Ethiopian Airlines, the largest airline in Africa, has ordered 10 additional Airbus A350-900s and set in motion a $345m airport expansion project to raise the annual passenger capacity at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport from 7m to 22m.
In contrast with the poor performance of the African aviation industry over recent years, this expansion indicates the rude health of Ethiopian Airlines and its intent to dominate the African skies. The airline adds the A350-900s to a fleet of 92 aircraft. It was the first in Africa to include A350-900s in 2016 and the first to operate Boeing 787 Dreamliners in 2012.
Similarly, the airport expansion project, backed by China’s Exim Bank, is a move to rival South Africa’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, which received around 21m passengers last year. Ethiopian registered an 18% passenger increase in 2016, and despite local political turbulence and tough market conditions, it made a record net profit of $273m in the 2015–16 fiscal year ending June 2016.
Contrast this with Africa’s overall poor aviation performance, which marked a loss of $900m in 2015 and $800m in 2016 according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Indeed, many of Ethiopian Airlines’ largest competitors like Kenya Airways and South African Airways have struggled due to a mix of unfavourable conditions, poor strategic management and a continent-wide lacklustre approach to creating favourable environments for African carriers.
Non-African airlines operate 80% of intercontinental traffic between Africa and the rest of the world, with carriers such as Emirates and Turkish Airlines taking an increasing share, and there have been very few moves to address this imbalance.
Equally, many African governments only allow their state-owned carriers to operate domestic flights, leading to increased fares and a lack of competition and air traffic growth. In 2016 African airlines had the lowest load factor – the number of seats occupied by customers – in the world at 54.6%.