ATM 2021: Emirates airline hopeful of a travel revival as more markets reopen, chairman says

Sheikh Ahmed 'optimistic' that the UAE will be added to the UK's green travel list 'very soon'

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, CEO and founder of the Emirates Group, chairman of Dubai World during the roundtable at the Arabian Travel Market held at Dubai World Trade Centre in Dubai on May 17,2021. Pawan Singh / The National. Story by Deena

Emirates expects summer travel demand to improve as more countries reopen their borders over the next six months, the airline’s chairman and chief executive said on Monday.

The airline is bullish about a "fast rebound" in traffic similar to what was recorded when it resumed flights to Russia, the Maldives and the Seychelles, as well as during a brief travel corridor with the UK late last year, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed said at the Arabian Travel Market.

“We have to remain optimistic ... if markets open, traffic will be coming; we will see this in the next six months,” he said during a media round table.

"Maybe we will not reach the pre-pandemic numbers in those six months. That will be obviously a much longer period."

Sheikh Ahmed did not provide a forecast for annual passenger traffic during the current fiscal year, citing fluctuating market dynamics.

He said the airline is reassessing its plans "in terms of fleet requirements, what should be really pushed back, because we have to deal with a market that is shifting back and forth – it goes two steps in front and one step behind or two or three”.

Emirates is considering exchanging some of its wide-body Boeing 777X jets on order for smaller 787 Dreamliners amid delays in the new aircraft’s debut.

“That could be a possibility,” said Sheikh Ahmed. “The 777X programme was really delayed ... we are in talks with Boeing.”

The airline's chairman is also hopeful that the UAE will be added to the UK's green travel list "very soon".

“It is unfair. We look also at the number of British people who live in the UAE; there are more than 150,000 people living here, who want to go back home to their country and see their loved ones and friends. It is a must,” said Sheikh Ahmed.

“The two governments ... are talking about it and sharing information.”

State-owned Emirates received $2bn in equity from the Dubai government last year to pull through the pandemic.

Asked if there were ongoing discussions for a further injection of capital by the government, Sheikh Ahmed said the airline would assess its performance, the state of the market and its cash flow this year.

Emirates is also flying medical supplies to India, one of its top source markets, to help the Asian country cope with a devastating second wave of the pandemic.

“We are doing whatever [is] possible in terms of the airline by either carrying some of the freight for NGOs free of cost and also helping with connecting India with the rest of the world through our cargo operations to more than nine destinations,” he said.

Asked about his outlook for the new financial year that starts in April, Sheikh Ahmed said he was “optimistic” because there is pent-up travel demand.

“I hope the market will open in the next six months from now, with the summer traffic coming up fairly soon.”