Airlines Airline Portrait: Ethiopian Airlines

  • Ethiopian Airlines

Spotlight on Ethiopian Airlines in our themed week on African aviation.

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Ethiopia’s flag carrier is one of the fastest growing airlines in Africa, stating an average annual growth of 25 percent for the past seven years. With an own Training Center, Cargo Network and catering facilities, the airline is continuously working towards its vision for 2025 to become the most competitive and leading aviation group in Africa.

Facts about Ethiopian Airlines:

Foundation: December 21, 1945, Operation start April 1946

Headquarter: Addis Ababa

Hubs: Addis Ababa (main hub), Lomé (Togo), Lilongwe (Malawi)


Alliance: Star Alliance

Subsidiaries: no subsidiaries

Company Slogan: The new Spirit of Africa

Passengers annually: 8.76 m

Ethiopian Airlines History

Founded in December 1945 in a joint venture with the American airline TWA (Trans World Airlines), Ethiopian started operations on 8th April 1946 as Ethiopian Air Lines. Cairo was the airline’s first destination served weekly by a Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Soon, further weekly services were scheduled to Djibouti, Aden and Jimma. The route network was expanded during the 1940s including destinations as Nairobi, Port Sudan and Bombay. In 1947 Ethiopian also fitted three Skytrains with more comfortable seats in the colorful livery the airline is known for today.

The 1950s marked Ethiopian’s wish to fully operate with Ethiopian personnel underlining the airline’s importance as Ethiopia’s domestic carrier but also increase the nation’s international standing. In line with the aim of an all-Ethiopian operated airline the National Airline Training Project was set up to train local pilots, technicians and supervisory personnel. Also, a maintenance facility was established at Addis Ababa in order to reduce the need for overseas maintenance. The 1950s also mark the expansion of the airline’s route network to Europe (Frankfurt in 1957).

In 1961 the airline took up the first-ever direct link between east and west Africa with service from Addis Ababa to Monrovia in Liberia. In 1962, Ethiopian was the first African airline to order Boeing 720B aircraft. Changing legal status from corporation to share company in 1965 opened up new possibilities. The airline also changed its name from Ethiopian Air Lines to Ethiopian airlines.

In order to improve pilot training within the National Airline Training Project and to be independent of foreign airlines for pilot training, Ethiopian acquired a Boeing 720B flight simulator in 1977.

Worldwide attention came to Ethiopian Airlines in 1984 when its first Boeing 767 landed at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa after a thirteen-and-a-half-hour delivery flight from New York. This distance was new world record for a commercial twin engine set. Ethiopian was also launch customer for Boeing’s advanced wide bodied aircraft. Ethiopian has continuously been replacing older aircraft with modern new ones, making its fleet one of the youngest in Africa.

Worldwide attention came to Ethiopian Airlines in 1984 when its first Boeing 767 landed at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa after a thirteen-and-a-half-hour delivery flight from New York. This distance was new world record for a commercial twin engine set. Ethiopian was also launch customer for Boeing’s advanced wide bodied aircraft. Ethiopian has continuously been replacing older aircraft with modern new ones, making its fleet one of the youngest in Africa.

In 1989 the airline established its Cargo Management Department making cargo operations a secondary source of income rather than a public service commitment.

The 1990s marked a time of expansion. In 1996 the airline operated a fleet of 6 aircraft for domestic flights, 8 aircraft for medium- and long-range services as well as 5 aircraft for cargo operations. Destinations were domestic and international, as in Europe, China, Thailand, the Middle East and India. The pilot training school was equipped with a state-of-the-art flight simulator. Two years later a twice-weekly service to Washington was established, which was the airline’s first destination in the Americas. New York shortly followed as a regularly scheduled destination. To meet future passenger numbers and needs, construction on a new, modern terminal building at the airline’s hub in Addis Ababa started in 1999. Scandinavia was added to the route network.

Ethiopian Airlines was able to sustain growth in the 2000s. In 2005 the airline announced it would become launch carrier for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The first two of ten ordered aircraft was delivered in 2012. Especially with the investments in new aircraft in the years of 2005 and 2009, Ethiopian is able to operate one of the youngest fleets in Africa today.  The 2000s also marked the first of Ethiopian’s codeshare agreements with ASKY in 2009 and Scandinavian Airlines in 2010, Singapore Airlines and Asiana Airlines in 2011. On December 13, 2011, Ethiopian Airlines joined Star Alliance.

In 2012 Ethiopian was able to establish its second hub in Lomé, Togo, where the multinational private airline ASKY is based. Being the first in African aviation again, Ethiopian took delivery of its first B777 freighter in the same year.

In 2013 Ethiopian invested in Malawian Air, being a strategic partner with 49% equity shareholding. Malawian Air launched its first international flight to Johannesburg a year later. In 2013, Ethiopian became the first in Africa to graduate 26 pilots trained with Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL). One year later the Ethiopian Aviation Academy joined IATA’s global training partner network as an IATA Authorized Training Center.

Ethiopian became the largest African carrier by Revenue and Profit according to IATA in 2014.

The airline continuously invests in new infrastructure. In October 2016, the facilities of Ethiopian Catering were expanded to produce 100.000 meals daily, more than doubling the capacity.

Ethiopian Airlines today

Today, Ethiopian Airlines is the largest African carrier operating one of the continent’s youngest fleets, 108 aircrafts in total.  The airline has a total of 66 aircraft on order. In 2016, Ethiopian was the first African airline to receive an Airbus A350XWB making the carrier the first in the world operating this aircraft in African skies.

Ethiopian is 100% owned by the Government of Ethiopia and operates its headquarters in Addis Ababa. The company’s CEO is Mr. Tewolde Gebremariam, who started in this position in 2011.

Ethiopian Airlines operates a cargo terminal at their first hub at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. The terminal covers 44.390 sqm apron area, has a terminal size of 14.000 sqm and a capacity of 350.000 tons of air cargo per year. The airline also operates a state-of-the-art maintenance hangar that can accommodate one B747-400 or two B737-700 aircraft. The Ethiopian Cargo Network operates 46 Cargo Destinations worldwide.

Ethiopian Airlines fleet:

22 x Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 (C: 7/ Y: 64 or Y: 78)

10 x Boeing 737-700 (C: 16/ Y: 102)

16 x Boeing 737-800 (C: 16/ Y: 138)

3 x Boeing 737 MAX 8

6 x Boeing 767-300ER (C: 24/ Y: 190-221)

4 x Boeing 777-200LR (C: 34/ Y: 287)

6 x Boeing 777-300ER (C: 34/ Y: 365)

19 x Boeing 787-8 (C: 24/ Y: 246)

4 x Boeing 787-8 (C: 30/ Y: 285)

9 x Airbus A350-900 (C: 30/ Y: 318 or Y: 313)

7 x Boeing 777-200LRF (Cargo)

2 x Boeing 757-260F (Cargo)

For passenger services the airline operates three hubs in total: Addis Ababa, Lomé and Lilongwe. Ethiopian serves more than 21 domestic destinations, more than 60 destinations in Africa alone and 116 international destinations in five continents. As member of the Star Alliance, Ethiopian has codeshare agreements with all Star Alliance members as well as additional airlines on all continents.

Ethiopian Airlines has formulated its vision 2025 as follows:

“To become the most competitive and leading aviation group in Africa by providing safe, market driven and customer focused passenger and cargo transport, aviation training, flight catering, MRO and ground services by 2025.”

The airline’s mission is to become the leading aviation group in Africa providing safe and reliable passenger and cargo air transport, training, catering, MRO and ground services. Their aim is to always be one step ahead proving not only safety and reliability to customers but also contribute positively to the socio-economic development of Ethiopia and underline their corporate social responsibility.

The aim of being the largest aviation group in Africa has already been reached and the airline is still the fastest growing airline in Africa. Ethiopian connects 121 airports in 65 countries with 275 daily flights. The company employs 16.002 employees with a revenue of 2.71 BUSD. With 30 ordered Boeing 737 MAX 8, five further B787-9, 15 Airbus A350-900 and ten Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, Ethiopian Airlines will continue to grow its fleet in the next years.

Ethiopian Airlines aims to achieve additional growth through acquisitions and participations in other African airlines. Followed by the Single African Air Transport Market Agreement, which was initiated by the African Union Commission in January 2018, Ethiopian Airlines will be able to operate flights from bases in twenty-two African countries. The agreement, which has not yet been signed, should enable carriers to open bases outside of their home country, like it is usual in the European Union.

Since 2008, Ethiopian Airlines owns a 40% stake in Togo’s ASKY. ASKY operates a fleet, that consists of wet-leased Boeing 737 and Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 from Ethiopian Airlines. Five years later, Ethiopian Airlines became a shareholder (49%) in the new carrier Malawian Airlines, which commenced operations in January 2014.

In recent months Ethiopian Airlines has started to enter into additional partnerships with African airlines. With investments in currently seven airline projects throughout Africa, Ethiopian Airlines is developing more and more into a Pan-African airline. It remains to be seen whether the strategy of minority shareholdings in national airlines will work in the long term. The example of Etihad Airways, with its former investments in airlines such as Air Berlin and Alitalia, shows how difficult it is to be successful with such a strategy.

Ethiopian Airlines investments according to official press releases and media reports:




Airline launch




January 2010

Malawian Airlines



January 2014

Zambia Airways



Planned: April 2019

Chadian Airlines



Planned: October 2018

Guinea Airlines




Eritrean Airlines




Ethiopian Mozambique Airlines



Planned: December 2018

Nigeria Air



Project was stopped in 2018

*not officially confirmed by Ethiopian Airlines

The next few years will show how Ethiopian Airlines with its various subsidiaries and participations can establish itself in the market.

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