Ethiopian Airlines is the first non-Japanese carrier to receive the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and demonstrate its forward looking strategy – even as an African airline. As the third overall operator of the new Dreamliner aircraft type (and the second Star Alliance member), Ethiopian flew the plane from the delivery ceremony from Boeing’s Everett facility to Washington Dulles airport at the US capital – even before flying it home to Africa two days later on 17 August.
The first destination is very well understandable in the light of the news that the Addis Ababa – Washington route will be the airlines’ first route served by the 787 – starting mid-September when they receive the second of the type. According to plans, Ethiopian will take 4 more before the end of 2012. The first one is the 49th aircraft in its fleet, and the Plane was dubbed as “Africa First”. Ethiopian has 10 of the type on order. The carrier also announced that its next desired route will be connecting Addis Ababa to Guangzhou, China, but it’s not yet decided when that service will get the Boeing 787. By the way, one day after the delivery flight from the US, the plane made its maiden flight in Africa with a Dream Tour to Mount Kilimanjaro with VIP passengers on board. The Dream Tour was a start of rotating Africa destinations, and some scheduled flights into Europe (Rome, London, Frankfurt) and India (Mumbai).
The plane in Ethiopian livery features 24 business class seats (called “Cloud Nine”) and 245 seats in Economy. Besides all the seats, this Dreamliner will bring the same customer benefits as the ones already in operation: lower noise levels, higher humidity, the largest windows on a passenger plane, bigger overhead bins and a unique lighting system – the Sky Interior that can be adjusted to the environment and time of the day.
In remarks at the delivery ceremony, Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam noted the 787’s delivery was “overdue by four years” due to multiple program delays. But he said it was “worth waiting” for an aircraft that will launch a “new era” for ET and African aviation. “This shows you how much Ethiopia as a country, and Africa as a continent, is changing,” he said.
Tewolde also said that Ethiopian plans to grow its aircraft fleet to more than 120 units (passenger and cargo fleet combined) and its workforce (now numbering around 7,000) to 17,000 by 2025 and aims to become the leading airline on the African continent and eventually compete against any of the world’s top carriers for passengers and cargo. This would equal to generating $10 billion in annual revenue by 2025 (ET reported revenue of $1.5 billion in 2011). According to the CEO talking to ATW, Addis Ababa is located right in the middle of the line between the world’s most emerging markets – notably between Russia, India, China and Brazil – and would strategically be located to connect these areas both in terms of passengers as well as cargo. The Boeing 787 can reach all of these countries within a 10 hour radius with nonstop flights.
We will keep an eye on Ethiopian and see how this aggressive, optimistic strategy will become a reality. A very important step has just been made by adding the Boeing 787 to the fleet – as the third airline to ever operate the type after All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.