Ethiopian Airlines set to expand with more aircraft and additional airport hub

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As the largest air carrier in Africa, Ethiopian Airlines has demonstrated robust growth over the past decade and weathered the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic effectively. Anticipating continued growth, Ethiopian Airlines Group, which owns and operates Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, expects the airport to surpass its 21 million annual passenger capacity within the next five years.

The airline’s strategic plan outlines an ambitious goal of expanding its fleet to 270 aircraft by 2035, nearly doubling its current size. To bridge capacity gaps, Ethiopian Airlines is eyeing several 787-9s from the operating lease market, starting in summer 2024. The scarcity of delivery slots has compelled the airline to explore interim capacity solutions, and it intends to strategically navigate between leases and Boeing options in its fleet planning over the upcoming years.

Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Mesfin Tasew emphasized that the recently placed orders for more Boeing aircraft is considered “conservative,” hinting at more substantial orders in the “coming years” involving both Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Tasew noted that while the airline is considering an order for the Airbus A220, it will await resolution of issues related to the Pratt & Whitney PW1500 engine. The latest order includes 21 737 Max 8 and 15 787-9 options, with firm deliveries scheduled to commence in 2026 and continue until 2030.

Boeing sees the growing market opportunity in Africa, a large continent with a population of 1.3 billion. The company recently appointed former Ethiopian Ambassador to France, Henok Shawl as managing director of Africa, based in Addis Ababa.

To accommodate this growth, Ethiopian Airlines Group is resurrecting long envisioned plans for an additional airport in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), located 25 miles south of Addis Ababa, with a projected annual passenger capacity of 100 million. The three-phase construction, estimated at $4 billion, is set to begin with the completion of two terminals by 2028.

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