Ethiopian adds Gatwick flights with UK freighters on the horizon

7 March 2024

Ethiopian adds Gatwick flights with UK freighters on the horizon

Ethiopian Airlines will add a third UK airport to its network next month and its cargo division is looking forward to the possibility of freighter flights to the country in the future.

Speaking to Air Cargo News, Ethiopian Airlines area manager for the UK and Ireland Henock Woubishet said that on November 21 the carrier will add three flights a week to Gatwick from its home hub, Addis Ababa.

The Airbus A350-900 flights will arrive in the UK early on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday morning and depart later that morning back to Ethiopia.

Gatwick will join Heathrow (seven per week) and Manchester (five per week) to become the carrier’s third destination in the UK.

Woubishet said that each flight will offer around 12 tonnes of capacity on Airbus aircraft that are only a few months old.

“It is kind of a different rotation to what we have at Heathrow as it will be a quick turn,” he said.

“The flight [departure time] from Addis will be similar to that of Heathrow but the return flight will feed into the evening bank in Addis.”

Joining the conversation was Ian Hutchinson chief commercial officer of the airline’s GSA in the UK, HAE.

Hutchison said that an early morning arrival in the UK means that cargo can connect with another flight on the same day.

“Some flights, we will be able to make connections with, and some of them will depart too early, but it does give us an opportunity to put a different product on the table with a same-day connection out of the UK,” Hutchison explained.

Through pallets would be particularly suitable for a same-day connection, he explained.

On the types of cargo that will be exported from the UK, Hutchison said the mix is changing, fuelled in part by Ethiopian’s recent investments at its home hub.

The carrier and its ground handling operation in December 2021 received IATA CEIV Pharma certification and are currently working towards the live animal equivalent.

The airline has also recently opened a new $50m e-commerce and courier facility at Addis Ababa.

“The current mix out of the UK is dominated by general cargo and mail but pharma, high value and courier are really starting to develop significantly for us,” Hutchison said.

“The mix is changing steadily and comes from the way the new aircraft is able to control temperatures as well as Ethiopian’s investment in the hub.

“The aircraft, the density and coverage that Ethiopian has across Africa and the investment in pharma and courier really make it a substantial offering to the UK market.”

Woubishet added: “Incoming cargo is perishables, vegetables and fresh produce from Africa and also general cargo.”

Hutchison added that the addition of Gatwick as a new departure point was also a positive development.

“The Gatwick flight offers us real opportunities to move away from the congested Heathrow,” he said.

“Henock has been working very hard to put the Heathrow to Gatwick road feeder connection in so we are able to maximise the London capacity as a whole – so we may find we can take more pharma out of Heathrow by moving some general cargo to Gatwick, for example, as a way of combining and managing the capacity as one.”

Freighter potential

Looking ahead, Woubishet said he expected cargo demand to and from the UK to continue to grow and there is the potential to add freighter flights to the country.

In September last year, Ethiopian Airlines signed up to lease three Boeing 767-300ER converted freighters from Titan Aviation.

And in 2021, Ethiopian partnered with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to launch a B767-300ER freighter conversion line at Ethiopian MRO facilities in Addis Ababa.

Last year, Ethiopian also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Boeing to purchase five 777-8Fs, and ordered five Boeing 777Fs.

In total, it currently operates an all-cargo fleet of nine 777Fs, two 767-300Fs (with a third earmarked for conversion) and four 737-800Fs.

Woubishet said that a couple of 767 freighter flights to the UK had already taken place.

“The potential is big, and we will be making use of our enormous investment that we have made in the hub to utilise the capacity and grow and serve the import market,” he said.

“The UK is a big market; we need to grow and utilise all the potential we have. We have belly capacity available that we can utilise and we also plan to have freighters from the UK but that is to be worked out going forward.

“We are confident that there is enough market for that so we will work on that and will of course communicate whenever we are ready to reveal that.”

He pointed out that as well as the current belly capacity, Ethiopian also has freighters operating out of Liege and trucking connections to and from the UK and the Belgian hub.

On the current UK market, Hutchison said that there has been some positivity lately following months of weakness.

“It’s not been leaps and bounds but steps in the right direction and we hope we will have a more traditional peak and that is where the Gatwick flights are coming at a great time for us,” he said.

By Damian Brett
Source: Air Cargo News