In addition, the Addis Ababa-based carrier ordered 10 additional 737 MAX 8 aircraft, exercising options from their 2014 order, which was the largest for the 737 MAX in Africa. Ethiopian now has firm orders for 30 737 MAX 8s.
Ethiopian took delivery of the first of its original order for 12 A350s in June 2016 and it now operates four of the type, including two leased aircraft.
“Today’s [A350] order tops-up [Ethiopian’s] fleet, enabling it to pursue its growth strategy,” Airbus said, announcing the agreement at the Paris Air Show. The 343-seat aircraft (30 business and 313 economy seats), which were signed for in April, will be used to support Ethiopian’s long-haul growth.
“We have been a loyal Boeing customer for a very long time, because we were looking for the right aircraft in the Airbus family. Now we have found the A350 to be the right aircraft for us. We are very happy we made that decision very early in the A350 program. Now we see the performance of the aircraft is up to expectations, we made the right decision,” Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said.
He said the A350’s performance is up to specifications, if not more so. “We are a very satisfied customer and that is the main reason we have decided to have some more. That airplane has done a very good job.”
“Europe is still the largest trading partner with Africa and that has an impact on what we do. Having a very good airplane from Europe, as our biggest trading partner with the continent, is a perfect match,” Gebremariam said, although he was also quick to compliment the Boeing 787’s performance.
Alongside the A350 aircraft order, Ethiopian signed a $1.5 billion Trent XWB engine order with Rolls-Royce, as well as a TotalCare support contract.
The in-service Ethiopian A350s were initially deployed on Addis Ababa-London and have more recently been used on the airline’s Beijing route.
Other potential markets include Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, Incheon in Korea, as well as Washington DC. “We certainly want to put these on an A350 because the loads are very high,” Gebremariam said.
However, Ethiopian faces operational challenges from the high temperatures and altitude of its Addis Ababa home base, which sits at 2,400m above sea level.
When asked whether the airline could take A350-1000s, Gebremariam replied: “We are still evaluating the -1000 version, but we have a unique situation in Addis Abba with the altitude of the airport, so we will have to see how it performs at that altitude. The -900 is doing very well.”
Airbus Commercial Aircraft president Fabrice Brégier said the A350-1000 will be certified in a few months. He added: “A further stretch of A350 is being studied. I believe we can do it at any time, but we don’t think today’s market is appropriate for it.”
The acquisition forms part of Ethiopian’s 15-year strategic plan, called Vision 2025. Ethiopian has posted 25% average growth over the past seven years.
Additionally, Ethiopian committed to purchase two Boeing 777 freighters, valued at $651.4 million at list prices.
Separately, Bombardier revealed Ethiopian was the previously undisclosed customer for a firm purchase agreement for five additional Q400 turboprop aircraft. The contract has a list-price value of $163 million.
Ethiopian fleet includes A350s, Boeing 787s, 777-300ERs, 777-200LRs, 777-200Fs and Bombardier Q400s.