Exclusive: Ethiopian Airlines CEO: “We’ll Take ‘Middle of Market’ Jet, But Not 737MAX or A321neo”

I’m in Guangzhou, China — (thank you for your messages of concern while Super-Typhoon Mangkhut made landfall here yesterday…I was safely in a hotel for 16 hours, and today it is business as usual here!) — for World Routes, where the world’s airlines and airports meet under one roof, to plan future new flight routes, or upgrade and expand existing routes.

World Routes is all about relationships, and it’s fascinating watching airports pitch to airlines, attempting to attract business.

Here in Guangzhou, I sat down with Ethiopian Airlines CEO, Mr Tewolde Gebremariam — who’s here to build stronger links between Ethiopian Airlines, and Chinese airports, a market he tells me “is of great importance, given it’s continued year-on-year growth”

Middle of Market Aircraft 

During our chat at #WorldRoutes, we discussed the industry-wide focus on the ‘Middle-Of’Market’ aircraft.

A ‘Middle of Market’ aircraft is a jet that can operate long, thin routes, such as Birmingham (BHX) to Boston (BOS)

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or Singapore (SIN) to Adelaide (ADL).

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‘Middle of Market’ aircraft are attractive to airlines (especially right now, where overhead costs for airlines, including oil, are on the rise) because they have a long enough range to operate a long-haul flight while retaining the economics of an efficient, smaller short-haul aircraft. Airlines do not have to worry about a lack of ‘huge’ passenger demand needed to keep a route profitable, as there are fewer passengers needed to ensure the flight ‘breaks even’ on these ‘Middle of Market’ aircraft, compared with long-haul flights operated by traditional wide-body aircraft.

Given the safer economics ‘Middle of Market’ aircraft offer, these aircraft have enabled low-cost carriers to venture into the world of flying long haul, such as Primera Air, who now fly transatlantic between London Stansted (STN) and Washington (IAD), using the A321neo — a prime example of a long, thin route. (Update: Primera Air have now ceased operations).

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The two main ‘Middle of Market’ aircraft that exist today, are the Airbus A321LR, and the Boeing 737 Max 10.

Aircraft Airbus A321LR Boeing 737 MAX 10
Average Seat Capacity   204 seats 178 – 193 seats
Maximum Seat Capacity 244 seats 220 seats
Range 4,000+ nautical miles 3,550 nautical miles
Overall Length 146 ft 138 ft 4
Wingspan 117 ft 5 in 117 ft 10

The A321LR (A321neoLR) outperforms in 737 MAX 10 in range, a key element to a ‘Middle of Market’ jet.

As of now, many airlines are assessing the potential of both aircraft, but some — including Ethiopian Airlines — are willing to wait for Boeing’s new-mid-size aircraft, set to have a range of 5,000nm…but not enter commercial service until (at least) around 2025.

Ethiopian Airlines Want A Middle Of Market Jet

The Star Alliance carrier already operates a mix of A350s, 787s, 737s, 737 MAX 8, 767s, 777s, and Bombardier Q400s.

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Ethiopian Airlines CEO, Mr Tewolde Gebremariam exclusively told me that he thinks Boeing’s new-mid-size jet will be worth the wait.

Mr Gebremariam said:  “We were strong supporters of the 757 [Ethiopian had 12 in the fleet], and so we like the middle of market aircraft concept. I think what Boeing is developing with the new mid-size plane will be a very good addition to the fleet for us”

When I asked his thoughts on the A321LR and 737 MAX 10 as Middle of Market jets, he told me:

“The A321LR and 737 MAX 10 are not good for us at all because of the altitude of our home airport, Addis Ababa. Given that it’s 2400 metres high above sea level, the aircraft becomes restricted and therefore doesn’t perform as well as it would for other airlines operating from sea level airports. We see the middle of market aircraft as the aircraft being developed from Boeing”

As I mentioned earlier, Boeing’s new-mid-size aircraft isn’t slated to enter service until around 2025 — when I mentioned that to Mr Gebremariam, he added:

“It’s not the best case that Boeing’s ‘Middle of Market’ is still years away, but under the circumstances, we don’t have any choice. Neither the 737-900ER, 737 MAX 10, nor the A321neo aircraft performs as we would want them to, from Addis Ababa airport”

Final Thought 

Ethiopian’s CEO certainly sounds set on the Boeing new-mid-size aircraft, which may seem unusual, given the jet is still just a blueprint plan.

However, Ethiopian Airlines is already very well equipped in terms of fleet, and the airline does not require additional aircraft anytime soon. For this reason alone, it’s understandable that Mr Gebremariam wants to ‘wait and see’ what Boeing has to offer, rather than rush into ordering the existing aircraft claiming the ‘Middle of Market’ spot today.

The airline already has the 737 MAX 8 in its fleet; but it’s by no means a ‘middle of market’ aircraft, given its range.

Finally — here at World Routes in Guangzhou, Ethiopian Airlines has highlighted the importance of China as a market, with Mr Gebremariam hinting that passengers can expect to see an increase in the number of services between Addis Ababa and China very soon. He noted that China will remain a mass market route, and will continue to be served by wide-body jets, regardless of ‘Middle of Market’ aircraft developments over the next few years.

Do you think Ethiopian’s CEO is right to ‘wait and see’ Boeing’s new mid-size-aircraft? 




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