Ethiopian Airline Makes First Flight to Eritrea This Century

(Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia’s national carrier is making its first regular passenger flight to neighboring Eritrea since a war two decades ago, underlining a surprise rapprochement between the former foes who have vowed to rebuild economic links.

The Ethiopian Airlines Group flight left the capital, Addis Ababa, on Wednesday morning, heading for Eritrea’s main city, Asmara. It’s the first flight in what will be a daily service by Africa’s biggest airline, which Ethiopia’s ruling politburo is opening to foreign investment, part of a wind of change sweeping the fast-growing economy since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April.

Abiy flew the same route earlier this month in a groundbreaking visit to Eritrea during which he and President Isaias Afwerki made a declaration of peace and agreed on restoring diplomatic, telecommunications and transport links. The Eritrean leader reciprocated with a visit to Ethiopia last weekend.

The Horn of Africa countries had been at odds since a 1998-2000 border war that claimed as many as 100,000 lives and left thousands of families separated. Foreign observers described the official end to the war as a boost for regional stability, and there were signs that United Nations sanctions, imposed on Eritrea in 2009, may be lifted. Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993 after decades of conflict.

“We’re very excited not only for the business part of it, but the emotional attachment of the two people,” Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer Tewolde GebreMariam said by phone from Addis Ababa. “The route will allow Ethiopian to use previously closed airspace to fly to other destinations, with savings on fuel costs incurred through detours over Sudan and elsewhere.”

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The carrier may also consider creating a hub in Asmara, he said, without providing further details.

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