The Addis Ababa-headquartered carrier and Africa’s largest airline by fleet and network, has commenced offering combined Sea-Air Services between China and Africa, via Djibouti. The proposal is the result of a contract signed on 21MAR22 between the airline and International Djibouti Industrial Park Operation (IDIPO). With this step, Ethiopian further cements its leading position on the African aviation market.
The product following the partnership with Djibouti Port, is dubbed SAM: an acronym that stands for Sea-Air-Modal transportation. It will enable African traders ordering imports from China, to have their cargo transported by vessel to Djibouti Free Zone at the Horn of Africa, from where it will continue its journey into Africa in the lower decks or – in the case of freighters – main decks of the Ethiopian carrier’s fleet. Ethiopian Airlines (IATA: ET), with its main hub at Bole International, and secondary hubs in Lomé, Togo, and Luanda, Zambia, operates a vast transcontinental network which closely connects to intercontinental flights to Europe, the Middle and Far East, and North America.
Right move at the right time
Combining Sea-Air logistics solutions is nothing new for Ethiopian Airlines as it has already been providing similar services via Dubai since years. The synergy between air and sea transportation is highly instrumental in facilitating trade between Africa and China, enabling the fast and easy movement of cargo, the airline states in a release. This even more so in view of the kerosene prices that are tending to skyrocket. The collaboration will not only reduce costs, but will save both time and energy in addition to stimulating the growth of the African cargo market, Ethiopian Airlines maintains.
China has become Africa’s largest supplier, while the African market with its 1.4 billion inhabitants, has a growing appetite for goods manufactured in the Far East. In 2021, the value of trade between China and Africa rose by 35% from 2020, reaching a volume of USD 254 billion. This upswing occurred despite the many global supply chain hiccups and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The new Sea-Air services via Djibouti are part of Ethiopian Airlines’ long-term strategy to continuously expand its presence on the entire African continent. This spree is evidenced by the various shareholdings in local airlines, such as Malawian Airlines, the former Air Malawi, in which Ethiopian Airlines holds 49% of the shares. Another example is Togolese Asky Airlines, in which Ethiopian Airlines holds about a quarter of the shares and, at the same time, uses its home base, Lomé, as a secondary hub for West African and intercontinental flights.
The same applies to Air Congo, a start-up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), whose launch preparations were announced last November. According to a tweet shared by the DRC’s Minister of Transport and Communication, Cherubin Okende Senga, Ethiopian Airlines will provide Air Congo with 7 aircraft. The official went on to say: “The opening up of the national [Congolese] territory is the essential basis for economic and social development, in particular through the upgrading of air transport in optimal conditions of safety and security. It is in this context that I place my partnership strategy with Ethiopian Airlines.”
No longer waiting for Yamoussoukro
In addition to clearly defined commercial goals, the shareholding strategy also evidences a political long-term mission of the Ethiopian Airlines management. Fed up with decades of discussions about a deregulated and fully liberalized African air market, which according to the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1988, should have been established long ago but was torpedoed by national egoisms, Ethiopian Airlines has taken matters into its own hands. Thanks to its shareholding strategy, it gains intra-African traffic rights that give it access to a large number of submarkets. A clever and far-sighted move by management, which does not want to wait until the last naysayer has given up its opposition to the creation of a single African sky – if this should ever happen.