First Nigeria, Now Ethiopian Airlines Plans To Start A National Airline In Zambia

Filed Under: Ethiopian, Other Airlines

Last week I wrote about how Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline (by revenue and fleet size), was the front runner to relaunch a national airline in Nigeria. I noted that:

Ethiopian is no stranger to investing in and developing African airlines. I was unaware of this, but they already own stakes in ASKY Airlines in Togo, Malawian Airlines, Chadian Airlines, Zambia Airways, and Guinea Airlines.

Zambia Airways

Well here’s some more news on their plans in Zambia.

The African nation of Zambia did have a national airline operating from its hub in Lusaka until 1994, though it liquidated. That left the country with only a privately owned airline, which suspended operations in 2009.

Zambia’s Lusaka airport in southern Africa (shown with Ethiopian’s Addis Ababa hub for reference)

Now comes the news that Ethiopian Airlines is continuing their expansion plans around the African continent. They have signed an agreement with Zambia’s main development agency to relaunch a national airline in Zambia.

Within 10 years, the new Zambia Airways will operate with a fleet of 12 planes. Unlike the Nigeria Air tender exercise, Ethiopian Airlines will only own a 45% stake in the airline, with the Zambian government owning the remaining 55%, meaning Ethiopian will not have a controlling stake.

Ethiopian Airlines has said of their plans:

As an indigenous and truly Pan-African airline, we believe that African carriers will only get their fair share of the aviation industry and the African market through partnerships with other African carriers.

Zambia Airways plans to eventually launch routes to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as intra-Africa routes, although of course lofty ambitions of long-haul routes may or may not come to fruition. Looking into their history, they did previously fly from their hub in Lusaka to places like Frankfurt, London Heathrow, Mumbai, Rome and New York (in some cases with stops).

While Reuters is reporting the first flights will take place in January of 2019, mere months away, this seems extremely optimistic.

Lusaka is already served by a number of African airlines (including Ethiopian), and the only non-African airline currently serving the airport is Emirates (via Harare, Zimbabwe).

Bottom line

My family has been sponsoring twin girls in a village in Zambia for over a decade now, so it’s a country that I have had a connection with and one I would love to visit. Ethiopian Airlines is a smart operator, and is slowly but surely taking advantage of the growth opportunities in the continent.

Zambia Airways has the potential to become a powerhouse in southern Africa, especially given South African Airways’ lack of profitability and strategy.

I could definitely see Ethiopian Airlines developing something similar to Etihad Airways Partners in Africa, where they group together the different airlines they are involved in operating to assist passengers with connections, frequent flyer programs, etc. Although hopefully they are far more successful than the disastrous Etihad Airways Partners experiment.

I’ve written before about how the ‘Big Three’ airline groups are forming in Europe, and comparing them with the ‘Big Three’ in both the USA and the Middle East.

Do you think Ethiopian will form the first ‘big’ airline group in Africa?

  1. Important question for Frequent flyers: Which airline alliance would you consider as the most prestigious?
    In terms of services, lounges, customer offering…
    Are the wealthiest people preferring one alliance in particular over the two other?

  2. @BobNL

    For many of us, the alliance we use most depends on their route networks, which have different strengths and weaknesses. I do a lot of travel from Europe to (and then around) South America, and oneworld is far and away the strongest alliance for that. Other people will have different travel patterns leading to a different choice of lead alliance.

    The relative “prestige” of the different alliances doesn’t make much difference to me.

  3. There is a very big difference between the Ethiopian involvement (sic) in Nigeria (which is simply at tender stage right now), and its involvement in Zambia (which is a fully signed investment and strategic partnership).

    The Zambia project is pretty much a copy of their successful implementation of the same “partnership” model that was used in Malawi next door. “Malawian Airlines” is a 49-51 partnership with the Government of Malawi, uses aircraft from Ethiopian’s fleet (737-700 and Dash8), with Ethiopian registrations, Ethiopian flight numbers, booking via Ethiopian’s website, Ethiopian’s “071” ticket stock, etc… It is for all practical purposes Ethiopian Airlines with a different name painted on the side and local crews (and officially no Star Alliance benefits, although this varies from station to station and most *A FFPs credit the flights as ET flights without any issues).

    Keeping in mind that the initial operations of the airline will effectively be transplanted directly from Ethiopian’s own existing resources and personnel, January 2019 is actually a very conservative window and implies that there are still a lot of political/regulatory hurdles to cross (most notably the issue of resolving the debts of the previous national carrier if they are to use the same name) before the launch can take place.

  4. Emirates does not serve Lusaka via Harare. Instead, Emirates serves Harare vis Lusaka, and Dubai-Lusaka flights are non-stop both directions.

  5. I agree with Paul in regards to alliances. Oneworld barely has any presence in Africa so if I lived there I doubt I’d pick oneworld as my main alliance.
    Ultimately I think people prefer nonstop flights on reputable airlines if money is no object.

  6. There’s no way that this Zambia Airways will ever be a “powerhouse”. That country simply does not have the population nor the wealth to do so. SAA could and should be a powerhouse (if it weren’t for its chronic mismanagement, if there ever were to be a “powerhouse” in Southern Africa. And what do you mean by “powerhouse” anyway? It sounds meaningful but ultimately it means nothing. Do you mean that it will transport a lot of people? That it will be profitable? What exactly? Be more precise rather than lazy in your writing.

    And yes, there’s nothing “prestigious” about any of the alliances. As a US Citizen in the DC area, one who travels to Europe a lot, oneworld does nothing for me. Star is everything for my needs, so prestige, for whatever that’s worth, means nothing. Utility for one’s particular needs means everything, not some vague notion of prestige.

  7. @James
    For those of us who love accuracy the headline is indeed misleading. Sean M. says it correctly. Even in your 2nd paragraph you quote Zambia Airways and it’s the same thing only that a few days ago the deal was signed. The situation in Nigeria is really in it’s very early stages. At this point ‘a source’ in the Nigerian gov said they preferred ET as partner.

    I think the wealthiest people will take LH, AF, SQ etc first class if it suites them. In terms of connectivity, it depends on the region and convenience.

  8. @ Sam – I only linked Zambia and Nigeria in the headline to indicate that Ethiopian Airlines was investing/developing another airline. First I wrote about Nigeria (last week), now I am writing about Zambia (today).

  9. @James – I think the point that Sam is making (as I am too) is that Ethiopian is NOT actually doing anything in Nigeria yet. They have simply expressed an interest, which is becoming a big media story as it’s Nigeria after all.

    In Zambia however, they have been negotiating with the Government for at least the last 12-18 months and have now concluded the agreement to actually launch the airline. It’s at a very different stage and you imply that the Zambia project is the newer one, whereas it predates the Nigeria project by much more than a year.

  10. IMHO, it’s time for Lucky to re-evaluate the value of the articles written by James. One just need to read the comments sections to see that his articles are always shallow and full of mistakes or misleading informations…

  11. Bongo – That’s a bit harsh, he’s written some great articles (particularly during that trial period).

    The volume is clearly way too high for him to maintain the standards he’s demonstrably capable of though.

  12. @Callum – While I respect your opinion, I beg to disagree. As you said, if he can’t cope with the volume, he shouldn’t be here. The last 4 or 5 articles from him were just like this… a lot of readers commenting on errors… It’s just my opinion, but I think that a re-evaluation is needed…

  13. To me the Star Alliance is the only one really useful for Africa to Africa travel, with a limited nod to SkyTeam due to Kenya Airways. Forget OneWorld.

  14. ET is already being accused of monopolistic intent, by the African press, even through their share of the market is around 10%, Asky and Malawi included. The accusation is premature and misguided. Scale is needed if one is to successfully compete with European and Gulf carriers. Any thoughts on the validity of such accusations?

  15. @James
    That reply that doesn’t make any sense at all but oh well. I don’t see how anyone read that headline differently.
    @Sean M is spot on.

    James, you have some great posts that are even more relevant to me being based in Europe and have been appreciated by most of us. I love reading your posts but it’d be brilliant if they were accurate since this is why we read this blog. My biggest complain was the last post on Ryanair strikes which was far from reality with dates and all.

  16. I love the idea of Ethiopian creating airlines in countries throughout Africa that either never had airlines or had struggling or bankrupt airlines. However I don’t think there will be an African “Big 3” because Ethiopian has seen an opening in Africa and instead of waiting they have seized the opportunity and are trying to get control of Africa’s aviation market before other airlines start to take serious interest. I would not be surprised if Ethiopian started other airlines in countries such as Djibouti (Djibouti is planning to become the Dubai of Africa so an airline is inevitable) and Sierra Leone (after Ebola it’s future is looking bright). So I believe it could be an African Big 1…and everybody else

    Please could you upload something about the future of the Middle East Big 3 and how as Etihad fades Turkish Airlines is coming in to replace them

  17. James is doing a fine job. Lucky has been at it for years – give him some time. I think James has added value while still having opportunities for improvement.

    A lot of you picking nits would either put half of the people here to sleep or sound like idiots to the other half.

  18. @I. Immelmann
    It that’s true, then it’s only a matter of time before they lose overfly rights and slots in some countries who’ll be unhappy feeling disadvantaged. Don’t forget that this is a continent with some of the toughest protectionist policies/countries. Ethiopia itself has done everything possible to limit slots to other airlines esp the gulf airlines.
    It’ll be interesting to see how this turns in a few years.

  19. @Noah Bowie
    The ET/Djibouti Airways – deal is already in the making. There were a bunch of articles weeks ago after both their deal in the making,

  20. James this is wrong 🙂

    “That left the country with only a privately owned airline, which suspended operations in 2009.”

    Zambia does have a privately owned airline which is doing really well – Proflight Zambia,

  21. @Sam
    All those restrictions are supposed to go away with the Au open skies initiative-single African air transport market (SAATM)-agreed to by 44 members. The monopoly alarm is the loudest in the EAC, where every state has or is about to have a flag carrier with one or two exceptions. However, they’re all small to be relevant or compete in an open market. This might be the right time to create a common airline. Corruption and lack of skilled management doomed the first attempt.

  22. @Sam:
    Failed to mention the SAATM is supposed to curb the African growth of Gulf and European airlines. It obviates the-crazy- need to fly to Dubai, Istanbul, Paris or London to make inter continental connections!

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