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Dubai Airport Chief Doesn’t See Air Travel Demand Returning to Normal Until a Coronavirus Vaccine is Found

Dubai Airport Chief Doesn’t See Air Travel Demand Returning to Normal Until a Coronavirus Vaccine is Found

The chief executive of one of the world’s busiest airports doesn’t believe air travel will return to normal until scientists find a vaccine for the novel Coronavirus. Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai International Airport (DXB) said on Thursday that both the timing and speed with which the aviation industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic will “ultimately depend on the development of a vaccine or treatment”.

Dubai International Airport is the world’s number one hub for international passengers and the fifth busiest airport worldwide overall. Last year, the airport handled 86.4 million passengers and had been eyeing the potential to handle 90 million passengers in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit air travel. Passenger numbers are already down 19 per cent but the true picture of how badly DXB has been hit won’t be known for months.

Passengers at DXB Terminal 3 practice social distancing while queueing to check-in for their flight. Photo Credit: Emirates

“The COVID-19 pandemic is of a very different nature than any previous crisis in that it has affected supply, demand and health security and by extension the entire global economy,” commented Griffiths. “We’re dealing with a monster here for which we clearly have to find a solution. Until there is a proven level of confidence medically that people can travel without fear of spreading or contracting the virus, the situation we find ourselves in is likely to continue.”

While airlines and industry trade bodies are hoping to restore confidence in air travel with safety measures like the mandatory wearing of face masks, temperature checks and even rapid COVID-19 testing, Griffiths believes things can’t get back to normal until a vaccine is found.

“Until a medical solution is found, the industry will rely on bilateral agreements that enable the resumption of services. We will gradually start to see some confidence build between trusted countries where the governments have acted significantly enough and early enough to get the spread of the virus under control,” Griffiths explained.

He remained optimistic that efforts by the UAE government to contain the virus would allow DXB to ‘pair’ with airports in countries that have been effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. “With millions across the world in lockdown and eager for a change of scenery or to visit friends and relatives, travel has become one of the most desirable commodities,” Griffiths noted.

“However, the current inability to safely travel is diminishing that demand.”

In the short term, DXB will pursue solutions like thermal screening, social distancing and rapid COVID-19 testing. But Griffiths cautions that “the idea of social distancing as a permanent part of society would be so socially and economically destructive it would simply not be sustainable”.

“While we’re certainly ready to ramp up for the resumption of travel, it’s virtually impossible to forecast with any reliability as to how rapidly air services will be re-established on a regularly scheduled basis and how long it will take to get back to previous traffic levels.” he added.

Yesterday, Emirates announced it would resume flights to nine destination by May 21. The airline has not yet detailed ambitions to restart flights on a wider scale.

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