Ethiopian Airlines gives rundown on Chinese cargo market

Ethiopian Airlines knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Chinese market with last year's exceptional performance at CAN.

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It is no secret that bilateral ties between China and Africa have been a contributing factor for the success of air cargo operators moving shipments on this route. As the first African airline to establish a footprint in the mainland, Ethiopian Airlines knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Chinese market, and the carrier was recently recognised for its exceptional cargo performance at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. Payload Asia had a chance to gain insight on Ethiopian’s operations with head of cargo marketing Enquanhone Minyashal, as he shared how the airline is navigating the current pandemic and where it plans to open new services to capitalise on the high yields.

Ethiopian logged a total cargo weight of 54.4 million kilos at CAN last year. What makes the China-Africa route a key lane or market for air cargo?
We are proud to say that flexibility and agility have always been our competitive advantage. Through our flexible business adjustment and active implementation of ‘passenger-to-cargo’ flights and other measures, PPE and medical supplies were transported fast and efficiently from China to the rest of the world and vise-versa.

Ethiopian demonstrated impressive performance at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport by operating 1,622 flights, out of which 966 were with freighter, 572 were with preighters (passenger aircraft converted to cargo), and 84 flights were with bellyhold on passenger aircraft

Our state-of-the-art cargo terminal in Addis Ababa being equipped with advanced technology, compartmentalized cold chain facilities and temperature-controlled warehouses and all its well-trained employee’s capability makes it a chosen distribution hub for all humanitarian aid. We have always been actively involved in global aviation, tourism and e-commerce cooperation.

Previously, through our cooperation with Alibaba Group, we have joined in the work of building the eWTP platform and became an important partner in Africa. In addition, we have cooperated with Cainiao to open a cold chain transportation line from Shenzhen to Addis Ababa for the safe transportation of vaccines and other temperature-controlled goods.

China is one of the strongest and oldest markets for Ethiopians. As the first African airline to enter the Chinese market, Ethiopian Airlines has been committed to connecting China with the entire African continent for nearly half a century. China and Ethiopia also have long-term and stable friendly relations. All these are important reasons why China-Africa is a key lane or market for air cargo.

What type of shipments are coming out of China and into Africa and vice versa? How are yields looking like with the imbalance of congested capacity and surging demand?
The inbound market from African side is almost zero and affects our round-trip yield. Moreover, the entrance of more P2F by other airlines (OAL) makes the competition very tough. This excess supply in the market can move the equilibrium price downward and affects our yield very badly.

Under the “Belt and Road” and China-Africa economic and trade cooperation framework, Ethiopian Airlines makes full use of Addis Ababa, an important aviation hub in Africa, and plays an active role in promoting economic and trade exchanges and political and cultural exchanges between the Chinese and African people. Any item under this agreement is subject to our shipment.

The most common cargo from China are medical supplies, perishable products, high-value goods, technology, medicines and medical supplies, and goods from cross-border e-commerce.

Since the Covid-19 crisis began, air cargo has been a vital partner in delivering much-needed medicines, medical equipment (including spare parts/repair components), and in keeping global supply chains functioning for the most time-sensitive materials. At present, we have opened a vaccine line for the transport of Covid-19 vaccines between China and Africa, and Ethiopian Airlines will continue to guarantee the safety of vaccines and other medical supplies.

Which other key markets is the airline servicing right now? How many aircraft are flying right now dedicated to carrying cargo? When are you expecting to add more belly capacity?
Our key market lanes are Asia (China, India)-Africa, Africa-Europe-Africa, Asia-Europe-Asia and transpacific. Currently we operate with 45-50 weekly flights from nine Chinese stations and flying to all continents except Australia.

Our market is diversified and we still plan to diversify more and gain our market share out of China specially to Africa, Europe, and North America. Subject to permit we are planning to add P2F flights from CTU, URC and CSX very soon.

Currently, Ethiopian is operating with 12 dedicated freighter A/C’s (three B737s and nine B777s) and 17 preighters in its fleet, in addition to passenger belly capacity, and we are optimistic that things will get better in the near future both for cargo and passenger, which will open more for belly capacity.

Can you tell us about the progress of the vaccine rollout in Africa? How has Ethiopian supported the distribution and transport of these life-saving jabs?
Our Cargo & Logistics Services, the multi-award winning and largest cargo network operator in Africa, has announced its readiness with all required capabilities for the distribution of potential COVID-19 vaccine across the world. It was instrumental in facilitating the flow of medical supplies, including PPEs, across the globe in support of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by deploying 12 freighters and 25 converted pax A/C into cargo. So far, Ethiopian Airlines has transported more than 27 million doses of vaccine to more than 24 countries.

The state-of-the-art cargo terminal in ADD, which is the largest in Africa with annual capacity of around one million tonnes equipped with temperature-controlled cold storage facilities has different climate chambers ranging between -23℃ and 25℃, covering an area of 54,000 sqm; dedicated cool dollies; a dedicated pharma team, lease/handling of Envirotainer & DoKaSCH-TS active containers; real-time temperature monitoring system and fully temperature controlled operation. The Pharma Wing of Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services will continue to be the capable and competitive airline for handling pharmaceuticals and all types of medical supplies.

What would be Ethiopian’s take on the current movement towards sustainability? And what’s the cargo division’s near-term plans to navigate the still ongoing crisis?
During the pandemic, Ethiopian made a strategic change from growth to survival mode by managing costs, generating and controlling cash, implementing prudent cost-saving measures and shifting focus from passenger heavy to cargo business, including considering sea-air mode of transportation to give an additional option for traders to move cargo between Asia and the Middle East to Africa, with faster delivery and cheaper cost

We hope that with our young, advanced fleet, our network across Africa and our hub in Addis Ababa, we will further connect the Chinese market to the African continent.

At present, we have nine freight stations in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Hong Kong. In the near future, we are planning to open a regular cargo route from Changsha, Urumqi to Addis Ababa. In the next step, we will continue to closely monitor the aviation market dynamics and make flexible business adjustments accordingly.

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