Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest aviation group, has signed an initial agreement with Boeing to order five of its newest freighter jets, the 777-8s, to expand its cargo operations.
The deal to order the freighter version of the 777X will enable Ethiopian Airlines to meet expanding global cargo demand from its hub in Addis Ababa and position the carrier for long-term sustainable growth, the Chicago-based plane maker said in a statement on March 4.
"We are planning to expand our cargo and logistics business to be one of the largest global multimodal logistics providers in all continents," said Tewolde Gebremariam, chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines group.
"To this effect, we are increasing our dedicated freighter fleet with the latest technology, fuel-efficient and environment-friendly airplanes of the 21st century.
"The new 777-8 freighters will be instrumental in this long journey of growth agenda."
Ethiopian Airlines is the second carrier to announce a commitment for Boeing's 777X freighter, after Qatar Airways signed an order for 50 of the newest air-cargo haulers in a ceremony at the White House on January 31. The Doha-based airline placed a firm order for 34 new 777X freighters with an option for 16 more in a deal worth more than $20 billion at current list prices.
Boeing's first 777-8 freighter is expected to make its debut in 2027, two years after an A350 freighter planned by European rival Airbus, as the two aerospace titans compete for dominance over the new-generation cargo jet market.
Air freight demand is booming with a surge in e-commerce sales during the Covid-19 pandemic and disruptions with maritime shipping.
The commitment from Ethiopian Airlines, which is also an Airbus A350 operator, is a big win for Boeing. The pact is the first one from the carrier after the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash in March 2019 involving the 737 Max narrow-body model.
Ethiopian Airlines' air cargo services cover more than 120 international destinations with both belly-hold capacity and dedicated freighter services.
"Ethiopian Airlines has been at the forefront of Africa's cargo market for decades, growing its fleet of Boeing freighters and connecting the continent to the flow of global commerce," said Ihssane Mounir, senior vice president of Commercial Sales and Marketing at Boeing.
"The intent to purchase the new 777-8 freighter further underscores the value of our latest airplane and ensures Ethiopian will remain a key player in global cargo, providing it with increased capacity, flexibility and efficiency for the future."
Ethiopian Airlines currently operates nine 777 freighters, connecting Africa with more than 40 cargo centres throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. The carrier's fleet also includes three 737-800 Boeing converted freighters and a combined commercial fleet of more than 80 Boeing jets including 737s, 767s, 787s and 777s.