Dubai Airport’s CEO for travel recovery, number of passengers

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

Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty pictures

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

“We have room for optimism that the future, hopefully, is 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 cry” from pre-pandemic levels, which may only be reached in 2025, he said.

But there are signs of recovery as the world eases restrictions and large international traffic flows begin again, he said. The number of traffic at Dubai International has increased 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 estimates that Dubai Airports will see 26.7 million passengers. That number could jump to 56 million or 57 million by 2022, he said.

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

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

Dubai International is “very aggressively” returning to normal operations after a period of “dormancy”, he told CNBC. “We are very optimistic that we will lead the recovery and that the world will soon travel again.”

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.

Paul Griffiths

Dubai Airports, VD

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

Only this weekend, the Netherlands returned to a partial shutdown when soaring Covid cases stretched hospital capacity.

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 in need of quarantine,” he said, although he acknowledged that there is less risk now.

The economic situation – whether people have the disposable income to travel as they used to – 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.”