Breaking down those border barriers – Ethiopian Airlines’ new Asmara link represents a significant story for African connectivity

It can often take years and years of discussions to secure a new international air service, but in a matter of a couple of weeks two East African nations have formally ended 20 years of dispute and established a new daily flight between their capitals, a great example of air connectivity bringing the world closer together.


Summary:

  • Eritrea and Ethiopia are to re-establish diplomatic and trade ties after two decades of hostility;
  • A border dispute which killed tens of thousands of people in the late 1990s and they have been living beside one another in what has been described as a “no war, no peace” situation;
  • Ethiopian Airlines has already announced plans to launch a daily flight linking the two countries capital cities of Addis Ababa and Asmara and could invest in Eritrea national carrier Eritrean Airlines;
  • This new route will bring new connectivity between the Horn of Africa neighbours – the fastest current air link between Asmara and Addis Ababa takes more than 11 hours.

Eritrea and Ethiopia were at war from May-1998 to June-2000 and before that the Eritrean War of Independence had impacted relations between the neighbours. But no peace treaty was actually signed and the countries have had no ties since the conflict. But in the space of the past few weeks Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki travelled to Addis Ababa and just days ago Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed visited Asmara.

“We will demolish the wall and, with love, build a bridge between the two countries,” the latter said on the end of two decades of the border conflict that upended relations between the Horn of Africa neighbours. That bridge will see Ethiopian Airlines launch a new daily Addis Ababa link from 17-Jul-2018 using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and there are already plans to ramp up operations.

“Very quickly, we plan to operate multiple daily service and to start cargo flights in view of the huge market potential between the two sisterly countries,” explained Tewolde Gebremariam, Group CEO at the airline. Its extensive global links can quickly open up Eritrea to full service international connectivity and it is reported to also be considering acquiring a 20% stake in Eritrea national carrier Eritrean Airlines, raising the potential for a codeshare between the two.

Ethiopia and Eritrea’s capitals Asmara and Addis Ababa are actually just 700km apart, but a road journey between them – which involves a trip into Sudan – is twice that distance (1,695km) and around a 15 hour journey. The resumption of flights will clearly enhance connectivity and trade between the nations, but to attend a state visit late last month for peace talks to end Africa’s longest war and to discuss the new flight connectivity Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki and his delegation flew with Emirates Airline.

Now, a routing with Emirates Airline via Dubai would have been a 17 hour 30 minute journey, slower than by car! The quickest indirect link is actually an 11 hour 35 minute offering by flydubai and Ethiopian Airlines, again via Dubai. The new non-stop flight due to start in July 2018 will reduce this to just under 90 minutes!

This highlights the clear benefits of enhanced intra-African air connectivity. It is a firm belief that African airlines can help unlock the continent’s tourism potential by introducing intra-African flights that enhance connectivity between various destinations and encourage domestic and regional international travel.

The challenge for tourism for a long time has been the issue of connectivity and in Africa, more than anywhere else in the world, it is difficult to move easily from one country to another, as this neighbouring country pair highlights.

READ MORE on this subject with this new CAPA – Centre for Aviation insight report:  Ethiopia, Eritrea Peace: Ethiopian Airlines to commence daily service