Airlines don't normally build airports. But the project reflected the ambition of Ethiopian Airlines, which has turned into an aviation powerhouse in part by acquiring stakes in the national airlines of neighboring countries.
Ethiopian Airlines generates billions of dollars in annual revenue and carries nearly 11 million passengers last year. Its fleet has grown to 111 planes, many of them new or just a few years old.
The planned airport, near the city of Bishoftu, would help the airline prepare for another round of expansion. But earlier this month, Bishoftu was in the headlines for a different reason.
Six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa on March 1
An emperor founds an airline
Founded in 1946 by Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopian Airlines is older than most African countries.
State-owned carrier started as a joint venture with now-defunct American carrier Trans World Airlines (TWA), using a fleet of ex-US military C-47 left-wing skytrain to rattle around the world continent.
Flag carriers from bigger African economies, meanwhile, such as South African Airways and Kenya Airways, fall into bankruptcy or financial difficulty. Nigeria is no longer a national carrier.
Zemedeneh Negatu, the global chairman of Fairfax Africa Fund who has advised Ethiopian Airlines, says the key to the airline's resilience is that it has "always been run like a business" with " interference "from the government. Staffed by industry experts, the airline is suffering from the same high turnover as its rivals. Tewolde GebreMariam, the current CEO, started his career with the airline in 1985.
Its home nation's weak economy might also have been a blessing. Management has always been "acutely aware" that "if they were unloaded, the government was not in a position to bail them out," says Elijah Chingosho, a secretary general of the African Airlines Association and managing director of Ultimate Solutions Consulting. 19659014] An aviation pioneer
For decades, Ethiopian Airlines survived – but it wasn't until the mid-2000s that it started to thrive.
In 2005, the airline made global headlines when it announced that it would be the Launch carrier for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, placing a $ 1.3 billion order for the 15th of the fuel-efficient, long-range aircraft.
Soon after, the airline began expanding its international network with a focus on emerging economies. One major target, China, is now one of the Ethiopian government's biggest economic partners.
"Everyone was belittling that strategy," says Negatu, who was born in Ethiopia. "They now fly 40-plus flights a week to China and another 20 plus to India. Fifteen years ago, that strategy wasn't so obvious."
But its biggest innovation was still to come. 19659027] A Boeing 767-200ER Ethiopian Airlines jet in flight, ca. 1980s ” data-src-mini=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190322014712-0322-ethiopian-airlines-history-02-small-169.jpg” data-src-xsmall=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190322014712-0322-ethiopian-airlines-history-02-medium-plus-169.jpg” data-src-small=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190322014712-0322-ethiopian-airlines-history-02-large-169.jpg” data-src-medium=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190322014712-0322-ethiopian-airlines-history-02-exlarge-169.jpg” data-src-large=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190322014712-0322-ethiopian-airlines-history-02-super-169.jpg” data-src-full16x9=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190322014712-0322-ethiopian-airlines-history-02-full-169.jpg” data-src-mini1x1=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190322014712-0322-ethiopian-airlines-history-02-small-11.jpg” data-demand-load=”not-loaded” data-eq-pts=”mini: 0, xsmall: 221, small: 308, medium: 461, large: 781″ src=”data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhEAAJAJEAAAAAAP///////wAAACH5BAEAAAIALAAAAAAQAAkAAAIKlI+py+0Po5yUFQA7″/>