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Boeing’s commitment to Ethiopia, Africa’s aviation sector

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Boeing has a long and storied history in Ethiopia, with a shared legacy of over 70 years in the aviation industry. The company’s operations in the country have contributed significantly to the growth and development of the local economy.

To support the development of local talent, Boeing has invested over $22 million in community outreach and education initiatives in Africa since 2008. This includes collaborations with more than 40 educational and non-profit organizations in the region. In Ethiopia, Boeing has partnered with the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology to enhance the engineering curriculum and support the development of student projects, such as unmanned aerial vehicles for agricultural applications.

Moreover, Boeing has expanded its manufacturing presence in Ethiopia by working with Ethiopian Airlines to establish a new wire harness production facility in Addis Ababa. The company has also attracted overseas suppliers to the region, contributing to the growth of the local aerospace sector and job creation.

While Boeing has faced some challenges in the recent past, including high-profile accidents, the company remains committed to strengthening its quality management systems and safety practices. In Africa, Boeing actively contributes to regional safety initiatives and assists countries in their efforts to obtain FAA Category 1 status, demonstrating its dedication to aviation safety and continuous improvement.

In an exclusive interview with Capital’s Groum Abate, Anbessie Yitbarek, the Vice President of Commercial Sales and Marketing for Africa at Boeing, shares his insights on the challenges and opportunities in the region.

Yitbarek joined Boeing in January 2023 and is responsible for leading the sales and marketing of the company’s commercial airplanes portfolio in Africa. Prior to this role, Yitbarek spent over a decade at Ethiopian Airlines, where he held various leadership positions, including Chief Operating Officer. In that role, he led more than 3,500 employees and oversaw functions such as Flight Operations, Maintenance & Engineering, and Cabin Services. Yitbarek also served on the Board of Directors of the Ethiopian Defense Engineering Corporation during this time. He holds a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Addis Ababa University.

Capital: Can you provide an overview of Boeing’s involvement in Ethiopia’s aviation industry? What specific projects or initiatives has Boeing undertaken in the country?

Anbessie Yitbarek: In addition to selling airplanes and directly supporting our airline customers, we have been actively fostering the growth of Africa’s aviation industry for over 75 years. This has been achieved by investing in the talent pipeline, promoting innovation, aiding the development of the industrial and manufacturing base, and advocating for market liberalization and free trade.

One of our most significant partnerships in Africa is with Ethiopian Airlines. This longstanding collaboration has seen the airline grow and operate a diverse fleet of over 80 Boeing jets, including 737s, 767s, 787s, and 777s. In a testament to the strength of our relationship, the airline placed an order for an additional 67 airplanes at the Dubai Airshow last November. This order, which included wide-body and narrow-body models such as the 787 and 737 Max, was the largest Boeing ever received from an African carrier, underscoring our mutual trust and confidence.

We have also delivered nine 777 freighters and three 737-800 converted freighters to the airline. These link Ethiopia to over 40 cargo hubs across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. Ethiopian Airlines recently announced a firm order for five additional 777 freighters and are in talks to acquire another five, to meet current cargo demand and set the stage for future growth. The airlines has recently ordered up to 20 777X, as its flagship, making it the first customer in Africa.

In addition to the above, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ethiopia in March 2023. Through this MoU, the country intends to purchase five 777-8 Freighters, the newest, most capable, and most fuel-efficient twin-engine freighters in the industry, to support Ethiopia Airlines long-term sustainable growth.

Capital: How has Boeing’s presence in Ethiopia contributed to the growth and development of the local economy? Are there any specific economic benefits or job creation opportunities associated with Boeing’s operations?

Anbessie: Boeing directly employs about 30 people in Africa, and we continue to grow.

In December 2023, Henok Teferra Shawl joined the Boeing team in Ethiopia and was appointed managing director of Boeing in Africa. I work closely with Henok to solidify and strengthen our partnerships with Governments, airlines, associations, suppliers, and partners and foster innovation, market liberalization, and local talent development across the continent. 

To support the local talent, Boeing has partnered with over 40 educational and non-profit organizations in Africa and invested over $22 million in community outreach and education since 2008.

Capital: What is Boeing’s long-term growth trajectory in Ethiopia? Are there any plans for expansion or the introduction of new programs or technologies in the country?

Anbessie: Boeing recognizes Ethiopia as a global aviation leader in the continent. Building on our seventy-years shared history in aviation, we have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ethiopian Airlines that aims to position the country as Africa’s aviation hub.   

Under the MoU and over a period of three years, we will work together in four areas of strategic collaboration that include industrial development, advanced aviation training, educational partnership and leadership development.

We are also committed to developing Ethiopia’s manufacturing capability and aftermarket aviation service through this MoU, advancing Ethiopia’s capabilities to compete globally. Here, we aim to have the Ethiopian Aviation Academy recognized as a global standard for aviation training.

We seek to build an aviation talent pipeline in Ethiopia, through collaborations with highly qualified educational institutions and aviation industry partners and have launched specialized learning and development programs to meet workforce demands.

Capital: Could you shed light on Boeing’s collaborations with other stakeholders in the Ethiopian aviation sector? Which organizations or companies has Boeing partnered with to promote industry growth and innovation?

Anbessie: Boeing investments and partnerships in Ethiopia help grow the local aerospace sector, creating jobs, driving innovation and tackling climate change to help the country achieve its national objectives.

Over the past several years in Ethiopia, Boeing has expanded its manufacturing footprint and attracted overseas suppliers to the region. We have expanded our wire harness procurement in Africa by working with Ethiopian Airlines to establish a new manufacturing facility at the airline’s base in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Airlines also produces thermo-acoustic insulation blankets for certain configurations of the 737 MAX through a joint venture with an Italian Boeing supplier, Geven-SkyTecno, at the airline’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul facility in Ethiopia.

Capital: In what ways does Boeing support local talent development and capacity building in Ethiopia’s aviation industry? Are there any training programs or initiatives aimed at enhancing the skills and expertise of Ethiopian aviation professionals?

Anbessie: Boeing community outreach programs in Ethiopia provide systemic improvement in education and economic empowerment, feeding the talent pipeline. These initiatives are focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and women empowerment.

We work closely with Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAiT) to foster engineering curriculum. Boeing has provided a financial grant to support AAiT students with the development of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for wheat rust and locust identification, the installment of a wind tunnel, and the design and development of engineering projects.

Together with trusted non-profit organizations, we arrange various STEM education programs for children and youth in Ethiopia, including the Coding School focused on programming and robotics, and Pathways to Space program related to space education.

Together with Ethiopian Airlines and ThinkYoung, we arrange the annual STEM School in Ethiopian Aviation Academy that empowers students with digital and other STEM skills and hands-on experience in aviation, including job shadowing at Ethiopian Airlines.

All our programs help to bridge the gender gap, with more than 50% of participants being girls.

Additionally, Boeing is working with Link Community Development to educate young girls in Ethiopia, with over 62,000 girls benefitting from these efforts so far.

Capital: Has Boeing faced any challenges or obstacles in its work in Ethiopia? How does the company address and overcome these challenges while maintaining its commitment to the country?

Anbessie: Like most countries across Africa, Ethiopia offers a unique business environment. We are closely working with stakeholders across the region to deal with any challenges presented by Africa’s unique setting and enhance the opportunities available in the region.

We support advocacy efforts for market liberalization by participating in the African Aviation Industry Group, which aligns closely with the African Airlines Association (AFRAA). This organization is addressing the costs to airlines and how best to pool resources and know-how to ultimately make flight and freight more affordable for Africans.

Capital: Boeing is recently in the spotlight with multiple fatal accidents and other accidents. Will these incidents affect its operation in Ethiopia or Africa?

Anbessie: Safety is at the core of who we are and what we do. People all over the world fly on our products every day and nothing is more important than their safety. We have taken important steps in recent years to strengthen our Quality Management System’s (QMS) foundation and its layers of protection.

To bolster quality assurance and controls across our factories we are taking immediate actions that include more quality inspections, team sessions on quality, review of our supplier work, most notably Spirit AeroSystems, airline oversight inspections; and independent inspections as you have seen by the appointment of Admiral Kirkland Donald, as a special adviser to thoroughly review our QMS.

We have made significant progress which includes training, tooling, factory equipment, work instructions, inspection procedures, compliance checks, travelled work controls, incentive structures, employee listening, culture improvement and much more.

In Africa, we have assisted many countries in their efforts to obtain FAA Cat 1 status. We also contribute to regional safety initiatives through the Regional Aviation Safety Group and co-produced the annual safety report.

Capital: How does Boeing contribute to sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in Ethiopia’s aviation sector? 

Anbessie: Boeing supports and aligns with the aviation industry’s goals and is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Our strategy for decarbonizing aerospace while maintaining the benefits of air travel includes several key components: fleet renewal, improving network operational efficiency, including advancements in air traffic management, embracing Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and investing in advanced technology.

We work with partners to research, develop and commercialize new sources of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Boeing and Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) released a study highlighting the potential for producing SAF in Sub-Saharan Africa while driving just energy transition and job opportunities. In Ethiopia, brassica carinata (Ethiopian mustard) was identified as a promising potential feedstock to produce biofuels while also addressing both food and energy demand.

Additionally, Boeing works to align STEM education with sustainability roadmaps of African countries, empowering youth to address climate change challenges head-on. In Ethiopia, we have collaborated with Ethiopian Airlines to develop a training course on aviation sustainability for the Ethiopian Aviation University.

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