Ethiopian Airlines Makes Historic Flight to Eritrea

News Politics

Roses and champagne have been given to passengers on the first commercial flight between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 20 years.


The first flight in 20 years from Ethiopia to Eritrea landed safely in Asmara on Wednesday, to be greeted by traditional dancers waving flags and flowers, cementing a stunning reconciliation between the Horn of Africa foes.

Relatives and friends are expected to be reunited for the first time since a 1998-2000 border war between the two nations shut air and road travel.

“I am in cloud nine …. I’m going back to the place where I grew up. I’m really happy,” flight captain Yosef Hailu told the BBC.

It’s the first flight in what will be a daily service by Africa’s biggest airline.

Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was among the passengers on this historic flight.

Mr. Desalegn told the BBC reporter that he was emotional about making the trip.

“It’s a golden moment for the two countries and the two people,” he said.

Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Tewolde GebreMariam took to the onboard intercom as the flight crossed into Eritrean airspace.

“This is the first time that this is happening in twenty years,” he said, to applause from the 315 passengers on board.

Demand was so huge that a second flight left within 15 minutes, AFP news agency reported.

“We’re very excited not only for the business part of it but the emotional attachment of the two people,”  GebreMariam said by phone from Addis Ababa.

“The route will allow Ethiopian airlines to use previously closed airspace to fly to other destinations, with savings on fuel costs incurred through detours over Sudan and elsewhere.”

Upon arrival at Asmara International Airport, dignitaries of this historic flights were received by Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh.

This historic air link was made possible after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afwerki made a declaration of peace earlier this month in Asmara and agreed on restoring diplomatic, telecommunications and transport links.

President Isaias reciprocated with a visit to Ethiopia last weekend.

* Reuters, BBC and Bloomberg contributed to the story.