Ethiopian Leads First Direct Japan Flights

As Japan’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Kazuhiro Suzuki finds that briefing Japanese business people seeking opportunities in Ethiopia is becoming a daily occurrence. From April, the flow of visitors could grow, after Ethiopian Airlines started the only direct flight between sub-Saharan Africa and Japan.

“Almost every businessperson I meet coming to Ethiopia is surprised – they don’t realise the level of the booming economy,”said Japan’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Kazuhiro Suzuki says. “Currently Ethiopia’s needs are more low-tech but sooner or later it will need more high technologies, so I’m optimistic about the role for Japan.”

Previous Japanese travellers to Africa have flown via European airport hubs or through the Middle East, typically connecting in Dubai. Such journeys usually take between 21 and 23 hours, whereas Ethiopian Airlines’ new service will take about 15 hours.

The service has been a decade in the works, but it comes at an opportune moment, as Japan ramps up its investment in Africa. While China’s interest in the continent has dominated headlines for the past decade, Japan has quietly been building its position. Japanese companies and government agencies actually invested three times as much in project finance deals over the last 10 years as their Chinese counterparts. Currently most Japanese investment is outside Ethiopia but those such as Suzuki say it’s a matter of time, especially with the new flight, before Ethiopia gets more attention.

“A big selling point is how Tokyo business staff could catch an evening flight after work and arrive in Addis the next morning and start work,” Suzuki says. “Or they could catch a connecting flight to another African country and be working there by afternoon.”

For Japanese businesses already operating in Ethiopia, the new flight using the ultramodern Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft will make it easier for headquarters staff and specialists to visit and bring their expertise.

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