Ethiopia Overtakes Dubai as Top Feeder of Air Traffic to Africa

By Omar Mohammed

NAIROBI – Perhaps South Africa can learn something from Ethiopia which has overtaken Dubai as the top feeder for long-haul passengers to Africa, highlighting the success of the state airline’s expansion drive and the reforms of its new prime minister… which include allowing visitors to apply for visas online.

Ethiopian Airline planes are seen parked at the Bole International Airport in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

Travel consultancy ForwardKeys said on Wednesday Addis Ababa airport had increased the number of international transfer passengers for five years in a row, and in 2018 had surpassed Dubai, one of the world’s busiest airports, as the transfer hub for long-haul travel to sub-Saharan Africa.

The number of long-haul transfers to sub-Saharan Africa via Addis Ababa jumped by 85 percent from 2013 to 2017. Transfers via Dubai over the same period rose by 31 percent.

So far this year, Addis Ababa’s growth is 18 percent, versus 3 percent for Dubai.

As many South African travellers know, Dubai has long been a major global air travel hub because it is the base of Gulf carrier Emirates. Given the lack of an “open skies” deal smoothing flights across Africa, many passengers travelling between one part of the continent and another, or from Asia or Europe to Africa, must often transit through Dubai.

But this is changing.

Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s most successful state company, is accelerating a 15-year strategy it launched in 2010 to win back market share on routes to and from Africa that are dominated by Turkish Airlines and Emirates.

It is also weaving a patchwork of new African routes to rapidly expanding and lucrative Asian markets.

The recent jump in bookings via Addis Ababa is also attributed to the positive international response to the broad reforms introduced by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (who came into power in April) – particularly his move to allow visitors to apply for visas online, and his pledge to open Ethiopia’s largely state-controlled economy to foreign investment.

The rise of travel via Addis Ababa looks set to continue. International bookings via Ethiopia are up 40 percent year-on-year for November to January 2019, ahead of all other destinations in Africa.

(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Maggie Fick and Mark Potter)