Ethiopia has overtaken Dubai as a conduit for long-haul passengers to Africa, highlighting the success of the state airline’s expansion drive and the reforms of its new prime minister.
Travel consultancy ForwardKeys said Addis Ababa airport increased the number of international transfer passengers to sub-Saharan Africa for five years in a row and in 2018 surpassed Dubai, one of the world’s busiest airports, as the transfer hub for long-haul travel to the region.
Analysing data from travel booking systems that record 17 million flight bookings a day, ForwardKeys found the number of long-haul transfers to sub-Saharan Africa via Addis Ababa jumped by 85% from 2013 to 2017. Transfers via Dubai over the same period rose by 31%.
So far this year, Addis Ababa’s growth is 18%, versus three percent for Dubai.
Dubai has long been a major global air travel hub as base of Gulf carrier Emirates. Given the lack of an “open skies” deal across Africa, many passengers travelling between one part of the continent and another, or from Asia or Europe to Africa, often transit through Dubai.
This is changing.
Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s most successful state company, is accelerating a 15-year strategy launched in 2010 to win back market share on routes to and from Africa dominated by Turkish Airlines and Emirates.
It is also weaving a patchwork of new African routes to expanding and lucrative Asian markets.
ForwardKeys attributed the recent jump in bookings via Addis Ababa in part to a positive international response to reforms introduced by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in April.
It cited two changes in particular: a move to allow visitors to apply for visas online, and Abiy’s pledge to open Ethiopia’s largely state-controlled economy to foreign investment.
After Abiy made peace with Eritrea to end a two-decade state of war, Ethiopian resumed flights to its neighbour in July. This month, it relaunched flights to Somalia’s capital after four decades.
The rise of travel via Addis Ababa looks set to continue. International bookings via Ethiopia are up 40% year-on-year for November to January 2019, ahead of all other African destinations, ForwardKeys said.