ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian Airlines next week takes delivery of Africa's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the airline's chief executive says the plane will first be used on routes around the continent.
The airline takes delivery of the Dreamliner on Tuesday in Seattle, Washington. The plane's maiden flight the following weekend is to carry 250 select customers and VIPs, who will fly around Mount Kilimanjaro on the Tanzania-Kenya border.
"We are really excited to become the first carrier in Africa, Europe, Americas and Middle East to operate this modern aircraft," Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.
The 787, which so far is operated only by two Japanese airlines, is Boeing's most advanced plane. It is made out of lighter, composite material – 50 percent of the plane is carbon fiber – that allows airlines to save on fuel costs.
Large windows provide a stronger connection to the outside world, on-board humidity is increased and the cabin pressure is closer to what it feels like on the ground. LED lights that slowly change color is another feature designed to fight flight fatigue.
Ethiopian Air will put the 787 on its African routes first – to Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – before it flies to other international destinations, such as Washington, D.C., Tewolde said.
"This is a game-changer aircraft. It will completely change how people travel across the globe. Not only will we enjoy a 20 percent reduction in fuel cost but it is environmentally friendly with less carbon emission than any other similarly sized aircraft," Tewolde said.
Ethiopian Airlines ordered 10 787s. Tewolde said five will enter service before the end of the year and will be deployed to long-haul routes. The carrier's other five Dreamliners are expected in early 2014.
The airline's first Dreamliner has 270 seats configured in two classes. It will touch down at Bole Addis Ababa International Airport Aug. 17.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says airline profit margins and cash flows are being squeezed by rising fuel prices, a trend that has heavily affected fragile African carriers. Ethiopian Airlines says it is has been successfully mitigating price hikes with cost saving schemes.
The airline is implementing a 15-year plan to evolve into a diversified aviation group with multiple hubs and business units with a target of $10 billion in revenue by 2015. The carrier currently flies to 69 international destinations with an all-Boeing fleet.