African airline is seeking six narrowbodies and six widebodies as it steps up intra-continental services

Ethiopian Airlines is undertaking a major fleet renewal programme by acquiring 12 new aircraft for its expansion of African and long-haul services. The airline, considered one of the leanest operations in the continent, is looking to order six narrowbodies and six widebodies. It is in talks with Airbus and Boeing on acquisition options.

"The fleet renewal project goes with the market and route rationalisation study we recently conducted," says the airline. The strategic review, commissioned by new chairman Ato Seyoum Mesfin, pointed towards an increase in the airline's intra-African flights, a service it pioneered in the 1990s at a time when flying between African countries often involved a stopover in Europe. The airline has recently increased services to Angola, Congo, Malawi and Tanzania.

With an all-Boeing jet fleet of two 737-200Advs, four 757-200s (plus one freighter) and four 767-200/300ERs, sources at the airline say the US manufacturer is the front-runner in the contest. Boeing is offering a mix of 737-700s and 767-300ERs, while Airbus is offering A319s and A330-200s. The aircraft will be acquired through a mix of leases and direct purchases.

The airline says some of its older aircraft will be sold to other African airlines as part of the fleet renewal.

Ethiopian, which has benefited in the past from US financial assistance, claims that it is one of the few African airlines to consistently turn in a profit. Much of the revenue comes from its maintenance business, which it runs with Hawker Pacific. The airline also makes much of its strategy of exploiting "thin African routes".

It uses its 737 and 757 narrowbodies to interconnect West Africa with the Middle East through its hub at Addis Ababa and a smaller operation in Nairobi, Kenya. The airline operates to 45 international destinations, including new transatlantic services that stop over in Rome, where the airline hopes to acquire fifth freedom rights from its former colonial ruler.

Siemens recently completed a modernisation programme of Ethiopia's air traffic management system to improve navigation over the country's mountainous terrain.

Ethiopian phased out much of its turboprop fleet last year, which includes two ATR 42-300, three de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter 300s, five Fokker 50s and two Lockheed Martin L-100-30 Hercules.

Source: Flight International