Ethiopian Airlines does not plan to stop expanding its pan-African network of bases following its recent agreements with the governments of Chad and Zambia to launch flag carriers in those countries. It has now set its sights on Nigeria and Ghana, where it has bid to establish two more national carriers in partnership with those West African economic dynamos.
“We are among a small group of airlines who have shown strong interest to partner with the Nigerian government in establishing the national carrier,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told AIN. “We are one of the forerunners there."
One-time flag carrier Air Nigeria ceased operation in 2012 due to financial difficulties, leaving Africa’s largest economy without a national airline. Ten years earlier Nigeria Airways, another flag carrier of Nigeria, liquidated and Virgin Nigeria, a joint venture between the government of Nigeria and Virgin Atlantic, also collapsed.
Ethiopian Airlines maintains technical and commercial cooperation agreements with other Nigerian carriers, collaborating with private airlines Arik Air and Medview.
Separately, the government of Ghana has invited Ethiopian Airlines to participate in a bid to establish an airline based in Accra. “We are also participating there,” said GebreMariam. “We have submitted our expression of interest and a business plan. As I understand there are also other airlines interested. They will let us know their selection.”
Ethiopian already participates in a commercial cooperation with the Ghanian government under which it expects to cover some international routes from Ghana. “They requested us to fly between Accra and London,” Ethiopian chief commercial officer Busera Awol told AIN. “We will start serving the Accra-London route soon.”
Less than two weeks ago Ethiopian Airlines and the government signed a shareholders agreement to relaunch Zambia Airways. As strategic equity partners in the national airline project of Zambia, that country’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) will hold 55 percent equity in the carrier, while Ethiopian Airlines holds 45 percent. The initial investment totals $30 million, and plans call for the new airline to operate 12 aircraft carrying 1.9 million passengers annually by 2028.
Meanwhile, under the August 24 deal with Chad, Ethiopian holds a 49-percent stake in that joint venture while the government of Chad retains 51 percent. Plans call for the Chad national carrier to start operations on October 1. Ethiopian now operates hubs in Lomé, Togo, with Asky Airlines and in Lilongwe, Malawi, with Air Malawi. It has also taken a stake in Guinea’s national carrier and has begun preparations to launch Ethiopian Mozambique Airlines.
“Our intention is not only to expand Ethiopian Airlines' market share,” said GebreMariam. “We always decry the unfair market share of non-African airlines in the African sky. Eighty percent of the market is controlled by non-African carriers. Since we have not seen efforts to change the trend we decided to work hard to change the harsh reality.”