Ethiopian Airlines Aims For Over 250 Aircraft By 2035

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8
Credit: Boeing

Newly appointed Ethiopian Airlines CEO Mesfin Tasew is not planning to announce any new aircraft orders at this year’s Farnborough Airshow, but he has detailed ambitions to almost double the airline’s fleet by 2035.

Tasew was appointed as Ethiopian Airlines CEO in March following the departure of his longstanding predecessor Tewolde GebreMariam, who left for health reasons after 11 years leading the airline.

Ethiopian Airlines has had several long-term strategic plans, usually aimed at doubling the airline’s key metrics, including passenger numbers, revenue, profit and fleet. Speaking at the Farnborough Airshow, Tasew detailed the latest iteration of this strategy.

“Ethiopian Airlines has developed a long-term strategic roadmap, which we named Vision 2025,” Tasew said. “As we’re getting close to the end of this long-term strategy now, we have revised it to make it Vision 2035, which means it will cover our strategy for the coming 13 years.” 

Tasew explained that Vision 2035 will involve fast, profitable and sustainable growth, bringing major investments in fleet, maintenance, airport facilities, sustainability, human resources and systems. 

“Today, Ethiopian Airlines operates around 135 aircraft. By 2035, we would like to expand this fleet to more than 250 aircraft,” he said. Ethiopian currently has 37 aircraft on order, including 24 Boeing 737 MAXs, five 777Fs, two 787s and six Airbus A350s. 

Despite plans to add more latest-technology aircraft, Tasew is not planning any air show orders. Instead, he announced a tentative agreement with De Havilland Canada for two Dash 8-400 freighter conversion kits, with options on two more. If the deal is firmed, the conversions would be performed by Ethiopian’s in-house maintenance operation, which is already a De Haviland Canada authorized service facility.

De Havilland customer experience VP Philippe Poutissou said this could pave the way for Ethiopian to perform the conversions for other African carriers. De Havilland launched three Dash 8-400 cargo conversion options at the airshow and Ethiopian is planning to take the Large Cargo Door (F-LCD) kit, which is the biggest modification, involving the installation of a new 109 in. x 69 in. cargo door.

Speaking at the show, Tasew stressed the significance of cargo to Ethiopian. Today, the carrier operates nine 777Fs and four 737BCFs, with further 777Fs on order for delivery over the next few years.

“In August, we’ll be adding the first 767 freighter converted by Ethiopian Airlines. We have a plan to convert two more 767 aircraft and add them into our cargo operation,” he said. “We have a grand cargo expansion strategy and would like to expand our cargo fleet further. In line with that, we are evaluating new-generation cargo aircraft and particularly the Boeing 777-8X freighter in comparison with the A350 freighter. That is just under study to choose the right aircraft that fits us to be added into our cargo operation.”

He added that Ethiopian is also planning to acquire more 737 narrowbody freighters.

During his airshow visit, Tasew also signed a seven-year landing gear repair and exchange agreement with Boeing, covering 19 of the airline’s older 787s, as well as a 737 and 787 digital health management contract. 

Ethiopian operates the largest maintenance facility in Africa, supporting all of the aircraft types it operates, including the 737NG and MAX, 767, 777, 787, A350 and Dash 8-400.

“We are almost at the final stage to [gain competency to] repair the Boeing 737NG landing gear. But, unfortunately, with the 787 being a new technology aircraft, we don’t have the capability for the landing gear and that is why we are seeking the services of Boeing,” Tasew said. “Currently, we are [also] developing overhaul capability for the LEAP-1B engine, which is used on the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.”

Ethiopian reintroduced the 737 MAX into service in May, following the fatal accident that led to the type being grounded for several years. Initially two Ethiopian MAXs were brought out of long-term storage and returned to service. These were recently joined by another pair from storage.

“We also took delivery of two MAX aircraft during the last three weeks, so today we operate six of them in total,” Tasew said. “Customers didn’t notice that they were flying on the 737 MAX. Reliability during this two-month period has been good, very good. We didn’t have any major problems and it was very, very smooth in terms of customers.” 

Ethiopian has 24 MAXs on order, which will be delivered over the coming four years.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.