Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, says the air travel industry is “not quite out of the woods” – but the future could be much brighter than the past 20 months.
“We have room for optimism that the future, hopefully, is much brighter than the past 20 months,” Dan Murphy told CNBC’s reporter Sunday at the Dubai Airshow, the first major international air show since the Covid pandemic began.
He said the city’s airports saw 20.7 million passengers this year, “a far cry” from pre-pandemic levels, which may only be achieved in 2025.
But he said there were signs of recovery as the world eased restrictions and major international traffic flows started again. He added that traffic figures at Dubai International Airport increased by 40% in the past six weeks.
Dubai Airports owns and operates Dubai International Airport and Dubai International Central Airport in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai International Airport alone served 86.4 million customers in 2019.
By the end of this year, Griffiths expects Dubai airports to handle 26.7 million passengers. That number could jump to 56 million or 57 million in 2022, he said.
The CEO said he was cautiously optimistic that passenger numbers could be better.
Emirates planes at Dubai International Airport on February 1, 2021.
Karim Sahib | Agence France-Presse | Getty Images
“I hope there is reason for a slightly more optimistic outlook, but we are in uncharted territory,” he said.
He told CNBC that Dubai International was returning “with great force” to its normal operations after a period of “hibernation”. “We are very optimistic that we will lead the recovery and the world will travel again very soon.”
Asked about the biggest threats to the recovery of air travel, Griffiths said the risk of an increase in Covid-19 infections leading to closures is a “big problem.”
Only this weekend did the Netherlands return to partial lockdown as rising Covid cases exhausted hospitals.
Griffiths added that many people likely do not have the confidence to travel due to strict regulations, expensive Covid testing protocols and fear of changing rules quickly.
“The last thing you want to do is embark on a journey and then stumble somewhere having to be quarantined,” he said, although he admitted that was less risky now.
He said the economic situation – whether people have the income available to go on flights the way they used to – is another factor that will affect the aviation sector’s recovery, but added that he was “fairly confident” about demand.
“If airlines and airports respond with a quality product and good value for money, people will be very desperate to get back in the air again, and they will respond,” he said. “We’re starting to see the green shoots of it already.”