he said, in comparison with SAA’s Airbus 340 aeroplanes.

The government is in need of R10.5bn to resuscitate the airline that’s been in bankruptcy protection since December. The cash is needed in part for ticket refunds and severance packages for almost 4,000 workers who agreed to leave as part of a rescue plan put together by administrators and backed by labour groups.

The department of public enterprises has said that it is looking at several offers from private investors, but nothing concrete has materialised.

Tewolde called on African governments to be more aggressive in reopening borders after months of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ethiopian flights are on average 40% full, the CEO said.

While Boeing plans to get its 737 Max model back into the sky by year-end, Ethiopian remains in talks with the plane maker about compensation for a deadly crash in March 2019 that led the jet to be grounded worldwide. It’s still unclear if the airline will ever fly the model again, Tewolde said.


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