For years, many of the African exports transported by air to European or Asian markets are transshipped in Dubai or other airports in the Middle East. The same accounts for imports in the opposite direction. This will change, hold the top managers of Ethiopian Cargo. In the medium term, Addis Ababa’s Bole International will become Africa’s prime hub for consolidations and transshipments, siphoning business away from their peers in the Middle East.
Ethiopian Cargo’s estimate is based on two factors: the steady growth of the carrier’s international network and fleet, and their state-of-the-art large freight terminal at Addis Ababa Bole
Concerning the fleet, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) currently operates 110 aircraft, with a further 65 on order. The recent crash of a brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8, killing all 157 people aboard, came as a shock, with investigations still going on. But, although highly tragic, is has no influence on the carrier’s future fleet plans as indicated in their “Vision 2025.”
Taking the pole position in Africa
Meanwhile, 1945 incepted ET has developed into the largest airline in Africa in terms of destinations served, fleet size, revenues generated and passengers as well as freight carried. The state-owned carrier reported a profit of US$223 million for fiscal 2017/18.
In addition to its traditional hub Addis Ababa, Ethiopian has established sub-hubs in Lomé, Togo and Lilongwe, Malawi.
Thus, ideal conditions to become a network airline consolidating African exports, mainly cut flowers, meat, and other perishables at Bole Airport from where they are trans-shipped to their final international destinations in the holds of ET’s passenger aircraft or the main decks of their eight freighters (six B777-200LRFs, two B757-260Fs). The same goes for imports arriving at Bole Airport, handled there and spread across the continent by air shortly after.
Best-in-class freight terminal
A key element of the airline’s “Vision 2025” is their state-of-the art cargo terminal launched in 2017, Africa’s largest by size and most modern. It covers 38,000 square meters which equalizes the size of five soccer fields. The fully automated facility is equipped with technic provided by ACUNIS, a cooperation between Unitechnik and AMOVA both from Germany. The US$150 freight terminal offers handling and storage capacity of 600,000 tons per year. It is divided into a refrigeration zone (17,000 m²) with different temperature ranges from 2 to 10 degrees Celsius and a non-refrigerated dry zone (19,000 m²).
Change of cargo flows on the horizon
For the East African country, the fleet and network expansion complemented by modern ground infrastructure is a matter of do or die, to put it drastically. Well-functioning air traffic offering abundant international routes and high frequencies is the only opportunity to attract foreign investment and develop the economy further. This, because Ethiopia is a classic landlocked country without direct access to a sea port. So, fast and efficient air transport of imports and exports to/from Africa and the professional handling of transshipments at ADD becomes imperative, leaving no room for alternatives.
Having said this, Ethiopian Cargo just confirmed plans to expand their new freight terminal further, upping the handling and storage capacity to yearly 1.2 million tons. Currently, ET Cargo turns over 350,000 tons per year.
"In the long term, in making this investment, we want to establish our capital not only as a freight hub for the African continent, but also as an international cargo hub. This puts us in direct competition with hubs like Dubai," announces Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines.
Provided the plans become reality, they would lead to a shift of cargo flows from airports in the Middle East to the fast-rising Ethiopian hub.