Tewolde GebreMariam, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, began working for the company in 1985, including at one point as manager cargo traffic handling. GebreMariam sat down for an email interview with Air Cargo World about how the African airfreight industry is progressing.
What is the outlook for the African air cargo industry this year?
Africa today is on the rise. It is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. Seven out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. It has a young population of one billion – a sixth of the world – a rising middle class; abundant natural resources such as 12 percent of the world’s oil, 42 percent gold and 60 percent of its uncultivated arable land. Africa is the next and perhaps the last frontier of globalization. As investments and trade, mainly with emerging economies, increases, so will the need for air cargo transport. I think Africa will see a significant portion of the global cargo movement either originating from it or ending there. A considerable volume of export products from Africa are perishables that are transported by air. Concomitantly, most of the imports will be high value industrial goods and equipment needed for the ever-increasing oil and gas exploration activities on the continent, as well as telecom and pharmaceuticals, will be carried by air.
How do you see Ethiopia’s airfreight industry developing in the future?
Ethiopian Airlines is the largest cargo operator in Africa with six dedicated freighter aircraft. Ethiopian is currently operating two Boeing 777-200 LR freighters, the first to be operated in Africa, two MD-11, and two Boeing 757 freighters out of two hubs – our main hub Addis Ababa and Liege, Brussels. The B777F is the most technological advanced aircraft with ability to connect any two points in the world carrying 103 tonnes of cargo with reduced fuel consumption and less emission. This is especially good news for exporters of perishable goods such as flowers, vegetables, fruits and meat. Ethiopian B777F has the ability to maintain cold temperatures of up to 4 degrees centigrade, allowing perishable goods reach their destination maintaining their freshness and quality. Today, the airline operates to 25 cargo destinations in Africa, Middle East, Europe and Asia. Having a vast cargo network – 15 in Africa, seven in Middle East and Asia and two in Europe – Ethiopian operates in major trade lanes between Africa and Europe, Middle East and Asia, providing a convenient and reliable cargo service to and from the continent.
Boosted by the growth of perishable exports from Ethiopia, the airline is now expanding its cargo network and fleet and aims to set up cargo hubs in Central, West and Southern Africa to cater for the growing need for reliable and affordable air cargo transport to and from the continent. Ethiopian cargo is at the final stage to be one of the seven business units of Ethiopian aviation group. By 2025, Ethiopian plans to uplift 820,000 tonnes of cargo using 15 jet aircraft. To support the airline’s fast growth and achieve its goal in continuing to be the leading cargo service provider in Africa, existing facilities are also being upgraded and new ones are being built. We have begun the construction of a large cargo terminal (both dry and perishable) with an annual capacity of 1.2 million tonnes, and will be one of the biggest in the world. The perishable part of the cargo terminal will be, in terms of capacity, bigger than that of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport or the Dubai Flower Centre. The construction will be conducted in two phases, each with a capacity of 600,000 tonnes. In the meantime, Ethiopian has recently inaugurated an additional perishable cargo storage facility with a capacity of 65,000 tonnes per annum to cater for the ever-growing export of perishables from Ethiopia.
What sectors are dominant in Ethiopian and African air cargo?
The dominant items for air cargo export out of Ethiopia are flowers, fruits, vegetables, fresh meat as well as textiles, garments and finished leather products. On the import side, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, chemicals, apparels are the main items. Similarly for Africa, horticultural products are the most dominant items, constituting 60 to 70 percent of the total export. On the import side, telecom equipment, electronics and machinery take a large part.
What technology trends have you noticed in airfreight?
Aviation is technology-driven by its very nature dynamic. To meet the evolving needs of its cargo customers, Ethiopian is adopting current trends to meet its customers’ needs at the lowest possible cost. As such, the cargo business is also seeing technology implementation of full automation and electronic processing to become paperless. As the industry moves in that direction, Ethiopian is also implementing these trends. Since 2010, Ethiopian Cargo has been implementing various initiatives. We have fully automated our core cargo business processes implementing Cargospot from CHAMP Cargosystems. This has replaced the old SITA air cargo manager system, which is now obsolete. We have also automated our ULD management process using CHAMP ULD Manager system. We have implemented Global Customs Gateway to fulfill countries advance e-declaration requirements (e-customs and e-security). We have also automated our load control process with CHAMP Weight & Balance system. We have launched E-freight/e-AWB and currently implemented 100 percent e-AWB on Liege, Dubai, Toronto, London, Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv and Rome routes and are planning to expand to more destinations. Our plan is to go 100 percent e-AWB by December 2013 and 100 percent E-freight by end of 2014, one year ahead of the industry deadline. We have fully automated our communications processes with Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority, EU countries, USA, Canada, Nigeria, South Africa, China, Egypt and India as per their specific requirements.