Ethiopian Airlines has no plans to suspend service to China

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FILE PHOTO: Workers service an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane at the Bole International Airport in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Workers service an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane at the Bole International Airport in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

The CEO of Ethiopia’s flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) Tewolde Gebremariam on Wednesday said stopping flights to China is not a solution to fight novel coronavirus.

Speaking at the 5th Africa Aviation conference being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Gebremariam said the novel coronavirus transmission won’t be prevented by stopping direct flights to China.

“Flying direct to China doesn’t mean we will stop novel coronavirus, because passengers from China can travel to African countries including Ethiopia through various other hubs. That’s what the interconnected world means.”

Tewolde Gebremariam, Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, speaks to The Associated Press at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Saturday, March 23, 2019. (AP)

“As per the directive of the World Health Organization (WHO), stopping flights isn’t the answer. Isolating China because it has novel coronavirus outbreak isn’t fair,” said Gebremariam.

However, the ET CEO admitted the novel coronavirus disease is a major headache for Africa’s largest airlines with more than 120 international destinations.

“We’ve seen a 20 percent decline in demand. It’s a big shock, but aviation is used to this kind of shock. Diseases, natural disasters, wars, sudden spikes in oil prices, we’re used to it.”

Mr. Gebremariam’s comments come as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) projected a $29 billion hit to the global aviation industry – a 4.7% industry-wide drop in revenue per passenger – as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The IATA says African air carriers could see a potential $40 million loss.

That could be a devastating blow to struggling airlines that need lucrative Chinese routes to fund expansion.

On Tuesday, Kenya halted direct flights from Italy’s northern cities of Verona and Milan, which usually head to the Kenyan coast. Northern Italy has seen Europe’s biggest cluster of coronavirus cases.

Last month, Kenya Airways and RwandAir suspended all flights to and from China until further notice.

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