The aviation industry is “not over the moon” – but the future could be better than it has been in the last 20 months, says Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.
“We have room for optimism that hopefully the future is much brighter than it has been in the last 20 months,” he told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Sunday at the Dubai Air Show, the first major international air show since the Covid pandemic began.
The city’s airports saw 20.7 million passengers this year, a “long jump” from pre-pandemic levels that may not be reached until 2025, he said.
But there are signs of recovery as the world relaxes restrictions and large international traffic flows resume, he said. Traffic numbers at Dubai International have increased 40% in the past six weeks, he added.
Dubai Airports owns and manages Dubai International and Dubai World Central airports in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai International alone served 86.4 million customers in 2019.
Griffiths expects 26.7 million passengers at Dubai Airports by the end of this year. That number could climb to 56 million or 57 million in 2022, he said.
The CEO said he was cautiously optimistic that passenger numbers could be even better.
Emirates Airlines aircraft at Dubai International Airport on February 1, 2021.
Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images
“I hope there are arguments for a more optimistic forecast, but we are in uncharted territory,” he said.
Dubai International is returning to normal operations “very aggressively” after a period of “hibernation,” he told CNBC. “We are very optimistic that we will lead the recovery and that the world will travel again shortly.”
When asked what the top threats to air travel recovery are, Griffiths said the risk of a surge in Covid infections leading to lockdowns was a “major problem”.
Only this weekend did the Netherlands return to a partial lockdown as rising Covid cases overwhelmed hospital capacities.
When airlines and airports respond with a quality product and value for money, when people are desperate to get back on the air, they will respond.
Dubai Airports, CEO
Griffiths added that many people are unlikely to have the confidence to travel due to strict regulations, expensive Covid test protocols, and fear of changing rules quickly.
“The last thing you want to do is go on a trip and then stay in quarantine somewhere,” he said, but admitted that it is now less risky.
The economic situation – whether people have the disposable income to travel like they used to – is another factor that will affect the recovery of the aviation sector, he said, but added that he was “fairly confident” about demand .
“When airlines and airports respond with a quality product and value for money, people are so desperate to get back in the air that they respond,” he said. “We’re already starting to see the green shoots off it.”