Written by Staff Writer
No war can end like war does, for that is simply the way it goes. In Ethiopia, the start of the African nation’s war in Eritrea in the 1990s, followed by its destructive war in the late 1990s with Somalia, caused massive damage to the country.
Highly valuable gold and minerals were lost through bombing and wide-scale looting, as well as valuable economic commodities. Most will probably never be recovered.
Many health facilities were also destroyed, and many people left homeless. During the war in Sudan in 1983/4, many people, including women, children and infants, lost their lives because hospitals were bombed.
For those who were living in Tigray region — an eastern province of Ethiopia, located north of Eritrea — this devastation hit them especially hard, because it was the war there that had brought an important economic and political development to the region. The success of the economic development depended on the favorable prices of commodities, which arrived in Tigray as a result of the war in Eritrea.
While the border between Tigray and Eritrea had been drawn for centuries without regard to borders, the war of independence from Ethiopia in 1991 ended this status quo and led to increased tensions, which erupted in an armed conflict in 1998/2001. The use of independent African airlines in cases of natural disasters, such as the storms in March 2002, led to others being struck by conflict — and that was in this case.
The Flight of Souls (Falval) Airlines was bombed for the first time in the 1998/2001 war, and it went on to be bombed a total of 12 times over the next eight years. And the aircraft that caused the first bombing of the airline — the FALVITO with registration SN-BNA — is still used by the government of Ethiopia today, flying in and out of Addis Ababa.
Despite significant damage to the plane, which was still capable of flying in 2000, it is still in the hands of the Ethiopian government, and it can be seen flying in and out of Addis Ababa airport. At that time, the plane flew to Tigray region, where it was used in humanitarian flights destined for patients in Addis Ababa.
Photo by Cindy Yamanaka / Cengiz Yar
But this year the FALVITO, the biggest tourist plane in Ethiopia, made headlines as it flew commercial flight — the first in the nation’s history — to Yemen. The plane with Ethiopian passengers and luggage was on its way from Ethiopia to Djibouti.
It should be noted that the Government of Ethiopia has managed to use the FALVITO in humanitarian flights since 2000, but now is making the plane available for commercial flights as a direct tool for travel.
People have reacted — some fear that the FALVITO could lose its huge tourist benefit. Several believe that this could be the beginning of the end for what many Ethiopians see as the main pillar of their economy — the aviation sector. They are also worried about the effects of the business on the country’s international reputation.
Other people, like Ayan Tibewel and Memal Haile-Mbura, are adamant that Ethiopia’s aviation industry has contributed significantly to the development of the nation and the raising of its standard of living.
“I think the FALVITO has a big role to play in attracting tourists,” Tibewel says. “Yes, tourism is a secondary goal, but the most important objective is to increase the standard of living of the people and we believe that the FALVITO has this role to play.”
Golog Eshete, who helps tourists to reach Ethiopia, is also afraid that the landing of the plane could affect the country’s image. “People also fear that one of the main aircraft of the country can create a conflict with the country’s image,” he says.
But then, as he shares a long story from the time the FALVITO was used to rescue sick children in Tigray province, he maintains that it is a part of Ethiopia’s culture to use emergency flights when there is a crisis.
“It is part of a natural history of Ethiopia, which has been resilient and high in technological achievement, which can avoid conflicts,” he says.
Experts disagree, but even it, time and again, Ethiopia is at the forefront of developing tourism in Africa, as evidenced by its continued rapid improvement in the aviation industry.