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Dubai International Airport slowly starts to reopen

Dubai International Airport handled 86.4 million passengers in 2019, making it the world’s busiest airport for international travel yet again.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a near-total shutdown of global travel leading to expectations that it will cut airlines’ passenger revenue by more than half, or about $314 billion ( Dh1.15 trillion) this year, and threatening the loss of 25 million jobs worldwide, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Dubai Airports said it responded to the Covid-19 crisis through an assistance programme for aviation partners, tenants and concessionaires covering the period from March 1 to May 31. The programme includes includes waiving 100 per cent of minimum guarantees or equivalent fees for partners who have been required to cease trading due to the suspension of airport operations caused by the global pandemic.

For those that have maintained partial operations, other measures are in place to address the reduction in aviation activity, including “rescheduling and other financial adjustments”, it said without elaborating.

“We have taken a number of unprecedented measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 to our own business, as well as those of our partners,” said Eugene Barry, executive vice president of commercial at Dubai Airports. ”Our futures are intertwined, and dependent on our ability to maintain core relationships, but also on adapting to unprecedented conditions and new behaviours.”

Few days ago Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths  confirmed that while the airport operator is taking appropriate measures to control costs, optimise liquidity, facilitate cargo and repatriation flights and prepare for a timely and proportionate activation of facilities and services at Dubai International, DXB, to support the resumption of scheduled traffic, the timing and the speed of air traffic recovery will ultimately depend on the development of a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is of a very different nature than any previous crisis in that it has affected supply, demand and health security and by extension the entire global economy,” said Griffiths. “We’re dealing with a monster here for which we clearly have to find a solution. Until there is a proven level of confidence medically that people can travel without fear of spreading or contracting the virus, the situation we find ourselves in is likely to continue.”

COVID-19 had a noticeable impact on passenger traffic at the world’s leading international airport during the first quarter of the year as DXB recorded a total of 17.8 million customers, a year on year contraction of 19.8 percent due to dampened demand and reduced flight numbers caused by the suspension of services by regulatory authorities in the UAE and elsewhere.

Now, after the UAE cancelled tourist visas in March, Dubai’s plans for a post Covid-19 future are slowly unfolding. Its ambitious goal is to welcome tourists back by July. Since April 24, restaurants and retail outlets have been permitted to reopen under strict safety guidelines and Emirates President, Sir Tim Clark has said that the airline is ready to resume service with just 48 hours’ notice.

Helal Al Marri, Director General of DTCM (Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing), says: “July would be the time we start to see the air open up.” However, in an interview with Bloomberg TV two weeks ago, he warned that the process could be delayed until September. “Many international airports remain closed and really it’s about the bilateral discussions underway to have a co-ordinated approach to reopening.”

Each country’s quarantine period, Covid-19 testing facilities and social distancing laws will impact travellers’ ability to cross borders. Unless an effective vaccine becomes available, airline bosses fear that future travel plans may be foiled.

The close proximity of airplane seating will make social distancing tricky, and it remains to be seen how international airport protocols will be set – but Dubai and its state airline are braced for business returning.

Patrizia Marin

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