Despite Recent Crash, Ethiopian Airlines Has Strong Safety Record

Mar 12, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

In the wake of Sunday’s fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, with a Boeing 737 MAX 8 nose-diving into the ground minutes after takeoff and killing all 157 people on board, Ethiopian’s safety record is under heightened scrutiny.

But both the airline, and the nation as a whole, have a history of excellent safety on a continent where aviation practices can sometimes be dicey. The US Federal Aviation Administration gives Ethiopia a Category 1 safety rating, the organization’s highest, which means it can operate flights to the US, which it does. The nation also passes muster with the EU’s European Aviation Safety Agency regulations.

Ethiopian Airlines, the national flag carrier, also has a trustworthy safety report card, and a large fleet — the biggest in Africa — of modern Boeing and Airbus airplanes. It flies among others the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for which it was one of the earliest customers, and the Airbus A350. It’s also a leading member of Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world, along with names such as Lufthansa, United and Singapore Airlines. As an alliance member, it must maintain stringent safety protocols.

The airline has a safety rating of six stars out of a possible seven on respected aviation site Those ratings are based on safety rankings from international regulatory bodies and how often airlines have fatalities.

Still, Sunday’s crash was one of the worst accidents for the airline and the nation.

“People hear ‘Ethiopia’ and are bound to make certain, unfortunate associations,” Patrick Smith, a pilot and aviation expert, told TPG in an email. But, Smith said, “Ethiopian Airlines is the largest carrier in Africa, with a proud history and a very good safety record. It flies a state-of-the art fleet. Prior to Sunday’s crash, its most high-profile incident was the 1996 hijacking of flight ET961 near the Comoros.” That plane, a Boeing 767, crashed into the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel, killing 125 people, including the three hijackers, but 50 people survived.

Statistically, passenger air travel in Africa as a whole poses a greater safety threat than other places in the world, though that is improving.

“We continue to progress in the region toward world-class levels of safety,” Alexandre de Juniac, the International Air Transport Association’s director and CEO, said in the group’s 2018 Airline Safety Performance report. “African governments must accelerate the implementation of [international] safety-related standards and recommended practices. As of year-end 2017, only 26 African countries had at least 60% [of these practices] implementation.”

But Ethiopia has historically been at the forefront of air safety in the region.

According to Air Safety Network, an international database of aviation accidents by Flight Safety Foundation, there have been a total of 18 fatal accidents with 242 fatalities within Ethiopia since 1919. That includes the crash of ET302. Two other incidents occurred on Ethiopian Airlines but happened outside of the country — the 1996 hijacking and a crash in Lebanon that killed 90 people in 2010 — and bring the total to 479 fatalities and 20 accidents in a century.

Furthermore, Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam, who has been leading the airline since 2011, is famously attentive to details. “One day at the Addis Ababa airport, I was doing my walk-around check of the airplane before departure, and I feel this tap on my shoulder,” a Boeing 787 captain with Ethiopian told TPG. “I turn around and it’s a guy in suit and tie — none other than the CEO in person, asking me how things were going.”

According to the captain, who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters, Gebremariam is known to “periodically, at random” check on-the-ground operations for himself.

Featured photo by Wallace Cotton/TPG.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.