Victoria Moores / Addis Ababa

Ethiopian Airlines is eyeing the acquisition of 12 regional aircraft as it seeks to upgrade its domestic and regional operations, but the plan could be thwarted by sub-standard airport infrastructure.

The African carrier’s domestic network is served by five Fokker 50s and three de Havilland Canada Twin Otters. As part of a domestic improvement study, Ethiopian is considering jet additions.

“We need a full-blown domestic operations strategy, which we are working on, including aircraft, service, network and fares,” says Ethiopian’s executive officer for marketing and sales Tewolde Mariam. “We expect to finalise this by the end of June and, based on the outcome, will look at aircraft.”

Ethiopian’s director for fleet and network planning, Daniel Abebe, says the airline is seeking replacement 50-seaters for its domestic operations and 70- to 100-seater jets for its thin regional routes.

“We are looking at taking 12 [regional] aircraft in six or seven years,” says Abebe. “The decision will take a maximum of one year. Our first focus is to improve the domestic operation, but we will also [look at] 70-seaters to support the thin regional market.”

Any aircraft acquisition will depend on three factors: the potential of the airline’s domestic operation; the progress of infrastructure improvements; and the availability of financing, says Abebe. He gives the Embraer ERJ-145 and E-170 and the Bombardier CRJ as examples of the types to be evaluated.

Mariam says Ethiopian will soon decide whether to add five more Boeing 787s to its 10-strong order and is close to finalising the split of its existing order between the 787-8 and -9 variants.

The African carrier, which is set to be the second 787 operator after All Nippon Airways, is also considering the 787-10 and could take a 787 simulator ahead of its first aircraft delivery in September 2008. Ethiopian’s final 787 is due to arrive in May 2011.

Abebe says the decision on the additional aircraft will be made soon. Two of these would be delivered in 2012, and the final three in 2013. As regards the existing 10-strong order, Abebe says the likely split will be six 787-8s and four -9s.

Source: Flight International