Ethiopian Airlines getting ready to join Star Alliance?

April 10, 2010

The airline’s Fokker 50 fleet is being replaced with more modern and larger Bombardier Q400s, with delivery of the first such aircraft reported here last week, and extra B737-800s are due to join the fleet from the middle of 2011 onwards.

More wide bodies are also on order, such as the Airbus A350 – 12 on order – the B777-200LR – 5 on order – and the long-delayed but now back on track B787 Dreamliner – 10 on order. The new aircraft, when delivered, will allow Ethiopian Airlines to retire their ageing fleet of B767s, which have been a workhorse on the long-distance network.

Star Alliance will be getting a shot in the arm for their global traffic into Africa, and the geographical position of Ethiopian Airline’s home hub of Addis Ababa will further strengthen Star’s competitive efforts to grab the lion’s share of traffic in, out, and across Africa, considering that they already have Egypt Air and South African Airways flying under their banner and covering the different regions of the continent. In fact, Ethiopian Airlines will be bringing an added component into play, considering that they manage an airline in Togo in which they hold a 25 percent stake and which could be very useful in capturing yet more traffic from west Africa into the Star Alliance network. Since the collapse of Air Afrique, in which almost a dozen countries from west Africa were involved, there has been a vacuum in that part of Africa and, the absence of a dominant and strong carrier will only aid Ethiopian Airlines’ efforts to give their new west African “baby” added wings.

Meanwhile, the KLM/Air France led Skyteam will undoubtedly hold more strategy sessions with Kenya Airways of how to counter these developments, for Ethiopian Airlines and Star, and develop their own ballgame via Kenya Airways, which presently is an associate member of Skyteam and playing a vital role in that alliance’s expansion plans and future standing in Africa. Already “patch invasions” are notable, as Ethiopian is now flying a daily scheduled service from Addis to Mombasa, giving convenient connections to their network passengers to the Kenyan beaches, while operating twice daily between Addis and Nairobi already, compared with Kenya Airways single daily service, indicating a disparity in demand for seats on one airline over the other. Addis Ababa is also the seat of the African Union headquarters, besides being the capital of Ethiopia.

Unlike Kenya Airways, Ethiopian is also already on the lucrative route to Juba, something Kenya Airways is expected to remedy soon, however, especially in view of several private airlines from Kenya already operating to the southern Sudan, who have privately dismissed the concerns Kenya Airways has so far put forward to explain their absence from this important regional destination. In fact, the rest of the region has seen an expansion of flight frequencies to daily and more by Ethiopian, offering convenient connections in both directions for passengers originating in Eastern Africa and overseas travelers on business or holiday transiting in Addis.

“The battle for the African skies,” as dubbed by this correspondent a while ago, is set to intensify, with the two main protagonists being driven by their own strategies and also as proxies of the alliances one already belongs to, and the other one is soon to join. Interesting times ahead for African aviation, especially for the couple of quality airlines holding their own against global competitions on the continent.