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The Legacy of Ethiopian Airlines

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ET 1 Ethiopian is pleased with the Dreamliner after intial problemsEditor in Chief Malcolm Ginsberg was a guest of Ethiopian Airlines recently.

Ethiopian is pleased with the Dreamliner after intial problems

“There cannot be many airlines that go back as far as 1945 and still have, more or less, the same ownership, albeit the State. That is the case with Ethiopian, often called ET (its IATA code). We reported on the country last week (see BTN 17 March). The carrier has made consistent profits over the last 10 years and is run by a team of airline professionals many of whom have had just the one single employer since leaving University.

Ethiopian’s hub and headquarters are at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, from where it serves a network of 80 passenger destinations – 16 of them domestic – and 17 freighters. It is currently implementing its 15-year strategic plan called “Vision 2025” a development programme ensuring its place as a leading aviation operation.

Ethiopian Airlines was the first carrier in Africa to take the Boeing 787 (and one of the first anywhere in the world for that matter). It wins award after award, and is very much a training centre for airlines from all over the world, especially Africa. All aspects of the complex operation of an air operator are covered at the Ethiopian Aviation Academy. Cabin crew, aviation maintenance, pilot training and human resource development are all highlighted. The campus at the airport includes a large accommodation block for students of which there are about 1,000 at the present time, one third from abroad. English is the working language and special learning facilities are available.

ET 1 Busy engineering apron at Addis Ababa Bole International AirportBusy engineering apron at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport

Beyond the passenger airline business, ET is diversifying into seven profit centres with US$10bn in revenue. As the Ethiopian Aviation Group (Ethiopian International, Ethiopian Regional, Ethiopian Cargo Services, Ethiopian MRO Services, Ethiopian Aviation Academy, Ethiopian Catering Services and Ethiopian Ground Services) all the skills required in today’s very complex airline operations are offered.

Tourism is considered as a major feature for the future, its partnership with Ethiopian Holidays, a developing one.

I accompanied a small press party on a very short visit designed by the airline’s new UK PR company to introduce the carrier to a wider international audience. This followed the CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam’s, visit to the London Aviation Club (See BTN 17 February). “Tewolde” and the majority of the executive board found time to play host at an informal media briefing at the airline’s Bole Airport headquarters.

ET 1 Cloud Nine Business Class has a 15.4 inch video screenCloud Nine Business Class has a 15.4 inch video screen

Our trip was by two-class Boeing 777 both ways, one of a certain vintage outbound (777-200LR – 34+287 seats) from Heathrow T3, and the return by the latest delivery (777-300LR – 34+365 seats) with the Boeing Signature interior featuring larger seats with better flexibility, wider aisles and more headroom. It would have been nice to have tried the Ethiopian interpretation of the Boeing 787 but in Dash 8 guise it is proving too small for the route. Ethiopian has a problem that London is so popular that the aircraft, laid out 24/246, just does not have enough accommodation.

ET has five Boeing 787 Dreamliners and three to come. In 2017 the first of 14 Airbus A350s will arrive and another four Boeing 737-800s with Sky Interior are due, bring the narrow body fleet total up to nine.

ET 1 Ethiopian flies some of its Q400s uniquely two-classEthiopian flies some of its Q400s uniquely two-class

For regional work the Bombardier Q400 has proved a success story with Ethiopian (the training academy has a CAE motion simulator and the airline offers full third party engineering facilities). Currently it operates 13 Q400s, of which five are fitted with a dual-class cabin and is committed to another four with four options. The airline signed a deal in July 2013 for the acquisition of 49% of the Malawian carrier Air Malawi, now called Malawian Airlines, the balance held by the government of Malawi and private Malawian investors. Further Q400s could be added for this operation.

“Tewolde” was both friendly and evasive when asked if the Bombardier CSeries was a possibility for the future. “It comes down to performance and price,” he said noting that there were a number of aircraft types in the 100-150 passenger range the airline was considering for the future.

What Ethiopian Airlines offers in its ‘Cloud Nine’ Business Class is a sound commercial product.

Not for ET the luxury of a 2+2+2 layout favoured by some Middle East airlines not so budget conscious. For the Addis Ababa-based carrier it is 2+3+2 fully flat seat with a very acceptable high quality catering service.



ET 1 Ethiopian Graduates, 130 aviation professionals from eight countriesEthiopian Graduates, 130 aviation professionals from eight countries

Specialized meals are catered for by pre-booking and if yours is a vegetarian diet give the airline 48 hours’ notice. Champagne and soft drinks are provided before take-off and there is a good selection of wines and spirits.

As an additional starter ‘Cloud Nine’ passengers are offered to sample the taste of an Ethiopian traditional dish with its unique pancake like bread – Teff. Ethiopia is wherecoffea arabica, the coffee plant, originates. It is the largest producer in Africa.

The local lager beer ‘St George’ is supplied on board too. Excellent if it is to your pallet. There is a 15 inch video screen with a reasonable selection of films. The ‘Selamta’ in-flight magazine has been very well thought out with a summary of each of the films and TV offerings available via the in-flight entertainment (IFE) and also a page devoted to keeping fit whilst sitting in your seat.

The London services are ‘red eye’ both ways with a decent cold breakfast served just before landing. No 1 Lounge is the present home of the airline at Heathrow but this will change to the brand new Star Alliance operation when carrier moves at the start of the winter season. Ethiopian now has a single daily flight to the UK. Getting the extra slot, at the right time, had proved difficult.

The work going on around the headquarters compound, is impressive. A 787 simulator is scheduled and both engine and composite repair shop expansions are now fully functional. The construction of a new maintenance hangar is underway, and likewise a larger cargo warehouse/terminal: The airline is constructing a 5-star hotel at the airport.

Ethiopian is already Africa’s leading airline. It is building a strong foundation for the future.  www.flyethiopian.com

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