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4/08/1946: Ethiopian Airlines Begins Operations

DALLAS — Today, in 1946, Ethiopian Airlines (ET), formerly Ethiopian Air Lines, began operations. ET is the largest carrier in Africa.

It all started on April 8, 1946, when a Douglas DC-3 Skytrain flew from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Cairo (CAI) via Asmara (ASM) under the livery of a new airline, created a few months earlier as a joint venture with TWA-Trans World Airlines (TW): Ethiopian Air Lines (ET) was born.

Five more aircraft of the same type followed, and, in the wake of the successful inaugural flight, regular weekly international services were scheduled with air links to Djibouti (JIB) and Aden (ADE) and a domestic flight to Jimma (JIM). 

The launch was such a success that, towards the end of 1946, four more DC-3s were acquired. Comfort was spartan. The aircraft was military-reformed. The seating consisted of folding canvas benches along the sides, with the cabin's center used for cargo loads.

To better exploit its growing international network, ET increased the number of aircraft in its fleet, but this time, it was fitted with what could be termed "luxury" seating with 21 forward-facing seats. 

These aircraft were the first to wear the ET livery. Toward the end of the 40s, ET network destinations comprised Nairobi (NBO), Port Sudan (PZU), and Bombay, today, Mumbai (BOM). ET also exploited charter services to Jeddah (JED) during the Hadji pilgrimage period to Makkah.

ET Douglas DC-3. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

The Fifties and Sixties

The airline, AKA Ethiopian, started to modernize in 1952 by acquiring three Convair 240s and offering its customers the comfort of a pressurized cabin and, for the times, modern fittings. In the mid-fifties, ET started flying to Frankfurt (FRA) and opened its own maintenance facilities. In 1957, an Ethiopian Captain was in command for the first time, and the replacement of ET American pilots began. A DC6B Cloudmaster was added to the fleet in 1958 to ensure long-haul services.

Ethiopian Airlines prepared itself to enter the jet age while a new airport and headquarters were being built at Bole, which, in 1962, would become Addis Ababa-Bole International Airport. Services to Monrovia (ROB) via Khartoum (KRT) and Accra (ACC) started the first service linking East and West Africa.

The jet age for ET started in 1962 with the arrival of the first Boeing 720, landing at the new ADD airport, a first-time event for Africa. Jet services would start linking ADD to NBO with the latest aircraft, followed by a flight to Madrid (MAD) via ASM and Athens (ATH). In 1965, ET became a share company, and its name was changed to Ethiopian Airlines, a slight change from the previous airline.

The airline received its first jet aircraft on December 3, 1962. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

The Next Three Decades

This decade saw ET's first Ethiopian CEO, Semret Madhan. A Boeing 720 simulator is acquired, and the airline gains independence from pilot training previously done abroad. Two 727s replaced the first Boeing 720.

More aircraft join the fleet; a third Boeing 727 and two De Havilland DHC-5s are added, while the first Boeing 767-200 is delivered via a record-breaking flight for a twin jet from JFK to ADD. At the end of this decade, the now 40-year-old DC3 workhorses were slowly removed from service, but nine remained on active duty until October 1991. They were replaced by the De Havilland DHC-6 and ATR42 to be flown domestically.

During the 1990s, ET celebrated its 50th anniversary, added Fokker 50 to the fleet and a Boeing 767 simulator to its flying academy, and extended its network to Europe, China, and Thailand. A twice-weekly service to the US was added in 1998, with Washington (IAD) being the first destination, quickly followed by JFK. A frequent-flier plan, Sheba Miles, was also launched.

Ethiopian Boeing 767-300. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

Recent History

Ethiopian, while sustaining steady growth, modernized itself in 2002 by acquiring six Boeing 737-700 and six Boeing 767-300 as replacements for older Boeing 767-200 and B727. Just before celebrating its 60th anniversary, ET placed firm orders for ten Boeing 787 Dreamliners and became the first airline to fly the type in Africa.

Continuing its expansion, ET entered into a large order of 35 aircraft directly with manufacturers in 2009 and became a member of Star Alliance the following year. The first Airbus A350-900 arrived in 2017, while ET continues to expand the network to Antananarivo (TNR), Oslo (OSL), Jakarta (CGK), Singapore (SIN), and Chengdu (CTU).

By 2021, ET had a fleet of 127 aircraft, plus four on order, and flew to 123 international destinations, both passengers and cargo, and 22 domestically.

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