Ethiopian Airlines is aiming to begin Sao Paulo services this year, having identified Brazil as a crucial market, and intends to feed the flights with its Togolese operator ASKY.

Chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam says the carrier will have a "heavy emphasis" on Brazil, China and India and claims these countries will drive the "huge growth" central to its Vision 2025 strategy.

He says the carrier hopes to start the Sao Paulo route in December and operate via Lomé, where its West African venture ASKY will serve as a feeder.

Ethiopian will also broaden its African base reach, Gebremariam adds, with a hub in southern Africa - in Zambia or Tanzania - as well as a central hub in "one of the Congos", to complement its base at Addis Ababa.

Its network will extend to Cotonou, Benin, in mid-June and Toronto in July, with the Namibian capital Windhoek following in October-November.

Gebremariam stresses that the carrier, whose financial year ends in June, is profitable, even if it "might not have been as profitable as expected" in the Vision 2025 plan, owing to fuel prices. "But growth has been beyond our expectations," he says, indicating it has achieved a traffic rise of 30% and forecasts a repeat for the next fiscal year.

He says Ethiopian is trying to redress an imbalance, claiming 80% of African traffic is carried by non-African carriers. "It has to be fair," he says.

Ethiopian's mainline operation is one of seven business units which make up a broader aviation group, and Gebremariam says some of these other activities must be developed to achieve its strategic plan. It has invested heavily in its training academy, with the first multi-crew pilot licence cadets coming onboard in January 2013, and intends to enhance its maintenance business.

"You can only grow so much as an airline," he says. "Beyond that, it has to come from a diversified model."

Source: Flight Daily News