* Carrier unable to repatriate cash from some African states
* CEO reports record revenue, net profit for 2015/16
* Airline is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest by revenue
(adds details of expansion plan)
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Feb 7 Ethiopian Airlines' chief
executive said on Tuesday that a U.S. order temporarily halting
immigration from seven Muslim-majority states was creating
confusion for passengers but was not having much impact overall
on its operations.
Tewolde Gebremariam also told Reuters the airline's revenue
rose 10.3 percent to 54.5 billion birr ($2.43 billion) in the
2015/16 fiscal year, while passenger numbers climbed 18 percent
to 7.6 million. Net profit was up 70 percent at 6 billion birr.
The state carrier is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest by revenue
and has been rapidly expanding in its bid to become a global
player through its increasingly crowded hub in Addis Ababa.
The carrier wants to increase revenue to $10 billion by
2025, and expand its fleet to 140 aircraft from less than 90
now, with sights on Asia, Tewolde said.
An Ethiopian official said last week that nine Yemenis were
deported from America on an Ethiopian Airlines flight after
President Donald Trump's travel ban that the White House says is
vital for security but a U.S. judge put on hold.
Yemen, which lies a short distance from Ethiopia, and
Somalia, which shares a land border, are among the seven nations
on the list whose citizens are affected by the ban.
"It is affecting air travel because people are nervous and
confused. There is no clarity in the executive order," Tewolde
said in an interview, adding it had led to a few cancellations
and refunds by Ethiopian Airlines to passengers.
But he added: "Operationally it has not created any
disruption to us, either on our schedule or our customer
He said 2015/16 produced record revenue and net profit, but
the airline still faced challenges, particularly in African
states where foreign exchange shortages meant it could not
repatriate earnings held in local currency.
He said the airline had local currency holdings worth $220
million in Nigeria, Angola, Sudan, Egypt and some other states,
but this was losing value as the local currency depreciated,
partly because lower oil prices had hit oil-producing economies.
"This is a huge challenge for us," he said, adding that the
issue undermined the benefits of an oil price fall during
Falling oil prices in the period had also undermined
business from those nations. "We saw tremendous pressure on our
revenue from these countries," he said.
On expansion plans, Tewolde said the focus was on Asia.
"We have the largest market share between China and Africa,"
he said, adding that Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners and Airbus A350
planes were likely to form the core of the fleet expansion.
Alongside adding China routes, Ethiopian Airlines was also
adding Jakarta and Singapore to its destinations this year.
($1 = 22.4300 birr)
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by
Susan Thomas and Adrian Croft)