Interview with Ethiopian Airlines CEO: Launching a New Airline in Africa

It is always a pleasure to meet the CEO of Africa’s largest airline. Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Group, is a friend and colleague for over 20 years. He shared with me the most recent developments at the largest network airline of Africa.
Ethiopian will open a new carrier in Kinshasa (the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo) in December with 10 aircraft. Air Congo will be the name of the carrier.

We have just signed an agreement with the government in DRC. They own 51% and 49% respectively. De Havilland Canada Dash 8400s, Boeing 747s and two 787s will make up the fleet.

The DRC was a promising market because it has the third largest population in Africa, with over 100 million people. The launch of a new airline to Zambia by Ethiopian Airlines is scheduled for 1st December. The CEO stated that we have the AOC and the aircraft51% will remain with the government. 49% will remain with us.

GebreMariam described Ethiopian Airlines' role and said that his carrier was able to provide all support needed to get an airline on the ground, including pilots, technicians, leadership, and aircraft.

Lufthansa Group of Africa

This is not about the return on investment as the driving force behind such a group airline. He said that it is to support Addis Ababa (ADD). Because connectivity within the continent is not good, we want to increase inter-African routes. Ethiopian Airline is similar to the Lufthansa Group of Africa. Lufthansa also has airlines such as SWISS, Austrian, etc.

Ethiopian has a Mozambique-based airline under its own brand. However, it was forced to cease operations in May 2021 due to the pandemic. Our Mozambique airline will be back. GebreMariam stated that the country faces many challenges beyond COVID-19.

Ethiopian Airlines also has strategic partnerships with ASKY on Togo's west coast, Malawian Airlines (southern Africa) and Tchadia Airlines (north-central Africa), which are all based in Chad. Ethiopian has also signed a management agreement with Ceiba Intercontinental, Equatorial Guinea.

GebreMariams views on cooperation with African airlines are difficult, especially when it is about establishing a new carrier. Ethiopian wanted to be a part of the newly-established South African Airways. He said that we had been actively involved with South African Airways to make proposals. However, we weren't selected.

Nigeria is another market that the CEO sees potential. GebreMariam stated that we are still discussing the possibility of setting up an airline in Nigeria. It is something that I am still thinking about doing in Northern Africa.

African Market Competition

More airlines from the Middle East like Emirates and Qatar Airways are now targeting the African market. Although we have grown with the competition, it is increasing. Qatar Airways is now in Rwanda, [cooperation with Rwandair]. We will face more competition. GebreMariam stated that we have had enough of competition.

Ethiopian currently has flights to 62 African destinations. He said that Turkish Airlines has 51. The CEO stated that Ethiopian uses approximately 65% of its total capacity and that passenger recovery has been slow. China was the first example he gave. Before the COVID-19 pandemic we had 35 weekly flights between Addis and China. Today, there is only one flight per week. In reality, Asia is closed to all flights.

Ethiopian Airlines could fly to 127 destinations around the world in normal flight times. He said that Addis is the fastest way from China, Korea, Japan or Japan to Brazil.

Future Route Plans

GebreMariam answered a question about route planning and said that he would soon be launching a new service between Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and Washington Dulles. GebreMariam also mentioned Houston, Amsterdam, and Amman as potential destinations. He said that talks are ongoing with Canada to establish Montreal flights via Dublin.

Ethiopian Airlines is profitable. We are taking orders for aircraft, and paying our loans with interest, lessors, and we would like to keep this going, GebreMariam stated.


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