WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ethiopian Airlines, proving to be a lion among world carriers — if not airlines of the African continent, is now the world’s first airline to dispatch a Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the skies following the global grounding of the fleet three months ago.
The notable flight today from Addis Ababa to Nairobi went off without incident and to a landing of applause at 9:30 GMT. But the fact is — it was Ethiopian Airlines, not JAL or another major carrier, that launched the first Dreamliner flight after lithium ion battery glitches in the new aircraft model caused these models to be taken out of service worldwide.
Ethiopian Airlines is one of four primary international African carriers, in a league with South African Airways, Kenya Airways and Egypt Air. Ethiopian commands a lion’s share of that business, although non-African airline companies account for more than two thirds of the airline traffic to the continent. Ethiopian Airlines is trying to get an edge on that share with the four Boeing 787 Dreamliners it acquired in August (six more are on order) as well as a dozen new Airbus A350-900 aircraft in the works.
Ethiopian Airlines also has 47 other aircraft in its fleet, which are self owned and leased and has been increasing its fleet to achieve its goals of “Vision 2025.” These include network expansions with addition of more than 50 new destinations, greater flight frequencies, expanding banks and upgrading existing capacity. Since its birth in 1946, the carrier has become a bit of “The Little Engine that Could” and “The Mouse that Roared.”
Adding extra sheen to its advance has been the membership Ethiopian Airlines gained into the Star Alliance program in December 2011, expanding its marketing reach globally. The fleet operates in the black, serving 41 international destinations in Africa, eight in Europe and the Americas (Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, and Washington DC), and 17 gateway cities in the Middle East and Asia.
A recent interview in Addis Ababa with Henok Tefera, Director, Corporate Strategy & Government Affairs at Ethiopian Airlines, revealed just what it takes to keep this enduring airline flying in an era of high fuel costs, world economic slowdowns, regional conflict and competition.
Why do you think Ethiopian is one of the pre-eminent airlines in Africa?
Since its inaugural flight to Cairo, Egypt in 1946, Ethiopian Airlines, with a motto of “Bringing Africa Together,” has made its mission to provide safe and convenient service for the last 67 years.
What challenges have you had in getting to that place?
Becoming a pioneer African Airline has its challenges as Ethiopian had to break ground in many African countries by competing with many non-African airlines all over the world. Garnering trust as an African airline in countries that were liberated from colonialism was one of the challenges Ethiopian faced. Despite developing niche markets in thin routes Ethiopian had the courage to fly to these destinations, which had very low load factors.
Operating under the previous military regime, which was a period that saw the lowest tourism travelers to Ethiopia, was also another challenge.
Who are your top competitors?
Emirates and Kenya Airways.
What are your plans for expansion in the US?
The flight to the US is doing very well. Traffic is growing, especially after Ethiopian improved its service by upgrading its fleet with the long range Boeing 777-200 LRs. As a result, Ethiopian is flying directly to the US. Ethiopian flies to Washington DC/Dulles Airport daily. However, frequencies will be adjusted depending on the seasons.
Ethiopian plans to expand its network to North America. The flight to Toronto, Canada started on July 16. We will be adding more flights once limitations in bilateral relations are lifted. In addition, we’re also planning to add one more destination in the near future – on the West Coast of the U.S.
What are your strongest foreign markets?
The strongest foreign markets for ET are Dubai and China. This is due to the increasing number of business travelers to these destinations from African countries who rely on the strength of the network Ethiopian has, which makes Ethiopian the fastest growing airline in Africa.
What are your most successful routes?
African routes are, in general, the most successful routes. Addis-Washington route is also one of the strongest due to the strength of the network Ethiopian has in Africa. Ethiopian currently flies to 41 destinations in Africa with a new flight to Cotonou, Benin, which started last June. In addition, the Middle East routes are also one of the fastest growing markets.
What are the challenges in marketing to the US and expanding in the US?
The challenges to US destinations are the need for ultra long-range aircraft and availability to fortify niche markets. However, the niche market focus has already been developed throughout the years since ET’s inaugural flight to the US in 1998.
The recent addition of the Boeing 777-200 (five in the fleet) ultra long-range aircraft and the12 orders for the Airbus A350-900 (expected to start delivery by 2017) are also strategies ET is using to cover long-range destinations like the flights in the Americas.
With both the markets and the availability of aircraft addressed, expansion to North America is forecasted to be a thriving market for ET. However, as any other market, fuel costs remains a challenge.
Information: Ethiopian Airlines
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