Ethiopian Airlines: 787 helped boost profits

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian Airlines has made a record profit, the company’s chief executive officer said this week.

Tewolde Gebremariam partly credited the profitability of Ethiopian Airlines to Boeing’s problematic 787 planes.

He said the company’s operating profit between July 2012 and June 2013 is 2.7 billion birr ($143,137,098) from 1 billion birr ($53,013,740) the previous financial year.

Citing unaudited company accounts, Tewolde said that the company’s net profits also surged during the period to 2.03 billion birr ($107,617,892) from 734 million birr ($39,230,167) of the previous year, a 178 percent increase.

Tewolde said the performance is a result of “exceptionally dedicated employees” and the Boeing 787 planes he described as super-efficient. He said the planes helped the company save on fuel costs.

In January, Dreamliners around the world were grounded because of overheating lithium batteries. Ethiopian Airlines was the first to get the plane back in the air, on April 27. In early July one of the company’s 787 planes was damaged by a fire while parked at London Heathrow airport.

The plane had been parked for about 10 hours when a worker in the control tower saw smoke coming out, and activated a crash alarm.

British air safety officials have subsequently recommended that emergency transmitters on Boeing 787s should be disabled after finding that one of the squat orange boxes was the only thing with enough power to start a fire in the scorched tail section of the 787.

Tewolde said Ethiopian Air would have been even more profitable, if it had not been for incidents involving the 787 planes.

“Definitely the incidents and grounding have some impact. We were very fortunate that coincidentally the grounding of the planes were in what we call slack season. It’s a slow demand season. So were able to minimize the level of the impact,” said Tewolde.

He insisted the Dreamliners are “the future of the aviation” and his company is sticking with plans to buy five more of the planes and lease three others.

“Whenever we introduce the aircraft in any route, the load factor immediately increases, which means our customers love the plane, they are enjoying its features,” Tewolde said.

He said the incidents with the Dreamliner are part of a natural teething period “which is not unusual for a technologically game-changing aircraft such as the Dreamliner.”

Ethiopian Airlines operates an all-Boeing fleet with some 1,330 weekly flights. The airline flies to 76 international and 17 domestic destinations.

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