BMI’s Bole to Heathrow Flights to Buckle

By Bezawi Bekele

One of the two airlines flying directly from Addis Abeba to London, British Midland International (BMI), is to suspend its flights between Heathrow and Bole, as of June 11, 2012.

The last such departing flight from Heathrow will be on Sunday, June 10, and the last return flight will be on Monday, June 11, according to BMI’s press release.

The suspension was said to be due to commercial reasons, according to the same document, which did not give further details.

European airlines have been under pressure from the weak economic growth in the euro zone and the sharp rise in oil and fuel prices, as assessed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

BMI’s representative in Ethiopia, Trade Path International Plc, considers the suspension a precautionary measure to prevent ticket agents from booking passengers for flights that are not guaranteed.

Trade Path was established in August 1998, by Nebeyu Woubishet and Dawit Woubishet. It offers air cargo representation, logistics, import and export, and customs clearing and documentation services. It also entered into the flower business by establishing Flower Port Cargo Plc, together with Sher Ethiopia.

Flights from London to Damascus will also be suspended at the same time as the London to Addis Abeba flights.

The decision to suspend these flights was made soon after BMI’s acquisition by International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG). Formed in January 2011, IAG is the parent company of British Airways (BA) and Iberia. It is a Spanish registered company with shares traded on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and Spanish stock exchange. IAG acquired BMI in December 2011 from Germany’s flag carrier Lufthansa for 273 million dollars. BMI had been under Lufthansa since June 2009.

IAG plans to integrate BMI’s main airline with BA, which is the largest airline company in the United Kingdom, with 231 aircrafts and more than 55o destinations worldwide. BMI has two other airline operations, BMI Regional and BMI Baby, which IAG wants to dispose of.

Flight codes have been changed on nine routes of BMI to BA, since May 23, 2012.

Information about the suspension of the flights between Addis Abeba and London was sent to travel agencies selling tickets for BMI in Addis Abeba on May 25, 2012. Travel agents were told to either accommodate passengers with alternative flights scheduled before June 10 and 11 or to give a full refund, according to different tour and travel agencies in Addis Abeba.

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) has also been informed of BMI’s decision. When the flights stop, the Authority will allocate BMI’s landing slots, logistics, and manpower at Bole International Airport to other airlines, said Endashaw Yegezu, air transport director at the ECAA.

Despite the notices given, however, things at BMI are still undecided, and executives from Trade Path are flying to London on June 7, 2012, to conduct talks on the fate of the flights and related issues, according to Dawit.

The suspension of the flights might be beneficial for Ethiopian Airlines, as BMI and ET are the only two airliners that offer direct flights between Addis Abeba and London.

“Although the destination may not be commercially viable for BMI, the destination remains a good market for ET,” read the comment sent to Fortune from the Public Relations Department of Ethiopian Airlines. “The Addis Abeba to London route is a market that was developed by ET and BMI.”

ET made its inaugural flight to London in 1973 and now flies to London six times a week. ET would have increased its flights to London to daily had it not been for the lack of available slots at Heathrow, according to the Department. Heathrow is used by over 90 airlines.

Ethiopia’s flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines, which commenced operations in 1946, has 41 passenger and 6 freighter aircraft, with 75 total destinations, 58 of which are international. BMI, which came into existence five years after ET, has a fleet size of 60 aircraft and 27 destinations.

For a flight from Addis Abeba on June 11 heading to Heathrow, ET charges 531 dollars, while tickets for the last departure of BMI from Addis Abeba costs 424 dollars.