Ethiopian Airlines, the leading African flag carrier, said on Wednesday that it has finalized preparations to resume flights to Tigray region, the CEO of the airline confirmed.
All commercial flight services to and from Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia, were suspended after conflict erupted in November 2020.
Flight services restarted for a period after government forces captured Mekelle, Tigray’s regional capital, but were stopped again after Tigray forces retook the city.
The plan to resume flights comes a few weeks after a peace accord was reached to end a two-year long bloody conflict.
Ethiopia’s federal government and leaders in the Tigray region struck a peace accord on November 2 in South Africa followed by an implementation deal signed in Nairobi ten days later.
Mesfin Tasew, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, said that “the situation on the ground has improved” and that Ethiopian Airlines has completed preparations to start operations to the region.
According to the CEO, following the peace agreement, the airline had dispatched personnel to Tigray region to assess the safety of airports to accommodate flights.
“They are monitoring the safety of the runways and facilities in the airports in the region as well as the condition of the a communication and air traffic services,” said Mesfin.
“We are working closely with the government,” said the official, who added that the start of the flights depends on the approval of the security authorities and civil aviation.
“We can start any day. It could be today, tomorrow. At any time when we are told to start, we will,” he said, stating that the airline is ready.
The resumption of flights to the region, he said, will be key in enhancing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region where millions remain aid dependent.
Following the outbreak of the war, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government imposed a de facto siege on Tigray.
The blockade locked all roads into the region, starving it of food and other supplies and cutting off telecommunications, electricity and banking services – an approach that left almost 90 percent of Tigray’s roughly six million people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
The Ethiopian Airlines CEO said that among the airports in the region, Mekelle and Shire are in good condition to accommodate regular flights.
However, he said that a third one, Axum Airport, suffered damage to its infrastructure during the conflict and will require renovations.
“We will send our people to the area and repair the airport. In addition to the three airports, we are also working to resume service to other airports like Lalibela,” he added.
Before the outbreak of the war, the Ethiopian Airlines had several daily flights to Tigray than to any other region in the country.
The number of Ethiopian Airlines flights to Tigray ranks first among the domestic ones, and there were up to 17 daily flights to the region including to the historic tourist destination city of Axum.
The Ethiopian Airlines is said to have lost hundreds of millions of dollars following the suspension of flights to Tigray.
The resumption of flights to Tigray is expected to stimulate the tourism sector which had been greatly affected by the conflict.
“Since the northern part of Ethiopia is a historical travel route, the start of flights will increase the flow of tourists. In this way, Ethiopian Airlines will earn more income. Ethiopia as a country too will get its due benefits,” the CEO said .
Ethiopian Airlines has more than 20 domestic flight destinations including four in Tigray.