Africa’s largest and fastest growing airline, Ethiopian Airlines, has made a record high net profit of six billion birr (273 million dollars) in the 2015-2016 fiscal year ending June 2016.
Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told The Reporter in an exclusive interview that the airline registered record high operating revenue of 55 billion birr and a net profit of six billion birr. The revenue increased by 10.3 percent while net profit has shown a whopping increase of 70 percent. In the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the airline made 49.4 billion birr revenue and a net profit of 3.5 billion birr.
In the 2015-2016 fiscal year Ethiopian transported 7.6 million passengers and 270,000 tons of cargo. “It was a very good year for Ethiopian,” Tewolde said.
The CEO said that the 2015-2016 was a challenging year for the African airline industry. “Because of the decline in oil price, demand for air travel has decreased. Our revenue from oil exporting countries was less,” he said. The economies of oil producing countries like Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan and Egypt were seriously affected by the sudden decline of oil price in the global market.
Tewolde said the more difficult challenge was the shortage of foreign currency created in those countries particularly in Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and Egypt as a result of the oil price decline.
“Right now we have more than 220 million dollars in local currencies in those countries. Mainly, in Nigeria, Angola, and Sudan and we have a small amount in Egypt. We have in total 220 million dollars in local currency trapped there for more than a year. You can imagine what that means on our liquidity, cash flow because more than 70 percent of our expenses are in US dollars. So that has created a very strong challenge for the airline,” Tewolde said.
Ethiopian is not the only airline which is unable to remit its sales from these countries. Several other African and foreign carriers are unable to repatriate their funds. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 18 African governments have a total of 1.4 billion US dollars blocked funds. Nigeria has 339 million, Egypt 310 million, Angola 190 million, Sudan 250 million and Algeria 125 million dollars in blocked funds. The new director general and CEO of IATA Alexander de Juniac told The Reporter that IATA is pushing governments to release blocked funds due to the shortage of foreign currency caused by commodity market crash. “We are pushing governments to organize the repatriation of airlines blocked funds. We are trying to be able to negotiate plans to repatriate funds,” Juniac told The Reporter.
Junica said that IATA, in collaboration with member airlines, was able to reduce the amount of blocked funds in Nigeria and Egypt. He said IATA is closely working with the governments of Nigeria, Egypt, Angola and Sudan, the four countries which hold the majority of the blocked funds. The African Airlines Association (AFRAA) is also lobbying with the African governments to release the airlines blocked funds.
Tewolde told The Reporter that the recent political unrest in Ethiopia did not that a significant effect on the airline. “We are talking about 2016 and the fiscal year ended in June 2016 and by then we have not felt the impact of the unrest.”
Tewolde said that since the airline’s 70 percent traffic is transit the impact of the political unrest was minimal. “Of course it had an impact but not that big. Because as you can see our revenue grew, profit grew, because 70-75 percent of our traffic is transit. And I think the effect is on this year than on last year. This year we have seen slight reduction but it is not that big. We have noted a small reduction on our traffic to Ethiopia. But overall I would not say it has affected us very much.”
The competition coming from non-African carriers particularly that of Turkish and mega Gulf carriers is becoming stronger than ever before. “We have never seen such a fierce competition. We are at a price war. It is very frustrating.”
According to Tewolde, despite all the challenges, Ethiopian managed to register a remarkable financial performance in the reported period. He attributed the success to the dedication, hard work and commitment of the airline’s employees and strong strategic and operational leadership by the management team and the board of directors.
Last December IATA disclosed that African carriers made a loss of 900 million dollars in 2015 and close to 800 million dollars loss in 2016. According to IATA, 2017 is going to be another year of loss for African airlines. IATA‘s latest market forecast indicates that African airlines would lose 800 million US dollars in 2017.
Zemedeneh Negatu, a leading African aviation transaction adviser, lauded Ethiopian’s financial performance. “This is a remarkable performance,” Zemedeneh said.
Zemedeneh, who advised airlines across Africa including RwandAir, Ethiopian Airlines, Virgin Atlantic’s Nigerian Subsidiary, Virgin Nigeria, said that the overall African airline industry is in a bad shape. “The Government of Nigeria this week took over Arik Air (a private airline in Nigeria) because of mounting debt. South African Airways (SAA) has been making loss for many years now. They have changed CEO and board chairman several times in the past five years. Kenya Airways (KQ) has not made money in the last three years. SAA and KQ would have been out of business by now has it not been for the millions of dollars subside they receive from their governments,” he said.
“By contrast Ethiopian Airlines has grown rapidly with a very strong balance sheet. They are acquiring state-of-the-art aircraft like Dreamliners and Airbus A350, the first in Africa. They have a very young fleet of 82 aircraft with an average age of five years operating to more than 90 international destinations. It continues to be a pioneer,” he said.
Zemedeneh said Ethiopian is a well managed airline. “It has a capable and focused management with a clear vision, more importantly capable of executing its vision.”
He went on to say that Ethiopian has a solid management and dedicated staff that can deliver. He also attributed the success of the airline to the management independence the government granted. “The government does not intervene in the day-to-day operations of the airline. Though the airline is wholly owned by the state, it is purely run commercially. It is managed as an independent business entity.”
He also said that Ethiopian is benefiting from its strong operation to Asia, which was launched many years ago a head of many other international airlines. He mentioned that Ethiopian is one of the only two airlines from Sub-Saharan Africa allowed by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly to the United States.
Source - Reporter