Ethiopian Airlines is beefing up its schedule to the U.S. with additional flights to Washington Dulles, an addition that comes even as its traffic recovery proceeds slower than it expected.
The Star Alliance carrier will begin thrice-weekly flights between Dulles and Lomé, Togo, that continue on to its Addis Ababa base in June, Ethiopian U.S. Regional Director Samson Arega said. The flights will complement Ethiopian’s existing daily service to Addis Ababa from Washington. Ethiopian also flies between Chicago O’Hare, Newark, and New York JFK and Addis Ababa. The New York-area routes operate with a stop in Lomé.
Lomé is the main base for Ethiopian’s affiliate carrier, Asky Airlines.
Ethiopian’s Houston flights, which were suspended after just five months in May 2020, have yet to resume. Arega said the airline plans to return to the Texas city but has no timeline yet.
The additional Washington flights come as Ethiopian’s passengers continue to return slowly. Arega said that 70-75 percent of pre-pandemic passenger traffic has returned, and the airline expects that number to rise as it moves into the peak summer travel season. It forecasts recovering 80-85 percent of 2019 numbers next year.
Ethiopian’s passenger recovery, while progressing from roughly 65 percent last summer, appears to be moving slower than anticipated. Arega’s predecessor Nigusu Worku said in August that the carrier forecasted traffic recovering to roughly 80 percent of pre-Covid levels by the end of 2021.
Asked about the slower recovery, Arega said it was currently “low season” for Ethiopian.
Many factors beyond seasonal demand could be at play. The Omicron variant set back the recovery for most airlines from December through February. In the U.S., Delta Air Lines executives said on April 13 that bookings did not materially improve until after the Presidents Day holiday in February. In addition, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 raised fears of further disruption to the recovery though many Western airline executives have since said they saw little disruption in booking trends.
Another potential factor is the 18-month civil war in Ethiopia. The regime of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been accused of brutal tactics in the conflict with the Tigrayan ethnic group.
Asked about the civil war, Arega said Ethiopian saw no impact on bookings. The same goes for the conflict in Ukraine, he added.
“We’ve passed so many storms in this industry,” said Arega on the jump in oil prices since February. While Ethiopian is not “immune” from the increases, it can manage the added expense, he added. A sentiment is shared by executives at most other major airlines.
Cargo remains a lucrative business for Ethiopian. After being a lifeline for the airline during the pandemic, air freight revenues remain elevated above pre-pandemic levels at roughly half of all receipts — down from a peak of roughly 60 percent — Arega said. The carrier’s March commitment for five Boeing 777-8 freighters will allow it to increase air cargo capacity by 50 percent.
Ethiopian’s new CEO Mesfin Tasew Bekele, who succeeded Tewolde GebreMariam on March 23, is continuing the airline’s successful strategy of building a pan-African franchise, said Arega. Bekele is focused on “sustainable” growth for the group, he added.