Ethiopian Airlines is one of a handful of airlines in the world that continues to fly to China amid the coronavirus crisis.
Why is Ethiopian Airlines maintaining all its China routes when other international carriers have canceled theirs?
The controversial decision by the company is not only a commercial decision but a diplomatic one. The company considers it an investment in its future. Beijing is one of the largest investors in and creditors to Ethiopia.
“Ethiopian Airlines serves countries in good and bad times,” said the airline’s executive director.
But he goes on to admit the real motivation isn’t quite so noble. “China has a strong commercial and investment relationship with Africa, and Ethiopian Airlines is the main airline that links China with many African countries. If we stop flights to China, we break that relationship.”
The potential of an economic slowdown has not prevented most commercial airlines from suspending their routes to more than forty international airports in mainland China, from Beijing to Shanghai, Chengdu, or Shenzen. Dozens of the top international airlines have canceled more than 10,000 flights since the end of January.
Several countries, including Ethiopia, have established new controls at airports and outpatients, to prevent the arrival of the virus to the continent and its potential expansion. Temperature controls at airports, cans of disinfectant gel in each corner, and monitoring of suspicious cases. At the moment, all the suspects have been negative. However, experts doubt that the African continent will remain isolated from the worldwide spread of coronavirus.
Ethiopia’s determination to keep its airports open for business with China has generated tensions with its neighbors. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta urged the airline to cancel its routes despite the economic consequences. Kenya Airways has canceled all its flights, like other African carriers Royal Air Maroc and RwandAir.
The company has rejected those fears. They say they are taking precautions but are not willing to go so far as to stop flights to China, the CEO said.