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Italy returns Ethiopia's 'first plane' after nine decades

By AFP

January 31, 2024 01:24 PM


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Italy has handed back Ethiopia's first ever plane, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Tuesday, about nine decades after it was taken by Italy's Fascist invading forces.

"Today is a day of great pride for Ethiopians as we celebrate the official handover of 'Tsehay' by the Italian Government," Abiy said on his official account on X, formerly Twitter.

His post was accompanied by pictures of the now gleaming red two-seater plane, which was originally built in 1935 during the reign of emperor Haile Selassie.

"Tsehay is the first aircraft built in Ethiopia in 1935 under the collaborative efforts of the German engineer and pilot of the emperor, Herr Ludwig Weber, and Ethiopian individuals of that era," Abiy said.

Historians say the plane was taken to Italy after the invading forces of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini occupied Ethiopia, then Abyssinia, in 1935, taking the capital Addis Ababa the following year.

The Italian defence ministry said the monoplane, originally silver-grey in colour, had made its first flight in December 1935, describing it as a "unique specimen".

It had a total of about 30 hours of flight time "only to be abandoned in Addis Ababa in May 1936, before the arrival of the Italians, who requisitioned it," it said in a statement.

The ministry said the aircraft had been kept at the Italian Air Force Museum since 1941 and would be later transported to Ethiopia for display there, without giving a timeframe.

The plane was named in honour of Princess Tsehay, the daughter of emperor Selassie, Ethiopia's state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported on its website.

It said its maiden flight took place in December 1935, when Weber flew 50 kilometres (about 30 miles) from Addis Ababa for about seven minutes.

"Tsehay represents the only surviving artefact from the aviation endeavours of the 1930s," Fana said.

The handover of the plane took place during a visit by Abiy to Rome for a summit of African leaders hosted by Italy.

"I extend my immense gratitude to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for her support over the past year in facilitating its return," Abiy said.


AFP


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