Ethiopian Airlines and its East African rival Kenya Airways will both in the next few months launch new routes to Asia.
Kenya Airways will commence a new route to Hanoi, Vietnam, on March 30, bringing to five the number of destinations on the Asian continent.
Three weeks later, on April 20, Ethiopian Airlines will start direct flights between Addis and Tokyo, Japan. The Addis Ababa flights to Tokyo, which will be an extension of its existing service to Hong Kong, will bring its Asian destinations to 11.
With an extensive African network and a geographical location that puts them within a radius of six hours from the furthest destinations on the continent, both Ethiopian and Kenya Airways are making a bid for the growing transit traffic between Asia and Africa, currently dominated by their Gulf rivals.
“Vietnam has shown a considerable and stable economic growth over the recent years, including an increase in trade with Africa. As the first airline to directly connect Vietnam to Africa, we are sure to leverage on this growth,” Kenya Airways CEO Mbuvi Ngunze.
Mr Ngunze said Kenya Airways will fly thrice a week to Vietnam while its SkyTeam partners will be used as a bridgehead to South Korea, Japan and more points in China.
Kenya Airways operates to 46 destinations in Africa while the launch of a route to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo in February will bring Ethiopian’s African destinations to 50.
Combined with the new service to Tokyo, this will place Ethiopian, which already flies to 10 destinations in Asia, in pole position in the race for Asia-Africa transit traffic, currently dominated by Middle East carriers.
According to Abebe Angessa, Ethiopian Airlines area manager for Uganda, the service to Tokyo targets Japanese business and tourist traffic to Africa.
“The best way to serve traffic is from the point of origin to the destination. When the aircraft and the load permit, we go point to point and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Boeing 777 series in our fleet give us the tools to launch this service with minimal risk,” Mr Angessa said.
With three more deliveries of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner due later this year and a number of more options open, Kenya Airways is at this point giving little hint of its future network development plans.
But its rival Ethiopian Airlines has indicated that it will be launching services to Dublin, Ireland and Los Angeles, USA on June 19, giving the airline a second destination on the US mainland after Washington. Also expected during the year, will be a resumption of services to Singapore.
According to the Sydney-based Centre for Aviation CAPA, Ethiopian Airlines fleet and network expansion in 2015 will help it widen the gap with other leading African carriers.
“Ethiopian Airlines has already become the largest airline in Africa based on fleet size and could overtake South African Airlines in 2015 as the largest based on passengers carried,” CAPA says in a report observing that Ethiopian has doubled in size since the beginning of the decade while most other major African carriers have grown only slightly or not at all.
CAPA adds that Asia and Africa have been, and will continue to be, the primary drivers for Ethiopian as it taps into the booming Asia-Africa market.
Ethiopian Airlines carried 6 million passengers in 2014 against 3.7 million by Kenya Airways, and is one of only four airlines in Africa with over 5 million annual passengers and four airline groups with a fleet of more than 50 aircraft.