Ethiopian Airlines Has Its Eye On The Boeing 777X

Ethiopian Airlines has traditionally been a Boeing customer, but four years ago, it took delivery of its first Airbus aircraft. Now, with two large widebodies on the market – the A350-1000 and the 777X – which one will Africa’s largest airline target for its future needs? We caught up with acting CCO Esayas WoldeMariam to find out.

Ethiopian 777
Could Ethiopian turn to Boeing for its future large widebody needs? Photo: BriYYZ via Wikimedia

Eyeing a new large widebody

Back in 2016, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde GebreMariam told Reuters that the airline had an eye on something bigger for its fleet. At the time, the airline had just taken delivery of its first A350-900, the first Airbus jet to join the carrier. GebreMariam told the publication,

“We have 14 of these A350 and we have more (Boeing) 787s. We are comparing the A350-1000 and also the 777X. Depending on which performs well out of Addis Ababa at altitude and high temperature, we are going to make that decision.”

Of course, a lot has changed since the CEO gave that interview, and no decision has come out of Ethiopia regarding which way the airline will swing. Simple Flying caught up with Esayas WoldeMariam, acting CCO for the airline, to find out what it now thinks about the 777X. He told us,

“Well, this is definitely new technology, [it has] good cabin architecture, modern components, more capacity, newer technology, larger windows … as a newcomer, it has the latecomer advantage.

“It is something that we will definitely consider.”

Ethiopian A350
The A350 was the first to join Ethiopian Airlines from the European planemaker. Photo: Airbus

The Boeing 777X is the first new aircraft to come out of Boeing’s stable since the Dreamliner and is a hotly anticipated entrant to the large passenger jet market. Fraught with delays, the program finally entered flight testing in January this year, although the planemaker now anticipates its first delivery not taking place until 2021.

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Where would it sit in the fleet?

If Ethiopian did go down the route of the 777X, it would easily become the biggest aircraft in its fleet. Right now, the highest capacity aircraft flying for Ethiopian are the 777-300 and the Airbus A350-900.

The airline’s oldest types are the 767s, which average 17.2 years between the four of them. Esayas previously told Simple Flying that these planes are scheduled for retirement, although one or two may be retained for special missions.

The airline’s CEO previously said that he prefers to operate around 20 of each aircraft type, as he sees this as the minimum number to justify the training of new pilots and technicians. As such, should the airline make an order for either the 777X or the A350-1000, we could expect it to be a large one, which would fit with the plan for the airline to double its fleet size by 2025.

Boeing 777X
A large, high capacity aircraft could fit well with Ethiopian’s hub and spoke strategy. Photo: Boeing

With Ethiopian keen to build its hub and spoke operations out of Addis Ababa, a high capacity plane could work well for it. All of the Middle East three have built thriving hub and spoke operations based on having the highest capacity aircraft to shuttle passengers between east and west. Ethiopian’s geographical position and ambition lend themselves perfectly to this strategy too.

However, as Esayas noted, getting back into hub and spoke international operations, and therefore the requirement for larger aircraft, all depends on the recovery of international traffic. Any decision, he said, would depend “on the healthy growth and optimistic future of the entire industry as well as traffic revamping.”

What do you think? Would the 777X be a good fit for the African giant’s fleet? Or should it stick to the XWB family for its large widebody needs?