Ethiopian Airlines is an unlikely success story of African aviation industry. There are very few profitable airlines in Africa but Ethiopian Airlines has managed to operate profitably for years. At the same time self-proclaimed “Pride of Africa”, Kenya Airways may go under any date, while South African Airways is kept flying only by government subsidies. With a growing fleet size of about 75 aircraft and the destination count now over 100, Ethiopian is one of the largest airlines of the continent. The airline has grown steadily since it was founded in 1945, turning 70 years this December. Despite being wholly government owned, the airline has been spared of unnecessary political disturbance, even during less stable times Ethiopia has endured over the decades. The airline even bought American aircraft during the 80’s communist regime.
Their hub, Bole Airport in Addis Ababa has a good strategic location, where they can connect most African countries to Asia and Europe. Ethiopian Airlines has a strong presence in Western Africa, not only by flying there from Addis, but also by being a part-owner in ASKY Airlines, which has filled the gap left by failing carriers in Western Africa. Ethiopian Airlines has destinations in all continents except Australia. Ethiopian Airlines is part of Star Alliance, the only airline alliance with a formidable presence in the continent. Ethiopian Airlines fleet is relatively new ranging from Dash 8 turboprops to Boeing 777 widebodies. Boeing 787 Dreamliners are the newest addition to their long-haul fleet, but the airline has also Airbus 350 on order, the first delivery expected in 2016.
While not super-cheap, Ethiopian Airlines offers competitive pricing. Taking Nairobi – Dar es Salaam route as an example, which their southern rivals Kenya Airways connects directly, while Ethiopian Airlines via Addis has much longer route that would not make sense if looking on the map. Yet the latter airline offers much cheaper rates on the route. Ethiopian Airlines roundtrip fares start at 290 USD, followed by Rwandair via Kigali (325$) while Kenya Airways charges no less than 435$, and that isn’t even a long-haul route! If travelling one-way only, Rwandair offers the best rate (175$), with Ethiopian being less friendly to one-way passengers, charging 225$, not much short a of return ticket. Kenya Airways asks 265$ one-way, again a hefty price for such a short route.
Ethiopian Airlines is not perfect though. I’ve experienced some significant delays with them, in fact the only night ever I’ve spent in Addis was due to a missed connection. Fortunately the airline paid for a hotel. Ethiopian Airlines has also been subject to numerous accidents over the decades. They’ve had two fatal accidents in the last 20 years, the latest of them in 2010 when a 737 crashed in the sea near Beirut while in 1996 a hijacked 767 crashed on the shores of Comoros. Last year (2014) a 767 was hijacked by Co-pilot and landed near Genova. in 2013 a brand new 787 Dreamliner was grounded almost half a year at Heathrow after the aircraft was damaged by a fire. Overall however, Ethiopian airlines has still a good safety record and their fleet are kept well maintained.