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Will Ethiopian Airlines Become the Next Emirates? (Probably Not…But They’re Going to Try)

25 years ago just about anyone would have thought you were insane if you said that Emirates would become a massive global player in the airline industry. After all, how many people would want to fly to a speck of sand in the volatile Persian Gulf?

So if you hear that Ethiopian Airlines wants to create an Emirates-like structure over the next ten years and become a true global player, perhaps it’s not so crazy. Well, it’s a little bit crazy. But not completely.

Ethiopian has quietly grown to become one of Africa’s biggest aviation success stories (along with South African Airways – its Star Alliance partner – and Kenya Airways), and was the continent’s first carrier to fly the new 787 (and only the first airline outside Japan to do so).

Although Ethiopian only has about $1.5 billion in revenues (in line with a small carrier like Air Europa), its CEO has set a target to hit $10 billion by 2025. How are they going to do that? He believes Addis Ababa can become a strategic connecting point between the high growth regions of China, India, East Africa and Brazil. To meet this growth they’re planning to grow from 48 aircraft today, to 120 in the next 10 years or so.

Now, if only it were that easy. Although Emirates is known for their connecting traffic, about 40% of their passengers terminate in Dubai. It will be a loooooooong time before Addis Ababa can turn itself into that type of destination. Emirates also derived 16% of their revenue from Cargo, a similar percentage to what Ethiopian drives from Cargo, but a long way from being a multi-billion dollar business on its own.

The African aviation community has struggled for so long it’s just interesting to see an airline executive put a stake in the ground — 10 years ago no African carrier would have even considered the possibility that one day they could be a true global leader. At least people aren’t laughing (much) when they hear a CEO make that claim.


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