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The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde Gebremariam has warned that Gulf carriers could “eat us for lunch” unless there is a concerted effort by African airlines to increase market share from the fast-growing continent.
Speaking at the Aviation Club in London, Tewolde said “We have tremendous competition coming from the Gulf carriers. Dubai is only three and half hours away from Addis, Abu Dhabi and Doha are the same. They have been doing very well and now Africa is also a strategic focus.
“We see the centre of gravity moving from Europe to the Middle East and especially the Gulf.”
He said that Europe’s failure to respond to the threat by the Gulf carriers had led to this change.
“Europe has been the oldest and most successful for hub and spoke operations with airports like Heathrow, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris. For passengers travelling from south and north America to Europe, Africa and Middle East and Asia the only way was through Europe, but now that hub and spoke is moving to the Middle East and unfortunately and inadvertently European governments and politicians are helping them move the centre of gravity to the hubs in the Middle East by making it very difficult for airlines to operate in Europe.
“Taxation is one factor, airport congestion is another,” Tewolde said. “As a result airlines are finding it very difficult to fly to Europe. Heathrow is one of the most congested airports. Ethiopian wants to fly to Heathrow twice a day, but we are only able to fly six flights a week. We can’t even get a daily service.
A third runway at Heathrow has been discussed for years yet Dubai was able to build Dubai World Central Airport with six runways in short order.
“Frankfurt Airport has put a policeman in the ATC tower to ensure no flight leaves after 10 or 11 o’clock at night, emission trading is another problem for all of us. Labour unions are very difficult for European carriers and they also have to compete with the Gulf carriers and small African carriers like us also. The tax regime in the Gulf is different – no tax at all – but knowing this again, there is no remedy for small carriers in Africa and also Europe, so inadvertently Europe is helping the Middle East carriers.
Tewolde said that the Gulf countries are treating aviation as a strategic national asset.
“The contribution of aviation to social economic development is recognized and it is the pride of governments, but other governments and even the continent of Africa is not recognizing this unfortunately.
(Walta Information Center)