An Ethiopian 737-800 in Nairobi (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Parker Davis)

Ethiopian Airlines Sets Stage for New Hub Airport

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam on Wednesday said that his airline would look to begin construction on a new $5 billion airport that would enable it to grow well beyond the capacity of its current hub at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

Reuters reported that the airport, which Gebremariam believes would allow the carrier to take the next step to become a true global airline, would have the capacity to handle approximately 100 million passengers. It would be located in the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, around 24 miles outside of the center of Addis Ababa.

“Bole Airport is not going to accommodate us; we have a beautiful expansion project. The airport looks very beautiful and very large but with the way that we are growing, in about three or four years we are going to be full,” Gebremariam told the state-run Ethiopian News Agency.

The airline, which is fully-owned by the Ethiopian government, carried approximately 12.1 million passengers during the fiscal year ending in June 2019. That figure represents almost all of the traffic at Bole International Airport, which has already undergone numerous multimillion-dollar expansions in order to accommodate the airline’s growing fleet and operations. The airport’s official capacity sits around 19 million passengers annually.

Ethiopian Airlines has largely been the exception when it comes to airlines based throughout Africa. While carriers throughout the continent have struggled to get off the ground as a result of corruption, safety concerns, or any number of other troubles, Ethiopian has been able to avoid that turmoil, ending its 2018-2019 fiscal year with around $260 million in profit.

The desire for a new mega-airport, however, would signal the carrier’s first foray into a journey to truly rival the big three Gulf carriers in Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

If the airport ends up with a capacity around that which Gebremariam projected, it would be larger than the currently operational Dubai International Airport, which, at its published maximum capacity of around 90 million passengers. Dubai has served as the cradle from which Emirates has been able to transform from a single emirate’s project to an internationally-recognized brand and global airline powerhouse.

Despite some of its recent struggles, the Emirates model is one that Ethiopian Airlines hopes to emulate in the years ahead, a set of moves that would allow it to gain more notoriety as a larger, more influential carrier on the world stage.

Of course, the crash of one of its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in 2019 did not help its public image. That crash, which was the second in just a few months for the aircraft type, catapulted both Boeing and Ethiopian into the news as questions began to swirl around whether it was simply a question of poorly-trained pilots that caused the jet to crash.

But as it became clearer that technical problems with the jet had been behind the tragic accidents, Ethiopian’s problems shifted from damage control in the way of public image to deal with how to manage the international groundings of the 737 MAX. That proved easier for the airline, which had only a handful delivered at the time of the accident, meaning it did not struggle in the way of larger customers such as Southwest Airlines or American Airlines.

While no firm details have yet been put forward regarding the new airport, the airline and its leader remain steadfast that the project will happen and will begin later this year. So if the question is no longer one of if or when the only real question to ask is whether the new airport will take Ethiopian Airlines and turn it into the carrier its executives have always dreamed of making it.

Parker Davis
Parker Davis
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