Few points about the recent controversy involving Ethiopian Airlines – By; Abebe K. 

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Ethiopian Airlines has recently found itself in different disputes with former employees. I have at least come across two of these disputes that involved former copilots of Ethiopian Airlines widely circulated on social media.

Ethiopian does not seem to see it fit to respond to the claims made by Yalewlet Fanta, a former copilot who claimed he was terminated for his political views. Perhaps the company did not engage with the media concerning this case because it has not been picked up by a mainstream media and probably because the evidences provided were very compelling.

In this short piece I will endeavor to shed light on few points concerning the most recent issue based mostly on the publicly revealed information regarding the dispute and my background in the profession.

Amhara Mass Media Agency (AMMA), a government owned media, interviewed and aired  a program about a former Ethiopian copilot Copilot Yohanes Tesfaye. This was followed by a series of press releases by Ethiopian and a subsequent Facebook post that contained very few selected ‘grade slips’ of the employee during simulator trainings. Despite my personal disappointment that AMMA failed to include the opinion of Ethiopian before airing the program, the later actions by Ethiopian are very misleading to the public. I believe AMMA has done injustice to the truth by failing to follow the basic rules of reporting but Ethiopian has gone farther by making utterly false claims concerning the training history of the Copilot and this is why.

1)  Leaving aside the legality of sharing an employee’s personal file on the Ethiopian’s public Facebook page, one of the ‘grade slips’ shared on Facebook dated Dec 3, 2012 show his training record for the first Commercial Airplane that he has been trained for as a copilot. Ethiopian has failed to portray a proper picture concerning the length of this training, the pre-requisites for this training and the general experience of any other average copilot in this training.

Any copilot who is eligible to go through this DH8D (Q400) training must have already completed the training that enabled him to be a Commercial Pilot License(CPL) holder. In simpler terms, a CPL enables a holder of that license to be employed as a Captain on a Single Pilot airplane and as a copilot on a Two Pilot airplane. Once inducted to the Q400 type rating program, the copilot is expected to go through a rigorous training scheme that includes Aircraft Systems study, Simulator exercises on both Normal and Emergency procedures and an extended line training on the actual airplane. Both the Simulator and line trainings are recorded on a daily basis on individual grade slips. It is reasonable to assume that there are at least 20 ‘grade slips’ for the Simulator and line trainings combined. Ethiopian has selected only one of these grade slips out of more than 20 of them to paint a wrong picture. It is only through a study of his Aircraft System knowledge, Simulator training progress and his line training complete records that one can have a true picture of the individual’s quality as a trainee. In fact, as the dispute does not involve the Q400 trainings, it was irrelevant of Ethiopian to bring forth an almost two years older issue to the case in point. It is flawed to assume that the pilot’s performance as trainee of a Q400 copilot is a measure of his performance as a B767 trainee as all pilots have a different learning curve.

2) The other three grade slips shared on Facebook dated 30/06/2014, 09/07/2014 and 19/07/2014 show his training records for Fixed Base Simulator 10 (FBS 10), Full Flight Simulator 3 (FFS 3) and Full Flight Simulator 8 (FFS 8) respectively.  There are 19 total Simulator trainings composed of 10 FBS and 8 FFS sessions. This is followed by an actual aircraft training that is conducted under the supervision of an instructor captain during actual commercial flight operations. The FBS 10 and FFS 3 lessons are on the earlier stages of the training and should not be taken as a measure of the trainee’s quality at or around the end of his Simulator trainings. A look at the FFS 8 lesson, the lesson just before the Simulator Check ride, indeed shows a failure on the specific lesson plan in question. A farther look at the written remarks for that lesson reveal that the trainee’s failure was primarily due to his performance as Pilot Monitoring (PM). (PM means the pilot is not actively directing actions and flying the airplane but monitoring while the Pilot Flying is flying the airplane). As important as his capacity as a PM is, there is nothing in this later stage grade slip that backs Ethiopian Officials’ claim that he had difficulties during the landing phase of the flight. At least, not to the extent which is wrongly portrayed by the officials.

Now, these grade slips I have discussed about so far are only Simulator training grade slips for his training as a B767 copilot. The dispute raised by Copilot Yohanes does not involve this phase of the training but the aircraft trainings that were conducted during normal commercial (line) operations and the line training grade slips only could be as many as 20.

One can see that Ethiopian has probably selected only four ‘bad’ grade slips out of about 55 of them to paint the desired picture of a failing training both on the Q400 and B767. It is very important to understand the general nature of these trainings and compare Copilot Yohanes’s experience during these trainings with an average Ethiopian pilot. Any pilot who has undergone these or similar trainings understands the ups and downs in terms of performance as one progresses through the different lesson plans and if these were actually his worst performances then, he must have been a very good pilot!

I do not personally know that race (ethnicity) had been an issue in this specific case but it should not be surprising if it were, given the political atmosphere of the past 27 years. Even if I did not know Copilot Yohanes in person, I have heard of his story years ago. The injustice that he has suffered at Flight Operations at the hands of these same officials who struggled to paint him as a failure was enormous. The age old bad culture of extreme fear of authority in the Airline in general and the feudalistic tendencies of the ‘bosses of pilots’ (Directors and managers in Flight Operations department) in particular has cost many members of the airline the pleasure of working for their beloved Airline. Simulator training has always been ‘the bullet’ to settle personal feuds not just now but ever since I knew Ethiopian decades ago. This attitude is older than Ato Tewolde G/Mariam but has been reinforced as the accepted norm through his ‘shoot first’ strategy concerning employees.

I believe every Ethiopian employee would attest to the claims about the continued failure of human resource management in the Airline. Dissent is never accepted and mistakes are never tolerated for the simple reason that we have hotheads at the top. No due process is followed in terminating employees and written policies are practiced only when it suited the management. Higher management’s lack of desire to listen to the needs of its employees has resulted in a significant brain drain. The top management even provided a list of employees to immigration to prevent them from leaving the country instead of discussing with them to solve their problems. Ethiopian has even lost many of its battles in courts with its former employees.

There are too many cases of ill management and unfair treatment of employees. But this time around, there is a reason to hope that change will come to Ethiopian too – to hope that the top management would acknowledge that all employees are important and valuable contributing members of the company who deserve to be treated as such; hope that all employees would be geared towards success not because of fear of retributions but rather because of the love of their company and their country.

A special contribution to Kaliti Press

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