We join the international community in mourning the 157 passengers and crew who perished when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed on Sunday morning en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, six minutes after take-off.
With passengers drawn from at least 35 countries, including staff from the United Nations, this is a tragedy difficult to ignore for it has affected every continent. It also happened on the home of the African Union.
While many African nations that draw billions of dollars from the fiscus struggle to ensure that state-owned companies (SOEs), airlines included, remain viable, it has not been the case with Ethiopian Airlines.
Over the decades, it has used innovative business models that have seen it operating professionally, efficiently and profitably. With 125 passenger destinations and 300 flights daily, the flag carrier is a success story in the continent’s aviation industry, considering that a majority of them are bailed out annually. Others have ceased operating, while questions are asked why posterity of carrying national colours must predominate profitability.
Not only does the Ethiopian flag carrier have the largest fleet on the continent, it is also one of the few transporters that has improved connectivity in Africa and the outside world.
With the continent working on remodelling its infrastructure, including in the aviation industry, Ethiopian Airlines is central to the success of this regional integration vision, including the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
Thus Sunday’s crash was that tragic, because it clearly demonstrates that although the plane was travelling from Ethiopia to Kenya, it was, however, ferrying passengers of different nationalities from across the globe.
Ethiopian Airlines also holds a special place in Zimbabwe. When the illegal sanctions were imposed by the West almost two decades ago, this also affected the aviation industry. Nonetheless, the Ethiopian flag carrier did not pull out of Zimbabwe despite the harsh economic conditions, hyper-inflation in particular. It became the conduit for travellers from within and outside the country. It was risky business, but they stayed and became true to the adage of being thy brother’s keeper.
An accident of such magnitude means a lot. Condolence messages continue to pour in, and among them was a message from President Mnangagwa, Zimbabwean citizens and other world leaders. It has been gratifying that investigators have since recovered the digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder (black boxes), which in some instances take forever or are never found.
The million-dollar question that the investigations should answer is why a fairly brand new plane crashed. Was it a mechanical/technical fault, or it was due to human error as is the case with most road traffic accidents?
Questions have also been raised since Ethiopia, China, Indonesia grounded the United States-manufactured Boeing 737 MAX 8. Why Boeing 737 MAX 8 only?
The grounding of such a large fleet might be temporary, but it has put a major dent in the aviation industry, Boeing in particular.
Travellers are the worst affected in this sudden change since they have to find alternative airlines, with some missing important engagements.
Another downside is that such tragedies put the continent in bad light, as travellers might lose confidence in its airlines. However, we hope that Ethiopia’s track record of professionalism will be a guiding principle.
We also hope that the airline travelling public will recall the greatest mystery in the aviation industry when a Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 disappeared without trace on March 8, 2014.
It is tragedies like this that should unite the world, instead of the divisions we see, for death can knock on anyone’s door any time.