Ethiopian Airlines: Manila Service Postponed

Ethiopian Airlines is making some last minute changes to its previously announced Asian expansion by dropping its services to Manila and Ho Chi Minh in favour of a route to Singapore.

Ethiopian Airlines was set to begin a service between Addis Ababa and Manila via Hong Kong on July 2, 2013 using a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. Although no official reason was given for the scheduling adjustment, it is quite likely that the decision was due to the lack of fifth freedom rights between Hong Kong and the Philippines.

ethiopian airlines philippines
Image Source: Ethiopian Airlines

Fifth freedom rights enable a foreign carrier to pick up passengers in another country and then carry them onwards to a third country. Singapore and Thailand have been successful in attracting many African carriers as the airlines are permitted to carry passengers from their hubs in Africa to additional points in Asia while picking up passengers along the way in Singapore or Bangkok. For example, Egypt Air is able to fly from Cairo to Bangkok where they drop off and pick up new passengers who continue onto Kuala Lumpur. Airlines like Egypt Air and Kenya Airways all offer daily flights to Bangkok that continue onto other destinations in Asia. 

But such an agreement does not exist between Hong Kong and the Philippines. This means that if Ethiopian Airlines was to travel from Addis Ababa to Manila via Hong Kong, the airline would drop off passengers in Hong Kong but would not be able to pick up passengers in Hong Kong bound for Manila or vice versa. Such a scenario is perplexing as it could mean financial suicide for the airline. In an interview with the Centre for Aviation, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines stated that the airline was hoping to eventually secure pick up rights between Hong Kong and Manila. 

The airline previously stated that it was committed to launching the routes without fifth freedom rights enabling it to only carry passengers that originate in Africa. But Manila is simply too challenging a market to sustain without fifth freedom rights. It is certainly too small to sustain non-stop services which is likely why Ethiopian opted for a route via Hong Kong. But clearly the prospects looked far too bleak as the airline finally decided to pull the plug on the route. Ethiopian Airlines would have been the first African carrier to serve Manila. 

Ethiopian Airlines certainly has no illusions about the obstacles that it must overcome in order to successfully operate flights between the Philippines and Africa. The market is already highly competitive and largely controlled by Middle East carriers which have a strong presence in Manila. But Ethiopian Airlines is not giving up yet. 

In an interview with Shanghai Daily News, Esayas Woldemariam, the Chief Commercial Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, stated that following the launch of the carrier's route to Singapore in September, the airline is going to expand to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and Manila in the Philippines. This clearly shows that the carrier has not given up on the Philippine market. But what is now clear is that Ethiopian Airlines is no longer willing to operate a route to the Philippines without fifth freedom rights. With the postponement of the route indefinitely, the carrier now has time to acquire such rights which will then pave the way for them to proceed as originally planned with their Asian expansion. If all goes according to plan and the market grows the way the airline wants it to, we might yet see a direct flight between Africa and the Philippines.

1 comment:

  1. I have a confirmed ticket from Lusaka-addis-manila via hongkong. can I be booked to different airline in hongkong to manila


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