Ethiopian Airlines Chief Commercial Officer, Lemma Yadecha Gudeta, remains optimistic about the realization of the Nigeria Air joint venture (JV), despite encountering political setbacks that temporarily halted the launch of the startup airline.
A few months ago, Ethiopian Airlines made significant strides by placing a Boeing 737-800 in Nigeria Air livery for a route-proving flight to Abuja, a crucial step towards obtaining an air operator certificate. However, the process hit a roadblock.
In an exclusive interview in London, Gudeta explained, “It was almost a done deal. But there was a change of government, and the new authorities in Nigeria wanted to look into how the agreements were made.”
A legal challenge from a group of Nigerian airlines further complicated the matter. The JV was structured with Ethiopian owning 49%, Nigerian investors holding 46%, and the government retaining a 5% stake. Despite facing hurdles, Gudeta remains confident in the venture’s potential profitability.
“We did all the required paperwork. We selected the aircraft,” Gudeta expressed disappointment about the delay, emphasizing that Ethiopian Airlines had committed significant resources to the creation of Nigeria Air.
However, Gudeta sees promise in the project and believes the Nigerian government, though requiring additional time for evaluation, will greenlight the venture soon. “We’ve trained the people; we’ve put all the required things in place. We are just waiting for the go-ahead from the Nigerian government,” he said.
Acknowledging the importance of gaining public and government support, Gudeta stressed the need for alignment in this ambitious endeavor.
Beyond the Nigeria Air venture, Ethiopian Airlines is deliberating the revival of Ethiopian Mozambique Airlines, initially launched in 2018. The airline, based in Maputo, Mozambique, suspended operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gudeta highlighted that the decision to either revitalize or permanently close the airline hinges on reaching an agreement with the Mozambican government.
Discussing other joint ventures, Gudeta revealed that Chad-based Tchadia Airlines is now permanently closed due to pandemic-related challenges and local instability.
On a positive note, Ethiopian’s equity partnerships with ASKY (Togo-based), Malawi Airlines, and Zambia Airways are thriving. ASKY, Ethiopian’s first JV airline, is set to have its own CEO soon and is expected to pay dividends to shareholders this year—a rarity in the African airline industry.
Malawi Airlines and Zambia Airways are also performing well, with profitable operations and plans for fleet expansion in progress. Gudeta highlighted the success of these ventures, emphasizing the confidence Ethiopian Airlines has in this collaborative model for sustainable growth in the African aviation sector.