Spotlighting three key figures who have helped shape Ethiopian into the “New Spirit of Africa.”
Colonel Semret Medhane
First Ethiopian CEO of Ethiopian Airlines (1971-1975)
Roughly 15 years after Ethiopian Airlines started operations, the government reached a decision to appoint a deputy general manager to assist the board of directors in safely “Ethiopianizing” ET. As a pilot and aeronautical engineer, Colonel Semret Medhane floated to the top as the most highly qualified candidate, “but I didn’t jump at the job offer,” he recalls, because he was heading the technical services of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force, and critical options were being evaluated and acted upon.
“But to be appointed by the emperor’s minister of pen was another matter,” he notes, adding how “From this modest start, this challenge of a lifetime became all-encompassing.”
Lasting legacy at ET:“Before I joined the management at ET, there wasn’t a secure source for recruiting technical staff into the airline. In late 1964, however, the airline accepted the need to train its own professionals through an aviation academy — now Africa’s largest and most prestigious school for aviation training — thus guaranteeing a continuous supply of experts. Moreover, the academy also ensures the fruition of staff birthed with ET’s unique culture and work philosophy.”
ET accomplishment of which I am most proud:“During my direct involvement from 1964 to 1975, ET gained the confidence to believe that it can compete successfully with the best in the worldwide airline industry. We expanded our vision for ET from a regional airline to becoming a bridge that connects the world’s three massively populated countries — Japan, China and India — with Africa and beyond. We also used the Organisation of African Unity’s presence in Addis Ababa to facilitate the expansion of ET’s route network in Africa. The vision of an African route to South America took four decades to become a reality, but now one can fly ET from Tokyo to São Paulo over Africa as smoothly as one can aboard any carrier. Even still, we never dreamed that ET would grow to become the global carrier that it is today.”
Captain Amsale Endegnanew
First female captain
In November 2015, Captain Amsale made history for a second time, leading an all-female crew in a flight from Addis Ababa to Bangkok. The “daughters of Lucy” fully operated the journey, both on ground and in the sky — from supplying flight-deck and cabin crew to flight dispatchers, baggage handlers, air-traffic controllers and all the rest. The flight confirmed Ethiopian’s corporate conviction surrounding female empowerment for sustainable growth on the eve of the airline’s 70th anniversary.
Thoughts on becoming the first female ET captain in 2010: “I’m both happy and proud of the fact. I am especially happy that my achievement has drawn a lot of attention and reinforced the idea that women are capable of chasing and realizing their dreams through hard work, even in a profession that is traditionally dominated by men. “
Most exciting part about flying for Ethiopian:
“I have the chance to see so many places — places that it would have been difficult for me to see if I were not in this position, and places that broaden my perspective of the world.”
Captain Alemayehu Abebe
First African pilot to command commercial aircraft
In 1957, Captain Alemayehu — the first Ethiopian commercial aircraft commander — made his solo flight as captain on a DC‑3/C-47 aircraft.
Before coming to ET, Captain Alemayehu taught Colonel Semret Medhane in the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force. As the captain’s first student, Col. Semret claims that he taught Capt. Alemayehu how to teach. When they both came to ET, says Capt. Alemayehu with a laugh, “He came in as management, and my student became my boss.