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CAPA Leading Edge is the Centre for Aviation's general blog featuring airline strategy developments, market comparisons, executive interviews and airframer updates.

Leading Edge

Ethiopian selects initial 787 routes; confirms Guangzhou as first long-haul 787 destination

Posted on 20th February, 2012 10:01 PM

Ethiopian Airlines has decided on its first set of routes for its new Boeing 787 fleet, which will be placed into service in June. The carrier will initially deploy its first 787 on short/medium-haul flights to Dubai and Johannesburg from June before using the type on its first long-haul route, to Guangzhou, from August. Ethiopian, which will be the first airline to operate 787s in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, also plans to use its first batch of four 787s to serve Harare in Zimbabwe and Lusaka in Zambia.

CAPA initially reported in June that Ethiopian intended to make Guangzhou one of its first 787 destinations. In December, CAPA reported that Guangzhou remained high on its list of potential 787 routes but Ethiopian was also considering using 787s to serve Hong Kong and to open potential new destinations in Asia including Chongqing in China, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Ethiopian has now decided to first operate 787 services to Dubai and Johannesburg prior to Guangzhou, which allows the carrier to gain operational experience with the new aircraft type on relatively short routes before operating non-stop long-haul flights to Guangzhou two months later.

See related articles: Ethiopian eyes 787 service to Hong Kong and new Asian services as Africa-Asia market booms and Star-bound Ethiopian plans to use 787 on Guangzhou route

Based on new GDS listings, Ethiopian from 15-Jun-2012 will use its first 787 to operate its daily Addis-Ababa-Johannesburg flight and one of its three daily Addis-Ababa-Dubai flights. Ethiopian now uses 767-300ERs on the Johannesburg route. The carrier now uses 777-200LRs on two of its three Addis Ababa-Dubai flights while the third frequency, which was added at the beginning of last month, uses a mix of 767-300ERs and 737-800s. The 787 will take over one of the two 777-200LR flights.

Addis Ababa-Guangzhou 787 flights to begin in August 

On 15-Aug-2012, Ethiopian will begin using its 787s on the daily Addis Ababa-Guangzhou route. Ethiopian now serves Guangzhou via Bangkok using 767-300ERs but for three months in late 2011 it used its 777-200LRs to operate non-stop flights to Guangzhou.

Ethiopian has been keen for some time to upgrade its Guangzhou service to year-round non-stop to meet rising demand for China to Africa services. As CAPA reported last year, Ethiopian has been experiencing higher demand from Guangzhou than nearby Hong Kong, which is now served four times per week with 767-300ERs via Bangkok. China-Africa is one of the world’s fastest growing markets and Ethiopian’s Addis Ababa hub is well positioned to exploit this growth as Ethiopian offers fast connections throughout Africa from its four Chinese destinations

In addition to Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Ethiopian now serves Hangzhou five times per week with 767-300ERs via New Delhi. Ethiopian also operates five weekly flights from Addis Ababa to Beijing, a route which was upgraded in May-2011 from a one-stop 767-300ER service via New Delhi to a non-stop service with 777-200LRs. Ethiopian expects its 787s will not be able to operate to Beijing or other destinations in northern China, Korea or Japan without payload restrictions. But the carrier will likely use the type to open new destinations in southern or eastern China as it looks to build on its position in the booming Africa-China market.

As CAPA reported in June of expected rapidly growing China-Africa links:

China is a key market for the carrier as Ethiopian is ideally positioned geographically to tap into the fast growing China-Africa market. Ethiopian currently operates 26 weekly flights to four destinations in China, making it the largest carrier between China and Africa. It has already begun codesharing with Star member Air China. Ethiopian now has over 2000 seats per week into China. It primarily competes against Emirates and other Gulf carriers in the increasingly important China-Africa market.

Ethiopian to use 787 on short flights to ensure high utilisation rates

While the 787 will play a key role in Ethiopian’s plans for significantly expanding its presence in China, the carrier will likely continue to also use its 787s on some shorter flights within Africa and to the Middle East. Initially the shorter flights will help Ethiopian build up operational experience with the new type but over the long run they help ensure higher utilisation levels across the new 787 fleet and a more efficient rotation of aircraft. For example, Ethiopian now uses its 777-200LRs on two Dubai flights rather than let the aircraft sit in Addis Ababa for several hours between the long-haul flights to Beijing and Washington Dulles.

Ethiopian has now scheduled three short to medium haul flights per day with its initial fleet of 787s. In addition to the daily 787 flights to Dubai and Johannesburg from 15-Jun-2012, Ethiopian has filed in the GDS a schedule to begin using 787s on some of its Harare and Lusaka services from 18-Sep-2012. Harare and Lusaka have each been served non-stop with daily Boeing 737-800 flights since the beginning of Dec-2011. Previously they were combined as part of an Addis Ababa-Harare-Lusaka-Addis Ababa routing with 767-300ERs. Addis Ababa-Harare will now see four of its seven weekly frequencies upgraded from the 737 to the 787 while Addis Ababa-Lusaka will see three weekly frequencies upgraded to the 787.

Upgrading some of the Harare and Lusaka flights to the 787 allows Ethiopian to meet increasing demand for these destinations from Ethiopian-served cities outside Africa, including in China. Adding a second 737-800 frequency to serve growing African destinations does not make sense as Ethiopian has one big bank in the early morning, when flights from Asia, Europe and Washington DC arrive in Addis Ababa followed by departures throughout Africa and one big bank in evening, when the Africa flights arrive back in Addis Ababa followed by departures to other regions.

African destinations including Harare, Lusaka and Johannesburg are now served by Ethiopian in the daytime in both directions. As a result Addis Ababa-southern Africa-Addis-Ababa-Guangzhou-Addis Ababa makes an ideal 48-hour rotation. Flights from Addis Ababa to southern Africa are about four to five hours in duration while flights to China take 10 to 12 hours. Ethiopian now has similar Africa-Asia rotations for its fleet of 10 767-300ERs.

Ethiopian has decided on flights for first three 787s

Ethiopian has ordered 10 787-8s, which will be configured with 24 business and 234 economy class seats. The carrier plans to receive four 787s this year with at least three aircraft to be delivered before the launch of its fourth and fifth 787 route in September.

The Dubai and Johannesburg flights would require only one aircraft as the Dubai flight slated to receive the 787 is an overnight flight and Johannesburg operates during the day. The schedule Ethiopian has set for the 787 from mid-August to mid-September requires only two aircraft as the Dubai flight is temporarily not operated with the 787 during this period. The 787 flights in the schedule for mid-August to mid-September can be operated with a two-aircraft 48-hour Addis Ababa-Johannesburg-Addis Ababa-Guangzhou-Addis Ababa rotation.

In mid-September, the Dubai flight is added back and the Lusaka and Harare flights begin. As the Dubai flight is overnight and the Lusaka and Harare flights (on alternate days) are during the day, this would require the delivery of a third 787.

It remains unclear how Ethiopian will deploy its fourth and final 787 for 2012. It could be used to operate a European flight. Ethiopian could also decide to launch a second 787 route to Asia this year. If the second Asian route is operated daily or near daily, Ethiopian could retain the Lusaka and Harare 787 flights but would have to switch the Dubai 787 frequency back to 777-200LRs or 767s.

Ethiopian this year is using its 787s for growth and to indirectly replace 757s. Ethiopian plans to phase out three of its seven 757s this year. Ethiopian mainly uses its 757s on Europe and to some extent African routes. While Ethiopian will eventually use some of its 787s to directly replace 757s on some European routes, the carrier’s first three 787s will be used to replace 767s on Asian and African routes, freeing up 767s to replace 757s on European routes. Ethiopian does not plan to phase out any of its 767s this year.

With Ethiopian’s first two 787 routes in June, the 787 will have its debut in the Ethiopian, South African and UAE markets. Ethiopian is also poised to become the first operator of the type in Guangzhou although it will not be the first to operate 787s in China because 787 launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) already uses 787s on the Tokyo Haneda-Beijing route. ANA began using the 787 on this route last month and the only other carrier now operating 787s, Japan Airlines, will also begin using 787s on the Tokyo Haneda-Beijing route starting late next month. Here is a partial list of 787 international routes launched and announced to date.

Select international 787 routes

Airline Origin Destination Distance (nm) Frequency Commences/commenced
ANA Tokyo Haneda Beijing 1132 Started once a week, gradually increasing Jan-2012
ANA Tokyo Haneda Frankfurt 5068 Started as 3 x weekly, increasing to daily in Feb-2012 Jan-2012
ANA Tokyo Nartia Seattle 4185 TBD FY2012 (TBD)
ANA Tokyo Narita San Jose 4537 TBD FY2012 (TBD)
JAL Tokyo Haneda Beijing 1132 Daily Mar-2012
JAL Tokyo Narita Delhi 3196 3 x weekly Mar-2012
JAL Tokyo Narita Moscow 4067 4 x weekly Mar-2012
JAL Tokyo Narita Boston 5823 4 x weekly, daily in Jun-2012 Apr-2012
JAL Tokyo Narita San Diego 4881 4 x weekly, daily in Mar-2013 Dec-2012
JAL Tokyo Narita Helsinki 4641  4 x weekly Mar-2013
Ethiopian Addis Ababa Dubai 1359 Daily Jun-2012
Ethiopian Addis Ababa Johannesburg 2200 Daily Jun-2012
Ethiopian Addis Ababa Guangzhou 4345 Daily Aug-2012
Ethiopian Addis Ababa Harare 1650 4 x weekly Sep-2012
Ethiopian Addis Ababa Lusaka 1583 3 x weekly Sep-2012
Jetstar Singapore Auckland 4540 TBD 2013 (TBD)
Jetstar Singapore Melbourne 3254  TBD 2013 (TBD)
Jetstar Singapore Beijing 2404  TBD 2013 (TBD)
United Houston Auckland 6444 5 x – 7 x weekly Late 2012 (TBD)