Ethiopian Airlines is negotiating with the Congolese government and could agree terms for a start-up carrier based in Kinshasa this year, CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said at the weekend in London.
Congo’s population of more than 65-million people, and its natural resources estimated at $17-trillion make it ideal for a central African base, he said. In addition to Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Airlines also has bases in Togo in the west and Malawi in the south as it vies with South African Airways and Kenya Airways to build a pan-African network.
"The Congo is a large country and a large market and while peace has been a problem there seems to be a better situation developing," Mr GebreMariam said.
"We think that it’s going to attract a lot of foreign direct investment, and it’s right in the middle of central Africa."
While he expects competition from African peers, as well as outside operators including Brussels Airlines, which has a subsidiary in the Congo, those carriers don’t have such good connectivity, he said.
Ethiopian Airlines offers 28 flights weekly from China, serving Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, its secondary-hub model providing dozens of links to African cities that carriers from China have no plans to serve directly.
For long-haul flights the bases will also allow for "dual hubbing", with services from Addis Ababa to New York via Togo, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro via Kinshasa and even Australia via Malawi, Mr GebreMariam said.
The Congo hub would also serve the mostly oil-rich nations of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community or Cemac — the neighbouring Republic of Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea, he said.