Middle East aviation experts optimistic about rebound in 2021

muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com Filed on May 19, 2021
Aviation executives said domestic markets will start to recover during second half of 2021. — Supplied photo

Global regulations, passenger confidence and flexible airline propositions key to sector recovery; Short-haul leisure travel to recover first on massive pent-up demand

The Middle East aviation industry is expected to fully recovered by third quarter of 2024 as it hit the bottom and is on track to stage a rebound later this year, experts say.

Industry stakeholders debated at Arabian Travel Market, which concluded on Wednesday, and said global regulations, passenger confidence and flexible airline propositions key to sector recovery.

Referring to the International Air Transport Association (Iata), aviation executives said domestic markets will start to recover during second half of 2021 and short-haul leisure travel will be first to recover due to huge demand from the mid-income segment.

“Domestic and regional leisure passenger traffic will recover first. This will be driven by massive pent-up demand, helped by relaxed ‘local’ restrictions and improved consumer confidence,” said Hussein Dabbas, general manager (special projects) for MEA region at Embraer.

“This trend will ultimately increase demand from airlines for smaller more cost-effective aircraft — a maximum of 120 passengers, on direct routes, with increased frequency of service,” he said.

Fuel efficiency, cost saving

While addressing a conference session entitled ‘Aviation – the key to rebuilding international travel, restoring confidence, global solutions and building business’, he pointed to the Air France-KLM pre-pandemic decision to order 30 A220 jets while announcing the retirement of their A380 fleet, in a bid to improve the airline’s fuel efficiency and costs.

“Iata estimates that domestic markets could recover to 96 per cent of pre-crisis levels in the second half of this year, a 48 per cent improvement over 2020 and a return to pre-Covid levels in the third quarter of 2024,” said Dabbas.

George Michalopoulos, chief commercial officer, Wizz Air; and John Brayford, President, The Jetsets, also joined the panel discussion at the conference.

Demand to improve

Overall, the panel was bullish about the recovery citing pent-up demand, which could initially outstrip the availability of flights, until airlines resume their regular pre-Covid scheduled services and routes, particularly on domestic and regional routes which they agreed would be the first to recover.

Talking about improving consumer confidence, the panel agreed that there had to be some form of global regulation, a collaboration between industry bodies, governments, airports and airlines, that would be easy to understand and universal.

“As it stands the quarantine rules and other COVID regulations are confusing, they need simplifying. Governments should concentrate on PCR testing and vaccines. Passengers need a secure source of information covering the flight and the destination,” said Dabbas.

“We are a one-world industry,” he added.

Vaccine passports inevitable

Michalopoulos of Wizz Air said vaccine passports are the way forward and it is also important that “we communicate just how safe onboard air conditioning is. Some people think that recirculated air in planes is not safe, that simply isn’t true. Aircraft have filtering systems which are as efficient as hospital ICUs”.

Looking to the future, Brayford an industry stalwart whose company The Jetsets is pioneering fractional ownership in private business jets, said that airlines would need a clear plan moving forward.

“A niche today might become a mainstream trend tomorrow, so no opportunity should be overlooked, the way in which some airlines have supplemented reduced passenger numbers with cargo is a good example. Flexibility and managing costs will also be key.”

— muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com


Muzaffar Rizvi

Business Editor/News Editor of Khaleej Times is a well-connected journalist and an economic and financial commentator. He has been in the mainstream journalism since 1997, covering the UAE's economy and key sectors. He holds a post-graduate degree in Economics and has won many awards for authentic and insightful reports on global and regional businesses and economic trends.

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