It was celebration on Sunday at Chennai airport when Tamil Nadu finally got one of its most awaited air links — a direct flight to Africa.
At 8.42 a.m., an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 was spotted decelerating from the St. Thomas Mount runway end to turn into Taxiway Golf for a water cannon salute. For the 187 passengers on flight ET692 (Addis Ababa-Chennai), who deplaned at Gate 14 at the international terminal, the six-hour flight from the Ethiopian capital met their expectations.
“It was good,” said a Tamil family from Abuja, Nigeria, visiting their home city after three years. For another Indian family, “It was the quickest flight here.”
The return flight (ET693) had 150 passengers, most of them in transit to other African destinations.
For Ethiopian Airlines, ‘Africa’s fastest growing airline’, Chennai will be its fourth Indian station, after New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, respectively, and also its first new destination after the COVID-19 pandemic (having been planned since June 2020).
The airline’s Chief Commercial Officer, Lemma Yadecha Gudeta, told The Hindu that the operations to the city (three days a week) were a ‘testimony to Ethiopian Airline’s commitment to serve India with more destinations and enhanced frequencies’. He said the airline, which had a sizeable share of pan-African passenger and cargo traffic, was in the midst of implementing its ‘Vision 2025’ business plan.
Asked about the strategy for the Tamil Nadu market, he said the Star Alliance member airline was focussing on visiting friends and relatives (VFR), business traffic (there is Indian investment at factories in Ethiopia), students, cargo (pharmaceuticals, textiles and manufactured goods) and, more importantly, medical tourism, which had tremendous potential in the State.
Mr. Gudeta added that passengers from Tamil Nadu, by transiting through Bole, the main Ethiopian airport, could look forward to the fastest connection to South America, Israel, the United States and also Europe. The airline has also introduced an e-visa facility.
A recorded video message from Minister of Tourism M. Mathiventhan, highlighting the potential of the new flight, was screened at a press meet later.