Ethiopian Airlines signed a contract with Boeing Global Services covering a landing gear exchange program for 19 older Boeing 787 models, as well as a five-year contract for airplane health management services.
Mesfin Tasew, Ethiopian Airlines global CEO, announced the contracts during the 2022 Farnborough Airshow, noting that the airline introduced the 787 aircraft into its fleet a decade ago and many are approaching time for landing gear overhaul.
Ethiopian operates the largest MRO facility in Africa and can perform heavy checks on all aircraft models and certain engines, Tasew said. The airline is in the final stages of adding Boeing 737NG landing-gear support to its capabilities, but with the 787's new technology, he added, “we don’t have the capability for the landing gear."
Tasew also discussed wide-ranging short- and long-term plans for the airline.
Immediate plans include boosting freight capabilities with the conversion of up to four of its de Havilland Dash 8-400s into cargo configuration. The airline also is considering converting orders for Airbus A350-900s to the -1000. “We are in the final stage of discussion, but it is not yet finalized,” he said.
He further outlined the airline’s 2035 plan that calls for nearly doubling its fleet from the 135 to 250 airplanes. Tasew called the 2035 plan a strategic roadmap that surrounds fleet expansion and modernization, investments in MRO and airport facilities, development of human resources and systems, and sustainability.
Cargo and logistics are among the business areas staged for growth, he said. The fleet includes nine Boeing 777 freighters and four Boeing 737 converted freighters, and Ethiopian expects to add its first converted 767 freighter in August. Ethiopian also plans to add two more converted 767s into its fleet and has placed an order for another 777 freighter.
“We have a grand cargo expansion strategy,” Tasew said, noting the airline is further evaluating new-generation cargo airplanes that could include the 777 or the A350 freighter. On the narrowbody side, he cited a need to acquire more 737 freighter variants.
The airline has nearly 40 aircraft on order, consisting of 24 Boeing 737 Maxes, five 777s, two 787s, and six A350s. “These are the firm orders today," he said. "But our plan is to expand our fleet by acquiring more…highly efficient aircraft. “
As for returning the Max to service, Tasew noted that the airline performed all the recommended maintenance and modifications approved by regulatory authorities and Boeing before it re-introduced its first two. The in-service Max fleet has now grown to six, including two delivered in the past three weeks. “I can tell you that the customers didn't notice that they were flying on the 737 Max,” he said, noting instead the comfort of the cabin. The return has been “smooth in terms of customers,” he said, and the aircraft have operated reliably.