ROUTES: Ethiopian plans Chengdu route

Ethiopian Airlines will begin flights between Addis Ababa and Chengdu next summer

Ethiopian chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam signed a comprehensive agreement confirming the route with Chengdu airport’s aviation department deputy director Tina Tang during World Routes today, which is being held in Chengdu.

The African airline will operate a four-times weekly service with a Boeing 787, with flights set to begin “sometime in the summer” Gebremariam tells FlightGlobal.

The airline boss says talks about a route from Addis Ababa to Chengdu had been underway with Chengdu airport and the Sichuan provincial government for the last year ahead of today’s agreement.

Gebremariam says Chengdu was picked because Ethiopian has been “looking for new gateways” in China which are not “highly congested and slot constrained” like Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. “I think Chengdu has a very good opportunity now to come up as a major hub comparable to Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou,” he says.

He acknowledges that operating four flights a week is a “big frequency for a new route, especially for a secondary market like Chengdu”. But he adds: “At the same time we have to take on the connectivity because we are not only selling Ethiopian or Addis-Ababa but we are selling 52 destinations beyond Addis-Ababa.”

“I am very hopeful that it [the route] will grow to [a] daily [service] very easily,” he adds.

Separately, Gebremariam reveals that the Addis Ababa-based carrier is looking at starting one new route to the USA next year. “We are actively studying Chicago and Houston,” he says, adding: “If we get more airplanes, that we are planning to, then one of them [new US route] could be in the summer”.

While he concedes that the oil industry is now “slowing down” Gebremariam says Houston is still an attractive market because “there is also large West African population, mainly Nigerian population”, residing in the Texan city.

Meanwhile, Chicago is another potential market because it is a hub for fellow Star Alliance carrier United Airlines which could allow Ethiopian to access “all the Mid-West traffic” such as Detroit, Dakota and also Texas.

Gebremariam says that whichever US city is chosen it will be operated from Addis Ababa via its hub in Lome, Togo using a Boeing 787.

This story was updated on 25 September to include additional details from press conference

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