A fire rages in an airplane’s overhead compartment while alarmed passengers cough from the smoke
filtering through the cabin. What happens next could be a matter of life and death. Fortunately, this is just
a drill. But for the hopeful flight attendants of Ethiopian Airlines, it is a vital exercise in how to remain
cool under extreme pressure.
“We must be strong in our mind to manage the emergency situations” says Gloria Lawson, a trainee flight attendant at the Ethiopian Aviation Academy. “Now we are doing theoretical lessons. But after one month, we will begin the practicals.”
Lawson, originally from Togo in West Africa, has come to the largest aviation training school on the continent to learn and perfect her aviation skills before taking to the skies.
Focused on pilots, ground staff, maintenance technicians, cabin crew, and leadership roles, it currently
trains 1,300 students as of 2016, who come from all over Africa. But gaining access to this renowned
institution is no cakewalk. “When I was called I was so glad” says, Estelle Ngondonbol, a flight attendant
trainee from Cameroon. “I thought oh my god its my dream being realized. I was so happy. To be
accepted i’ve got to speak French, English, have a degree from a university, and be a presentable and
pretty girl,” Ngondonbol adds.
The cost for flight attendant training is $5,000 for a three-month course. By contrast, the full pilot training
program goes for $68,000.In addition to learning basic service skills, flight attendants are also expected to
handle a variety of scenarios, including an emergency water landing. For Ethiopian Airlines CEO,
Tewolde Gebremariam, this thorough approach is the only approach. $80 million has been invested in
expanding the training facility recently. “The Ethiopian Aviation Academy is going to play a leading role
in making sure that Africans are well educated and prepared for 21st Century African aviation,”
“We have 23 aircraft as of 2016 just for pilot training, however by 2021 the academy was nearing almost
35 aircraft. It meets all global standards. I would say its one of the most admired centers of excellence in
the world,” he adds.
And its set to grow. By 2025, the academy hopes to train 4,000 students a year.
According to Gebremariam, who oversees Africas largest commercial airline fleet in his role, giving
people from the continent the skills to succeed is an essential part of the company’s plans.
“The academy has dual objectives, the first is to make sure Ethiopian Airlines is not challenged by the
shortage of skilled manpower in its vision 2025. The second one is to train African youth in their skills
and enable them to acquire the tools so they can get high-quality jobs. This could be at Ethiopian or (over)
the entire continent of Africa.”
Another area where Ethiopian Airlines has made strong progress in recent years is in pushing women to the forefront of all its services.
Earlier in 2015, 14 pilots, three of them female, graduated from the Ethiopian Aviation Academy.
In November 2015, meanwhile, Ethiopian Airlines made headlines by sending an all-women flight crew
from Addis Ababa to Bangkok, the first of its kind on the African continent. The women covered every
role, from flight attendants to dispatchers, to pilots.
But Gebremariam recognizes that pushing the talents of women and the local population is only part of the process. It takes a lot to get a home-grown aviation company off the ground, after all ” Indigenous African airlines are still small in terms of market share,” he says. “(With) all African airlines put together, we only have 20% (of the market).’80% of the intercontinental traffic is carried by non-African carriers. This is a major challenge for all of us.
“(But) going forward, if we really work on educating our people, our youth, we are going to own the fate of
aviation in our hands, indigenous African aviation. And eventually, become kings of the Aviation
By Ronnie Afema