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Ethiopian Airlines.. The number one Airline in Africa . What Strategy to fly so high?

Ethiopian Airlines.. The Number ONE Airline in Africa . What Strategy to fly so high? - By Ahmed Haouaria

13 Jan 2020

On December 15, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines inaugurated its 127th destination with the launch of its new route between Addis Ababa and Athens, Greece. With this new route, the company now serves 81 countries around the world.

The opening of the Greek destination allows the first African airline to join the world's Top 5 largest airlines in terms of countries served, according to cross-tabulations from OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Another performance: the company as awarded for the 7th consecutive year the title of the best airline in Africa.

The award was presented to the company on November 27, 2019 at the 50th annual general meeting of the Association of African Airlines (AFRAA), which was held from November 25 to 27, 2019 in Rabat. Morocco

Founded in 1945, it has surpassed continental competitors South African Airways, Royal Air Maroc and Kenya Airways and continues to expand by regularly opening new routes and purchasing new aircraft.

100% owned by the Ethiopian state, the national company serves 119 international destinations and has latest generation aircraft such as the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The company assures on its website that its fleet is the youngest on the continent.

The company has recorded average growth of 25% over the past seven years.

Since its first commercial flight, on April 8, 1946, between Addis Ababa and Cairo, Ethiopian Airlines has been collecting successes. The number one airline on the continent in terms of fleet, destinations, passengers, cargo, turnover and profits is raking in records and prices.

It has taken less than ten years to outrun the competition by connecting the continent to the rest of the world. What are the secrets of such a success story ?


Routes choice strategy is key

In addition to essential destinations like Beijing, Paris, London or Washington, as well as the capitals of the continent, Ethiopian Airlines has stood out by opening flights to less important cities such as Enugu in Nigeria, Nosy Be in Madagascar or Mbuji-Mayi and Lubumbashi. in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).The company has ordered 65 new aircraft and intends to continue opening new destinations. It has also acquired stakes in various companies in Africa.Ethiopian Airlines generated revenues of $ 2.7 billion (2.4 billion euros) in the 2017-2018 fiscal year and Addis Ababa Airport, closely linked to the airline’s development , has become the main transit point for passengers arriving in sub-Saharan Africa, in front of Dubai, according to a study by the specialized firm ForwardKeys. The airport has recently been revamped and has a new modern terminal for a cost of 345 million dollars, inaugurated at the end of January.

Audacious commercial choices

While most of the airlines in the South had bet on routes to Europe as a workhorse, Ethiopians Airlines believed from the start in the commercial power of East and West. China’s trade explosion and the economic upturn in Brazil, Australia and Russia led their choice.Ethiopian Airlines recruited around 30 young Chinese men at the end of 2018 to expand the crew of its 28 weekly flights to China, on which "80% of passengers speak only Mandarin."With more than fifty destinations in Africa, Ethiopians have ensured a good anchorage on the continent. In certain markets, the company has increased its weight by increasing frequencies.The operator also made a nice media hit by flying an aircraft in November between Addis Ababa and Bangkok, in which the crew was exclusively female.These commercial choices have always allowed the company to stay the course even when the costs of kerosene were at their highest. With the fall in its price, operational results have crossed a plateau.To achieve such results, the company has raised its quality standards both on the ground and in the air. Its crew, its technicians are recycled and each time put to the strictest standards in aviation. All this professionalism has brought the company to the top of the world's most successful companies. After having taken a lead in the sky battle in Africa, the company will now have to make a new qualitative jump to face the companies of the Middle East and Asia (Qatar, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and China).

A state-of-the-art flight school

Opened in 1964, the Ethiopian Airlines training center is a source of pride. More than 1,300 students, of 49 different nationalities, attended its courses in 2015. They should be three times more in 2020. The flight school is the only one on the continent to have the flight simulator for Boeing 787 Dreamliner when prestigious flight schools in other African countries like Morocco have ceased their training activities.

Latest generation aircraft fleet

After being the first African company to launch jet planes, then a Boeing 767, Ethiopian Airlines now completes its fleet with Boeing 787. Since 2010, the company has invested several billion dollars to acquire 32 new aircraft. Objective: to have 150 planes by 2025.

Cabin Crew and Customer Service Excellence

Ethiopian Airlines is believed to have the Best Airline Staff Service in Africa by customers. The company is also achieving good results in the World’s Most Improved Airline category. The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Mr Tewolde GebreMariam said: “We are proud that Skytrax, the most reputed customer-service tracking organization in the airline industry, has recognized our service delivery for the second time. We thank SkyTrax for this recognition and make the pledge to our customers to work even harder to meet their high expectations. We also thank our valued customers for the strong vote of confidence in our services and for choosing Ethiopian as their preferred travel partner. I also take this opportunity to thank and appreciate the hard work of my 12,000 strong men and women at the Ethiopian family who have made the airline a global winner.”

A charismatic leader 100% Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines CEO since 2011, Tewolde Gebremariam has spent his entire professional career with the company. He was appointed as Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines in January 2011. He began his career at Ethiopian in 1985 as Transportation Agent and has held a number of senior leadership positions in different divisions in the Airline including; Ethiopian Cargo, Area Offices and Sales & Marketing. Mr. Tewolde also serves as a member of the High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport with United Nations, Chief Executive Board member of Star Alliance, Board member of International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airlink Advisory Council. Additionally, he is an Executive Committee member of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), a member of Board of Directors of Africa Travel Association (ATA) and Board of Directors of Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO).

In his role as CEO, Mr. Tewolde has been a multi award winner including ‘African CEO of the Year’, ‘Best African Business Leader’, ‘The Airline Strategy Award for Regional Leadership’ and ‘The Most Gender Focused CEO Award’.

And yet it was not always easy

The Ethiopian carrier has has comeup against certaindifficulties, In 2010, the airline was fourth in Africa behind Egyptair, Kenya Airways and South African Airways, so many companies in difficulties today… In 2018, the Addis Ababa hub exceeded Dubai’s one with regard to the volume of passengers in transit for Africa (+ 85% since 2013). The announcement of its partial privatization was one of the symbols of economic liberalization decreed this year in 2019 by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed.The crash, on 10 ar 2019 of its flight ET 302 connecting Addis Ababa to Nairobi is a heavy blow for the company which decided to immobilize its six Boeing 737 MAX 8, the model involved in the disaster 60 km east from the Ethiopian capital.Another serious accident on an Ethiopian Airlines airliner is that of a Boeing 737-800 which exploded after taking off from Lebanon in 2010. All 90 passengers and crew members were killed.The company has had other more minor incidents in recent years. In 2014, the co-pilot of an Addis Ababa - Rome flight took control of the aircraft and hijacked it on Geneva to request political asylum. He was then sentenced to 19 years' imprisonment.In 2015, the three crew members of a cargo plane were slightly injured after losing control of the aircraft on the runway of Accra airport in Ghana.

About d’OAG Schedules Analyser.

Schedules Analyser.mission, is to help the air travel ecosystem thrive by capturing the power of its data. Today’s complex and competitive industry is the biggest adventure yet. With thousands of airlines and airports serving billions of travellers, the pressure is on from all sides: passenger demand, consumer expectations, regulatory complexity, the experience economy and the drive for personalisation.

The propelling force in the industry has always been ground-breaking technology. Schedules Analyser is built on one major principal ‘’put the power of data at the heart of our businesses’’.




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