Ethiopian Airlines: Spreading its Wings

Apr 20 • Cover Story, Highlights, News & Features, Travel • 962 Views • Comments Off on Ethiopian Airlines: Spreading its Wings


Celebrating this year 70 years of success, Ethiopian Airlines has come a long way from its humble beginning on 8 April in 1946 to a leading African Aviation Group. During the past seven decades, the airline has always been at the forefront to introduce cutting-edge aviation technology and state-of-the-art aircraft — from Africa’s first jet aircraft in 1962 to the first B787 Dreamliners in the world outside of Japan in 2012 and soon the first airline in Africa to receive an Airbus A350 in June 2016.

Curiosity Middle East Magazine speaks to Tewolde GebreMariam, Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, who has been with the company for over three decades, about this incredible journey…

he conclusion of World War II ushered in the opportunity to establish a national civilian airline where Emperor Haile Selassie, dispatched a delegation to the founding conference of the United Nations to seek assistance from the United States as part of his modernization effort, with a Pan-African vision of connecting the newly-independent countries of the continent and to help to change impressions of the country’s image. Then Trans World Airlines (TWA) of USA agreed to assist provided that the airline came up with the money.

In an arrangement sealed in September of 1945, TWA agreed to provide technical management and operation services while business management was provided by a board of directors split between the Ethiopian government and TWA officials. The official charter, signed several months later in December, marked the beginning of Ethiopian Air Lines (EAL).

Ethiopian Air Lines (EAL), now Ethiopian Airlines (ET) was founded on 21 December 1945 and commenced operations on 8 April 1946.

Ethiopian Airlines has come a long 70 years of successful journey, from a humble beginning to a leading African Aviation Group. Throughout the past seven decades, the airline has established itself as adept in all facets of aviation services: technology leadership, network expansion and aviation mentoring.

Today, Ethiopian flies to 92 international destinations in five continents. Ethiopian’s expansive African network, enhanced through its multi-hub partnership with other African airlines, has brought the continent’s people closer together, which has made travel and trade in Africa easier than ever before.

cargoEthiopian Airlines is always at the forefront to introduce cutting-edge aviation technology and state-of-the-art aircraft — from Africa’s first jet aircraft in 1962 on through to the first B787 Dreamliners in the world outside of Japan in 2012 and will be the first airline in Africa to receive an Airbus A350 in June 2016. As a result, it is consistently recognized as an aviation leader. In 2015 alone, it was honoured with a host of awards — including ‘Airline of the Year’ by AFRAA, ‘Best in Africa’ by the Passenger Choice Awards, ‘International Airline of the Year’ by Business Executive Excellence, and many, many more.

Ethiopian has over the years built a brand anchored on Pan-Africanism, and today its widespread presence in Africa and the whole world is a testimony to this remarkable achievement.  Pan-African values are embedded in its vision, mission and business operations to provide clear guidelines and inspiration to its staff, customers and all stakeholders.

Not only this; Ethiopian Airlines, as a national flag-carrier, cares deeply about improving its home country by promoting corporate social responsibility initiatives in education, health, sport, art, and the environment. The company has contributed to the booming Ethiopian tourism industry by providing travelers to fill the new hotels and restaurants.

It is not just at home that Ethiopian promotes tourism; its network extends to 52 major African tourist destinations including the Seychelles, Tanzania, and Durban. Ethiopian also serves 19 domestic destinations with convenient frequency and special travel packages. In 2015, Ethiopian opened the first direct connection between Africa and Japan. The flight operates three times a week.

Ethiopian has pioneered aviation technology leadership in Africa and currently operates modern aircraft with an average fleet age of less than 5 years. Younger aircraft are fuel efficient, quieter and more comfortable.

Tewolde GebreMariam

Tewolde GebreMariam

Ethiopian Airlines also runs Africa’s finest aviation academy (EAA), which has just been renovated and expanded at a total cost of US$100 million. The Academy has capacity for 4,000 trainees in all areas of the aviation industry, from marketing to maintenance, repair and overhaul, piloting and leadership.  It uses modern simulators for cabin crew training, to ensure passenger comfort and safety. The pilot simulators are world-class, as are the rest of the academy’s facilities, and are rented out to airlines around the world for training.

The catering service is also undergoing expansions; currently it can produce 23,000 meals per day and will manage 80,000 per day once the expansion is completed. New headquarters and a four-star hotel are also underway along with the construction of the new cargo terminal, which will have an annual storage of 1.2 million tons annually, with capacity to handle eight B747-800 freighters at any one time. This will make it one of the largest cargo terminals in the world. Ethiopian Cargo expansion project is being conducted in two phases, each with a capacity of 600,000 tons annually. Construction of just the first phase will cost about a total of US$150 million and will be completed in 2 years’ time.

Ethiopian Airlines joined Star Alliance in 2011. Membership of the most prestigious aviation alliance provides greater opportunities for its customers who have access to an even greater network that covers most of the places people travel to in the world.

Ethiopian Airlines is determined to fulfil its ambitious sustainable growth plan, called Vision 2025. By 2025, Ethiopian aims to be the leading Aviation Group in Africa. This includes annual revenue of $10 billion ($1 billion profit), a fleet of 140 aircraft, 22 million passengers per year, and flying 820,000 tons of cargo to 146 destinations annually. Last year’s profits exceeded those of all other African airlines combined.

Tewolde-GebreMariam_03Flying High

  1. Mr. Tewolde GebreMariam, Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, began his career at Ethiopian Airlines in 1985. He served in different capacities in the cargo traffic handling department and progressed up the ladder to be the manager for cargo traffic handling. He was appointed as Regional Director for India and South East Asia based in Mumbai and later on transferred to Jeddah as Area Manager for Saudi Arabia. When Ethiopian Airlines commenced direct services to the USA, he was appointed as Area Sales Manager for North East USA and Canada based in New York.
  2. On August 16, 2004 he was appointed as Executive Officer Marketing & Sales to head the Marketing and Sales Operations of Ethiopian. On July 1, 2006, he was appointed as Chief Operating Officer of Ethiopian to head all the operating divisions of the airline Commercial, Flight Operations, Customer Services and Maintenance and Engineering. Since January 1, 2011 he has been serving as Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines.
  3. In his CEO role, Mr. Tewolde has been the winner of multiple awards. In November, 2012, he won ‘The African CEO of the Year-2012’ award from the African CEO Forum organized jointly by Jeune Afrique and the African Development Bank in Geneva.
  4. In December 2012, he won ‘The Best African Business Leader’ award from the Washington D.C. based Corporate Council on Africa, which promotes trade and investment ties between the USA and Africa.
  5. In July 2013, he became the first African Airline CEO to receive ‘The Airline Strategy Award for Regional Leadership’ in the award’s 12 year history. The Award is given out annually by Airline Business Magazine, a publication of Flight Global, the world’s leading aviation media brand. In November 2013, he won the 2013 ‘Planet Africa Professional Excellence Award’.
  6. Ethiopian CEO is awarded Gold Medal by Ethiopian Airlines Board of Directors for his exceptional leadership, dedication and hard work, which have enabled Ethiopian to register outstanding performance as per its fast, profitable and sustainable growth strategy Vision 2025.
  7. Ethiopian CEO is awarded a plaque for his exceptional leadership and the successful accomplishments towards Vision 2025 from Ethiopian Airlines Basic Trade Union.
  8. Ethiopian CEO received the 2015 International Grand Prix Special Award in Milan. The recognition was for his achievements in developing the Airline into the foremost aviation group in Africa and for spearheading the transformation of Ethiopian into becoming one of the fastest growing airlines in the world.
    In December 2015, Mr. Tewolde won ‘Most Gender Focused CEO Award 2015’ from the Leading Women of Africa (LWA).
  9. In addition to his duties as CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, he serves as a member on the High-level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport (HLAG-ST) with United Nations Secretary – General Ban Ki-moon. He also serves as a member of the Board of Governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA); an Executive Committee member of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA); a  Board member of the Airlink Advisory Council; a member of Board of Directors of Africa Travel Association (ATA);  a member of Board of Directors of Ethio-Telecom, a Board member of Ethiopian Railway Corporation; a Board Member of Commercial Bank of Ethiopia; and the Chairman of  the Board of Directors of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO).
  10. He earned his B.A. Degree in Economics from the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and his Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the Open University in the United Kingdom.

What is the latest news from Ethiopian Airlines?
This year is a year of celebrations for Ethiopian Airlines. We have graced by inaugurating our newly revamped Aviation Academy; which is the leading aviation academy of the continent in quality and capacity. The Ethiopian Group has invested 100 million US dollars in this project. It has various class room buildings. The Technical block is housing the Pilot Training School and the Aviation Maintenance Training School; while the Commercial and Leadership block accommodates the Inflight Services Training School, Commercial and Ground Services School and Leadership School. It also has separate Administration building, workshops, auditorium, students’ dormitory and large cafeteria. As an ATO (Authorized Training Organization), the B-777, B-787, B-737, B-767/757 and the Q-400 full flight simulators enable the academy to offer full type rating trainings for pilots.

EthopiaThe academy has the best aviation training technology such as a full range of fleet cabin emergency, evacuation and door trainers fitted with standard swimming pool for cabin crew ditching exercises and more than 20 pilot training aircraft, the finest expertise with dedicated and experienced instructors and a perfect environment for students.

Currently the Aviation Academy is receiving various requests mainly from African countries and many others around the globe, which shows that the Academy is truly outstanding and Ethiopian is also playing a key role in supporting the African Union to realize its vision 2063 through positioning itself to be the catalyst leader in aviation training technology.

Moreover; Ethiopian is celebrating its 70 year success journey this year; with its esteemed customers and employees with various events.   In the times ahead, it will continue to pursue its vital roles in the growth of Ethiopia and the African continent.

Elaborate on ‘Vision 2025’?
In 2010, Ethiopian has set a 15 year strategic program called vision 2025; that calls for the airline 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, with a 10 billion US dollars annual turnover, four hubs to cover the four corners of the continent, 1 billion US dollars profit, 120 international and 26 domestic destinations, 140 aircrafts, 22 million passengers and 820,000 tons of cargo.

Remarkably we have accomplished some of our plans of vision 2025 10 years ahead of time; such as our Aviation Academy project and acquiring simulators, currently we are revising our vision 2025. We will adapt it to an even more ambitious Vision 2030.

How has been your airline’s growth over the last 5 years?
The development of Ethiopian Airlines over the past 5 years is mainly based on its vision 2025. Ethiopian has successfully completed its fifth year of fast, profitable and sustainable growth strategy with record operating profit of ETB 4.31 billion and a net profit of 3.53 billion. Generally the first fiscal year was characterized by a success journey.

We have surpassed some of our visions in this period of time; one of the points of the plan has already been achieved ten years ahead of schedule; Ethiopian is Africa’s largest (in fleet and network size) and most profitable airline and we have inaugurated our state-of-the-art aviation academy, it has an intake capacity of 4000 students annually. The airline is currently working hardly to continue being the leading and passenger choice airline in African continent and creating a world class airline in its seven business units; Ethiopian Domestic and Regional Passenger Airline, Ethiopian International (intercontinental) Passenger Airline, Ethiopian Cargo, Ethiopian Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), Ethiopian Aviation Academy, Ethiopian Catering Services, Ethiopian Ground Services.

What are your plans for Middle East region?
Ethiopian Airlines currently flies to ten destinations in the Middle East; our plan is to connect the Middle East with all African countries together with our partner airline ASKY. We want to expand to all Middle East countries in the near future.

How significant is the route for Middle East travelers to Africa?
Middle East route is very important to Ethiopian Airlines due to the trade ties between the rising Africa and the Middle East. In addition to the business travellers, we are also expecting a huge leisure travel from Middle East to Africa and we are investing heavily to develop these route.

How do you see Dubai Expo 2020 as an opportunity for Ethiopian Airlines?
Ethiopian is connec¬ting Dubai with African continent and to the rest of the world with three times daily passenger services using the ultra-modern Dreamliners and B777 aircraft. From Brussels and Liege airports Ethiopian airlines gives cargo services to Dubai three times a week with B777 aircrafts.

The Dubai Expo 2020 is International Registered Exhibition and it will be the first to be held in the Middle East, Africa & South Asia region. The opening will be on 20OCT20 with moto “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”. It will stay open for six months and expects visitors from all over the world. Since Dubai has emerged as a global city and business hub of the Middle East and a major transport hub for passengers and cargo the EXPO will bring a lot of opportunities for Ethiopian Airlines.

How is Ethiopian Airlines dealing with the competition and in specific, with the low cost carriers?
•    Airline competition in African skies has been getting stiffer as major global carriers are making Africa part of their major expansion strategy. The aviation sector in Africa is generally riddled with problems like inter-continental traffic, high operating costs, aviation taxes, fees and unfair competition. Today 80% of intercontinental traffic in Africa is operated by non-African airlines. Slow implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) has given rise to unfair competition in the African market whereby European carriers take advantage of the existing flight restrictions in the continent to exploit the market.
•    Low cost ¬carriers are tapping into African markets and seeking to take ever-larger volumes of the continent’s international traffic through their own hubs. Turkish Airlines is perceived to be a major threat, as are gulf carriers which have access to government subsidies and cheap fuel.
•    The competition changed to direct product competition, to forming partnerships with our African airlines to expand in Africa.
•    As the competition gets tougher, Ethiopian is stretching to get closer to the customer, closer to the region and closer to the market and serve the continent in a better position, whether it’s inter-Africa or Africa to the rest of the world.
•    When you see the Ethiopian journey of 70 years, in addition to those latest fleets, it has positioned vast Intra-Africa network better than any Airline, providing its customers the best connection with minimum layover in Addis.
•    Ethiopian has the state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly young fleets, which gives customers the maximum comfort aboard. Including its Boing 787 and 777 aircrafts and the coming A350 aircrafts.
•    Moreover, Ethiopian always strives to offer its customers the best possible on board experience, with an authentic Ethiopian hospitality which is absolutely unforgettable and attractive. Maintaining high quality and distinctive customer service.

AirlinesWhat do you have to say about the global aviation industry and how is Ethiopian Airlines positioned globally as well as in Africa?
•    The global aviation industry continues to grow rapidly and the competition gets stiffer day to day.  The airline business by nature is one of the most volatile industries in the world. The industry is constantly in flux, not only due to the ever-changing technological advances and regulatory requirements, but also due to outside forces like terrorist attack, economic recession, political crises, epidemic diseases, wars, weather conditions and more.
•    Ethiopian Airlines in its seven-decade-long journey has survived and thrived amid all turbulence. It could manage being the largest and most profitable airline of the continent.
•    It is because of the strong culture of the workforce. We have uniquely dedicated and highly committed employees led by experienced and seasoned executive management and board of Directors. Self-sufficient in training of aviation personnel, who embody the values and spirit of Ethiopian Airlines, through our aviation academy. In addition to this, Ethiopian Airlines has become successful through;

Developing strong Leadership Team
Team which can cope with the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous type of operating environment. Highly skilled and vigilant management skillfully navigating through difficult situations. (Fuel surge, Ebola, Conflict situations and etc.)

•    Efficient network of connectivity based in a strategically advantageous location hub which enables us to connect Africa with the rest of the world better than anyone else.
•    Ethiopian has positioned vast Intra-Africa network better than any Airline, providing its customers the best connection with minimum layover in Addis.

Multi-hub strategy
One brand with multiple products: one of Ethiopian strategies is to have multiple hubs in Africa connecting it with our main hub, Addis Ababa, as well as hub to hub connections. Next to the main hub, Ethiopian has established its second and third hubs in:
•    Lomé (Togo) in partnership with ASKY Airlines: and it’s third at Lilongwe, Malawi with Malawian Airlines. Ethiopian and ASKY have been successfully serving the needs of passengers travelling within, to and from West and Central Africa through the Lomé hub and enabling them to benefit from the easy and convenient connectivity options offered by Ethiopian extensive and coordinated passenger networks.
•    The third at Lilongwe, Malawi with Malawian Airlines: Ethiopian has partnered with the Malawian Government and private interests in the country to establish Malawian Airlines in Lilongwe. Ethiopian has 49% equity stake as well as the technical and management contract for the new airline.
•    Currently Ethiopian flight departure/arrival is characterized as to depart in the morning and arrive in the morning and the same pattern follows the night flight. Whereas, Ethiopian is in its plan to add mid-day flight with same pattern.

A customer-focused airline, which offers to business travellers to and from Africa the most convenient connectivity options, on-board the most modern and most comfortable aircraft. As an ideal example for others to follow: As the economic output of the African continent increases, Ethiopian is seeking to leverage on that growth by expanding its fleet and put Addis Ababa at the heart of a global hub and spoke system.

Latest State of the art Aircrafts. Our flights from Europe, the Americas or Asia are almost all served with 787s or 777s, offering maximum comfort to our customers. Similarly, our flights to Africa are operated with the 787s in the major markets and the 737-800 NGs with Sky Interior in the lesser dense routes. In terms of network convenience, product offering and service delivery, there is no airline that gives better value-for-money than Ethiopian for business travellers.  Currently, Ethiopian is a Pan-African global carrier operating 77 youngest fleets in the continent with an average age of less than 5 years, which is under the industry average age and currently serving 92 international destinations across 5 continents with over 230 daily departures.

Member of Star Alliance; Ethiopian, being a Star Alliance member, offers its customers with connections to 1,321 airports in 193 countries and more than 18,500 daily departures offered by member airlines. Ethiopian Frequent Flyer Program offers passenger to accrue miles for boarding on operating airline for code share flights among Star Alliance partner Airlines even when the traveller has made reservation with another airlines flight number. And the passenger is a beneficiary in using Star branded own lounges upon Star Alliance lounge access policy. These all ensures that we soar well into the decades to come.

Tell us about some key achievements of Ethiopian Airlines over the years.
•    Ethiopian was formed with a Pan-African vision and unwavering commitment to bring Africa together and closer to the world. We’ve realized that vision and more by providing the best route network in Africa, and connecting Africa with the rest of the world.
•    Ethiopian Airlines is always at the forefront to introduce cutting-edge aviation technology and state-of-the-art aircraft —Africa’s first jet aircraft in 1962, the first African B767 in 1984, the first African B777-200LR in 2010 and the first B787 Dreamliners outside of Japan in 2012. We will also receive the first African Airbus A-0350 in coming June. As a result, we are consistently recognized as an aviation leader.
•    In 2015 alone, Ethiopian is honored with a host of awards — including ‘Airline of the Year’ by AFRAA, ‘Best in Africa’ by the Passenger Choice Awards, ‘International Airline of the Year’ by Business Executive Excellence, and many, many more. We work day and night to build Africa’s reputation, and of the recognition we continue to receive for our efforts.
•    Inauguration of the most modern and Africa’s largest Aviation Academy and undertaking other mega expansion and new projects are some of Ethiopian achievements.

How is Ethiopian Airlines adjusting to today’s digital world?
Ethiopian Airlines is making great efforts to adjust itself with the digital world and it is in a good position. Recently it has boosted by 40% in expanding its digital services.
•    The revamped and newly enhanced Ethiopian airlines official website – it is very user friendly and picturesque with many features which can attract our customers and give all the necessary details of the Company, travel options and requirements, destination information, frequent flyers program etc.;
•    Revamping the Online Customer Support Desk for web visitors and online booking;
•    Ethiopian is to work with OTA (Online Travel Aggregators), referral sites and different outstanding travel webs to be more near to our customers and to give plenty of options in one;
•    In addition to online payment system using international cards like credit card; Ethiopian has already started enabling customers to pay through local cards in different African countries.
•    In order to attract customers and retain them; personalized service will be starting very soon. Personalized service: chatting with customers, instantly provide information online etc.
•    Giving personalized service for Ethiopian frequent flyer (ShebaMiles) members by including different features on an E-commerce newsletter.
•    Emailing service for customers: when there are new things regarding Ethiopian Airlines services sending emails and inform them; it is more focused on customers who have flown with Ethiopian in recent times.
•    Emailing service for a particular group of customers based on the type of service
•    Ethiopian is reaching out to its customers of the online destinations and offline destinations as well through digital services.

On the new enhanced website we see new menu tab Ethiopian Holidays can you elaborate?
Ethiopia, Land of Origins , in the Horn of Africa;  is a true cultural melting pot thanks to the immensely diverse background of its people enabling the country to offer a unique body of knowledge and experience.

It is the cradle of humanity, where we humans first walked on two legs. It is also the source of the Blue Nile and the origin of one of life’s best pleasures – coffee, our gift to the world. And the national carrier – Ethiopian Airlines remains a key driving force for sustainable development of travel and tourism not only in Ethiopia but also in Africa.

Ethiopian Holidays is an In-house holiday program of Ethiopian Airlines; and offers a range of holiday’s products. The airline established ET Holidays program to promote and market Ethiopia`s endless tourist attraction through its vast international network.

Ethiopian Holidays (ET-Holidays) provides hotels and tour packages, which range from one day stop over options to full scale journeys, at the best tourist destinations of Ethiopia. ET-Holidays program provides flexibility in travel planning and precision in the itinerary development. It also provides best hotel rates, professional guides and affordable inclusive tour packages with a guaranteed quality of service for our business partners and our valued Ethiopian Airlines travellers who entrust us to craft their journey throughout the world. Our products are not limited to Ethiopia; we also assist you in planning your holiday to Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, South Africa, Uganda, India, Thailand and many more.

In addition, ET-Holidays through its website ( offer convenience for leisure as well as business travellers. It`s prearranged inclusive tour packages that include airfare, hotel, ground transfers and tour services. Furthermore, for those travellers who wish to cater their own holidays by themselves, we offer all types of hotels with best rates and transfer in all holiday destinations, that suite a variety of traveller.

ET Holidays invites the world to discover why Ethiopia is the origin of so much history and culture, vibrantly alive in a landscape of dramatic beauty.

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