The mother, the child and the mistress

Ethiopian CEO Girma Wake.jpgI was in sunny Ethiopia last week for the African Airlines Association annual general assembly. It was 23° out there – in sharp contrast to today’s snowy London landscape. During the conference a charming story emerged, which I was told has been playing out for the last couple of years. I thought I’d share it with you.


We were welcomed by an address from Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Girma Wake, which went something like this: “The Boeing 787 has refused to come out of Seattle and our first 777-200LR was delivered mid-week. Boeing says there is a tradition: the mother should be allowed to leave the room before the child. Now that the 900th 777 has left, we have every hope that the 787 will follow the mother.”


Boeing 787 FF1.JPGEthiopian’s 10 787s were due to start arriving back in 2008, making them two years late. There is no doubt that Ethiopian is annoyed with Boeing, despite their 50-year relationship. Wake continues: “When you’ve been married for over half a century, we [Ethiopian] won’t ask you [Boeing] for a divorce because there is no chance that we want to end our marriage. We’ve been together for 50 years and have seen good and bad times together. The wedding took place 50 years ago, the marriage is still on, let’s make sure the 787 solidifies [our relationship].”


A350.jpgBut at the Airbus-sponsored farewell cocktail, the analogy continued. Airbus sales vice-president for North Africa Francois Cognard joked that it was “great timing on the part of Boeing” to deliver Ethiopian’s first 777, just as the airline hosted the AFRAA meeting. He insisted that the AFRAA secretariat should commit to returning to Addis Ababa for their general assembly in 2017, when Ethiopian will take its first Airbus A350. He quipped: “By 2017, the energetic French mistress will be here.” 


I caught up with Cognard later, to compliment him on his speech. He said: “When I came to Ethiopia two years ago, everyone was talking about the long-married couple [Ethiopian and Boeing]. I wanted to introduce myself and make light of things, so I made a reference to Ethiopian needing a French mistress.”


I like his style.

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