Ethiopia's government is examining the possibility of selling part of the flag carrier to one or more African states.

At the Airport Council International (ACI) annual general meeting in Brussels today, Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam told journalists that the national government was in discussions with others in Africa as it considers whether to "liberalise" its 100% shareholding in the Star Alliance carrier.

Without specifying the governments involved, Gebremariam indicated that talks with governments in Ethiopian's "major markets" of Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa could take place.

"A lot of study is needed – it is only a policy direction [from government] at the moment," he says, adding that the Ethiopian government would look to retain a majority holding in the flag carrier.

Gebremariam says Ethiopian is already "growing fast" and notes its stakes in a number of African airlines, including 40% of ASKY and 49% of Malawian Airlines.

But in order to develop a "truly pan-African airline" at the "forefront of leading the integration of the continent", Gebremariam says other shareholders might need to become involved.

"We will do what is necessary to keep up the growth, and scale up the growth – and if that means some African countries, especially the major markets, are interested in cross-ownership of shares, then we will see," he says.

Separately, Gebremariam reveals that Ethiopian has signed an agreement to take a 49% stake in West African start-up Guinea Airlines.

The East African carrier is meanwhile in the final stages of securing an air operator's certificate for a fully owned Mozambican carrier called Ethiopian Mozambique. An agreement to establish a new carrier called Zambia Airways, in which Ethiopian Airlines will hold a 45% share, is to be signed in the coming days, adds Gebremariam.

Ethiopian is also close to establishing Chad Airlines, of which it will own 49%.

In all cases, the other shareholders are the respective national governments, Gebremariam confirms.

All the new airlines will begin operations by year-end, he expects. Zambia Airways is set to start flights in October, while both Ethiopian Mozambique and Guinea Airlines are to become operational within the next two months.

The new carriers will operate a mix of Bombardier Q400s and Boeing 737s sourced from Ethiopian Airlines. Each will initially fly domestic and regional African routes.

Talks with Nigeria's government on establishing a new airline in that West African country have "not progressed well" to date, Gebremariam admits.

Source: Cirium Dashboard