Girma Wake – a vision for Ethiopian

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As a veteran of 30 years on and off with Ethiopian Airlines, chief executive Girma Wake has seen his airline pass through many phases and several major transformations.

Today the emphasis is very much on upgrading the infrastructure that supports the Addis Ababa-based carrier as it grows strongly. Passenger growth for instance has been higher than anticipated, leading the airline to its Vision 2010 programme put together with the help of SH&E and Ernst & Young. “Today, we are a $600 million airline and we want to reach $1 billion by 2010,” he says. “We carry today 1.7 million passenger and want to increase this to 3 million. Our jet equipment now numbers 19 aircraft, and we want to have 30 by 2010.”

Of the 10 Boeing 787s on order it has to help achieve this rise, seven will be delivered by that time, says Girma, who already has his sights on more. “We are likely to order five more 787s or Airbus A350s,” he says. The first 787 arrives in September 2008.

Ethiopian Airlines also plans to increase staffing levels from 4,700 to 5,500, and destinations from 46 to 60. The airline flies to 28 cities in Africa, which is its most important market, but Girma says that it is strongest between Africa and the Middle East and Asia, facilitating growing traffic between the two continents.

Network development will increasingly emphasise non-stop, or at the most, one-stop services, as well as frequency increases. “We have also created a team to focus on our service strategy,” Girma says. “This team is talking to customers and will determine what we need to do with regard to ground service, in-flight service, aircraft seating and so on. The study will be completed in December.”

He has his eyes on possible investments in other airlines in Africa, revealing that the airline had planned to take a stake in newly established Ghana International Airlines, but pulled out because of legal complications. Ethiopian has been invited by other airlines, but Girma declines to name these suitors, saying only that “if we can see a good hub, we will invest”. 

Asked if he sees the Yamoussoukro Decision to liberalise the aviation market on the entire continent as feasible, Girma is more upbeat than most other African airline leaders. “Although we complain [about its slow implementation] there has been a lot of progress. It will be implemented across Africa, but it will take time. There is no choice. It will need the more developed airlines and countries to take the lead, to show the weaker countries that there is nothing to fear, and they will follow. I believe it is good for Africa.”

On the infrastructure side, Ethiopian is building of a new terminal to handle a growing cargo business, which accounts for $94 million of its revenues. “Air freight is the catalyst for economic development,” he says, adding that it is critical, especially for land-locked countries in Africa. He is planning to lease a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 or MD-11 to add to the two converted Boeing 757-200 freighters.

A new hangar to boost third-party maintenance capacity has also been completed, while a major overhaul of training facilities will enable the airline to reduce the amount of expensive time spent training on actual aircraft. The training centre not only serves Ethiopian Airlines but also many other African carriers, says Girma.

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