MUMBAI: Africa's largest carrier Ethiopian Airlines, which already has a codeshare pact with Tata Group-owned Air India, is looking to have "commercial" tie-ups with domestic budget carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet, a senior company official said.
The airline also said it is also evaluating the prospects of setting up an aircraft (maintenance, repair and overhaul) facility in India. It currently operates its non-stop flight services to Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The airline also has freighter services to Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.
Notably, the airline recently completed 50 years of its operations in Mumbai. "India is one of our strategic markets in Asia and we have been providing critical air connectivity between India and Africa for decades.
It is one of the critical destinations for the passenger and cargo services for Ethiopian Airlines," Ethiopian Airlines' Regional director for India Subcontinent Tigist Eshetu told PTI in an interaction.
Ethiopian Airlines started flying to Delhi from capital city Addis Ababa from 1966 and later started services to Mumbai as well from December 1971. It added Bengaluru to its network from late 2019.
Ethiopian Airlines has been constantly expanding its operations in India with additional frequency, new cities and aircraft upgrades. This trend will continue in the forthcoming years too, she said.
Stating that the airline is set to commence services from Chennai from July 2 with three weekly flights, which will be served with either a Boeing 737 Max or Boeing 787 Dreamliner depending upon the market demand, Eshetu said other destinations such as Ahmedabad and Hyderabad are also on the radar going forward.
Besides, "we have a code share agreement with Air India and SPA (Special Prorate Agreement) with Vistara. We are assessing and in communication with Spicejet and IndiGo for commercial tie-ups," she said, without divulging details.
SPA is a pact between two or more airlines on the apportionment of through-fares on journeys with two or more legs operated by different airlines. Emphasising that India has always been its strategic market since 1966, she said, "It is our desire to continue to serve India with enhanced capacities.
" However, COVID-induced restrictions have hampered the moderate amount of frequency the airline used to operate, she said, adding, "We are now operating much lower but are optimistic that services will restore to pre COVID levels (soon). "
Global air traffic is recovering, and the improvement is expected to accelerate in 2022-23. Ethiopian Airlines has a recovery rate of around 70 per cent from the pre-COVID levels, and it expects this to improve in the coming year, Eshetu said.
"India is one of the top markets where we expect a high recovery rate now that we have reinstated our passenger capacity," she added.
A major chunk (39 per cent) of the passenger traffic on the airlines' Mumbai route comes from the labour travel followed by business and corporate travel, which accounts for 30 per cent. As much as 55 per cent of the passenger traffic on Delhi route comes from business, leisure and VFR (visiting friends and relatives) segment.
Also as much as 90 per cent of the passengers traveling from India are transit passengers going further to airlines' online African points, majorly to Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Botswana, amongst others, she said.
"We have been navigating through the COVID-19 turbulence by capitalizing on our agility and diversified business model. Our cargo business has been instrumental in generating a revenue stream when passenger numbers dwindled following the COVID outbreak," she said.
She said that the airline had the agility to reconfigure a number of its passenger aircraft for cargo service owing to itsO capability.
"Evaluation is currently in process at our head office for a possibleO set-up/tie-up with Indian authorities," she said.
Noting that Ethiopian Airlines is on a massive expansion plan, in spite of the pandemic impact, she said, "there is interest from the Ethiopian side for enhancement in frequency and entry points. We believe the Indian side will also be on the same page as the boost in demand is from both sides."