The General Manager of Ethiopia Airlines in Nigeria, Firiehiwot Mekonnen, in this interview, said the airline is willing to partner with Nigerian carriers to increase market share for African operators. According to Mekonnen, international airlines have taken over the region’s air travel market. Mekonnen spoke to Chinedu Eze in Los Angeles. Excerpts:
Let’s start with your operations in Lagos, what is your evaluation of the Nigerian market?
The operation in general is okay, things are getting better and the economy is getting better. The competition is also getting stiffer and stronger since more foreign airlines are coming in. But it is good that the market is growing and Ethiopia, as you know, the Ethiopian airport has taken over from Dubai as the biggest gateway for Africa, and the Lagos market contributes to that.
With your new aircraft and travellers realising that Ethiopia can give good service as any other, what impact do you think your new service and your new fleet have made in getting more passengers?
Yes, they have made great impact in a positive way because the new aircraft that we have is modern and more comfortable and more cost effective and also in terms of flight distance as well. So comfortable wise and every other thing it has impacted positively.
Do you think that there is something Ethiopia Airlines has done to make people realise since the last three years that it offers as much as good service as any other highbrow airline operating into Nigeria?
One thing that has made a difference for Ethiopia Airlines and has made people to realise that Ethiopia Airlines is as good as the big giant carriers is the fleet that we have, the destinations that we have and more importantly the connections, our hub, the connections that we have to most of the Middle East and Asia even to the US, the connections that we have is very short (time it takes to connect to the next flight). And then we are also building another terminal, which gives more comfort and more convenience for the passengers who are on transit. So the impact that we have has been our aircraft, the connectivity, the products that we have, we have more frequencies now to most of the destinations. So it has impacted a lot in being one of the biggest carriers.
Ethiopian is known as Africentric, it builds its market around Africa, do you at any time feel threatened that such market could be eroded by other carriers from other parts of the world?
As it is known today, foreign carriers already dominate the African air travel market. Right now African carriers have only 20 per cent of the market. So the challenge is, how can African airlines increase their market share of the region’s market? This can only be achieved if the regional carriers work together by supporting one other. As Ethiopia Airlines, we don’t feel threatened but it is not only Ethiopian Airlines that is involved. Ethiopia Airlines by itself cannot defend Africa and no other African country can defend Africa alone. The only way is when all African countries come together and defend the continent and then I believe that there will be no threat on the market any more.
What is your partnership structure with Los Angeles tourism authority in your operations to the city?
The thing is Los Angeles has been one of our US routes for more than three years. But we have done a route change. We used to operate to Los Angeles via Dublin, Ireland, but now we operate through Lome in Togo and this is the maiden flight on the new Lome-Los Angeles route on the December 17, 2018, so we changed the route to via Lome, Togo so that we can give more convenience, more comfort and more short connectivity to all our West Africa passengers. As you know we have a code share agreement with Asky Airlines, so all West Africa passengers can come to Lome with an hour or less and enjoy their flight. When it was via Dublin it used to be a very long distance, now that they are departing from Lome, which is from West Africa the flight is now shorter. So the operation has been there already the only thing is the route change which will make it more convenient, shorter and more comfortable for the customer.
For your first flight on the route change, where you impressed by the passenger traffic you had?
Yes, the passenger traffic, you know that it is Christmas season and New Year holiday so most passengers are coming into their country for holiday, so the traffic is heavier on the incoming flight from the US, which is to West Africa, Ghana, Nigeria. So outbound flight is not that much because of the holiday. It is not because there is no market but it is because of the holiday season that the outbound flights are a little but lighter. So the flight that we are going in is fully booked for both economy and business class. So it is a really promising sector in terms of traffic.