Ethiopian Airlines will launch three weekly flights to Los Angeles from Dublin Airport starting June 3, 2015, adding its 2nd US and 10th European destination by creating a 5th-freedom service with traffic rights between both Dublin and Los Angeles as well as Dublin and its primary base at Addis Ababa Bole airport.
Ethiopian will launch its Los Angeles station utilizing a Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner, offering 270 seats each way in a 2-class cabin configuration. Ethiopian presently uses its 787 Dreamliners to access its three existing stations in the Americas, including Washington Dulles, Toronto and Sao Paulo, although its Dulles flight alternates between a 787 and 777 depending on season. The LAX schedule will operate on a year-round basis with the following times:
ET504 ADD2300 – 0530+1DUB0630+1 – 0930+1LAX 788 357
ET505 LAX2330 – 1830+1DUB1930+1 – 0600+2ADD 788 146
Ethiopian uses 5th freedom rights to operate LAX due to altitude at Bole airport
Ethiopian has secured fifth freedom rights to enable the carrier to sell tickets to passengers on both the Dublin – Los Angeles segment as well as the Dublin – Addis Ababa segment. Fifth freedom routes permit global carriers to fly from one foreign country to another on a flight that originates or ends in their native countries. For example, United flies from Hong Kong to Singapore, and can sell tickets to passengers originating and terminating between the two cities. However, this is permitted as long as the flight numbers originate or terminate in United’s native country (the US), which it does, as UA flight 895 commences at Chicago O’Hare, flies to Hong Kong, then continues on to Singapore. The return segment, UA 896, fliew from Singapore to Hong Kong then returns to Chicago.
Once considered a standard practice for international airlines due to aircraft range limitations, 5th freedom services have largely lost its popularity over the years due to advances in technology that enable aircraft to operate nonstop between two points of origin, as well as the increasing costs of fuel and labor. For instance, Air Canada previously operated services from Vancouver to Sydney via Honolulu as a technical stop, but once AC received its long-range 777-200LR series, the airline was able to fly nonstop from Canada to Australia without needing to touch down in Hawaii.
However, in many cases, such operations still exist. Some airlines retain 5th freedom routes if they remain financially lucrative – such as Cathay Pacific’s services from New York JFK to Vancouver. Prior to the advent of longer-range aircraft, Cathay’s New York – Hong Kong services required a stop in Vancouver in each direction. Now, Cathay operates 3 daily nonstop routes from Hong Kong to New York JFK, as well as a daily flight to Newark, but retains a daily late evening flight that still operates via Vancouver, as the market demands it.
Another reason why airlines maintain 5th freedom rights is due to feasibility, as some routes, such as Seoul to Sao Paulo, for instance, are still not commercially viable on a nonstop basis. Some airlines are more impacted by this than others due to environmental conditions, which happens to be the case with Ethiopian given that its hub at Bole Airport stands at an elevation of 7,656 ft. The altitude creates a performance limitation for flights leaving Bole Airport, requiring extra fuel at take-off and a technical stop en-route to long-haul destinations. As such, Ethiopian’s outbound routes to Toronto and Washington Dulles touch down in Rome before continuing onward to North America, and Ethiopian’s Sao Paulo route operates via Lome, Togo in both directions.
The same conditions will apply for its new LAX route, but Ethiopian will also be aided by the absence of a carrier presently flying from Los Angeles to Dublin. Aer Lingus last served the LA – Ireland market before pulling the route in 2008, and growth and recovery in the Irish market since the global financial crisis has merited more nonstop flights between California and Ireland. Aer Lingus has reinstated services between San Francisco and Dublin, thanks to revenue commitments from Apple, Google and Facebook for the resumption of SFO-DUB, given that all three companies have significant operations in Ireland.
Aer Lingus, however, is unlikely to pursue a return to Los Angeles as the market tends to be more leisure-oriented than San Francisco.
Ethiopian’s network is well-rounded and targets African diaspora around the world
Despite the aircraft take-off limitations of its main base at Bole Airport, Ethiopian has recorded 12 consecutive years of profits and has stated ambitious intentions to become the largest carrier in Africa within the next decade, according to CAPA. The carrier joined Star Alliance in 2011 and sees SkyTeam member Kenya Airways as its largest rival, due to their relative proximities in East Africa and similar functions as smaller-scale versions of the Big Three Gulf Coast hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha as cross-roads hubs between major population centers. Africa – China, Africa – Latin America and China – Latin America are notably large and growing markets, and both Ethiopian’s hub at Addis Ababa and Kenya Airways’ hub at Nairobi are well-placed to capture these passenger flows.
Los Angeles is also home to the second-largest catchment of individuals of Ethiopian origin in the United States, after Washington, D.C. Given its participation in Star Alliance, and also connections from points beyond Addis Ababa, Ethiopian will likely stimulate traffic from East African communities in the Bay Area and U.S. West Coast, which should create incentives to formulate codeshare and interline agreements with partner carrier United Airlines, who operates a hub at LAX.
Dublin also offers advantages as an attractive stoppover point due to being one of the few European stations with U.S. Customs and Pre-Border clearance checkpoints, which will process and screen LAX-bound passengers prior to boarding the outbound flight. Without present service to neither LAX nor Addis Ababa, Dublin will indeed benefit from more connectivity to California and East Africa.
Still, LAX is a saturated market and Ethiopian will be up against several incumbents
While strategic for targeting O&D traffic between LAX and Dublin and Addis Ababa, Ethiopian will face tougher prospects against competition at LAX for overlapping traffic. Within the same region, Ethiopian will compete against El Al, Saudia, Turkish, Etihad and Emirates for passengers traveling to the Gulf, North/East Africa and Arabian Penninsula. Competition against the major European carriers will also be a factor.
Still, the robust Ethiopian economy and the growing tourism and trade ties the nation has with the U.S. will boost prospects for this flight, and its likelihood of success. It would be prudent for Ethiopian to use this opportunity to codeshare with United and other Star Alliance carriers serving LAX. Ethiopian just recently entered into a codeshare agreement with United in August 2014, with United placing its code on routes from Addis Ababa to Blantyre, Brazzaville, Dar es Salaam, Djibouti, Kilimanjaro, Lilongwe, Lubumbashi, Mombasa, N’Djamena, Ndola, Pointe Noire and Zanzibar. From Dulles, ET places its code on United-operated flights to Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago O’Hare, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Knoxville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York JFK, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa.
It might also be prudent to explore forging relationships with Aer Lingus to tap into its hub at Dublin airport, which would provide onward connections from DUB to feed into both the LAX flight and the Dublin – Addis Ababa segment. The two carriers could jointly coordinate agreements on Aer Lingus’ existing SFO flight, thereby giving the Irish carrier offline access to Los Angeles via Ethiopian.
With Ethiopian now joining the list of Star Alliance carriers at LAX, the airport joins an elite list of airports served carriers that hail from all six continents, a feat that only New York JFK airport has accomplished until this point. LAX airport previously held this designation when EgyptAir flew to LAX as a tag-on route from New York JFK, but the route was cancelled in 2001 shortly after 9/11. Ethiopian will be the first African carrier to serve LA since EgyptAir left the void.
EDIT: Correction as of 21-October-2014 13:47 EST: ET has revised the start date to begin its LAX services from LAX on 18JUN15 instead of 03JUN15, according to airlineroute.net