Ethiopian Cargo: suspicious flights from Turkey, the UAE and China
Over the course of the past three months, I have been keeping a close eye on air traffic around Ethiopia. For example, I identified over 100 flights from the UAE to Addis Ababa Bole Airport and Harar Meda Military Airport, as well as 10 flights from Iran. Besides that, I identified two suspicious flights from Chengdu, China – home to the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, manufacturer of the Wing Loong I UAV. All aforementioned flights were operated by foreign entities: “Fly Sky Airlines” of Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, “Pouya Air” of Iran, “Abakan Air” and “Aviacon Zitotrans” of Russia, and “Antonov Airlines”, also of Ukraine. Over the past months, I have however also identified suspicious cargo operations by Ethiopian Airlines. This blog post aims to provide an overview of these Ethiopian flights, most of which have previously been featured in my tweets.
With the identification of suspicious Ethiopian Airlines flights, various problems arise. According to Ethiopian Airlines, they operate a fleet of a total of 131 Aircrafts (sic), of which 13 freighters (i.e. cargo aircraft). To narrow down the number of flights, this article is only about these 13 freighters. A second challenge that arises, is that Ethiopia is the home base of these aircraft. In other words, unlike foreign airlines, Ethiopian flights in and out of Ethiopia are not necessarily suspicious or worth investigating. A third challenge is the vast existing transport network of Ethiopian Cargo, including many destinations in China. Many of these flights are part of regular operations. Although I lack information about their actual cargo, I do not consider these regular flights suspicious or worth investigating either. The flights we are therefore looking for, are irregular (charter) flights to destinations normally not visited by Ethiopian Cargo aircraft.
Because these flights are commonly difficult to find, the list below may be incomplete, and may be updated later.
The flights listed in this article arrived to Ethiopia from three airports:
1. Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport, Turkey
2. Abu Dhabi International Airport, United Arab Emirates
3. Dalian, China
Flights from Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport, Turkey
In August and September 2021, Ethiopian Cargo operated at least three flights to Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport in Turkey and back. This airport, located about 100 km west of Istanbul on the Continental European part of Turkey, houses Baykar facilities, and has regularly received Bayraktar TB2 operating visitors.
More information about these three flights can be found here:
Flights from Abu Dhabi International Airport, United Arab Emirates
Ethiopian Cargo lists Sharjah and Dubai as part of their existing destinations – not Abu Dhabi.
Satellite imagery shows that this area is generally only visited by the United Arab Emirates Air Force’s fleet of CASA CN-235, Lockheed C-130 and Boeing C-17A cargo aircraft.
A total of six flights has been found.
A flight from Dalian, China
On 02 Nov 2021, Ethiopian Cargo Boeing 777-F reg. ET-ARI flew from Addis Ababa Bole Airport to Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport in China. Like all flights in this article, also Dalian is not part of the regular route network of Ethiopian Cargo.
The aircraft was using callsign ETARI. What this means is that the aircraft did not identify as an Ethiopian Airlines flight, but rather as an individual aircraft carrying registration ET-ARI (Country code ET for Ethiopia). Further confirming the irregular nature of the flight, the aircraft circled around over the Pakistan-China border region for almost an hour (±16:50 – ±17:40 UTC) during the flight, likely to last-minute arrange some paperwork necessary to be allowed into Chinese airspace – paperwork that is normally arranged well in advance. The aircraft landed in Dalian, China on 02 Nov 2021 just after 22:30 UTC and returned on 03 Nov 2021 around 05:50 UTC.
On the way back, the aircraft was using callsign ETHARI (note the added H). This could be a typo: after all, the crew was likely used to starting their callsigns with ETH, the Ethiopian Airlines callsign. In contrast to the outbound flight, the return flight could proceed to her destination directly, without needing to circle around while paperwork was being arranged.
This flight is the only Ethiopian Cargo flight that I have seen that did not use the ETH callsign followed by four numbers normally used by Ethiopian Cargo flights. My hypothesis is that this was done in an effort to make the flight not look like an Ethiopian Cargo flight – which is understandable after previous reports by CNN mentioned Ethiopian Cargo being involved in weapons transports, causing the Ethiopian Media Authority to recently issue a letter of warning for CNN.
Shortly after ET-ARI landed back at Addis Ababa Bole Airport, photos and screenshots of an Air Waybill, a packing list and a Declaration of Dangerous Goods appeared on social media. According to the Air Waybill, the “First Carrier” is ETARI, a field normally filled in with an airline name (e.g. United Airlines, Turkish Airlines). However, the party issuing the Air Waybill, listed in the top right, is nevertheless said to be Ethiopian Airlines.
List of flights
All in all, I have found 10 suspicious Ethiopian Cargo flights so far. They are summarized in the list below.
20-21 Aug 2021: Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport - Harar Meda Airport (via Addis Ababa). ET-AVQ, Boeing 777-F, ETH3545 - ETH8100
24-25 Aug 2021: Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport - Harar Meda Airport,
24 Sep 2021: Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport - Harar Meda Airport (via Addis Ababa). ET-AWC, Boeing 737-800F
03 Nov 2021: Dalian - Addis Ababa, ET-ARI, ETHARI
06 Nov 2021: Abu Dhabi International Airport - Addis Ababa, ET-AYL, ETH3603
08 Nov 2021: Abu Dhabi International Airport - Addis Ababa, ET-AWE, ETH3603
08 Nov 2021: Abu Dhabi International Airport - Addis Ababa, ET-AWE, ETH3623
15 Nov 2021: Abu Dhabi International Airport - Addis Ababa, ET-AWE, ETH3603
16 Nov 2021: Abu Dhabi International Airport - Addis Ababa, ET-AWE, ETH3603
17 Nov 2021: Abu Dhabi International Airport - Addis Ababa, ET-ARK, ETH3603
This list will likely be updated later. Last update: 20 Nov 2021, 12:51
Gerjon | חריון @Gerjon_The "Fly Sky Airlines" airlift from the 🇦🇪UAE to 🇪🇹Ethiopia continues: here's 🇺🇦UR-FSE/#FSU4813 from 🇦🇪Sweihan Air Base, UAE. https://t.co/TODvdLMh9x https://t.co/sTesQJu5xi
Gerjon | חריון @Gerjon_"Fly Sky Airlines" 🇺🇦UR-FSE tracked returning to the 🇦🇪UAE after flying from the MILITARY apron (!) of 🇦🇪Abu Dhabi Int'l Airport to 🇪🇹Addis Ababa Bole International Airport earlier today: #FSU4812. Spotted by a follower on the way out. https://t.co/gAFr1pLxqz https://t.co/R4sJWSyvOU
Gerjon | חריון @Gerjon_The 🇦🇪UAE airlift continues with flights to both 🇪🇷Eritrea and 🇪🇹Ethiopia (Fly Sky and Maximus, estimates - currently still en route): 🇰🇬EX-76003: #FSQ4921 from 🇦🇪Abu Dhabi military apron 🇺🇦UR-FSE: #FSU4811, also from Abu mil 🇺🇦UR-BXQ: #MXM3703, susp. 🇦🇪Dubai to 🇪🇷Eritrea. https://t.co/JSx6xdWcXb https://t.co/rjQRueFkGn