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Is Ethiopian Airlines the Champion of the COVID time?

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

Contributor: Mussie F;

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all (Dale Carnegie)”

Change is a common and persistent state of current business organizations that are activated in organizational management as technological innovations are introduced, socio-economical changes occurred, public emergencies are activated, new challenges are introduced and competitions grow (Cancialosi, 2021). Ethiopian Airlines, the fastest growing and leading aviation group in Africa was not an exception to face the change brought by COVID-19 – that forced the aviation industry in particular and the global tourism sector at large to cease due to the nature of the epidemic as it quickly spread from person to person. How was the change affect Ethiopian Airlines?

The Change

Due to the challenges introduced due to COVID-19, Ethiopian Airlines was among the very few global airlines to activate changes in its business and fleet structure to jump into the opportunities created by the epidemic that was the scarcity of cargo capacity needed for medical supplies, grocery items for supermarkets and e-commerce supply chain. The executive management had immediately implemented a change plan and mobilize the teams in Commercial, Customer Service, Flight Operation, Cargo and Logistic Services, and Maintenance Repair Overhaul divisions to identify gaps caused by the epidemic and use available resources to secure new business by making the necessary changes in our business model and fleet type. It had not taken time for Ethiopian Airlines Management to decide to start cabin loading, preighter service by removing seats from its passenger aircraft and introducing new cargo charter routes into the network. The management was very agile and fast to implement a digital communication channel to make scheduled meetings with all involved team including those at field offices and established a cargo business objective by putting KPIs that were reviewed on the consecutive meetings with the GCEO.

The leadership

A good leader or a bad one? and a leader or a boss? Although leaders and bosses are sometimes used to describe managers or executives, employees gossip and discuss to reflect the goods and bad associated with their managers. According to Amin (2018), “A boss tells people what they can do to achieve a goal. A leader asks people what they can do to advance a vision.”

Having the best leaders under the direction of Ethiopian GCEO turned the crisis into a lifetime opportunity to build the business bricks by bricks in the context of the new normal. The resilience and winning sentiment of the GCEO was unimaginable to stand taller no longer after Ethiopian experienced the devastating crash of its B737-MAX and the Covid 19 breakout. While big global and regional airlines had continued announcing salary cut-off, staff lay-off, and receipt of government support to keep them running, Ethiopian Airlines had announced its profit in 2020. The leadership approaches were configured of motivational, directional, mentoring, and experience sharing (peer influencing) elements, - all in one meeting. The management was very agile to set up KPIs on weekly basis by reviewing the level of operational costs going into the details of all variable factors. Leadership in Ethiopian Airlines is a means of bridging organizational interest and employees’ interest in the journey of achieving their mission. It is guided by the means of power and resources which builds the authority for leadership to function the way it is intended to.


Since the challenges and changes caused by COVID-19 were characterized as external and internal where information was quickly injected and changing frequently, it was very frustrating and full of uncertainty to cope up in the beginning. On the other hand, there is a strong organizational culture in the organization where employees call themselves “Ethiopian Airlines Family” and have a stronger attitude and willingness to ensure a flag airline succeeds by keeping everyone active on the job. The message from the GCEO was “no one would be laid off, there would not be a deduction of salary, and/or a default in the payment commitment of the airline – Ethiopian Airlines will pass the turbulence together as a family ”; such a message was not uncommon in Ethiopian Airlines which reflects the company strong organizational culture to stand as one to face challenges and activate the necessary change management tools to help the management and employees to upscale their energy to ensure cash flow as normal like before the crises. The call was not about the management or anyone but it was about the team and the beloved national airlines. The process of the change, at the same time, involved conflicts, frustrations, stress, fatigue, resistance, success, teamwork, fidelity, and excitement. All these happened in the journey of navigating through the Covid waves.

Coping with the Change

As discussed above, it was difficult but very easy to cope up with the changes when there was trust, a sense of ownership, teamwork, active communication, and strong organizational culture. Higgins and Bourne (2018) explain organizational culture as a set of assumptions, values, and norms reflected in the form of behavior by a member of the organization.

As is explained by Stobierski (2020), the management used the following tips to cope up with the change: -

  1. Understand the Process of Change

  2. Understand the Forces of Change

  3. Create a plan

  4. Communicate

  5. Prepare for the challenges

Last but not least was the cost-saving mindset and structure in Ethiopian Airlines which was a consistent tool to manage cost to take lower-cost advantage to push up profit and offer affordable products. Respecting the business confidentiality, the details of the cost-cutting measures to optimize system efficiency will not be listed here, however, the leadership role to manage external pressure through a quicker adaptation has given Ethiopian Airlines to keep winning.

The winner

Yes, Ethiopian Airlines has won; the management and the hard-working employees have indeed won the challenge and will keep winning the business through wonderful organizational management and culture. A recent unofficial source announced that salary increments have been made by Ethiopian Airlines to its employees. This is exceptional and it is a paradox in the context of the world’s aviation economy to observe the African giant is turning problems into opportunities to grow. According to the IATA report, Ethiopian airlines stood at the 20th in terms of Top 25 Airlines: Ranked by Passenger Traffic and 21st in terms of cargo traffic. Entering the top 25 leagues has never been an easy job for an airline that does not have subsidies from the government neither in bad times nor good times. Managements and employees making such marvelous achievements for an airline from one of the poorest countries are setting the bar high in the aviation business.


Amin, N. (2018, March 22). Are you a boss or a leader? Training Folks.

Cancialosi, C. (2021, March 25). Don't think an organizational culture can change? Think again.


Higgins, D., & Bourne, P. A. (2018, August 29). Implementing change in an organization: A general overview. Scholarly Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), 7-18.

Stobierski T. (2020, January 23). 5 tips for managing change in the Workplace: Hbs online. Retrieved May 30, 2021, from

The African .com, (2019). Ethiopian Airlines is the African Champion of the year 2019.

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