Later this year Ethiopia Airlines will become the first African carrier to operate the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Undoubtedly this is a milestone for the continent as a whole, but touring the US manufacturing giant’s premises in Seattle, airline chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam was keen to emphasise just how far ahead of the chasing pack his carrier is.
“All of Ethiopia is excited about the delivery of our first Dreamliners and the whole country can be proud of being the first in all of Africa to receive this game-changing airplane,” said Gebremariam.
“Taking this step forward before so many other airlines is a true testament to our drive to be the aviation leader in Africa and beyond.”
Coming from a European or North American executive there might have been accusations of hubris, not to mention a little arrogance, following
such a statement. But, when you consider the challenges Ethiopia Airlines has overcome to get to where it is today, it is easy to be in a forgiving mood.
Now one of the largest and fastest growing airlines in Africa, Ethiopian Airlines made its maiden international flight, to Cairo, in 1946.
Six decades later, with the latest addition of services to Seychelles, Ethiopian provides dependable departures to 65 international destinations spanning four continents.
A Star Alliance member, Ethiopian is also a multi-award winner for its contributions to the development of the African aviation industry.
An order for ten 787 Dreamliners, placed in February 2005, confirmed its emergence as a regional leader - with the first flights expected to take off
Initially Dreamliners will be used on the Addis Ababa-Johannesburg route during the day, while at night they will operate travel between Addis Ababa and the Chinese city of Guangzhou.
This reflects one of the carrier’s keys to success; its location at the gateway between the emerging powers of Asia in the east and the mineral rich markets of Africa to the west.
“If you draw a line between India, Brazil and Africa, we are in the middle,” Gebremariam said in a recent interview. “We have to take advantage of that and grow our market in order to survive.”
Pressure from the domestic government, which has said it can offer no support should the airline encounter economic difficulties, has also offered a spur to development.
Operations have been rapidly expanded, with Ethiopian arguing that with size comes sustainability. Gebremariam explained “a heavy order book” was necessary to meet the demands of growth.
Besides the Dreamliners, on the shopping list are six Boeing 777 freight carriers, ten 737-800s, and 12 Airbus A350 wide-body, long-range carriers.
Delivery of these will start in 2017.
The latest addition, five Bombardier Q400s, was added in February this year.
The orders have played a key role in bringing the different regions of Ethiopia within easy reach of Addis Ababa, while regional and long-haul services have also been growing.
“We have to run like a private enterprise,” Gebremariam added, despite the airline being wholly owned by the Ethiopian government.
“Our growth must be fast to capture the opportunity of the new markets, but it must also be profitable and sustainable so that we can pay the banks.”
Today, Ethiopian Airlines operates at the forefront of technology, and has become one of Ethiopia’s major industries and a veritable institution in Africa.
It commands the lion’s share of the pan-African network, including the daily and double daily east-west flight across the continent.
Tewolde Gebremariam will be offering a glimpse into the secret of this success at the African Hotel Investment Forum, which is scheduled to take place in Nairobi in September this year.
For more information on the event, take a look at the official website.