Ethiopian Airlines, the East African nation’s flag carrier and one of the largest airlines in the continent, has been growing fast: securing new deals and jet orders over the last few months. And it shows no signs of stopping. Along with plans to expand to new destinations and establish multiple international offshoots, the airline just announced plans to buy new regional jets in preparation of the re-launch of Zambia Airways. The contenders? C Series or E195 jets. As to Boeing 737 MAX 7s, they are now out of the running for the contract, the airline’s CEO says.

According to Ethiopian Airlines chief, Tewolde GebreMariam, the choice for the new jet order that is planned to be placed over the next month, has been narrowed to Bombardier C Series and Embraer E2-family E195 aircraft. Meanwhile, the Boeing 737 Max 7 is no longer running for the contract, which could feature 10 firm orders with 10 options, Zambian news outlet Lusaka Times reported on May 16, 2018.

The latest news comes after Ethiopian signed a firm $332 million-worth order on April 27, 2018, to buy 10 Bombardier Q400 turboprops, with purchase rights for five additional Q400 jets. The carrier's current passenger fleet consists of 96 aircraft. It operates A350-900s, Boeing 787s, 777s, 767s, 737s, and Q400s, according to the airline’s fact sheet. As of March 2018, it had 62 jets on order, including 30 Boeing 737 MAX 8s.

Perhaps it is no surprise then, that according to GebreMariam, there are no more pressing fleet requirements for the airline at the moment. However, the carrier could decide to order additional 787 Dreamliners as well as A350s later on this year, Lusaka Times informs.

And here‘s some food for thought – in 2012, the flag carrier received Africa's first 787 Dreamliner, making Ethiopia the only country aside from Japan to operate the aircraft. "As a continent this shows how much we are making progress as Africans... competing on the global stage and changing our image," GebreMariam was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

A new major player in Africa?

Ethiopian – a wholly-government owned airline – plans to establish several international offshoots before the end of 2018. With its newly revised expansion strategy, introduced back in 2010, the carrier is hoping to dominate markets across the African continent, one-upping its rivals Kenya Airways and South African Airways.

And here’s how: Ethiopian will take equity stakes in new operators in Zambia, Chad, Mozambique and Guinea, all-African countries. At the same time, it will help manage existing carriers in other African nations – Equatorial Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Bloomberg reports.

Let’s break down the developments. In July 2013, Ethiopian Airlines acquired a 49% stake in Malawi Airlines. Five years later, in January 2018, Ethiopian finalized an agreement to take a 45% stake in the soon to be re-launched Zambia Airways. The Zambian government will remain the majority shareholder with 55% stakes in its national airline that had ceased operations back in 1995. According to Lusaka Times, GebreMariam says Zambia Airways will initially serve national and regional destinations before embarking on international flights. The first flights are likely to start in October 2018.

In February 2018, Ethiopian Airlines also signed a memorandum of understanding with Chad to help establish the country’s new national carrier, five years after the last one – Toumaï Air Tchad – ceased to exist. Ethiopian‘s chief clarified that his airline signed an outline accord to establish Chad Airlines with a 49% stake. The company will also entirely own the planned Ethiopia Mozambique Airlines as well as have a 49% stake of Guinea Airlines.

The company's expansion strategy is aimed at gaining a “competitive advantage” not only against African rivals, but also such as those in the Gulf, Ethiopian’s chief told Reuters. 80% of Africa‘s aviation market is currently served by non-African carriers, according to Ethiopia’s Civil Aviation Administration.

As for carrier’s plans to expand to new destinations, one of the latest developments was Ethiopian’s announcement on May 14, 2018, that it is adding flights between the country‘s capital, Addis Ababa, and Manchester (UK). The airline states it will offer a four-times-a-week service on B787s and A350s starting December 1, 2018, initially via Brussels (Belgium).

According to the carrier, the new route will unlock connections to more than 58 countries across the African continent. Ethiopian already is the leading African carrier with the widest network in the continent. It is currently flying to 112 international destinations, 58 destinations in Africa and to more than 20 domestic destinations.

“We have expanded more than we planned,” commented GebreMariam. “We had to revise the objective to make it 150 airplanes or more by 2025,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters. Well, the 112 international destinations is actually short of their 2025 target by eight destinations. But for the moment, it is safe to say that Ethiopian will continue growing and… expanding.