Building the big picture in Ethiopia

Published: 20 Nov 2017

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Working at Ethiopian Airlines, Dawit Lemma realised he did not want to limit his horizons to one role, and so launched Krimson, where he is also active in developing the nation’s business aviation sector.

How did you get into aviation?

I distinctly remember that at aged seven my best friend and I decided we would be either pilots or cowboys, as adults. My parents suggested being a cowboy was not a “career choice” and encouraged my love and passion for airplanes, with a Lego Technic aviation set. This awakened my engineering and technical interest for aircraft, which I eventually developed at Purdue University, where I studied aeronautical engineering and flight technology. I also received a Federal Aviation Administration commercial pilot licence and airframe and powerplant mechanic licence. I rounded out my education with a Master’s degree in aviation management.

What does your career in aviation look like to date?

My first job was as an operations intern at Detroit-Metro International airport, where I worked on the parallel runway design team. Since then I’ve spent time working for Landrum & Brown at Chicago O’Hare, supporting humanitarian flights for NGOs in Afghanistan, and working with maintenance teams at TAG Aviation in Geneva. A pivotal moment came when I was recruited by Ethiopian Airlines. When asked, “Do you want to be a pilot, a mechanic or a manager?”, I replied: “All the above.” They replied: “Choose one.” I realised that only business aviation would allow me to fly the aircraft on Monday, fix it on Tuesday, and manage the company from Wednesday to Sunday. So I set up Krimson Aviation in 2015. The first thing I did was call the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA), to say that Krimson would be the first Ethiopian member.

Why did you get involved with the AfBAA?

In Ethiopia, there was no real understanding of business aviation, therefore it was imperative to create awareness to grow the sector. The 2015 regional symposium, held in Addis Ababa, successfully opened the eyes of government and regulatory bodies. In 2016, we launched the AfBAA Ethiopia Chapter.

What does your working week look like?

A typical week for me includes supervising business aviation flights for our clients; as Bole airport is 24h, it is not uncommon to find myself, caffeine-infused, on the ramp at 02:00 waiting for an aircraft to arrive/depart for its technical stop and then returning home at 04:00 before starting a full day at the office. In addition to Krimson, as AfBAA director of membership and events, I also spend a healthy portion of my week working with the executive committee, planning events such as the African Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

Working in Africa is not easy. However, that is part and parcel of why I started Krimson – to make change. We face policy changes, lack of adequate infrastructure and an absence of corporate governance. Communication and time management are other issues that hamper progress.

What is the future for business aviation in eastern Africa?

Economies in the region are rapidly developing, therefore demand for business aviation as a tool and economic driver is high. There is also increased activity in other non-traditional business aviation sectors, such as tourism and medical evacuation. A factor that will help sustain growth is the strong commercial airline sector, which supports a culture of aviation.

What do you enjoy most about life at Krimson?

Developing and cultivating a business aviation sector in Ethiopia. This “big picture” approach has allowed me to engage with senior government officials, operators, media, and other stakeholders to create awareness and drive innovative ideas. My involvement with the AfBAA fulfils my desire to participate and contribute in the advancement of business aviation on the continent, through the relationships and networks I have forged, or by sharing my global experience with my African counterparts.

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