Ethiopian Airlines’ expansion continues this year, with new services to Tokyo next month and to Dublin and on to Los Angeles from June.

Both of these flights, along with the daily London Heathrow to Addis Ababa route are predominantly flown by the carrier’s B787 Dreamliner fleet.

In a few months, it will have 13 of the Boeing aircraft, which it operates in a two-class configuration of economy and Cloud Nine business class. To view photos, click here.

Ethiopian currently serves 83 destinations worldwide. It is focusing on encouraging flights from Europe into its hub at Addis Ababa Bole International airport and then onwards through its network to major African cities such as Entebbe, Nairobi and Lilongwe.

There’s an appetite for this because for business travellers wanting to get around Africa, the choices are few.

As pointed out in an article on African aviation published in our sister magazine Buying Business Travel: “Intra-African air travel presents other challenges, not least because many smaller African airlines do not meet IATA safety standards and are consequently blacklisted by corporates concerned for their travellers’ well-being. The flight from Luanda to the Congolese port city of Pointe-Noire should take one hour, but it is deemed to be safer to take the 3.5-hour flight south to Johannesburg, overnight there, and then fly 4.5 hours north.”

Ethiopian has aligned its flight schedules to maximise the attraction of Addis Ababa airport for connections.

In general, for the flights to Europe the airline tries to leave Africa in the evening and arrive the next morning to allow business people to sleep on the aircraft and wake up in time for a day’s work.

That said, it’s not possible with Heathrow, and there’s little doubt that the airline is frustrated with the slots it has at the London airport.

While waiting at Heathrow Terminal 2, CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told Business Traveller: “Four of the days are fairly good, but three are not what we require.”

The airline has money to spend, as shown by all the new routes, but perhaps not enough to buy another pair of slots.

Fellow Star Alliance member SAS was reported to have sold a pair of slots recently for $60 million. But if Ethiopian had wanted them, there would have been little or no discount on the price just by virtue of being a fellow Star Alliance member.

At present, Ethiopian’s Heathrow flight is only 15 per cent business, with a massive 85 per cent being leisure. Clearly, a focus for the airline is increasing the number of corporate travellers.

To that end, it has revamped its loyalty programmes with a new “Corporate Bonus Program”, allowing individuals to earn in its ShebaMiles frequent flyer programme while the company earns additional miles in its Corporate Bonus Account (calculated in relation to the frequency of the firm’s travel with the airline).

In addition, a new “Corporate Incentive Programme” offers incentives in the form of upfront discounts or complimentary tickets.

In the case of the new Addis Ababa–Dublin-Los Angeles service, the flight times are more of an issue (see news, October 14).

The schedule is currently three-times weekly with flight ET504 leaving Addis Ababa in the evening at 2240 and arriving in Dublin early morning at 0500, but then continuing quickly on to Los Angeles.

Ethiopian is not taking advantage of the fact that US customs pre-clearance could take place at Dublin — the airport has 29 US immigration officers, and all of its other US-bound flights do take advantage of this — perhaps worried of the potential for lengthy delays at the airport.

From one point of view, that’s an advantage for a cost-conscious Dublin traveller who wants to get to Los Angeles early enough, at 0915, to make a day of it. But it means, there’s no chance of connecting traffic coming in to Dublin for that early morning flight.

Yet, Ethiopian has chosen these times because it believes that its local Ethiopian passengers would not tolerate waiting around for several hours at Dublin, according to Michael Yohannes, the airline’s senior sales executive.

In addition, although the flight lands in Los Angeles at 0915, the B787 then sits at LAX until 2345 before flying back as flight ET505 – an uneconomic proposition for an airline since aircraft only make money when they are full of passengers and flying (and sometimes not even then).

Again, the reason for this is after flying to Dublin and arriving in the evening at 1830, it can depart at 1945 to land in Addis Ababa the next morning at 0615 allowing for good connectivity throughout Africa.

Ethiopian has also established secondary hubs elsewhere in Africa — in Lome, Togo and Lilongwe — to allow for further connectivity. This increase in possibilities of hubs in Africa will be welcomed by travellers.

For a review of flying on the B787 on the London Heathrow route, click here.

To read more on Africa, click here to read a Destination Report at Buying Business Travel.