The airline industry is “not out of action yet,” but the future may be brighter than the last 20 months, said Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer of Dubai Airports.
“We have room for optimism that the future is hopefully much brighter than the last 20 months,” he told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Sunday at the Dubai Air Show, the first major international air show since the start of the Covid pandemic.
According to him, this year, 20.7 million passengers have visited the city’s airports, which is “very far” from levels before a pandemic, which can only be achieved in 2025.
But there are signs of recovery as the world relaxes restrictions and large international traffic flows again, he said. According to him, over the past six weeks, the number of traffic at Dubai International Airport has grown by 40%.
Dubai Airports owns and operates Dubai International Airport and Dubai Central Airport in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai International alone served 86.4 million customers in 2019.
By the end of this year, Griffiths expects 26.7 million passengers to visit Dubai airports. According to him, in 2022 this figure could grow to 56 or 57 million.
The CEO said he is cautiously optimistic that passenger numbers could be even better.
Emirates Airlines planes at Dubai International Airport, February 1, 2021.
Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images
“I really hope there is reason for a slightly more optimistic prediction, but we are in uncharted territory,” he said.
Dubai International is “very aggressively” returning to normal operations after a period of “hibernation,” he told CNBC. “We are very optimistic that we will lead the recovery and very soon the world will travel again.”
When asked about the most serious threats to the restoration of air travel, Griffiths said the risk of a sharp rise in the number of Covid infections leading to the lockdown is “a big concern.”
Only this weekend the Netherlands returned to partial isolation as the rise in Covid cases limited the capacity of hospitals.
Griffiths added that many people are likely unsure to travel due to strict regulations, costly Covid testing protocols, and fear of rapid rule change.
“The last thing you want to do is go on a trip and then get stuck somewhere and be quarantined,” he said, although he admitted it was less of a risk now.
The economic situation – whether people have the disposable income to travel the way they are accustomed to – is another factor that will affect the recovery of the aviation sector, but is “fairly confident” in demand, he said.
“If airlines and airports respond with a quality product and good value for money, people are so desperate to get back into the air that they will respond,” he said. “We are already starting to see the green shoots of it.”