By Adam Gonn, TheMediaLine: Ethiopian Airlines could be close to settling a dispute with the Civilian Aviation Authority in neighboring Djibouti over the type of aircraft used by the airline, according African news portal Afrik News.
Ethiopian Airlines is hoping to use turbo-propelled aircraft, while the Djibouti authority is pushing them to use jet-propelled planes for flights to that country. The two parties have recently entered negotiations.
The dispute started when Ethiopian Airlines wanted to introduce eight Q-400 turbo-propelled aircraft purchased from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier as part of its regional and international expansion plan. Djiboutian authorities, however, refused to let the new planes land.
The route between the Somali capital of Addis Ababa and Djibouti is one of Ethiopian Airlines’ longest-running routes, operating since 1946.
“The major issues facing individual airports where aero-engines is concerned are pollution and noise rather than safety,” aviation expert David J. Bentley told The Media Line. “Safety is the preserve of national and international organizations, either those dedicated to the industry, or political ones.”
“In economic terms, planes with the ‘turbo-prop’ [a gas turbine driven propeller] engine are usually slower than those with jet engines [an internal combustion engine], but are more economic over short distances and modern versions tend to be ‘greener,’” he explained. “That is why the [Bombardier] Dash 8 Q-400 has become a popular model, along with the ATR 72-600,” Bentley told The Media Line.
“There has been a tendency for many African countries to become the graveyard of aircraft as they are passed down from western countries because they fail noise and/or pollution tests there,” he said.
“Sometimes they are then re-engined with substandard parts from other aircraft,” Bentley said. “The entire continent is under pressure, especially from the US, whose airlines are increasing direct flights there – notably Delta – to improve standards.”
Berouk Mesfin, senior researcher at the Institute for Securities Studies in Addis Ababa, described the relationship between Ethiopia and Djibouti as good and did not think that the dispute was representative of the political situation between the two countries.
“They [Ethiopia and Djibouti] have always been very close.” He explained that is “because Ethiopians have been using the port in Djibouti for export and imports.”
Mesfin added that “ever since 1977, when Djibouti became independent, there have been good relations. There might be some hiccups here and there, but in the whole they are good.”
In 1977, Djibouti, previously known as the French Territory of Afars and Issas or French Somaliland, won its independence from France. The present leadership favors close ties with France, which also maintains a significant military presence in the country. During the time of the rebellion, the government forged close ties with the U.S. leading to the establishment of the Horn of Africa task force.
In 2002, the U.S. Central Command established the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. The task force comprises some 1,800 staff from each branch of the U.S. military in addition to civilian personnel. Its mandate is to detect, disrupt, and ultimately defeat transnational terrorist groups operating in the region.
For the U.S., one of the advantages of Djibouti is its geographical location, just across the water from Yemen, north of Somalia, and east of Sudan. Despite the country’s central location in the troubled region, it is relatively quiet, which gives the force a stable base for operations.