Ethiopia Airlines has indicated that it plans to establish a domestic carrier in Nigeria as part of its strategies to spread its tentacles in Africa.
This was disclosed by the Group Chief Executive Officer, Tewolde Gebremariam, in an interview in Abuja yesteray.
Gebremariam said the airline was in talks with the federal government, private sectors and airline operators in Nigeria to see how it could establish a domestic carrier in Africa's most populous country.
He said the failure of Nigeria to own a major carrier was a big threat to the airline industry in Africa because that had given the opportunity for international airline to have foray in the continent, noting that their operations were capable of displacing indigenous carriers in the continent.
He also revealed that the airline loses about $3 million annually to its operation of Kano and Enugu route because of low traffic.
"We have been discussing and exploring possibilities to establish or support a strong airline in Nigeria. I don't mean that there is no strong airline in Nigeria, but we want an airline that can satisfy the demand of the domestic market, the regional market and international market. We are also in talks with Ghana government to establish Ghana Airways but the biggest market, which is Nigeria, has been a challenge to be honest with you.
"We are discussing at all levels. We are discussing with private carriers, local carriers in Nigeria and the government but we are making it abundantly clear that we want to start a new one because starting from a clean slate or paper is advantageous because we won't have any legacy or baggage to carry. There is a strong indication and interest from both sides and I am very hopeful that very soon, we will have a strong base to start with and from our track record; we have established Asky, Malawi, Mozambique and now Chad. We make sure that when we start something, we start professionally and make sure that it succeeds," Gebremariam said.
On Nigeria's failure to have a major airline, he said that after the demise of Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), the country was yet to have big capacity airline.
"Nigeria is a very large country but unfortunately, since the demise of Nigeria Airways, we are unfortunate that we don't have a strong carrier. So, this concern is part of continental concern because in Africa, non-African carriers have the biggest shares. It is around 80-20 ratio. About 80 per cent of the traffic between Africa and the rest of the world is carried by non-African carriers," the Ethiopia Airlines boss said.
On the profitability of Ethiopia Airlines Nigeria operations, Gebremariam said, "It is not the most profitable but an important market. You know we fly to Lagos and Abuja daily, we have very good traffic but at the same time we also fly to Kano and Enugu where we don't make money. We lose money and those two stations lose around $3million per annum but overall, it is an important market for us.
"As you know in Enugu, we are the only international airline, so it is a very challenging route for us. We fly three or four times a week and we are very happy that the route has been a very good connection for Nigerians in Diaspora especially in Europe and Africa. It is a direct route for most of the Nigerian people in the US. We are also happy that it has been a very good bridge in trade link between Nigeria and Dubai, Bangkok, Asia, China and other Asian countries but it is a challenging route."
"The other challenging route for us is Kano. As you know, it is highly seasonal and the weather condition is very challenging for airlines like ours but despite the challenges, we have maintained our flights even at the cost of incurring losses," he added.
Commenting on Boeing Max 737, he said its airline has told Boeing that it would be the last to be recertified to ensure that the safety conditions were met.
He said: "As you know, the Max has been a problematic airplane after having two fatal and tragic accidents.
"So, right now, recertification is going on. So, we don't know when the recertification will be completed because there are two parts to it."