Ethiopian Air Lines Inc. was setup at the beginning of 1946, as a joint venture with Trans World Airlines, an American airline. The initial fleet consisted of 5 US Government surplus C-47 Skytrain aircraft.
On the 8th of April, 1946, the airline’s first scheduled flight to Cairo took place.
One year later, three additional Skytrains joined the fleet, fitted out in a «luxury» layout for international routes (21 forward facing seats, compared with the first five, ex-military aircraft without any comforts, only featuring folding bench-type canvas seats along the sides).
By the end of 1952, 3 Convair 240 were added to the fleet. They were able to accomodate 36 passengers and had pressurized cabins, as well as fully furnished interiors.
In 1957, flights to Frankfurt were added and the airline’s own maintenance facility was establised at Addis Ababa.
During the same year, the first Ethiopian commercial aircraft commander made his first solo flight as captain.
In 1958, Ethiopian Air Lines added DC-6B Cloudmasters to the fleet, using them on the long-haul routes.
Two years later, the airline prepared to enter the jet age and the construction of a new airport and headquarters at Bole started.
In 1961, Ethiopian Air Lines linked Addis Ababa with Monrovia in Liberia, via Khartoum and Accra, this being the first direct air link between Eastern and Western Africa operated by any airline.
At the end of 1962, the runway and control tower at Bole became operational, the first two Boeing 720Bs arriving on their delivery flights and making Ethiopian the first airline in Africa to order it.
In early 1963, the airline’s first jet service was inaugurated, connecting Bole to Nairobi, quickly followed by the second route using a Boeing 720B, from Bole to Madrid, via Asmara and Athens.
Ethiopian Air Lines changed its name to Ethiopian Airlines in 1965, making the transition from corporation to share company at the same time.
In 1971, Semret Medhane became the airline’s first Ethiopian general manager.
Six years later, a Boeing 720B flight simulator was purchased, allowing the airline to train its pilots without depending on foreign airlines.
In 1979, the oldest Boeing 720s were replaced by two Boeing 727s.
A third Boeing 727 and two de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo aircraft joined the fleet in 1982.
In 1982, Ethiopian Airlines’ first Boeing 767 landed at Bole after a direct delivery flight from New York, setting a new world distance record for a twin-engined commercial jet.
At the end of 1985, the 40 years old DC-3/Skytrains started to be withdrawn from the fleet, nine of them remaining in service until October, 1991. They were replaced by six 18-seater DHC-6 Twin Otters, and two ATR-42 46-seater aircraft, for the busier domestic routes.
The Cargo Management Department was born in 1989.
In 1996, the airline celebrated its 50th anniversary by adding Fokker 50s to the fleet and the pilot training school received a simulator replicating the flight deck of the Boeing 767, also used to train Boeing 757 crews. The network reached as far as Europe, China and Thailand.
Two years later, Ethiopian Airlines introduced a twice-weekly service to Washington, its first destionation in the United States. Shortly after, New York followed.
The ShebaMiles frequent flyer program was launched in February, 1999.
In 2002, the airline entered a period of sustained growth and modernization of its fleet, ordering six B737-700s and six 767-300ERs to replace the existing two B737-200s and two B767-200s.
The following year, Bole International Airport’s 3,800 meter runway and control tower became operational, as well as the new airport terminal, while the older terminal started being renovated to serve mainly the domestic flights.
In 2005, Ethiopian Airlines announced its firm order for ten Boeing 787 Dreamliners, also being Africa’s launch carrier for this aircraft type.
One year later, the airline celebrated 60 years of activity and inaugurated a new maintenance hangar, as well as a cargo terminal.
Ethiopian secured its IATA-IOSA registration certificate in 2007, thanks to its «fundamental commitment to provide safe and reliable air transport services for passengers and cargo».
In 2008, Ethiopian signed a code share agreement with Lufthansa, as well as Brussels Airlines and others.
The following year, Ethiopian ordered no less than 35 aircraft, directly from the manufacturers.
In late September, 2010, Ethiopian Airlines was officially invited to become a the 30th member of Star Alliance.
In December 2012, Ethiopian Airlines added to their staff 20 new pilots and 72 that graduated from their academy. Later that same month, the airline wins the Diamond International Prize dedicated to Excellence, awarded by Ethiopian Wins International Diamond Prize for Excellence
In October 2013, Ethiopian Airlines is designated as the Leader of Customer Service and during September of that same year it is designated as the African Business of the Year.
In August 2015, Ethiopian announced that it retrofitted the Business Class on all its Boeing 777 aircraft with 180° fully-flat beds. Ethiopian invested over USD 4 million in the retrofitting program and equipped more than 50% of its long-haul fleet with fully-flat beds.
In June 2016, Ethiopian took delivery of its first Airbus A350XWB aircraft, becoming the first airline in Africa and the second in the Star Alliance network to operate this type of wide-body aircraft. It was also the first airline worldwide to fly this ultra-modern airplane in the African skies. The new aircraft has a configuration of 30 seats in Cloud Nine Business Class and 313 seats in Economy Class, and all seats are fitted with the latest high-definition touchscreen monitors.
In early 2017, Ethiopian continued its growth: as part of its continuous fleet modernization program, it received its third Airbus A350 XWB 900; as of January, it introduced a Platinum tier level in its ShebaMiles frequent flyer loyalty program; the airline announced a record expansion of its network in the first half of 2017 with 7 new destinations, among which Antananarivo (Madagascar), Oslo (Norway), Jakarta (Indonesia), Singapore (Singapore), and Chengdu (China).
In November 2017, Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline group, was awarded SKYTRAX 4 Star certification.
For the 2017/18 fiscal year, Ethiopian Airlines registered record success: 14 new aircraft joined the fleet, more than one aircraft per month; 8 new international destinations, including Buenos Aires (Argentina), its 6th gateway to the Americas; more than 21% growth in the number of passengers, passing the 10 million mark for the first time in the airline’s history; more than 43% operating revenue growth from previous fiscal year.
In 2019, Ethiopian Airlines was named ‘Best Airline in Africa’ for the third consecutive year at the Skytrax 2019 World Airlines Awards and also won the ‘Best Business Class in Africa’ and ‘Best Economy Class in Africa’ awards.
Currently, Ethiopian is the fastest growing African airline with an average annual growth of 25% in the past seven years. With the youngest fleet on the continent with an average age of less than 7 years, Ethiopian is a Pan-African global carrier currently implementing a 15-year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that will see it become the leading aviation group in Africa.
During its long history, Ethiopian Airlines was involved in over 60 accidents/incidents that led to 322 fatalities (between 1965 and mid-2011), but it has a safety record much better than other African airlines. Last deadly accident took place in late January, 2010, when a Boeing 737-800 carrying 90 people aboard plunged into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after take off in stormy weather and all 82 passengers and 8 crew members died. For the entire list of accidents, please see this page.
The last deadly accident took place on March 10, 2019, when a four-month-old Boeing B737 MAX 8 crashed only six minutes after take-off from Bole International Airport, killing all 157 people aboard. Following the accident, the Boeing B737 MAX aircraft series was grounded worldwide.