Untold, dark sides of Ethiopian aviation

By Endale Assefa – It is not uncommon to see many people failing to comprehend the differences between Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Airport Enterprise.

To see the differences from lay point of view, let’s take the road transport of Addis Ababa and the taxis that serve the public, as an example. As you all know, all the taxis do strictly abide by the international as well as customized traffic rules and regulations.

There are traffic law enforcement bodies (polices) in the streets who are there to ensure proper execution of the rules and regulations. Drivers should respect road signs, speed limits, road lights, among others. The number of passengers that the cabs could carry at a time is limited.

Transport vehicles are also required to undergo inspection every year to ensure their safety. Mini-bus taxis are strictly required to work only in assigned routes. Drivers must have valid driving licenses; and that license should be renewed every two years. Any taxi driver who violates one or more of these rules and regulations will be legally fined.

The air transport service works more or less in the same manner. The rules and regulations and the roles played by law enforcement bodies, the Addis Ababa Traffic Police and road transport authority are like the roles played by Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority.

The traffic polices function as the Air Traffic Controllers (in the authorities air navigation duties), aerodrome safety and standard officers, licensing and registration officers, among others. The supreme body that execute the penalty following any violation of the rules is called the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The organization have mandates even to ban any international flights to and from Ethiopia for failure to meet internationally accepted safety and security standards.

The Ethiopian Airport Enterprise constructs the runways like Addis Ababa Road Authority builds the city’s asphalt roads. One of the associations of the cab owners (like walia, wanza, etc Transport , or the Ride Taxi plc ) that provide transport services is like the Ethiopian Airlines (ET).

A decade ago, the Ethiopian Airport Enterprise was included in the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, before it was and restructured separately as Ethiopian Airport Enterprise under a Board of Directors. Some three years ago again, the enterprise was amalgamated with Ethiopian Airlines to form Ethiopian Airlines group.

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) is the oldest of the three organizations established in 1944; and Ethiopian Airlines followed a year after. ECAA is the regulatory body of the air transport service; that sets the rules and regulation of the Air transport; in accordance with annexes of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO).

ECAA has two major responsibilities to carry out-regulatory and service provision. From ensuring utmost safety and security of the air transport service, ECAA audits, inspects, gives license and regulates all aerodrome and air navigation facilities and services; not mentioning its registration duties of air crafts, issues registration marks and inspection and issuance of airworthiness certificates.

The authority also signs bilateral air transport services on behalf of Ethiopia, grants licenses and regulates air transport and aviation services, inter alia.

Recently, ECAA has also launched registration and licensing of Drones for civilian activities; after devising rules and standards in consultation with stakeholders like Information Network and Security Agency (INSA)and National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

Having said these about the National Civil Aviation Authority, it is easy to tell the degree of power and authority granted to ECAA. Truth be told, however, that the attention given to the authority by the government to exercise its power freely has remained to be little more than invisible for many years in the past.

It is always the National Airlines which stands at the forefront whenever the aviation industry is mention in Ethiopia. True, Ethiopian Airlines deserves all the honor, respect and attention from the government.

As it has been said time and again , ET is the only gateway (some say it is the port of Ethiopia) that connects Ethiopia with the rest of the world. But the attention given to the Airlines should not be at the expense of ECAA. After all, ECAA is not a step son of the country’s aviation industry.

In other words, the multifaceted services provided by ECAA and the legitimate rights granted to the authority should not be unheeded. Despite the frustrations, many of the employees in the authority do not dare to speak of such matter in public.

Private operators(who run private aviation businesses) also feel pity for ECAA. They always complain that government should empower the authority by enabling it to exercise those international accredited duties and responsibilities granted to it.

For instance, Ethiopian airlines is not even charged for some of the services (like air navigation services) provided by ECAA. No one in the authority dares to complain about it.

This is not the experience in the rest of the world. Even the air navigation tariff has not shown major improvements for many years; and it is just recently that an effort to improve the tariff was initiated.

Many of the international airlines which cross the country’s air space are charged with low tariff. In Kenya, the tariff is said to be ten fold from what ECAA is currently charging.

ECAA has a training center that renders various training on Air traffic Control (ATC) and Communication Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) to neighboring countries.

There is a huge potential to transform this center into a regional aviation center of excellence; if it attains the attention it desperately seeks from the government. For the record, this training center is different from the Ethiopian Aviation Academy; as the later is owned by the Ethiopian Airlines Group.

Structurally, ECAA is organized under civil service framework; even if it generates hundreds of millions of birr to the government from services provided every year. In other nations, the Civil Aviation Authority is a parastatal organization which is run by a board of directors for many important reasons.

To begin with, every professional duties of the authority and even the offices are structured in accordance with a global standard required by the ICAO. The fundamental duties ,responsibilities and activities being provided in Civil Aviation Authorities are one and the same everywhere across the world.

In other words, even if ECAA is structured under the Ministry of Transport of Ethiopia, it is directly accountable to the supreme organ that supervises its major duties on daily basis-the ICAO.

Second, many of the Civil Aviation experts are strictly required to take intensive training on their duties as the industry is highly dynamic and the change in the technology of the aviation industry is ever ending.

It is not appropriate for ECAA to write continual requisitions for capacity building training in the existing structure; that require highly procedural and bureaucratic undertakings with Ministry of Finance.

Had ECAA been structured under a Board of Directors, it would have attained autonomy to make use of its own finance with simple internal procedural protocols.

Some big Civil aviation authorities in Africa like Egypt and South Africa have established their own Aviation Universities; which are equipped with highly trained professional instructors.

Last but not least, the salary and benefit packages of ECAA’s employees is comparatively far small. In Kenya, for instance, the salary scale of Civil Aviation professionals is nearly the same as employees of Kenya Airways . In some instance, the employees of the civil Aviation Authority earn more.

Besides, anywhere in the world, employees of the Civil Aviation Authority share equal benefit packages like free air-tickets every year with that of the Airlines.

In Ethiopia, such benefit packages do not exist for employees of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority. On the contrary, an employee in Ethiopian Airlines earns four to five folds from his counterpart in ECAA.

As a result, there is a high turnover of employees in ECAA; as they easily get jobs in various African countries and the Middle East. After all, ECAA is one of the few earliest establishments in Africa with over 70 years of reputation and experience.

It is recalled that a strike was hit by few employees of the ATCs last year; who sought salary adjustment. In fact, the ATCs were over the top recklessly attempting to ban their duties thereby endangering the daily operations of Ethiopian Airlines. That was a violation to their job commitment; not mentioning the compromised national interest.

The bottom line is, it is like as if ECAA is striving to cross the Atlantic in a boat with the tides ahead of it; where as the rest of the world is comfortable sailing in fancy large ships.

Even the most deprived African Civil Aviation Authorities do have a cruise ship to vie. Surprisingly, despite the bottlenecks, ECAA is growing by leaps and bounds; expanding its duties both horizontally and vertically.

When it was audited, for instance six months ago by ICAO , it granted the authority with 89 percent score; which the highest in Africa sharing the same rank only with Ghana.

In my personal opinion, if the government found the roles played by Ethiopian Airlines extremely vital, it is time to think of establishing additional state owned National Airlines or Airways.

Having two, instead of one uplifts confidence. This would be pivotal for the proliferation of the aviation industry; not mentioning its benefits in terms of easing the burdens bestowed upon the Ethiopian Airlines.

Private aviation operators, like any other private investments should be supported; as they also play important role in the economy. But most importantly, Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, which has remained conspicuous since the time of the imperial regime should be seriously considered.

Government should unleash the authority to do all its duties; the way aviation authorities elsewhere are operating.

I personally believe that the government is not intentionally disregarding ECAA. Basically, the aviation industry is too complicated to understand; even for government officials.

Besides, the National Airlines, being the pride of Ethiopia and Africa; and the reputations it earned for decades; coupled with the distinctive work culture it crafted must have made the government to zero in on responding to its demands; keeping ECAA out of the league.