Africa/Middle East - Issue 71 - Magazine | Monocle

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Flight path no.11

Fleeting pit stop


Route: Addis Ababa to Washington DC (via Rome)
Airline: Ethiopian Airlines
Plane: 777-200LR
Frequency: Daily

If you’re onboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 500 at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport you’ve purchased a ticket to Washington DC. But what mileage-wise is a standard flight for a Boeing 777-200lr turns out to be more tricky. The plane has to make a pit stop in Rome but simple distance isn’t the reason.

At an altitude of just over 2,300 metres, Ethiopia’s biggest airport sits higher than most major air hubs. While this may be great if you’re training as one of the country’s many Olympians, it’s problematic for an airline that is consistently lauded as one of the better African carriers. Simply put, the thinner air of a high-altitude airstrip means most modern jet liners need more runway and less weight to become airborne. Ethiopian jets regularly roll down Bole’s tarmac and lift off with little distance to spare.

The only way to keep the DC-bound 777 light enough for lift-off without leaving seats empty is to load it without enough fuel to complete the trip. Luckily for Rome, the air route from Addis Ababa to Washington DC bends nicely over the Mediterranean. A tech stop at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport was deemed the perfect way to load a fresh crew and fuel. In aviation lingo this counts as a “second freedom” stop – a layover for technical reasons and where passengers and cargo aren’t loaded or unloaded.

There’s a historical reason too. Italy tried to colonise Ethiopia in the 1930s only to be fought off by emperor Haile Selassie, with the help of Britain, in 1941. A few thousand Italian expats and their descendants remained and Ethiopian has flown to Rome since 1964.

Although it seems a tragedy to deny anyone a transit-terminal panini or espresso, flight 500 stops just long enough to take care of business and then heads on to the US. And, if you’ve booked a return ticket on flight 501, not to worry, the take off at Dulles isn’t nearly as complicated; the flight back is direct.

The Dispatch

East Africa 33

Steve Bloomfield

March 2014
  1. Politics
    Rwanda: Commemorations for the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide will take place in April as international pressure grows on President Paul Kagame following a series of suspicious killings of opposition figures. The aid flow is unlikely to stop though as Kagame can still rely on most Western leaders’ support.
  2. Economy
    Three of the region’s largest economies – Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda – are all forecast to grow by more than 5 per cent this year. But even that might not be enough to keep up with their fast-growing populations as not enough jobs are being created.
  3. Diplomacy
    Kenya: The trials of Kenya’s president and deputy president at the International Criminal Court were always going to ruffle diplomatic feathers. But realpolitik is proving more important for the US and UK than justice for those killed in the 2008 post-election violence.


Abdramane Sylla

Minister in charge of expatriates


The number of Malians is put at 15.4 million, including four million people living in other countries. They are such a powerful force that they have their own ministry: le Ministère des Maliens de l’Extérieur.

Why are there so many Malian expats?
Mali is poor. Our workforce was one of the most mobile in the French empire. There are two million Malians in Côte d’Ivoire and 100,000 in France. It’s also cultural: men are expected to seek their fortune abroad.

What do other countries have to say about this?
Problems arise with irregular immigration to Europe. We run campaigns urging people not to leave Mali without correct paperwork.

Is the diaspora a bonus or a burden for Mali?
It can be costly: we repatriated more than 1,000 Malians from the Central African Republic in January. But overseas Malians do a lot for their communities. We estimate the diaspora sends back up to €9bn in remittances every year.

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