According to the International Air Transport Association in an April briefing, air traffic in the Middle East and North Africa is expected to decrease by 51% – a drop from the February estimate of 39% – this year compared to 2019. Meanwhile, an April PwC report estimated that GCC airlines stood to lose $10bn in revenues if the crisis lasted one fiscal quarter – or $23bn if it lasts for two. As a result many airlines are looking to cut costs. Qatar Airways has stated that it will not add to its fleet this year or next, delaying previous orders with Boeing and Airbus in light of lowered demand following the pandemic. This highlights the challenge ahead for the aviation industry, as activity begins to restart.
Air travel is gradually beginning to re-emerge as lockdowns begin to ease and efforts to reopen economies gather pace. Emirates and Etihad have started to operate regional flight routes as travel restrictions are slowly lifted. Emirates has also announced more long distance flight offerings throughout June and July, with the new destinations including Colombo (from June 20), Sialkot (from June 24) and Istanbul (from June 25). The airline also plans to begin flying to Washington and Barcelona from July 15.
Facilitating regional travel
As planes take to the skies again, passenger safety and monitoring will become a primary focus for airlines. Strict temperature monitoring and social distancing protocols will be implemented across the Gulf region.
While price and convenience are likely to drive demand for direct flights on the side of passengers, visibly implementing government and health guidelines will also be key to persuading travellers that it is safe to resume air travel.
Since individual countries will have their own requirements for testing prior to entry, airlines are establishing protocols to ensure passenger hygiene.
Occupancy levels are being reduced to 50% to maintain social distancing, and distancing will also be enforced for passengers queuing in airports. Some airport restrooms have also been equipped with a density monitoring system to notify those waiting when it is safe to enter. Several airports now require masks to be worn at all times, with vending machines stocked with disposable masks available at Dubai Airport and other hubs across the Gulf. Hygiene teams are being employed to enforce the proper wearing of masks and adherence to social distancing. Airports will also include thermal screening chambers and sanitising mats.
New measures introduced by Emirates to reassure travellers include the provision of complimentary hygiene kits for all passengers and staggered boarding. Moreover, flights over 1.5 hours will have an onboard cabin service assistant to oversee the maintenance of washrooms. Additionally, all passengers and crew will be required to wear masks and gloves throughout the duration of the flight.
As air travel in the Gulf begins to gather pace in the coming months, airlines and airports will need to embrace appropriate safety standards and employ marketing strategies to highlight their health and safety priorities. This will position the region’s players to compete for a more limited number of international passengers for some time, and ensure they are ready to welcome a wider range of travellers as the skies continue to reopen.