Mumbai: Ethiopian Airlines is yet to take a decision on scrapping its Boeing 737 MAX order, even as regulators around the world have grounded the aircraft following two fatal crashes, the latest of which involved a plane operated by the airline, a top official of the company told Mint.
"The Boeing 737 MAX orders are still in our book as we haven't made a decision to scrap the order yet," said Tadesse Tilahun, Ethiopian Airlines's regional director for India subcontinent.
However, if we do scrap the order, we will replace it with other planes, including wide bodies, so that our capacity expansion plans are not affected, Tilahun said.
Bloomberg had in April reported that Ethiopian Airlines Group is reconsidering its order for 25 additional 737 MAX jetliners from Boeing Co., in part because of the 'stigma' surrounding the aircraft involved in two fatal air disasters in five months -- one of them involing an Ethiopian Airlines flight.
Ethiopian Airlines had earlier placed an order for 30 737 MAX jets, worth more than $2.1 billion at list prices. It has till date taken delivery of five such aircraft including the one that crashed in March. The airline's four Boeing 737 MAX planes are currently grounded.
"The grounding of Boeing 737 MAX planes haven't really affected our operations yet as we have replaced Boeing 737 MAX with other aircraft in our fleet," Tilahun added.
Ethiopian Airlines currently has about 116 aircraft in its fleet, consisting of Airbus A350, Boeing 787-8, Boeing 787-9, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 777-200ER, Boeing 777-200 freighter, Bombardier Q400, Boeing 767 and Boeing 737 planes.
Meanwhile, the airline will start new flights from Bengaluru to Addis Ababa in October and from Chennai to Addis Ababa during next summer. The airline currently operates flights from Mumbai, and New Delhi to Addis Ababa. It also has dedicated freight operations on Boeing 777 freighters from Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad to Addis Ababa.
"Last few years, we have been registering a double digit growth in revenue and passenger growth. Our load factor from Mumbai (88%) and New Delhi (85%) are high which got us to use wide body aircraft in these sectors," Tilahun said adding that the airline's customer base from India are generally business, leisure travelers, and students who travel to Africa, Europe, North America and South America.
"For instance, the fastest way to travel to Brazil from India is currently on an Ethiopian airlines flight through Addis Ababa," Tilahun added.
Ethiopian Airlines is currently in talks with a few Indian carriers for a potential code share agreement. The African airline, which is a part of Star Alliance, already has a code share agreement in place with the national carrier Air India.
"India is an important market for us. We are currently in talks with a few local airlines for code share," Tilahun added.
Ethiopian Airlines, founded more than half a century ago, has expanded beyond its home market with a hub model that pulls in passengers from around the world to Addis Ababa and sends them onward to cities across sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, South America, and North America. The airline, which is fully owned by the state, is Africa's largest and most profitable.