Ethiopian Airlines celebrated International Women’s Day with an all-women crew that landed at Dulles International Airport in Virginia after a 14-hour flight from Addis Ababa early in the morning on Sunday.
Over one hundred people gathered to receive the crew of Flight ET500 as it landed and cheered as the Boeing 777 cruised through a water curtain performed by fire engines on its way to the gate.
The flight marked the sixth annual consecutive all-female flight celebrating gender equity and highlighting the progress of women around the globe but especially on the continent of Africa.
Fitsum Arega, the Ethiopian ambassador to the U.S., said the occasion “honors the remarkable accomplishments of women in the aviation industry and beyond. Even when we honor the achievements of our male leaders,” he said, “there is usually a woman behind that success … either a mother, a sister, or a wife.”
Ambassador Arega spoke proudly of the country’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, elected in 2018, who has introduced significant reforms in the country, including support for the election of Ethiopia’s first female president Sahle-Work Zesde, who also took office in 2018.
“Ethiopia has a 50 percent female cabinet,” noted Ambassador Fitsum. “We have the only female president in Africa at the moment and the cabinet also includes a female chief justice and other high-level appointments. We have a long way to go ensure gender equity but this is remarkable progress by any standard,” he said.
Two female pilots and 15 flight attendants received applause with each receiving a bouquet of flowers handed to them by Nigusu Worku, director of Regional Sales and Services USA, Ethiopian Airlines — the fastest-growing airline in Africa. Ethiopian coffee along with other cultural pastries and a cake marked the symbolic occasion. The rest of the female crew included all of the ground operations professionals including flight dispatch, load control, ramp operation, onboard logistics, safety and security and catering as well as air traffic control.
“Every year, it’s as exciting as if we were doing it for the first time,” said Rahel Assefa, vice president of marketing for Ethiopian Airlines. “We do this because we want to show our fellow African girls that there is nothing they cannot do. And we want to educate communities that are naïve to think that a women’s place is only in the home,” she said.
Assefa said Ethiopia has the biggest aviation academy in Africa. For over six decades, the Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy has been considered a world-class training facility with the capacity to train over 4,000 students a year. “We train our own pilots and every aviation field,” Assefa said, “and women are very much encouraged to join.”
Ethiopian Airlines flies one flight daily to Washington, as well as Chicago, New York and Houston, the newest addition.
Sybongile Cook brought greetings on behalf of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who led a delegation of D.C. businesses to Addis Ababa last November. In addition to reinstating the District’s sister city relationship with Addis Ababa, the group also met with the Minister of Transportation, who also happens to be a woman.
“That speaks to the testament, dedication and the seriousness they have about inspiring young women and girls, particularly African women and girls, to consider aviation as a career,” she said.
A 20-year veteran flight attendant who has flown longer than any of her colleagues, she expressed pride in being recognized.
“It lets young girls know nothing is impossible, and nothing can stop them from reaching their mission,” she said.
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