Air Congo – the new joint venture between Ethiopian Airlines and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – is to debut in early December with a fleet of 10 aircraft comprising a mixed fleet of turboprops, narrowbodies, and wide-bodies, says Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer, Tewolde GebreMariam.

“We just signed [an agreement] with the government of DRC, which owns 51% of the airline and 49% is with us. The fleet will comprise DHC-8-Q400s, Boeing B737s, and two B787s,” he said in an interview with journalist Kurt Hofmann published by Sam Chui Aviation & Travel.

Ethiopian would provide all the necessary equipment, management, and operational support to get the new airline off the ground, he said, including aircraft, pilots, technicians, and leadership.

“We have the AOC, the aircraft," Tewolde added without specifying whether the AOC is a greenfield document or an existing one with an existing airline.

While the DRC – the third-largest population in Africa with 100 million inhabitants – presented a significant market opportunity for Ethiopian, the real driver for the venture was not the return on investment. “It is to support our hub Addis Ababa,” he disclosed. “We want to expand inter-African routes further because the connectivity [within the continent] is still not well. Ethiopian Airlines is like the Lufthansa Group of Africa,” he said.

Ethiopian is involved in similar joint ventures across the continent, notably the resurrection of Zambia Airways, which he revealed, would also debut on December 1, 2021. However, as reported, Zambia’s new government has stated that the launch of Zambian Airways is on ice while it is reviewing the joint venture agreement with Ethiopian and the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) concluded under the previous administration of Edgar Lungu.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Kinshasa on October 26, the new management of the DRC’s existing flag carrier, Congo Airways (8Z, Kinshasa N'Djili), gave a report-back of its first 100 days in office, reported Zoom Eco.

The new steering committee of Congo Airways was appointed in July by ministerial decree after previous executives were sidelined following a damning auditor general (Inspection Générale des Finances - IGF) report which disclosed embezzlement, financial irregularities, and mismanagement totalling more than USD24.7 million at the state-owned airline.

“Hundred days is a lot, but it is not much at the same time. There is a lot of progress, but the evil was very deep," General Manager Pascal Kasongo Mwema told the news briefing. He said the focus during the past period had been to reduce all prohibitive costs. “We are trying to turn off the taps to establish balance,” he said.

Constraints identified that have undermined the state-owned carrier's operations include:

  • a lack of commercial business practices;
  • higher costs than production;
  • Covid-19 constraints; and
  • flight delays.