Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Airline Stars in Sandals and Sashes

Don’t say that airline executives are stuffed shirts because today two dozen of them including United's Jeff Smisek, Air Canada's Calin Rovinsecu and  Lufthansa's  Christoph Franz gathered to welcome the newest member of the Star Alliance wearing flowing tunics, brightly colored sashes and sandals – no socks. 

When Ethiopian Airlines boss Tewolde Gebremariam and Jaan Albrecht of Star Alliance signed the documents, Ethiopan became the 28th member of the airline network and Ethiopian threw among other things, its 40 African and 15 Middle East and Asia destinations into the pot.

“We were very keen to get Ethiopian,” Albrecht told me after the papers were signed, the photos taken and the cake and champagne served. With South African Airways handling the southern region of the continent and EgyptAir the north, Ethiopa fills a need in the center of Africa.

There’s more to this than just expanding Star’s already well-filled out global web of air routes. The newest member brings the number of Star Alliance destinations to nearly thirteen hundred and the number of countries served to 189. “We consciously decided we needed global reach. The more countries, the more destinations, the more appealing our product to customers in any part of the world,” Albrecht said.

Tewold Gebremariam and Boeing's Van Rex Gallard
From Gebremariam’s perspective, joining the alliance is another step towards the airline's meeting its 2020 plan in which the 45-year old company becomes the leading airline in Africa for passenger, cargo, training and maintenance and overhaul. This is more than just business, to hear Gebremariam tell the story, considering the relationship between aviation and economic development.

When executives tout a business and marketing arrangement as revolutionary social change, they need to bring more than cake to the party. Enter stage left, the airplane Boeing's Katherine Overby calls the "game changer." 

 Capt. Desta Zeru flew the 787 into Addis Ababa
Yep, in anticipation of the 2-day Ethiopian Airlines/Star Alliance extragavanza, the Dreamliner touched down for the first time on the African continent in Addis Ababa on Sunday. Also for the first time, an African pilot, Capt. Desta Zeru was at the controls.  

Today the star alliance executives and some lucky Ethiopian employees went for a fly around. The visit is part of Boeing's six month world tour for the Dreamliner but it's also their way of saying "Thanks" to Ethiopian for its purchase of ten 787s. The first to arrive should start service here sometime in 2012.  

New airplanes, new alliances, new travel and migration patterns giving rise to hopes for a new Africa, why, it’s enough to convince the airline bosses to lighten up and go native.

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