CEO of Dubai Airports on travel recovery, passenger numbers

The aviation industry is “not completely out of the woods” – but the future may be brighter than the last 20 months, says Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

“We have room for optimism that the future is hopefully much brighter than 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 have seen 20.7 million passengers this year, a “long dread”[ads1]; from pre-pandemic levels, which may not be achieved until 2025, he said.

But there are signs of improvement as the world eases restrictions and large international traffic flows start up again, he said. Traffic numbers at Dubai International have grown by 40% in the last 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.

Passenger forecasts

By the end of this year, Griffiths expects Dubai Airports to see 26.7 million passengers. That number could jump to 56 million or 57 million by 2022, he said.

The CEO said that he is cautiously optimistic that the number of passengers could be even better.

Emirates Airlines flights at Dubai International Airport on February 1, 2021.

Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty pictures

“I hope there is a basis for a little more optimistic forecasts, but we are in unknown territory,” he said.

Dubai International is “very aggressive” on its way back to normal operation 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 soon.”

Asked about the biggest threats to flight recovery, Griffiths said the risk of an increase in Covid infections leading to shutdowns is a “major problem.”

Just this weekend, the Netherlands returned to a partial shutdown when soaring Covid cases stretched capacity at hospitals.

If airlines and airports respond with a quality product, and good value for money, people are so desperate to get back on the air again, that they will respond.

Paul Griffiths

Dubai Airports, CEO

Griffiths added that many people probably do not have the confidence to travel due to strict rules, expensive Covid test protocols and the fear that the rules will change quickly.

“The last thing you want to do is embark on a journey and then get stuck somewhere you have to quarantine,” he said, although acknowledging that there is less risk now.

The economic situation – whether people have disposable income to travel the way they used to do – is another factor that will affect the recovery of the aviation sector, he said, but added that he is “fairly confident” in demand.

“If airlines and airports respond with a quality product, and good value for money, people are so desperate to get back on the air again, they will respond,” he said. “We’re starting to see the green shoots of it already.”

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