The European giant aircraft manufacturer Airbus, has managed to break Boeing’s monopoly in Ethiopia by delivering Africa’s first A350 extra widebody jetliner to Ethiopian Airlines on June 28, 2016.
For the past sixty years Boeing has dominated the Ethiopian Airlines fleet. Ethiopian joined the jet age in the early 1960s by acquiring its first Boeing aircraft, B720. In 1984 Ethiopian was the first African carrier to acquire the B767 aircraft. Once again Ethiopian made history in 2012 by introducing the B787 Dreamliner aircraft. Ethiopia was the second country in the world only next to Japan to aquire and operate the Dreamliner aircraft. The national flag carrier has operated Boeing fleet of B720,B727, B707, B737, B757, B767, B777 and B787. Today Ethiopian operates 14 B787 and it has six more on its order book.
Airbus has been trying hard to convince the management of Ethiopian to try Airbus aircraft. After many years of dialogue in 2009, the Airbus marketing team succeeded in breaking Boeing’s monopoly by securing orders from Ethiopian Airlines. At the Dubai Airshow 2009 Ethiopian signed an agreement for the purchase of 12 Airbus A350-900 aircraft, a state-of-the-art ultra- modern jetliner with a total value of 2.9 billion dollars to be delivered between 2017-2018. It also leased two more A350s from the then ILFC now renamed AerCap for twelve years to be delivered in 2016.
The first of the two leased A350s was delivered to Ethiopian on June 28 in a colorful ceremony held at the Airbus Delivery Center in Toulouse, France Blagnac Airport. The Aibus team led by Tom Williams, chief operating officer, handed over the twine engine widebody aircraft to the Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Group CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam. The second leased A350 will be delivered to Ethiopian in August 2016.
The 12 purchased A350s will start arriving in Addis Ababa in January 2017. Ethiopian A350 is powered by two huge and powerful Rolls Royce Trent Engines. The aircraft has 343 seats, 30 in the business class. The aircraft has a wide cabin and comfortable seats with nine abreast seat configuration. The aircraft is the most fuel efficient, burning 25 percent less fuel than previous generation aircraft emitting less carbon to the environment.
Tewolde said that the A350 is a very good plane. “It is a fuel efficient and an environment friendly aircraft,” he told a press conference in Toulouse. The CEO said that there is the probability that Ethiopian could order for more Airbus aircraft. “We could order for more A350-900s.” Ethiopian is eyeing the A350-1000, an extended version of A350 which Airbus is currently developing. The first flight of A350-1000 is slated for the end of this year.
According to Tewolde, Ethiopian first A350-900 named “Semien Mountains” will be deployed on short routes to Dubai and Lagos. “When we get the second one in August we will deploy both aircraft on the London route. When we receive more we will assign them on the US and China routes.”
Capt. Yohannes Hailemariam, vice president flight operation, told The Reporter that the A350 was a very modern aircraft fitted with latest aircraft technologies that make the duties of pilots much easier. “It is the most fuel efficient and technologically advanced aircraft,” Yohannes said.
According to Yohannes, the wide cabin and the air system make the flight enjoyable. “The acquisition of this modern aircraft will make Ethiopian offer efficient and comfortable service to customers. It will enable us to be a preferred airline.” Yohannes said, as a pan-African Airline, Ethiopian will first fly the A350 in Africa.
Tewolde said that Ethiopian A350-900 is the first for Africa and the first Airbus aircraft for Ethiopian adding that it will take the African aviation industry to the next level in terms of actual benefit. “The A350 has a very good performance at high attitude and hot temperature airports. “We have a unique airport in Addis Ababa at 2400 meters above sea level. It is a challenge for engines, it is a challenge for airplanes and the A350 is ready to take that challenge.”
Tewolde said that the A350 will bring a tremendous opportunity for customers, fuel efficiency and cost of operation saving for the airline and less carbon emission for the environment. “I think it is a win-win situation for all stakeholders and we are also equally excited to start a long relationship with the Airbus,” said.
Tom Williams said that Airbus is delighted to deliver the first Airbus aircraft to Ethiopian Airlines. “Ethiopian is one the new brand leaders in Africa not only in terms of airline passenger but also in associated fields like maintenance and repair, pilot training in many other aspects of the business. It is really a brand leader,” Williams told the conference.
“Airbus sees a huge market opportunity in Africa. The growth potential in the coming years is enormous and we want to increase our foot-print in Africa. I am very excited to see the A350 flying to new different destinations. We are excited to see the A350 foot- print expanding in another new continent,” he said.
Tewolde was asked why his airline which has been operating only Boeing fleet decided now to switch to Airbus. “When you evaluate a fleet you first define the mission and then you define the right airplane for the mission. In this category we are looking for an airplane next generation airplane with 21st aviation technology which can fly the furthest possible point from Addis. We considered range and the optimal capacity for our demand. So in that analysis the A350 came right for the mission we defined,” Tewolde said.
There is also another factor in the equation. Tewolde explained that fleet commonalty is important in the industry. “We had a concern not to diversify beyond the limit. But since we have been growing in the last ten years and the fleet is about 80 it is the right time for us to diversify because each fleet on its own will have enough economies of scale to justify the additional cost of training of pilots and technicians. So it is the right time for us to diversify.”
Executives of Rolls Royce say the performance of the A350 Rolls-Royce Trent engines in Addis Ababa would be commendable. Kevin Evans, vice president customers, told The Reporter that the engine is designed for the altitude and temperature of the airport. The aircraft was designed to match the engine. So we are very confident in the product. They are going to be fine in Addis Ababa. The engine has been in service in the Middle East, in a very harsh environment and has been flying to different airports and it has preformed very well. It has exceptional reliability so far so we are really pleased with the engine and it will do well with Ethiopian,” Evans said.
Ethiopian new A350XWB dubbed Semien Mountains departed Toulouse on a ferry flight to Addis Ababa carrying Ethiopian delegation, executives of Airbus, AerCap, Rolls Royce and journalists invited by Ethiopian and Airbus to the delivery ceremony from Africa and Europe. After cruising at an altitude of 41000 feet at an average speed of 800 km for six hours, Semien Mountains landed in Addis Ababa Bole International Airport on June29 at 10AM.
Speaking to The Reporter aboard the ferry flight ETH9201 Tewolde said that the aircraft performed extremely well beyond his expectation. “The cabin is very spacious and comfortable. The aircraft is very quite. Airbus has delivered all that it had promised to us.”
Ethiopian has trained its pilots and technicians for its A350 fleet. So far, only for the two A350s, it has trained 16 captains and first officers for two months in Toulouse.
Captain Dawit Araya, who commanded the ferry flight made history by becoming the first African pilot to fly the A350 to Africa. Four instructor pilots from Airbus were also on board that would guide Ethiopian pilots for the coming one month. Airbus has opened a field office in Addis Ababa staffed by pilots, technicians and engineers that work on the customer service.
Captain Dawit, 36 and a father of two, told The Reporter that the flight was smooth and exciting. “It is the most advanced airplane. It excels all the aircraft in service. The cockpit is very advanced and pilot friendly,” Dawit said. “It is also very comfortable for passengers. It is the quietest airplane. It reduces fatigue on long haul routes because of the sophisticated cabin air conditioning system. The airplane is very fast. Since it is fuel efficient it enables the airline to minimize cost.”
A graduate of the Ethiopian Aviation Academy, Dawit, has been flying different airplanes for the past 13 years. He has flown Q400, B737-200, B737-700NG, B757,and B767 aircraft as first officer and captain.
“It was a super flight,” says Fouad Attar, managing director Airbus Middle East. “It is quite. We were flying at 41000 feet but we felt like we were on 6000 feet. The aircraft has a very nice configuration. Ethiopian crew made us feel at home. Ethiopian management team are very professionals,” Attar said. He told The Reporter that Airbus will continue working with the management of Ethiopian in the development of the fleet. “We will work with them trying to offer the best product, the most efficient airplanes. Of course the A350 is the future of Ethiopian,” Attar said.
Tewolde said that European Ambassadors are very happy with the delivery of the first Airbus aircraft. “Ambassadors of France, Germany and the UK have been asking us for years when we are going to start buying Airbus aircraft and today their questions are answered.”
Africa’s first A350XWB was warmly welcomed at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Ethiopian President Dr. Mulatu Teshome, Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, the minister of transport other senior government officials and ambassadors welcomed Ethiopian team who brought the aircraft and executives of Airbus, AerCap and Rolls Royce.
The Semien Mountains conducted a demonstration flight carrying senior government officials, Ethiopian Sheba Miles members, travel agents, and members of the media to Axum, the Semien Mountains and the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.