The outgoing chief of Emirates has described the COVID-19 pandemic as “a glitch” for the airline industry but he believes the Dubai-based airline is well placed to bounce back once a vaccine is developed or the world has learned to live with the virus.
In the meantime, however, Sir Tim told a virtual aviation conference that things would likely get worse before they get better.
“The pandemic is a glitch,” Sir Tim told the CAPA Live conference. “We’ve had many of those in the past – perhaps not as significant and severe as this one for our industry – but nevertheless it’s a glitch. We will come through it and pick up again.”
Sir Tim, who was meant to retire in June but has agreed stayed on until next year in order to oversee Emirates’ response to the Corona crisis, has changed his mind about the longterm impact that the pandemic might have on the airline industry after a pessimistic initial outlook.
At the outset of the crisis, he infamously declared that the Airbus A380 was “dead” but has since changed his opinion, saying the flagship double-deck aircraft still has a longterm future with the airline. Other carriers have either put their A380’s into longterm storage or, like Air France, have retired the planes altogether.
“I’m not one of these people who believes in the ‘new normal’,” Clark said at the conference in comments reported by Executive Traveller. “I believe demand will return in a very robust manner.”
“As you roll forward, is there a place for network carriers of the size, scale and panache and brand of Emirates? Of course. I’m a firm believer in that – but I would say that wouldn’t I?” he continued.
“Once we have a vaccine in place and the world is sufficiently resilient or robust to deal with this and possibly more pathogens as they come at us, then I think memories are short and demand is strong and the role of the network carrier in many respects could be stronger then than it has been in the past.”
Demand is unlikely, however, to return in the next six months and things will “get worse before they get better” he remarked. That opinion is shared by Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of regional rival Qatar Airways who predicted last week that a slew of more airline bankruptcies would be inevitable over the coming weeks and months.
Like Sir Tim, the Qatar Airways chief believes his airline is resilient enough to come out the other end of the COVID-19 stronger.
Industry trade bodies, though, are increasingly concerned about the impact of continuing travel bans and a second wave of the virus sweeping through Europe and North America.
Airline revenues are predicted to be down by between 50 and 60 per cent this year, while at least 4.8 million aviation jobs could be lost as a result of the pandemic.
Dubai has led the way in attempting to safely reopen to tourists, lifting a travel ban back in July and instead requiring visitors to present a negative COVID-19 test certificate.
While not without risk, that solution is slowly being adopted by more countries as a way to lift travel bans and avoid quarantine restrictions.