Tewolde Gebremariam, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, has warned that African Airline could be ‘swallowed and eaten for lunch’ by Gulf carriers unless they make a concerted effort to redouble their efforts in the market and aggressively push to increase their market share.

“We have tremendous competition coming from the Gulf carriers,” Gebremariam told the Aviation Club in London. “Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are only three and half hours away. Africa is now at the centre of their strategy, and they have been doing very well.”

He said that Europe’s failure to respond to the threat by the Gulf carriers had led to this change, noting: “Europe, with airports like Heathrow, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris, has been the oldest and most successful in hub and spoke operations, and as the only way for passengers travelling from south and north America to Europe, Africa and Middle East.”

“But now that hub and spoke is moving to the Middle East and European governments and politicians are making it very difficult for airlines to operate in Europe, and inadvertently helping to move the centre of gravity to the hubs in the Middle East.”

Gebremariam highlighted taxation and airport congestion as the two main factors in the equation, and Heathrow in particular as “one of the most congested airports”, noting that Ethiopian wants to fly to Heathrow twice a day, but is only able to fly six flights a week.

In contrast, the Ethiopian Airlines CEO emphasised how in addition to the policy of no taxation, the Gulf countries are treating aviation as a strategic national asset.

“The contribution of aviation to social economic development is not being recognised. We are growing very fast but we have a serious challenge when considering that 80% of traffic between Africa and the rest of the world is controlled by non-African carriers,” he said.

“All of us put together – Kenya Airways, Ethiopian, South African, Egyptair, Air Morocco, TAG Angola, CAM Air, Rwandair, Arik Air and so on – have only 20% of the market, and it will be a big, big challenge if we don’t do something to at least maintain 50% of the market.”