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Bangladesh-Bound: Could Dhaka Be Ethiopian Airlines’ 6th South Asian Passenger Destination?

Ethiopian Airlines seems set to announce passenger flights from its Addis Ababa hub to Dhaka. While it already serves the enormous Bangladesh capital on a freight basis, it has never had passenger flights.

It would be the Star Alliance member’s sixth passenger destination in South Asia. It comes after it began Karachi in May 2023 and Chennai in June 2022. Elsewhere, it recently relaunched Banguireintroduced London Gatwick after 17 yearswent back to Bahrain, and returned to Madrid.

What might happen?

According to various reports, Ethiopian will begin five weekly Boeing 787-8 services to Dhaka starting in March 2024. However, the frequency is questionable.

It would mean significant capacity from day one (especially given the small sub-Saharan demand; see later). The nature of its likely schedule would mean that two 787s would be needed for this route at that frequency – poor use of equipment, especially given how the airline seems short of aircraft.

As Dhaka flights would cover 3,553 miles (5,178 km) as the crow flies, it would likely take around seven hours. (Flightradar24 shows it is ~5h 45m to/from Chennai.) To maximize two-way connectivity across Africa and beyond, Dhaka flights would almost certainly leave Addis around midnight and return at 06:00-07:00.

Add in the duration and time zone differences, and the operating aircraft must remain on the ground in Bangladesh for many hours. This scheduling setup is similar to what it has to Europe, Karachi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and more. For example, flights arrive in Karachi at 07:05 and leave the next day at 03:15.

Three weekly is more realistic

Given all this, a three-weekly 787-8 service seems more sensible and logical, with fewer seats and just one frame required. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 could theoretically be used, but it would probably require a payload restriction, reducing commercial performance. Freight would likely be critical on the route (although it would only be revenue stream), which the MAX 8 could not deal with.

Minimal sub-Saharan demand

Examining booking data for the 12 months to October 2023 indicates Dhaka only had around 80,000 roundtrip sub-Saharan passengers, equivalent to ~109 daily each way. (As an entirely unrelated comparison, the US’ largest unserved market, Los Angeles-Ho Chi Minh City, had 314.)

Johannesburg, Nairobi, Cape Town, Lagos, and Addis itself were the largest markets to/from Dhaka. If flights arrive back in Ethiopia between 06:00-07:00 as expected, passengers could also connect to the carrier’s 08:35 service to Washington Dulles via Lomé, 08:45 to Newark via Lomé, and 09:00 to JFK via Abidjan.

Despite the extra time and duration of flying via Addis, passengers would probably be attracted to decent prices. Booking data shows over 11,000 passengers transited between India and North America via Ethiopia in the past year.

Ethiopian would probably also gain a reasonable number of Jeddah passengers, a massive market from Dhaka, with a second flight leaving Addis at 11:00 or so.

Fly elsewhere?

Given that the aircraft would remain in Bangladesh for many hours and the country’s geographic position near Southeast Asia and China, Ethiopian could fly elsewhere during downtime. After all, the airline is used to one-stop services, including within Asia. This would help drive passenger traffic and loads from Addis and the other market.

I recently chatted with Ethiopian’s CCO at the relaunch of the Gatwick service. He mentioned its European network plans and expected fast growth to North America. He also singled out Hanoi, Vietnam, as a key target for passenger flights.

Might the Vietnamese capital be tagged with Dhaka? It would fit easily into the schedule gap and is unlikely to have a non-stop to/from Addis. It is also unserved and had ~17,000 passengers in the past year. Could Ethiopian gain fifth freedom traffic rights? Or, perhaps, it may continue to another Chinese city. We will have to wait and see.

Source : Simple Flying