Coronavirus social distancing ‘ruinous’ for travel industry: CEO of Dubai Airports

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The number of passengers traveling via Dubai International Airport, one of the largest travel centers in the world, fell by a fifth in the first quarter of the year, closings and closings of borders triggered by the coronavirus pandemic which has dealt a severe blow to international travel.

“Dubai airports confirmed today that Dubai International (DXB) had a total of 17.8 million customers in the first quarter of 2020, a 19.8% year-on-year contraction, a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic that has dampened demand and reduced flight numbers, “said a statement from Dubai airports on Thursday, which owns and operates Dubai International Airports (DXB) and Dubai World Central. DXB in 2019 was ranked the largest hub in the world in terms of passenger traffic.

Aircraft movements fell 18.7% year-on-year – from 95,857 to 77,920 – due to flight suspensions at certain coronavirus hotspots starting in February, followed by the complete cessation of passenger flights by the government of the United Arab Emirates from March 24, except for emergency repatriation flights. These exceptional flights, organized by authorities of the United Arab Emirates and foreign embassies, have enabled more than 50,000 people to return to their countries of origin, said Dubai airports.

Dubai airport CEO Paul Griffiths says social distancing measures imposed by health authorities around the world are economically catastrophic – but must be followed until there is a viable antidote to the virus , and the timetable for this is almost impossible to predict.

“I think social distancing as a concept will be ruinous enough for the travel and tourism industry, as it will be for many other industries around the world,” Griffiths told CNBC “Capital Connection” Thursday. . “So we have to find a primary way before we can return to a normal trip, which means relaxing the restrictions and ending social distancing. There are so many variables in this equation, so many things that we cannot predict and that are not under our control, it is quite impossible to say. But we anticipate a horizon of 18 months to two years “, before returning to a semblance of normalcy,” said the CEO.

The drop in traffic is a particular blow to the economy of the emirate. The transport and storage sector, which includes land, air and sea transport but is led by aviation, represented 18.5% of Dubai’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 and was the “most active driver” of its economy in the first half of 2019, according to the Dubai Statistics Center.

Global air traffic down 90% in April

Nationally, aviation and tourism account for 13% of the UAE’s GDP, according to 2019 International Air Transport Association figures. But the Gulf country is far from alone. The pain is felt worldwide and is expected to worsen in the second trimester. Travel restrictions alone cut global air traffic by 90% in April alone, PVM Oil Associates reported in a research note on Wednesday.

Cargo tonnage from Dubai airports also fell 16.8 percent year-on-year to 533,291 tonnes from January to March, the company said, reflecting a reduction in retention capacity. But cargo operations, which are exempt from the ban, have in fact grown at DXB since then, as a dozen airlines, including Emirates SkyCargo and flydubai, “have been authorized to operate an average of 110 flights per week in response increased demand for pharmaceuticals, food, and other essentials, “the statement said.

“Freight is already registering higher levels than last year, so freight is already a very dynamic sector for us,” Griffiths told CNBC.

Dubai International Airport, the largest space airport in the world and the busiest airport for international passenger traffic. It is also the 3rd busiest airport in

NurPhoto / Getty Images

As part of its ongoing operations, airports are implementing extensive social distancing and disinfection measures in its efforts to ensure passenger safety. All staff and passengers are required to wear personal protective equipment and maintain social distance, and passengers will be able to receive thermal screening or antibody tests performed by the team at the airport medical center. Dubai Health Authority, the statement said. Dubai airports have also progressively fumigated its facilities and installed screens at its check-in and immigration desks to protect staff.

Less capacity at airports, bilateral travel agreements?

More space for social distance means less capacity at airports and on planes, Griffiths said.

“It will be difficult for airports to operate at the same level of capacity as before. And if these restrictions are limited bilaterally, to countries that have defeated the virus, then I think you will see a reduction in demand. So we plan to have a lower capacity level in the short term, which means that there will be no inconvenience at the airport, it just means that we will be ready to reduce the number of passengers. “

The CEO predicts that travel may resume based on agreements between countries with similar infection rates.

“We believe that in the future there will be bilateral agreements very similar to that which is being negotiated between Australasia and New Zealand at this time, where governments will be sufficiently convinced that the health risks are under control between certain countries that have similar levels of progress. about the virus recession. And I think that these bilateral agreements will allow us to start to start gradually. ”

People are waiting for their flight. Dubai Airport Terminal 3.

Andrey Danilovich

Dubai International Airport is home to the flagship state carrier Emirates and its economical carrier flydubai. Emirates is the world’s largest operator of the A380 and for several years has been among the top five airlines in the world in terms of tonnes of passengers and tonnes of cargo flown.

Emirates released its 2019 annual results on Sunday, which posted a 21% profit but revealed a sharp drop from February and a loss of more than 3.4 billion dirhams ($ 930 million) in March. The airline has warned that the pandemic will have a major effect on its performance for the rest of the year and until 2021. This week, it announced that it would resume flights to nine destinations in Australia, Europe and North America from May 21 – but so far these are just non-return flights.

One of the most urgent measures remains to be tested, said Griffiths, as it would help ensure the safety of travelers and staff.

“I think it is really essential that we have a fast and accurate way to test passengers for Covid-19 before boarding the plane,” he said. “This is essential – but really, economically and to encourage people to come back, we have to have a primary means of fighting the virus so that we can return to the normal type of operation, because social remoteness doesn’t is just not economically viable for so many industries, including airlines and airports. “

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