Boeing, Ethiopian bolster partnership to build aerospace industry in Africa

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By Kaleyesus Bekele

Ethiopian Airlines Group, the largest aviation group in Africa, and Boeing, the leading global aircraft manufacturer, have recently signed a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that would enable them to transform Ethiopia as an aviation hub in Africa.

According to the agreement, Boeing and Ethiopian agreed to work in partnership in four areas of strategic collaboration namely: Industrial Development, Advanced Aviation Training, Educational Partnership and Leadership Development in a span of three years.  

Historical relationship

Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing ‘s relationship dates back to the inception of Ethiopian Airlines in 1945. Back then the Ethiopian government hired the US TWA airline to establish and manage Ethiopian Airlines which started its operation in April 1946 with four DC-3 Second World War surplus aircraft. There was the fifth one which used as spare-parts source.  Due to the involvement of the American government the relationship with MC Douglas has been going since the inception.

When Ethiopian Airlines joined the jet age in the 1960s it became the first African airline to acquire the B720 jetliner.  While Ethiopia was under going a socialist revolution in the 1970s the national flag carrier placed orders for B727s. Later in 1984 Ethiopian became the second airline in the world to acquire the B767-200s next to Elal of Israel.  Ethiopian was one of the launch customers of the B787 Dreamliner aircraft. Following ANA and Japan Airlines Ethiopian was the third airline in the world to acquire the Dreamliner in 2012.

Aerospace manufacturing industry

Established in 1962 Ethiopian MRO and Engineering Services has a rich experience of maintaining and repairing Boeing aircraft. The MRO Center has six modern maintenance hangars and engine, component, avionics and mechanical shops. It also maintains Q400s and Airbus A350s. The center provides maintenance services for airlines in most African countries and to some Gulf carriers.   

As part of the growing relationship with Boeing in 2009 Ethiopian Airlines established a small aerospace manufacturing plant at its hub at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The aerospace manufacturing plant is capable of producing  wirerharness kit that are installed in all Boeing aircraft.

“We manufacture this wire harness and supply to Boeing. Actually we are one of the best suppliers of Boeing,” says Retta Melaku, Ethiopian COO.

Every year Boeing evaluates its suppliers in terms of two key parameters- time of delivery and quality. “Only if you are scoring 99 percent on both parameters that they consider you as a gold supplier. Ethiopian has been able to meet that target consecutively and received awards from Boeing as Gold Supplier,” Melaku said.

In 2017 Ethiopian agreed to expand the manufacturing capability.  Instead of supplying only wire harnesses it reached an agreement with Boeing to supply small panels and other various aircraft components. “This is the first step we took to establish to an aerospace manufacturing industry with Boeing,” Melaku said.

The management of Ethiopian Airlines is holding discussion to start producing and supplying insulation blankets to Boeing aircraft. “We are on the final stage of the discussion. Currently we are discussing with Boeing to expand this capability to the newer models such as the B737MAX and B787s,” Melaku said.  

New partnership

Boeing and Ethiopian are forging new partnership to develop an aerospace manufacturing industry in Africa that manufactures and supplies parts to Boeing aircraft.

The whole objective of the strategic MoU signed by Ethiopian and Boeing is to position Ethiopia as an aviation hub In Africa and develop an aerospace industry in Africa.

Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said that Boeing and Ethiopian have been working together on different large scale projects in aviation for more than 70 years to serve the continent of Africa and this partnership expands and builds our capability in multiple fields. “I have firm conviction that with our dedication in its implementation, the MoU will successfully attain its goal of positioning Ethiopia as the continent s aviation hub.”

Gebremariam said Ethiopian will continue to working with key American aviation companies such as Boeing, GE, and Collins Aerospace in its journey towards excellence in aviation.

Ethiopian and Boeing desire Ethiopian aviation academy to be recognized as a global standard for aviation training. Boeing said it is committed to developing Ethiopia’s manufacturing capability and after-market aviation services. 

According to Melaku, the MoU has four pillars. The first one is industrial development in Ethiopia that focuses on the establishment of aerospace industry in Ethiopia. “We will work to establish different manufacturing sites just like the wire kit harness manufacturing plant. Now we are holding discussion to start producing insulation blankets,” Melaku said.

The second pillar is advanced aviation training that mainly focuses on availing technically trained pilots, technicians and engineers.

The third one is mainly academic focusing on educational partnership. Ethiopian and Boeing will collaborate to transform the Ethiopian aviation academy into a global standard aviation university that would serve the Africa and Middle East region.

The last pillar is leadership development.  “As you know in Africa the biggest challenge is lack of qualified and competent leadership. In our partnership with Boeing we anticipate to develop the next generation leadership for African aviation industry.”

“Ethiopia is the biggest airline in Africa. In addition to serving our valued passengers we believe that we should develop the aerospace industry and exploit the untapped potential of Africa and contribute to the rise of African economy in using aviation as a tool,” Melaku concluded.   

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