Why Ethiopian Airlines Will be the World’s Largest Airline by 2100

If you fly frequently, whether for business or pleasure, there is a chance you have flown through Dubai International Airport. Emirates has transformed the aviation industry with their hub-and-spoke strategy with every flight originating or terminating at Dubai International. Their business model is based on connecting passengers through their hub at Dubai, and this has enabled them to compete in markets on all six inhabited continents. Many other airlines have followed suit, such as Turkish Airlines with their hub at Istanbul and Wowair at Keflavik.

While Emirates has received global acclaim for their success with this strategy Ethiopian Airlines has flown largely under the radar. Operating out of their hub in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian has made a series of strategic decisions to position themselves as the leading airline in Africa.

Location, Location, Location

Addis Ababa has a unique geographical location, positioned in close proximity to some of the largest economies in Africa. Cairo, Lagos, and Johannesburg are all within range of Ethiopian’s 737 aircraft. In addition, Ethiopian enjoys a monopoly on many of their routes within Africa and on nearly every intercontinental route including but not limited to Rome, London, Stockholm, Bangkok and New Delhi. At the current standing, if you are flying to Addis Ababa it is almost certain you will be flying Ethiopian Airlines. Additionally, if you are flying regionally within Africa Ethiopian or its subsidiary ASKY are either the cheapest or only option on most city combinations throughout the continent.

More about that subsidiary

When Air Afrique went bankrupt in 2002 a gap was left in the market making international air travel nearly impossible in Western Africa. A conference of the Economic Community of West African States and the West African Economic and Monetary Union met in Niger in 2004 and decided to create a new airline for the region. Ethiopian Airlines soon became the primary investor with a 40% stake in the company and the managing role of airline operations. The main hub was established in Lomé, Togo — the perfect center for a regional West-African airline. Beginning in 2010, routes were established from the Lomé hub to various West-African cities, and code shares were opened with its parent airline.

Ethiopian Airlines celebrates the opening of a new regional route

All of Ethiopian’s existing long-haul routes to North America required a fuel stop due to the high altitude in Addis Ababa. Now that they had a hub in Lomé they made the logical decision to use it as the stopover, thus skyrocketing ASKY’s access to potential passengers at no extra cost. Now travelers could fly from multiple North American cities to nearly anywhere in Africa.

By flying routes that could only be profitable for large airlines and strategically managing hubs, Ethiopian Airlines and ASKY formed one of the largest monopolies in Africa.

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Ethiopian (red) and ASKY’s (blue) route maps

Supersonic Growth

Ethiopian Airlines is the largest and fastest growing airline in Africa, and it is preparing itself for the international stage. Over the last few years the airline has placed large-profile orders with both Boeing and Airbus, ordering more than fifty next-generation aircraft such as the 787 Dreamliner and A350. Orders were even placed for Boeing 777X which is set to be delivered after December of 2019.

These orders provide insight into the economic well-being of the airline, as well as its future strategies. With over 30 737 Max aircraft on order, Ethiopian could be seeking to increase frequencies on previously-established regional routes or introduce new regional destinations.

The orders for ultra long-range aircraft show Ethiopian’s desire to assert itself in more international markets such as Eastern Asia and South America.

Population Growth

An airline can’t become the largest in the world without a large customer base. Currently, Asia has the highest population of any continent in the world with nearly triple the population of Africa. By 2100, however, Africa is projected to surpass Asia and take the number one spot. Large customer bases allowed airlines such as Emirates and Turkish to thrive, and will likely do the same for Ethiopian. Unlike these other major airlines, however, Ethiopian has its market on complete lockdown.

Unless other airlines decide to compete with Ethiopian’s vast regional network they will be the sole beneficiary of the population boom. Taking into account the rate of expansion of the airline, it seems clear that they are attempting to maintain their hold as Africa becomes the newest blue ocean of the aviation industry.

Written by

Journalist, entrepreneur and student - Boston College, University of Otago. Buddhist. Expert adventurer and consultant for conducting business in Asia.

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