Ethiopia: Battle for U.S. Skies - Ethiopian Airlines Ups the Stakes

(File photo).

Africa's leading carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, has upped the competition for the US market, with this week's announcement that it will introduce three-times-a-week flights to the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York, adding to its flights to the city's Newark International Airport.

The announcement may not come as good news to the region's other airlines, which are also looking to serve the same market.

Ethiopian said on Tuesday that it was restructuring its network, opening new destinations, adding frequencies and shifting gateways as it seeks to offer passengers travelling between Africa and the US the best possible connectivity and the shortest routes.

This, coming barely two months after Kenya Airways started its daily direct flights to JFK Airport, and a few months before Rwandan flag carrier RwandAir launches its flights, may further upset these carriers' plans.

The New York route for KQ has also come with its own set of challenges, which saw it announce in December its intention to scale down to five flights a week, starting mid January, a decision that was attributed to low demand during the winter season.

The airline also rescheduled flights for the period covering November 2018 to March this year.

US via West Africa

The Addis Ababa-based carrier, like Kenya Airways, is deploying the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to its US routes. But its approach is different.

From its planned daily flights to New York, four will be via Lomé, Togo, to Newark Airport and three via Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to JFK, starting June.

The introduction of flights to JFK will be seen as a bid to protect its US market while offering alternative connections.

ET Group chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said that the new move is informed by the fact that the US is among the airline's most important markets due to the presence of a large African community and growing business and tourism ties with Africa.

"Our new route structure with additional frequencies to multiple gateways and the opening of new routes to Houston are in response to the market demand and will provide the best possible connectivity to over 60 African destinations," said Mr Tewolde.

Ethiopian will also increase its Washington DC flights from the current daily to 10 flights a week, with the additional three flights departing Addis Ababa in the morning via Abidjan to arrive in Washington DC in the evening. The airline also plans to increase the current three flights per week to five.

But the airline has cancelled its Los Angeles frequency, opting for a new gateway -- Houston -- to take advantage of the large African community in the city, its concentration of oil companies and others doing business on the continent. This route will be served three times a week via West Africa.

"In line with our roadmap, we will keep on expanding our US and African network to facilitate people-to-people ties and the flow of investment, trade and tourism," Mr Tewolde said.

Last week, ET also announced complimentary city tour package for its global passengers starting January 25.

This will offer travellers six to eight hours' time in Addis Ababa, a journey through the city's National Museum, a taste of Ethiopian coffee and souvenir shopping. It also opened a new 373-room Skylight Hotel, the largest in Ethiopia, and a new passenger terminal.

In Nairobi, Kenya Airways has submitted a proposal to operate, maintain and develop Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The airline hopes to form a special purpose vehicle specifically dedicated to operating, managing and developing JKIA for 30 years, which will allow it to develop its Nairobi hub.

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