Ethiopian Airlines pulls off record African plane deal with Boeing

Ethiopian Airline’s order for 31 aircraft with an option for 36 more is the largest ever purchase of Boeing planes by an African carrier, while a deal with Airbus confirms it as Africa's biggest A350 customer.


Image : Mike Mareen / Adobe Stock

Ethiopian Airlines signed aircraft purchase agreements with both Boeing and Airbus at the Dubai Airshow this week.

On Tuesday Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines announced that the flagship carrier has agreed to order 11 787 Dreamliner and 20 737 MAX planes with an option for 15 and 21 additional jets, respectively. This represents the largest-ever purchase of Boeing aeroplanes by an African airline. Ethiopian already operates Africa’s largest Dreamliner fleet with a mix of 787-8s and 787-9s.

“This order will enable us to modernise and increase our fleet in support of Ethiopian Airlines’ growth plan and our Vision 2035 Strategy,” commented Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Mesfin Tasew. “Through this deal, we have solidified our decades-old exemplary business partnership with Boeing. The 787 Dreamliner and 737 MAX demonstrate Ethiopian Airlines’ environmentally conscious decisions and its commitment to serve passengers with the latest technologically advanced airplanes.”

The order comes some four and a half years after the crash of Ethiopian Flight 302 in April 2019, in which 157 people were killed. This was the second fatal accident involving a 737 MAX in five months and led to the grounding of the model worldwide. But Tasew expressed confidence in the aircraft.

“We believe we have checked and confirmed that the design defect of that aircraft has been fully corrected by Boeing,” he said. 

Airbus deal further boosts Ethiopian fleet

On the following day, Ethiopian signed a memorandum of understanding for 11 additional Airbus A350-900s to be added to its existing fleet. This takes Ethiopian Airlines’ total order book and commitment for the A350 to 33, including four A350-1000s. 

Ethiopian Airlines currently operates a fleet of 20 A350-900s and this agreement confirms its position as Africa’s biggest A350 customer. 

“Ethiopian Airlines is a great example of how to leverage the exceptional values of the A350 for long-haul travel, playing on the benefits of Ethiopia’s unique geographical position that offers the fastest connections between China and Latin America,” said Christian Scherer, Airbus chief commercial officer and head of international. “We are delighted to further strengthen Ethiopian Airlines fleet, and through this, continue the great relationship we have built up together.” 

Growing market

Boeing’s Commercial Market Outlook forecast for Africa projects the continent will need 1,025 planes over the next two decades. More than 70% of commercial deliveries are expected to be single-aisle jets. Africa’s overall air-traffic growth is forecast at 7.4% through 2042, the third-highest among global regions and above the global average growth rate of 6.1%.

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Charles Dietz

Charles Dietz is a sub editor and journalist at African Business.