Nigeria Loses out as Ethiopian Airlines Makes Lomé Hub for W’Africa

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  • FG, Ethiopia in Talks to Secure Landing Rights for ET

Funke Olaode in Houston, Texas

The Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Mr. Tewolde Gabrielmariam has said that talks are ongoing with the Federal Government of Nigeria to secure landing rights for its Lagos-Houston direct flight operations.

Gabrielmariam disclosed this at a business luncheon organised for the airline by the US Bilateral Chamber of Commerce and Houston Airport at Hotel Zaza, Houston, United States.

The airlines made its inaugural flight from Lomé the capital of Togo to Houston last week Monday,
He said previous efforts by the airline to get landing right on its Lagos-Houston direct flight operations from the relevant federal government agencies proved abortive after several failed attempts, forcing it to move its West Africa regional hub to Lome, Togo.

Gabrielmariam said the reason for the direct flight initiative was because of the concentration of Africans in the Diaspora particularly Houston. On the opportunities of flying directly from Nigerian if giving the landing rights, the Group CEO said Houston “is strategic as it has the largest concentration of Nigerians in the United States with a 250,000 population, making it a win-win situation for the airline and Nigerians in the United States through seamless and hassle- free connection.

“The connectivity that we have established is beyond Lome as we have set out to serve our esteemed customers. It is the fastest and shortest in the history of aviation industry.”

On the efforts put in place to serve its Nigerians customers, he said Nigerians would have to fly to Lomé first to join the direct flight to Houston.

He said: ‘We will be using Asky Airline which is another airline where we have 40 per cent interest in to convey passengers from Nigeria to Lome, which is a 30- minute flight. From there, we now pick up other passengers to Houston on a direct flight.

“We are still discussing with the Nigerian Government to ensure that we get the landing rights. But in the meantime, Togo will be our hub for the West African market. So our Nigerian passengers should feel free to connect through Lome to the United States.”

GabrieMariam said the airline had opened up a lot of spaces in the last two years, hoping that the route would be successful due to the efficiency of time management and infrastructure available at the George Bush International Airport, Houston.

According to him, the United States and Europe seem to be lagging behind in investing in Africa, saying the Africa continent has a lot of investment opportunities and potential in the continent.

He pleaded with stakeholders to explore the potential of Africa by visiting the continent and invest in it. Speaking further, he said investing in Africa has been made seamless by the airline through its flexible interconnectivity to Africa and other parts of the world which is flexible and one of the shortest and fastest in the industry.

Earlier, Ethiopian Ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Fitsum Arega, had said that Ethiopia had been expanding its network in trade and investment, adding that one of the major reasons why Ethiopian Airlines had to fly to Houston was the presence of large Africans in the city.

Arega said that with about 110 million population, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa and one of the fastest growing economy in the world.

“With 10 per cent annual GDP growth with significant reduction of poverty, reforms in the country, had eased the cost of doing business and private investment participation is now encouraged in the country.
The newly established U.S. Development Finance Corporation has promised to provide $5 billion to support America and local businesses to invest in Ethiopia.

Also speaking, the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr. Micheal Raynor, said Ethiopian Airlines would promote commerce, trade and investment between the two countries.

Raynor urged business communities in Houston to tap into the new business opportunities opening up across Ethiopia.

He said that the newly inaugurated route would make millions of people connect to Houston and transact business.

Expressing his delight at the new partnership, director of Aviation, Houston Airport System, Mario Daiz thanked the management of the airlines for introducing the airlines to connect Africa to America particularly Houston because ‘You have seen values in us. “This route will not only save time, it will provide job opportunities, then inject multimillion dollars into the Houston economy.”

Speaking to Thisday after the meeting, a Nigerian who has been in the US for 37 years expressed her disappointment at the Nigerian Government, saying the denial of the airline landing rights in Lagos was a huge loss of revenue to the government.

The woman who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: “Here in Houston alone, over 200,000 Nigerians reside here. And this new partnership alone will inject over 100M dollars annually into the local economy here. You can imagine if the landing rights is secured it will boost the aviation industry too in Nigeria.”

She worried that Nigeria which prides itself as the giant of Africa could not boost of a national carrier even after spending millions of dollars on the failed Air Nigeria project.

Nigerian participants at the meeting called on the relevant government authorities to hasten arrangements with the airline by giving it necessary approval needed to fly directly from Lagos to Houston.