With my helmet fixed firmly flat to my face, I was white-knuckling it through London streets, along the Mall, past Buckingham Palace, swinging a hard left around Hyde Park corner out along the long stretch to Heathrow airport. Andy, my motorbike taxi-rider shouted through the intercom, “There’s only one way to beat these hard-bloody streets Emma, and that's with me” and boy, was he right! We weaved our way through London's notorious rush-hour traffic, and in an impressive 25-minutes, we had reached Heathrow airport.
Patrick, my Director was there to welcome me as I clumsily dismounted Andy’s bike. Ethiopian Airlines, the fastest growing airline in Africa, was about to celebrate 40 years of uninterrupted service to London Heathrow and we were going to film the launch of its new Boeing-787 Dreamliner.
We hurriedly met Mr Tewolde GebreMariam, Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines and scurried through staff security. Mr Tewolde had started his career with the airline in 1985 as Transportation Agent and had quickly risen through the ranks. A bubbly, energetic man, we would film him and the Dreamliner crew for a day to Addis Ababa, returning to Heathrow on the same plane to distribute the footage to global media outlets. 24-hours to Addis and back!
Boarding the flight, we prepared our camera kit ready for the 7-hour 45-minute flight to the Ethiopian capital. Sitting upfront we enjoyed the Dreamliner’s new Business class cabin, ‘Cloud 9’. Outfitted with 30 state-of-the-art diamond seats with fully lie-flat beds, premium travelers were assured of a superior level of comfort and privacy. We started to interview Mr Tewolde as we flew over Sudan. He was a humble man who took great pride in his job and had a deep desire to improve the state of Africa. He spent time chatting with the passengers and his crew, trying to understand their needs and challenges and discovering what he could do to further improve the new ‘Dreamy’ travelling experience. The Dreamliner was to become the company’s main asset in a bid to establish Ethiopian Airways as the leading aviation group in Africa.
With the interview wrapped up we were given a rare glimpse into the Dreamliner’s advanced cockpit and a mesmerising view out of the window over a moonlit Africa.
The countdown was on!
The captain announced our descent and Patrick and I set our watch timers. We had exactly 6 hours to film the Dreamliner’s grand arrival into Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, capture executive interviews, and film a traditional coffee ceremony plus a crew turnaround for the return leg back to Heathrow.
Taking a deep breath, Patrick and I hit the Bole tarmac running, barely stopping for a drink in the sweltering African sun. Given all-access passes to airside, and the terminals, it was an incredible opportunity to observe how many teams and how much work is involved in preparing a plane for take-off.
Bole is a modern efficient airport, with an extra beat in its step. Bursting at the seams, it's a hub for thousands of passengers running, dodging, shouting and boarding. A theatre of organised chaos. At the time Addis had already ousted Dubai as the largest air hub between Africa and the rest of the world and you could sense that by the sheer volume of traffic on the tarmac.
The clock was ticking, next stop downtown Addis. We jumped into a waiting taxi and made our way into the city. Africa’s fourth-largest city and its diplomatic capital, Addis is a traffic-choked city where Ethiopians live much of their lives outdoors on its manic, colourful, bustling streets.
Although jet lagged and extremely hot and sweaty, Patrick and I were invited to film a traditional coffee ceremony. Lost for a while in tales of Ethiopia’s mystical past whilst enjoying the best coffee that I have ever tasted, our final hours in Ethiopia were very special.
We boarded the Dreamliner and spent our return journey editing in order to complete the films ready for distribution to TV stations and press agencies. We arrived back at Heathrow and handed the completed films to a motorbike courier waiting at the terminal.
We looked down at our watches. We had done it. We had filmed the Dreamliner’s inaugural flight to Addis Ababa in exactly 24 hours. Patrick and I looked at each other, weary but satisfied having just flown to Ethiopia for an amazing cup of coffee!