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Inside Ethiopian’s Aggressive Domestic Operation Ramp Up

by Joanna Bailey


Ethiopian Airlines’ strong domestic network gets less attention than its international hub and spoke operations. However, with international travel demand sluggish, the carrier has been quick to reinstate capacity on its domestic routes. Already, 18 of the 23 destinations served from Addis Ababa are back on the map, with pent up demand driving a swift recovery.

Ethiopian Dash 8
Ethiopian’s strong domestic network is often overlooked, but is the backbone of its operations. Photo: Bombardier

A strong domestic backbone

Ethiopian Airlines is well known for its long-haul operations. Flying a hub and spoke model, the airline is perfectly positioned in west Africa to funnel passengers between east and west. As such, it was likely to be a hard hit victim of the COVID outbreak, as international travel dried up.

While pivoting to cargo and repatriation operations certainly helped Ethiopian to survive, another, less well-known area of its business also helped it keep revenue flowing. The airline operates a substantial domestic network, and even at the peak of the COVID lockdown, it attempted to keep at least some services operating.

From March 30th, all Ethiopian’s ticket offices were temporarily closed. However, it continued to fly to domestic destinations, although it said demand dropped out by some 50%. Acting chief commercial officer Esayas WoldeMariam explained the importance of this market to the airline. He said,

“Domestically, Ethiopia is a country of more than 110 million people. It’s the second-most populous country in Africa. Because of that, we have a dense network of domestic operations. It is, by far, the largest in Africa, because in large aviation markets like Nigeria and South Africa, the two biggest economies on the continent, they do not have such a large domestic network as Ethiopia.”

Ethiopian domestic network
Ethiopian’s domestic network spans 23 destinations from Addis. Image: Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian’s domestic network includes 23 airports outside of Addis Ababa. At the time of writing, the airline has restarted regular operations to 18 of those airports, some seeing services multiple times a day

Pent up demand

The ability of Ethiopian to jump back onboard as soon as capacity is demanded has allowed it to be incredibly responsive to the pent up demand seen in the domestic market. Esayas noted the carrier’s well-known agility and the need of the Ethiopian people to get moving again as fundamental to the carrier’s aggressive ramp-up of domestic services. He said,

“Because of our aviation capability and the need to move the second largest population on the continent from place to place, within about nine to 10 different regions on the country … the need is highly pronounced.

“We need to reconnect businesses, economies, universities, which have been scattered all over the country. Because of the lockdown situation, people have been eager to start revamping the economy. So whenever the demand rises, we equally use the agility that we are known for to increase the domestic network to reconnect people and goods.”

Ethiopian Q400
The Dash-8 takes care of most domestic operations. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

The ability of the airline to rapidly add capacity where demand exists has been one of the hallmarks of Ethiopian throughout this crisis. This has allowed it to, so far, work through the downturn with no bailout and without missing any payments to suppliers.

With domestic and regional travel predicted to return to 2019 levels much faster than international, it is this robust domestic network and Ethiopian’s positive approach that will see it fighting through the crisis to come out strong once again.

Ethiopian Airlines has informed the United States Embassy in Accra, Ghana, that it is laying on a special commercial flight from Ghana to Ethiopia. The flight, scheduled for Thursday, August 13, will depart from Kotoka International Airport (ACC) for Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD). Once in Addis Ababa, United States citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs) will be able to connect to flights to the United States.

Passengers to the US will transit through Addie Ababa. Photo: Getty Images

There are no quarantine requirements for transit passengers connecting through Addis Ababa at present. Before making a booking, passengers must speak with Ethiopian Airlines about their onward travel to the USA as seats may be limited.

Passengers must purchase their own ticket

The United States Embassy in Ghana was eager to point out in its press release that in no way was it involved in the select flight, saying,

“This is not a U.S. Government-chartered or -funded flight. The embassy is neither arranging nor purchasing tickets for private U.S. citizens or LPRs and takes no responsibility for the ticketing process.  Interested individuals should contact Ethiopian Airlines directly to obtain additional information.”

On a previous Ethiopian Airlines flight from Kotoka International Airport direct to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), the economy class fare was priced $1,350 and business $2,840. While this could serve as a measure of the potential prices of these services, the exact costs are yet to be revealed by the airline.

Ethiopian 787
This is not a US government repatriation flight. Photo: Boeing

For further information about this and other Ethiopian Airlines flights, passengers are advised to contact Ethiopian Airlines at:

Ethiopian Airlines City Ticket Office, Cocoa House Ground Floor, Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, Accra, Ghana. Tel: +233 24 242 6303 and +233 30 266 4856/7/8

Contact the US Embassy if assistance is needed

For those in Ghana that require American consular assistance, they can contact the US Embassy at the address below:

US Embassy Accra, Ghana. Tel: +(233) 30-27-41-000 24/7 for a recorded message. No. 24, Fourth Circular Rd., Cantonments, Accra.

About Ethiopian Airlines

Despite being the most extensive and best-run airline in Africa, Ethiopian Airlines has been severely hit by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Before the crisis erupted and governments started imposing quarantines, Ethiopian Airlines offered more than 350 flights per day to more than 100 destinations.

Wasting no time in seizing the moment, Ethiopian was quick to increase cargo operations by mainly transporting medical and PPE supplies. Once the slowdown in passenger traffic arrived, Ethiopian told both Boeing and Airbus that it was suspending talks on replacing some of its older aircraft.

Ethiopian 777 cargo
Ethiopian was quick to adjust the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Getty Images

What sets Ethiopian apart from other airlines is that they have a diverse network and a fleet of modern aircraft. With little to no competition on many of its routes, analysts predict that Ethiopian will be quick to recover.

Currently according to aviation website Ethiopian Airlines has a fleet of 122 aircraft comprised of the following:

  • 14 Airbus A350-900s
  • 7 Boeing 737-700s
  • 20 Boeing 737-800s
  • 4 Boeing 737 MAX 8s
  • 4 Boeing 767-300s
  • 6 Boeing 777-200s
  • 4 Boeing 777-300s
  • 9 Boeing 777Fs
  • 19 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners
  • 8 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners
  • 27 De Havilland Canada DHC-8-400s

It is interesting to see that Ethiopian Airlines has found a niche in the repatriation market out of Africa.


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