On a sparkling summer day in 2012, Ethiopian Airlines took delivery of its first 787 Dreamliner from Boeing. In the months leading up to the handover, the largest carrier in Africa had earmarked its new long-range airliner for the route between Ethiopia and Guangzhou. At the last minute, Ethiopian changed its mind. Washington-Dulles, home to the large Ethiopian diaspora community, would get the first long distance hop for Ethiopian’s 787 fleet, not China. The late reversal, explained Ethiopian’s chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam, was because “the China route is very dense.” GebreMariam told the Wall Street Journal the airline’s larger 777-200LR, with its higher cargo and passenger capacity, kept it the priority on the route to China.
The next decade is slated to make the airlink between Africa-China the fastest growing on the planet, according to one key forecast. The expansion is happening on a comparatively small base, but the rapid annual growth underscores the increasing political and economic closeness between African nations and China, according to a recent report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. In Ethiopia, China’s Exim bank has funded the three-phase expansion of the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. It’s just one of dozens of aviation projects China is supporting across Africa that The Air Current is tracking. “I think Chinese investment in the continent is helping quite tremendously,” GebreMariam said at the 2012 delivery in Everett, Wash.
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