Ethiopian has been rumored to be eyeing the Airbus A220 for its future fleet. The airline has been diversifying its fleet for the past few years, and give the painful experience with Boeing’s narrowbody, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see the baby Airbus joining the fleet. Simple Flying caught up with Acting Chief Commercial Officer at Ethiopian, Esayas WoldMariam, to discuss the future of its narrowbody fleet.
Turning to Airbus
It was October last year when rumors began to emerge, suggesting Ethiopian Airlines was eyeing an order for the Airbus A220. At the time, it was slightly surprising to hear this aircraft was on the radar of Africa’s biggest airline, Ethiopian being a traditionally Boeing customer.
If the small Airbus were to join the fleet, it would be only the second Airbus aircraft to be flown by the east African giant. Ethiopian received its first A350-900 in June 2016, and now flies a fleet of 14, with more on the way.
Simple Flying asked Acting Chief Commercial Officer at Ethiopian, Esayas WoldMariam, how the addition of the Airbus to the fleet had shaped its future. He told us,
“Since the Airbus has come into our fleet, our pilots, training, maintenance, simulator … everything has now been diversified, which is also good. The A350 is a newcomer, so it has embedded so many of the advantages of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It is a good product, we are very confident about it, and we are happy with it and our customers also like it.”
There’s a distinct advantage to being a ‘newcomer,’ as Ato Esayas noted, and that’s the merit of a clean-sheet design. As much as you can stick new engines on an A320 or make the wings longer on a 777, nothing quite embraces new technology like a clean-sheet design.
And there are only three that have been brought to market in the past decade: The A350, the 787, and, originally shaping up as the Bombardier CSeries, the A220. So what about that narrowbody; is there still a place for it in the Ethiopian fleet?
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Diversification is in Ethiopian’s strategy
Along with the addition of the A350 back in 2016, Ethiopian has historically operated a somewhat mixed fleet. Despite relying on Boeing for its long-haul needs, it also flew a mix of short-haul and regional aircraft, including ATRs, Fokkers, MD-11s and DHC Dash-8s. Apart from the Dash-8, all have left the fleet, but that’s not down to fleet simplification; it’s more just flying what works best for the airline.
We asked Esayas if the A220 was still something of interest for Ethiopian. He said,
“You know, with or without the 737 MAX, diversifying our fleets is in our strategy. So, depending on the pros and cons, definitely the A220 is an aircraft that we would consider.”
Adding the A220 with its vast range and incredible economics would give Ethiopian a chance to really play in the point to point market. While the airline has been a traditionally hub and spoke operator, there’s a massive lack of capacity in the regional African market.
The Airbus A220 perfectly serves long and thin routes, and in the post-COVID aviation market, this could be an excellent strategy. While international might take time to pick up, being able to add capacity anywhere within five hours of Addis Ababa could prove to be a winning move. In the longer term, it would allow Ethiopian to open up new routes and dive into new markets, where anything bigger would not make sense.
What about the MAX?
Of course, many of these roles could be filled by the 737 MAX, of which Ethiopian is a customer. The airline has been clear that it has not ruled out Boeing’s narrowbody, but has also said it will be the last to fly the type once it’s recertified.
Pending a successful return, Ethiopian already holds a place in the production queue for 27 more of the type to add to its own fleet of four. But the airline was deeply wounded by last year’s tragedy, and wants 100% reassurance before it commits to taking those extra narrowbodies. We asked Esayas if Ethiopian would maintain its order with Boeing for the type. He said,
“Well, depending on if it has a positive comeback, then definitely, after everybody has been assured, we will be taking it. Otherwise, we’ll look for an equivalent narrowbody, something like the Airbus A220.”
Would you like to see Ethiopian fly the Airbus A220? Let us know in the comments.