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Dubai’s airports ready for aviation’s slow recovery


Dubai International Airport (DXB) handled 17.8 million passengers in the COVID-19 hit first quarter of 2020, 20% down on the corresponding period a year ago.

Compared to other airports, DXB fared quite well, and with Emirates announcing yesterday that it will resume operations to nine major cities on May 21 (Chicago, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Melbourne, Paris, Milan, Toronto and Sydney), things are clearly improving.

Like other major hubs around the world, DXB has moved swiftly to install a number of new measures and procedures designed to protect passengers and staff from COVID-19, and subsequently the spread of the killer virus.

However, with no vaccine in sight and public confidence in aviation likely to be hugely damaged by the pandemic, Dubai Airports CEO, Paul Griffiths, today admitted that it could be 18 months to two years before his airports – DXB and Dubai World Central – see passenger numbers return to anywhere near their pre-COVID-19 levels.

He said: “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.

“We’re looking at an 18 month to two-year time frame, but that is highly dependent upon the development of an effective treatment or vaccine and the establishment of bilateral arrangements between countries.

“So, while we can’t predict how quickly or when this will happen, I am optimistic that the innate demand when people realise it is once again safe to travel will be huge.

“There will come a point where the world will open up again and the desire to travel will be even stronger than it has been in the past and Dubai Airports and the entire aviation community will be ready.”

Griffiths, who noted that while the airport operator is taking appropriate measures to control costs, optimise liquidity, facilitate cargo and repatriation flights and prepare for a timely and proportionate activation of facilities and services at Dubai International (DXB) to support the resumption of scheduled traffic, the timing and the speed of air traffic recovery will ultimately depend on the development of a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19.

And he believes that the speed of recovery, for DXB and all other airports, will also very much depend on restoring consumer confidence in aviation.

He confirmed that Dubai Airports will continue to ensure a safe and healthy airport environment by enabling social distancing, conducting thermal screening and COVID-19 testing in support of health authorities and undertaking robust deep-cleaning and sanitisation to help alleviate customer concerns about air travel once scheduled services resume.

 “In the short term, until we get a medical and technical solution, we will have robust measures in place. And while we will all have to practice social distancing in the near term, the idea of social distancing as a permanent part of society would be so socially and economically destructive it would simply not be sustainable.

“With the human ingenuity in the medical field and technology now, it’s quite possible a combination of the two will bring us a primary solution to get back to the social norms we’ve enjoyed for centuries.”

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