'It cost a lot. It was really tough': Sheikh Ahmed on how Emirates tackled UAE storm

Chief executive says lessons were learnt but adds that any aviation hub would struggle with such devastating flooding

A man carries his luggage through floodwater caused by heavy rain on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, in April 2024. AP
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The chief executive of Emirates has spoken of the immense challenges the airline faced during the storm of April 16.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed said lessons were learnt as a result of massive disruption to the airline and the Dubai International Airport.

But he also stressed that any aviation hub would struggle with a downpour of about two years' worth of rain in just hours.

“It cost a lot at the end of the day,” he told journalists at Arabian Travel Market, when asked about the financial cost, which he said he could not release.

We did manage to put more than 26,000 people into hotels in Dubai, outside of Dubai
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed

“To see 200 millilitres of rain … it was really tough.”

Runways on the low-lying airport quickly flooded when four waves of the storm hit.

“When it comes to airlines and airline operations, we’re kind of used to disturbance … across the globe. Sometimes in Europe or America or Australia and we manage.”

But with flights grounded and left at parking gates, inbound aircraft were unable to land. He said there were about 260 flights on the ground and in the air when the storm hit.

“We don’t have 260 gates at the airport. Usually [the aircraft] are out and you need much less gates and parking.

“We did manage to put more than 26,000 people into hotels in Dubai, outside of Dubai.”

Images of thousands, if not tens of thousands of bags lined up in the terminals gave an idea of the logistical challenge even once the two-day storm was over.

“We’ve been hit hard on baggage, trying to push baggage, with the passenger, to the destination they are flying, and it was really tough,” he said.

“It’s not tough to identify those bags and send them to the destination. But also we found that other airports, they were pushing us: ‘Don't send us more baggage’, even though we were sending them to people. So, that was beyond our control.

“So, this is just to give you a flavour of what we’ve been through.”

Any financial costs to Emirates, which reported massive profits last year, would likely stem from cancellations, refunds and shipping luggage to other countries.

Sheikh Ahmed, who also spoke about Boeing's delays and maintenance issues and Dubai's new mega terminal at Al Maktoum International, also known as Dubai World Central, said lessons had been learnt.

“For us all within the airline industry … we learnt a lot from the last weather.”

Also speaking at the travel market in Dubai, flydubai's chief executive Ghaith Al Ghaith said the airline – which deals with far fewer connecting international passengers – only suffered “minimal” financial losses, with two thirds of its affected passengers opting to rebook their flights.

Updated: May 08, 2024, 8:47 AM