During a delivery ceremony on Tuesday in Toulouse, Ethiopian Airlines became the first carrier in the African continent, and the second Star Alliance airline, to fly Airbus’ new state-of-the-art A350 aircraft.
While that alone is an important milestone, the event had greater significance for Airbus, the airline, and the African continent in which Ethiopian Airlines sets high standards.
That the A350 is the first Airbus aircraft selected by Ethiopian Airlines for its young fleet is an important vote of confidence, both for the plane and for the manufacturer, which will resonate with competitors in Africa and beyond.
Ethiopian Airlines operates a modern fleet of aircraft with an average age of 5 years. The fleet is a mix weighted in favour of Boeing aircraft: Boeing 787 Dreamliners, 777-300ER, 777-200LR, 777-200 Freighter; as well as Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400 NextGen aicraft.
The A350XWB leased through AerCap Aviation solutions, Ireland, is the first Airbus aircraft to enter the Ethiopian Airlines fleet, but it won’t be the last.
The airline has 14 A350-900s on order, to be delivered in short succession, with the next delivery expected around August.
The airline has described the acquisition of the new A350XWB aircraft as essential to its 15-year strategic growth plan, called Vision 2025.
Ethiopian is a well-diversified Group, with a proud 70 year tradition of leadership in aviation and strong capabilities in seven separate business divisions: Ethiopian Domestic and Regional Airline, Ethiopian International Passenger Airline, Ethiopian Cargo, Ethiopian MRO, Ethiopian In-flight Catering Services, Ethiopian Ground Service, and Ethiopian Aviation academy.
Through a focus on self-sufficiency and core competencies, responsibly managed costs, and high standards for passenger service, Ethiopian has grown and aims to be Africa’s leading airline group.
The Vision 2025 strategy is working. Ethiopian has maintained an average growth rate of 25% over the past seven years, and was ranked by IATA in 2014 as the largest airline in Africa in both revenue and profits.
A350: The Right Airplane for the Mission
Group CEO of Ethiopian Tewolde Gebremariam, explained the group selected the A350 was because of the aircraft’s unique blend of passenger experience and range.
“The first question when you evaluate a fleet is you define the mission and then you find the right airplane for that mission. In this case we were looking for modern airplane—a 21st century vision technology airplane—which can fly the furthest possible point from Addis in range, with the optimal capacity for our airline. In that analysis the A350 came right for the mission that we defined,” Gebremariam said.
“We fly to four gateways in China, Beijing daily non-stop; Shanghai daily nonstop; Guanjou daily non stop–these are routes with a density of demand for the A350 and the A350 can fly direct to these points and a little bit farther, so the mission defined the choice of an airplane,” he added.
Gebremarian hinted that the airline might consider other Airbus aircraft for its fleet in future, though no commitments were made on Tuesday.
“There is another factor in the equation that fleet commonality is very important in the industry. We are concerned that we factor in that we should not diversify beyond a limit, so we have to buy and sell,” he said. “But since we have been growing in the past five, ten years and the fleet right now is around 80, it’s the right time to diversify. Each fleet on its own will have enough economies of scale to justify the additional cost of training of pilots, technicians and the additional cost of holding space. So it was the right time.”
Airbus is eager to prove its capabilities to Ethiopian as an ideal partner to grow its fleet in future. The manufacturer will provide support at its own facilities and at Ethiopian Airline’s facilities—including the exchange and training of crew and maintenance staff.
Gebremariam said on Tuesday that talks are ongoing with Airbus for the purchase of a dedicated A350 simulator which would be introduced to Ethiopian Airlines’ training facilities.
At 343 passengers, Ethiopian Airlines has configured the A350 with the second largest capacity to date—LATAM’s A350 seats 348. This was the optimal seating capacity the airline determined to optimise service to existing and future routes to be announced in Asia, the Americas and Europe.
Ethiopian has selected B/E Aerospace’s Pinnacle for the 313 seats in the main cabin; 18” wide Economy seats in a 3-3-3, nine abreast, configuration. The choice of seat and width provides optimum passenger comfort while th pitch of 31-33” accommodates the passenger numbers required.
The Business class features 30 B/E Aerospace Diamond seats, in a six abreast configuration and 60-61” pitch.
All seats will feature high-definition touchscreen personal In-Flight Entertainment, with a wide selection of content including films, television series and audio channels.
The airline has said it will introduce onboard Wi-Fi to the aircraft in future, and will link the seat-back screens to the onboard Wi-Fi service when it goes live, so passengers can stay in touch with the ground or surf the Internet through the seatback screen, if they like. Passengers can also access Wi-Fi on their own Personal Electronic Devices.
Airbus Growth in Africa
Since 1974, Airbus has received orders of 250 planes from African airlines and delivered 199 to African customers. At present, there are 213 Airbus aircraft flying in Africa operated by 30 African airlines, twenty-five of which have introduced Airbus to their fleet since 2010.
Airbus has achieved a 78% market share in new aircraft sales in Sub-Saharan Africa, but is determined to continue that growth.
In its most recent Global Market Forecast, Airbus projects that passenger traffic to and from Africa will increase by 5.6% year on year over the next twenty years. Based on this growth, Airbus estimates that Africa will need 1,130 new passenger and freighter aircraft—with plenty of room for hot competition.