Africa First, the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner destined for the African continent, touched down at Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia on August 15, a day after Ethiopian Airlines took delivery of the aircraft from Boeing in Everett, Washington, and four years later than planned. On August 16, the aircraft departed for Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport on its first revenue flight.
The Ethiopian Airlines 787 is the first Dreamliner delivered to an airline outside Japan. Boeing had delivered 11 Dreamliners to launch customer All Nippon Airways and four to Japan Airlines as of July. “It’s exciting not only for us within the airline but also for the entire people of Ethiopia, the people of Africa,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said upon arriving at Washington Dulles. “It’s a big milestone to be the second [nation] in the world to get this new-technology airplane.”
Africa First is also the first 787 acquired with financing support from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. In May, the federal export-financing agency approved a loan guarantee of more than $1 billion to assist the airline in financing the Dreamliners. The transaction–co-financed by Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, Japan’s export credit agency–also involves the sale of General Electric GEnx spare engines, Ex-Im Bank said.
Ethiopian Airlines has ordered 10 Dreamliners, three more of which it expects to take this year, in September, October and November. It plans to use the first two 787s on the Addis Ababa-to-Washington Dulles route and the second pair to connect Addis Ababa and Guangzhou, China. With delivery of the first 787, the airline now operates 49 Boeing and Bombardier aircraft and plans to expand the size of the fleet to 120 aircraft by 2025, Gebremariam said. Asked whether the airline and Boeing had negotiated compensation for the late deliveries, Gebremariam wouldn’t offer specifics, citing a confidentiality agreement. “Although this is confidential material that we’re not supposed to disclose… Yes, we have been compensated,” he said.
Plans called for a “Kilimanjaro dream tour” around Mount Kilimanjaro to follow the flight of the airline’s first 787 to Addis Ababa. The aircraft, configured for 246 economy and 24 business-class seats, will fly regionally in Africa before resuming a regular route. More Ethiopians live in metropolitan Washington, D.C. than anywhere else outside Ethiopia.
John Wojick, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of sales, said no authority has placed operating restrictions on the aircraft’s GEnx-1B engines as a result of the July 28 contained engine failure of an Air India 787 during a pre-delivery taxi test in Charleston, South Carolina. The NTSB continues to investigate the incident. “We’ve inspected all of the engines prior to delivery and certified that there aren’t any issues with the engine for delivery and for safe operation of the airplane,” said Wojick.