Deutsche Lufthansa AG was founded in 1926 and is one of the world’s largest and oldest airlines. Based in Germany, its hubs are at Düsseldorf International; Frankfurt and Munich Airports. Currently it services over 180 destinations.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG is also the parent company for several other airlines and additional aviation-related branches, among the most well-known are Swiss International Air Lines. With over 620 aircraft, it has one of the largest passenger airline fleets in the world when combined with its subsidiaries. In 2012, the entire Lufthansa Group carried over 103 million passengers. Lufthansa is also a founding member of Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance, formed in 1997.
The first Lufthansa flight landed in Addis Ababa on May 19, 1969. It was a Boeing 707 which flew from Frankfurt with stops in Athens (Greece) and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). Currently, Lufthansa operates daily flights between Addis Ababa and Frankfurt and connects Ethiopia to Europe, Asia and North America via its hub in Frankfurt.
Lufthansa is one of the largest retrofit programs in the industry more than 7,000 business class seats are being installed on over 100 long – haul aircraft and this will increase the new business availability to one hundred percent by summer 2015.
Tobias Ernst Lufthansa’s General Manager for Ethiopia and East Africa sat down with Capital’s Groum Abate to talk about the airline business in Africa and its future. Excerpts;
Capital: When did you start flying to Ethiopia?
Tobias Ernst: Actually as we speak today, (it was May 19 when the interview was conducted) the 19th of May 1969 was the first flight from Frankfurt to Addis, so exactly 45 years ago we started our flight to Addis Ababa.
Capital: Have you increased the frequency of your flights?
Tobias Ernst: Yes, we currently fly daily, direct flights from Frankfurt to Addis.
Capital: How do you compare the business from back then and now?
Tobias Ernst: Well, 45 years ago, Africa was a different world. Today Africa is very vibrant, fast moving, developing and much more competitive and much more challenging. Time goes quickly and 1969 verses 2014, I think you can’t really compare it. A lot of things have happened; today the world has become very dynamic.
Capital: Do you have any other place you fly to frequently in Africa besides Addis Ababa?
Tobias Ernst: Yes, we fly to Accra, we fly to three destinations in Nigeria, and we fly to Luanda and South Africa as well. Our group partners which belong to the Lufthansa Group, the SN Brussels fly to many African destinations, a lot of francophone destinations. In my region for example it is Burundi, Kigali, Kampala and also Nairobi. Swiss which also belongs to our Lufthansa Group, flies to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam daily. The whole Lufthansa Group is very well situated on the African continent
Capital: How many companies do you have in the group?
Tobias Ernst: Lufthansa Group Corp Business, and it’s passenger airlines; Swiss, Austrian and SN Brussels. These four companies form the group.
Capital: Do you have plans to merge with airlines in African Countries?
Tobias Ernst: Not at the moment. We have of course been in a very close relationship for several years with Ethiopian Airlines. They became Star Alliance members in 2011 with us mentoring them closely and we started code sharing with them in 2009 on the route to Frankfurt so we have a very close relationship with Ethiopian Airlines.
Capital: Other airlines such as KLM have merged with airlines in Africa to boost their destination reach. How do you look at that competition?
Tobias Ernst: Well, the KLM and Kenya airways alliance or joint venture as you said is about 10 years old so they are much further ahead. We try to follow a kind of partnership with Ethiopian and Lufthansa in Addis. In Nairobi we have the KLM, Kenya cooperation and here in Addis you have the Ethiopian and Lufthansa. So, we are competing on similar levels but Kenya is of course much bigger than Ethiopia, so there is a different volume there.
Capital: How do you see the competition with Middle Eastern airlines such as Qatar and Emirates airlines?
Tobias Ernst: They are very strong, strong competition, they have shot up over the recent years. Lufthansa existed since 1955, and many of the Gulf carriers have only existed for a few years. So they still have a lot of developing processes and still a lot of consolidation to go through, but at the moment of course they are a strong competition, never to be ignored but also not to be scared about.
We are not afraid of competition; we have been in the market for 45 years, so they look up to us as well. It is a mutual respect amongst all of us. They are industry colleagues, they can position themselves in any market the way they please and we have to see how we can live and adapt to that.
We of course keep a close eye on each other; competition is good for the business.
Capital: Do you have plans to invest on some sort of aviation facility in Ethiopia or in Africa?
Tobias Ernst: We have a lot of cooperation’s and consulting projects in Africa, we have a subsidiary in our company called Lufthansa Consulting and they are very active in Africa because there is a lot of need for consulting activities in the aviation industry on the continent.
We also have experts from Lufthansa Germany here in Addis supporting and consulting Ethiopian Airlines in the technical field, catering and IT departments. So there is a lot of cooperation on this level.
Capital: How do you see the future of the airline industry in Africa?
Tobias Ernst: Well, like I said, they need a lot of support to come up to the next level. We have the best example with Ethiopian Airlines; they are in my opinion the number one in Africa, they have the biggest network, every month they get new planes, they are investing in ground service infrastructure, they are increasing their network every year. Not every country can have its own airline; this is definitely not going to happen, but there are definitely going to be two or three strong African airlines in the future, one of which will undoubtedly be Ethiopian Airlines. This is because they are already number one in Africa in my opinion.
Capital: So airlines in Africa will be stable and growing in the future?
Tobias Ernst: I am pretty sure, because Africa itself is growing strongly and if you have a strong developing region or continent, logistics, infrastructure, aviation all belongs to this growth and development. Ethiopian Airlines will definitely play a big role in African aviation in the coming years.
Capital: Lufthansa employees in Europe were on a strike recently, does that affect the whole business of your group?
Tobias Ernst: Because Europe is a very competitive market; all industrial segments are under a lot of pressure and as a result quite a few industries have experienced labor disputes. The German law and the European law in other countries such as France or England, allows a strike incase there is a labor dispute and this is why you have seen strikes throughout Europe in various sectors in recent years.
Yes, we had a labor dispute at the beginning of April in Germany in our company, and this caused distractions for a few days. At the moment, both sides are continuing the negotiation and hopefully they will reach an agreement.
Capital: Do you think you will add more flights to Ethiopia?
Tobias Ernst: In order for us to do that, we have to see more growth and development in Ethiopia which we are confident will come in the next coming years.
I want to generally thank many people in Ethiopia; on behalf of Lufthansa Germany, I would like to thank the Ethiopian government, Ethiopian Civil Aviation, the entire management of Ethiopian Airlines for their support over the last 45 years for enabling us to be here and to be a guest in this country, a big thank you goes to the government on this behalf as well.
Of course we would like to thank all Ethiopian customers, all Ethiopian travel agents, all the expat customers who work here for the embassies, the UN, the AU, European companies…etc
With out the support of all of them, we would have not been here for 45 years. So a big thank you to everybody.