MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Ethiopian Airlines (ET), formerly Ethiopian Air Lines, began operations in 1946. ET is the largest carrier in Africa.
It all started on April 8, 1946, when a Douglas DC3 Skytrain flew from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Cairo (CAI) via Asmara (ASM) under the livery of a new airline, created a few months earlier as a joint venture with TWA-Trans World Airlines (TW): Ethiopian Air Lines (ET) was born.
Five more aircraft of the same type followed and, in the wake of the successful inaugural flight, regular weekly international services were scheduled with air links to Djibouti (JIB), and Aden (ADE), and a domestic flight to Jimma (JIM).
The launch was such a success that, towards the end of 1946, four more DC3 Skytrain were acquired. Comfort was spartan, the aircraft being military reformed the seating consisted in folding canvas benches along the sides, the center of the cabin being used for cargo loads.
To better exploit its growing international network, ET increased the number of aircraft in its fleet but, this time, fitted with what could be termed “luxury” seating with 21 forward-facing seats.
These aircraft were the first to wear the ET livery. Toward the end of the 40s ET network destinations comprised Nairobi (NBO), Port Sudan (PZU), and Bombay, today Mumbai, (BOM). ET also exploited charter services to Jeddah (JED) during the Hadji pilgrimage period to Makkah.
The Fifties and Sixties
The airline, AKA Ethiopian, starts to modernize itself in 1952 by acquiring three Convair 240 and offering its customers the comfort of a pressurized cabin and, for the times, modern fittings. In the mid-fifties starts flying to Frankfurt (FRA) and opens its own maintenance facilities. In 1957 an Ethiopian Captain is in command for the first time and the replacement of ET American pilots begins. A DC6B Cloudmaster is added to the fleet in 1958 to ensure long-haul services.
Ethiopian prepares itself to enter the jet age while a new airport and headquarters are being built at Bole which, in 1962, will become Addis Ababa-Bole International Airport. Services to Monrovia (ROB), via Khartoum (KRT) and Accra (ACC) are started, the first-ever service linking East and West Africa.
The jet age for ET starts in 1962 with the arrival of the first B720, landing at the new ADD airport, a first-time event for Africa. With the new aircraft, jet services start linking ADD to NBO followed by a flight to Madrid (MAD) via ASM and Athens (ATH). In 1965 ET becomes a share company and its name changes to Ethiopian Airlines, a small change from the previous Air Lines.
The Next Three Decades
This decade sees the first Ethiopian, Semret Madhan, to head ET as CEO, a B720 simulator is acquired and the airline gains its independence on pilots training previously done abroad. The first B720 is replaced by two B727
More aircraft join the fleet, a third B727, two De Havilland DHC-5 are added while the first B767-200 is delivered by a record-breaking flight, for a twin jet, from JFK to ADD. At the end of this decade, the now 40 years old DC3 workhorses are slowly removed from service but nine of them remain in active duty until October 1991. The replacement is assured by De Havilland DHC-6 and ATR42 to be flown domestically.
During this decade ET celebrates its 50th anniversary, adds Fokker 50 to the fleet and a B767 simulator to its flying academy and extends its network to Europe, Cina, and Thailand. A twice-weekly service to the US is added in 1998, Washington (IAD) being the first destination quickly followed by JFK. A frequent-flier plan, Sheba Miles, is also launched.
The Recent History
Ethiopian, while sustaining a steady growth, in 2002 modernizes itself by acquiring six Boeing 737-700 and six Boeing 767-300 as a replacement for older Boeing 767-200 and B727. Just before celebrating its 60th anniversary ET places firm orders for ten B787 Dreamliners and becomes the first airline to fly the type in Africa.
Continuing in its expansion, ET enters a large order of 35 aircraft directly with manufacturers in 2009 and becomes a member of star Alliance the following year. The first Airbus A350-900 arrives in 2017 while ET continues to expand the network to Antanarivo (TNR), Oslo (OSL), Jakarta (CGK), Singapore (SIN), and Chendu (CTU).
The airline receives several Skytrax awards and, in 2019, and is named best African airline for the third time along with awards for the best business and economy class for Africa. It has a fleet, according to Planespotters, of 127 aircraft plus four on order and flies 123 international destinations, both passengers and cargo, and 22 domestic.
Featured image: Ethiopia Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner ET-AXS. Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways