Ethiopian Airlines (ET) which a decade or two ago was almost an unknown name in the aviation world, has brought itself to the forefront of African aviation and grown into the continent’s largest and most successful airline. Passenger and air freight numbers have grown year by year and it seems that there is no end in sight. Now ET and DHL seem to set up a joint company.
An impressive fleet within a decade
What started as a small carrier operating with a weekly DC-3 service between Addis Ababa and Cairo in 1946 has turned into Africa’s largest international airline now operating to Europe, the Middle East, USA, Asia and many African destinations. Ethiopian Air Lines, as it was called then, started with help from the venerable and now extinct, Trans World Airlines (TWA), who had at that time loaned the DC-3 aircraft to Ethiopian.
Growth was very slow between 1946 and the first decade of this century, mainly regional African routes and one or two international sectors. This has changed dramatically since 2010 when Ethiopian Airlines received their first modern B777-200LR aircraft.
The management under the ET Group’s CEO Tewolde Gebremariam has prudently followed their expansion plans and have turned Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Airport into an international passenger and cargo hub and Africa’s most important gateway.
With almost 100 aircraft on their books and a further 60 on order, ET has set the guidelines for their future. There are 46 long-haul passenger aircraft consisting of B787, B777, A350 and B767 types along with 24 B737s and 21 Bombardier Dash 8s which serve various African regional routes.
Cargo plays an important role
The ET managers have not been slow to recognise the importance of air cargo as a source of revenue. The long-haul passenger fleet offers ample freight capacity, and this has been increased with the addition of a dedicated freighter fleet. In the meantime, there are six B777 freighters, with a further four on order, operating international cargo routes. These are supported by two aging B757 freighters which are used mainly for inter-African air cargo distribution.
What started as the transport of fruits and vegetables to Europe, has quickly grown into a freight organisation which carries all types of air cargo to and from Addis.
Is e-commerce distribution the next step?
It certainly looks that way!
It was recently announced by ET’s CEO that a joint venture is expected to be sealed this month between Ethiopian Airlines Cargo & Logistics and DHL which is aimed at setting up a new company. It is said that DHL will hold 51% and Ethiopian 49%. Both companies already work closely together for many years and DHL contributes more than US$50 million of Ethiopian’s cargo revenues.
There is a large future potential for developing e-commerce traffic within Africa and although the continent in general lacks behind on modern logistics centres, Ethiopian Airlines has developed Addis Ababa into a freight hub which currently handles over 350,000 tonnes of cargo each year and has recently opened a state-of-the-art new terminal with capacity for 600,000 tonnes annually.
Growing the freighter fleet
The DHL - ET joint venture comes at the right time for the African carrier as it has plans to increase its freighter fleet in the coming 6 to 7 years to a total of 20 aircraft. If, with the guiding hand of DHL, Ethiopian can develop Addis Ababa and maybe one or two other locations into e-commerce distribution centres - then the future for ET cargo looks even rosier.
The recent and unexpected peace move between Ethiopia and Eritrea, if it holds, will also open up new avenues for the carrier as it would then give Ethiopia and Eritrea new markets.
John Mc Donagh