Ethiopian Airlines is eyeing Boeing 777 freighters and more Airbus A350s as part of its new strategy for the period to 2025, which will see it expand to a fleet of 119 aircraft.
Ethiopian has selected the latest-variant Boeing 737s as its short-haul type and is replacing its medium-haul Boeing 757s and 767s with 787s. But while it has 777-200LRs and A350s on order, it is still evaluating its long-haul options. Chief executive designate Tewolde Gebremariam says the carrier will add to the 12 A350s it has on order, but the first will not be delivered until 2017, so more 777s may be an interim solution.
The 777s may also make up for delays to Ethiopian's 787 deliveries, which were to have begun around September 2011 until the recent test programme fire incident "put a question mark over that plan", says Gebremariam.
The 777 also features in Ethiopian's freighter evaluation. Ethiopian operates two Boeing MD-11Fs, two 757 freighters and two 747-200s on lease from Southern Air. By 2015, it expects to have grown its freighter fleet to 16 aircraft.
"The 777 is highly efficient, but there is a contour [size] issue," says Gebremariam. "It is big, but not as big as the 747, so we might take 747-400s, but we are still doing our evaluations. We are looking for three or four aircraft immediately."
Separately, Ethiopian has joined forces with EgyptAir and South African Airways in an informal co-operative grouping that could lead to equity investments in smaller carriers.
Through the informal tie-up, the three airlines aim to make their African coverage more complete. They plan jointly to fill network gaps and offer connections to countries with weak carriers or no air links.
"We are the three biggest airlines on the continent," says EgyptAir chairman Hussein Massoud. "A lot of destinations, especially in central and west Africa, are not covered, and if passengers want to get from 'A' to 'B' they need to go via Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris or wherever. We feel guilty about this and we want to do something about it."