Ethiopian Airlines Relies On A350 To Navigate Pandemic Storm

Africa’s largest carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, was one of the few operators that remained cash positive during the peak of the pandemic, which was due in part to its successful cargo operations.

Ethiopian operated its first cargo-only service on a passenger aircraft in March 2020, just as the world went into lock-down.

The Addis Ababa-based carrier, like many of its peers, made the crucial decision to temporarily convert part of its fleet to carry cargo rather than passengers. Since then, the company has boosted its capacity on cargo operations.

Ethiopian’s “preighters” – passenger aircraft carrying cargo in the cabin – transported tonnes of masks and medical products, as well as industrial products and goods such as mobile phones, IT equipment and clothing.

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The company recently indicated it had “operated 5,645 cargo flights on the cabin of passenger aircraft and transported more than 121,750 tonnes of cargo across its vast global network. The flights added an immense value to the total of 33,182 flights and 735,869 tonnes of cargo transported during the period from March 25, 2020 to March 25 2021”.


Ethiopian Airlines A350 aircraft in flight

A350 navigates the storm

Ethiopian used its entire A350-900 fleet for cargo operations. Seven out of its 16 extra-wide body aircraft have been converted to freighters by removing all economy seats. The other nine are used either for passengers or for cargo loaded on the economy seats. As a result, all Ethiopian A350-900 have kept flying during the period.

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The East African carrier has fully benefited from the capability of the Airbus aircraft to fly with an operational reliability of 99.5 percent.

“The cabin layout of the A350 is based on the concept of ‘simplicity by design’ where efficiency of space on board the aircraft is a key factor,” said Mikail Houari, President Airbus Africa Middle East.

“The 221-inch cross-section, the straight sidewalls from floor to ceiling, the unequaled height of the ceiling and the reduced tapering offer an unequalled space to load parcels. Designed at the origin to improve the comfort of the passengers, the fully flat, horizontal floor and the recessed rails are particularly practical when the aircraft is in cargo configuration.”

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He added: “Let me express my admiration for Ethiopian Airlines’ remarkable achievement during this unprecedented pandemic. Let me also voice my pride to see the A350 playing a critical role in this success.”

Wole Shadare