Emirates Airline is concerned that a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections threatening to engulf Europe could, in turn, threaten the carrier’s recovery from the pandemic as countries mull the reintroduction of travel restrictions and lockdowns.
On the opening day of the Dubai Air Show on Sunday – the first in-person air show since the start of the pandemic – the President of the Persian Gulf-based airline said the carrier was reviewing the unfolding situation very carefully.
“I see a fourth wave coming through and we have all sorts of concerns about what may happen,” Sir Tim Clark, who helped to create Emirates in 1985 and turned it into the mega carrier that it is today, told CNBC.
“We’ve got to look at it very carefully, because if the European markets — which have already started to open in a big way — start to go the other way we’re going to have to deal with that,” Sir Tim continued.
“But we will deal with it … we’re very good at working around problems, and we’ll just do what we have to do.”
Clark was meant to have retired last year but decided to stay on at the government-owned airline when the pandemic struck to help see the carrier through the crisis. The long-serving President still hasn’t set a definitive date for when he will eventually step down.
Much of Europe opened up significantly over the summer and travel to the continent proved popular with COVID-19 seemingly under control. But with the coming of the colder winter months, infection rates are starting to tick up again and some countries are starting to see alarming surges.
The Netherlands became the first country in the European Union to reimpose lockdown restrictions late last week in a desperate bid to drive down infection rates. Austria has just approved a lockdown for the unvaccinated, while Germany is telling citizens to avoid mass gathering events.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has not outright rejected the reintroduction of pandemic restrictions to deal with the rise in COVID-19 cases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently declared that the European continent had once again become the epicentre of the pandemic. Europe accounts for more than half of the average 7-day infections globally.
For now, though Emirates is struggling to keep up with demand after a slew of countries eased travel restrictions and demand bounced back. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates’ chairman and chief executive says he hopes the carrier is “back to where we were pre-pandemic” by mid-2022.
Although the situation in Europe is causing worry, Emirates says it remains on track to reach 70 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity by the end of the year.
The airline has embarked on an ambitious recruitment drive to hire 6,000 staff over the next few months in order to keep up with the return in demand. Clark said on Sunday that the airline was short of pilots, cabin crew and other operational staff.
“Demand is coming back at such a pace that we’re frankly having difficulty trying to supply the assets,” he told CNBC.
Having received a $3.1 billion bailout at the height of the pandemic, the Emirates Group, which includes grounding handling, catering and hospitality companies, said the Dubai government injected a further US $681 million into the business in the first half of the year.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.