Ethiopian Airlines is tipping Guangzhou to be a key destination in an ambitious plan to connect the emerging BRIC nations of Brazil and China via Africa.
The new Addis Ababa–Lome–Rio de Janeiro–Sao Paulo service is marketed as a seamless gateway to Asia.
Ethiopian hopes to use Addis Ababa to its advantage but joins a long list of airlines competing on the Latin American-Asia route.
Crucially, it will be the sole operator between Addis Ababa and Brazil. However, its conservative approach means a non-direct flight will operate to build demand. Time will tell if the market takes off.
Ethiopian is one the better airlines on the African continent with ambition and vision, but the reality is they are up against bigger, legacy carriers such as Air China and Singapore Airlines.
Guangzhou’s thriving African expat community creates a demand for service between the city and Africa, which Ethiopian is looking to exploit. Conservative estimates put the number of Africans in Guangzhou at 20,000, but it could be as high as 150,000, according to the Globe and Mail:
There are at least 20,000 Africans, mostly from West African nations such as Nigeria, Ghana and Mali, living legally in Guangzhou, a city of about 12 million. The number could be as high as 150,000 if you include the many illegals and those temporarily in the city chasing business opportunities.
The demand is there but the big question is whether it will all work.
Generally, non-SkyTeam alliance carriers have a tougher job of competing with the dominant China Southern.
However, Emirates competes with the Guangzhou-based carrier on the Dubai route. And it has no problem filling planes with feeder traffic transiting at its Dubai hub coming from all over the world. It’s a big airline with a well-established frequent-flyer program – and officially claims the shortest LatAm-Asia service.
That being said, from Guangzhou, Ethiopian has no other feeder traffic or much help from fellow Star Alliance members, but as CAPA reports, it doesn’t have a problem filling planes, which is why it switched to a daily service late last year.
Since Ethiopian has been clipped by the grounding of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners worldwide, the plan may not even leave the gate if it’s new planes are not back in service by June.
Without these aircraft, Ethiopian’s five 777-200LR would not have sufficient capacity to cover its existing long-haul network to Beijing, Guangzhou, Toronto and Washington Dulles, as well as a direct Hong Kong service.
We say watch this space.
Images: BriYYZ/Flickr and CAPA