Dubai airport prepares for ‘slow recovery’

CEO Paul Griffiths, is urging countries to move away from mandatory quarantines on arriving passengers. (GettyImages)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Dubai airport prepares for ‘slow recovery’

  • CEO urges countries to move away from mandatory quarantines on arriving passengers

DUBAI: Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, is getting busier. But it’s a long way from what it once was amid the coronavirus pandemic as it prepares for a possible “extended, slow recovery,” its CEO told The Associated Press.

After long-haul carrier Emirates drastically cut its flights in March and slowly resumed its routes, passenger numbers at the mammoth airport serving East-West travel have crept up to over 1 million a month — just below 15 percent of what they were a year ago, CEO Paul Griffiths said.

To boost those numbers, Griffiths is urging countries to move away from mandatory quarantines on arriving passengers and toward the strategy embraced by Dubai. That includes aggressive coronavirus testing before departure, followed by mandatory mask-wearing on aircraft and testing on arrival.

“What we have to do is take appropriate measures to control and manage the risk, which actually are acceptable. I mean, life is full of risk management. It’s not all full of risk elimination,” Griffiths told the AP in an interview. 

“Surely the same should apply to the virus. We need to get it under control to minimize the risk of infection.

“And that can be done with some of the measures that we’ve got available to us without prolonging the social and economic damage that is currently being inflicted.”

Across the wider Middle East, passenger numbers this year are expected to reach only 60 million, down from 203 million in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association. That’s only 30 percent of last year’s numbers.

The recovery may take years. By 2021, the trade group hopes to see 90 million travelers in the Mideast, still drastically lower than 2019. In order to get passengers flying before a vaccine is widely available, the IATA is calling for mass, rapid testing of passengers rather than quarantines by countries.

Those quarantines hobble those considering taking a trip, Griffiths said. Instead, countries should move toward offering electronic “health passports” or other measures to aid in ensuring safety while in the air.

Griffiths said he believed air travel, with passengers properly masked, remained safe. Anecdotal evidence cited in a Journal of Travel Medicine article published in September showed no passengers contracted the coronavirus on five Emirates eight-hour flights to Hong Kong despite having 58 passengers spread among the flights who tested positive on arrival.

“Travel and tourism and the ability of people to freely move about their business every day is actually something that would kick-start the economy,” Griffiths said. “And the key of that is the international travel and the use of aircraft has already been proven to be pretty much advanced in controlling the spread of the virus.”

For Dubai, the resumption of flights remains deeply in their business interest.

Emirates remains the linchpin of the wider empire known as “Dubai Inc.,” an interlocking series of businesses owned by the city-state. The Investment Corporation of Dubai, a sovereign wealth fund, owns Emirates in its entirety, as well as the lucrative Dubai Duty Free.

Those duty free sales in 2019 accounted for $2 billion in revenue, including over 15 million cigars and 2.9 million bottles of perfume. 

The corporation did not respond to a request for comment on 2020 sales, though its last financial report acknowledged “measures to contain the virus have resulted in temporary closure of the stores.”

Some duty free shops have reopened in parts of the airport in the time since. Dubai authorities also have given Emirates a $2 billion bailout while laying off thousands of staffers. 

As far as the airport, Griffiths said he “cannot rule out” the need to fire some of its over 2,000 employees if there’s a slow recovery.

Dubai reopened for tourists in July, even as neighboring Abu Dhabi still requires even UAE residents to have just-received virus test results to come into the emirate. There’s a noticeable uptick in flights in the air as Emirates offers touchless check-ins and other measures to woo travelers.

Still, Emirates’ iconic fleet of double-decker Airbus A380s largely has been grounded. At the start of the year, the world saw 2,400 flights by the aircraft a week — the majority of those by Emirates, according to the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com. At most now, there are just over 100 flights a week — the majority of them still flown by Emirates, the website said earlier this month.

“The thing is that what we’ve got to understand is that air travel will bounce back. We will get back to levels that we’ve seen before,” Griffiths said. 

“We just can’t say how long and when. And the 380 will once again come into its own once those volumes return.”

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Egyptian minister hails reforms as public investment jumps 70%

Updated 28 min 30 sec ago

Egyptian minister hails reforms as public investment jumps 70%

  • The rate of economic growth reached about 1.8 percent — less than the population growth rate
  • A plan to control population increase will begin in January 2021

CAIRO: The volume of public investment in Egypt grew by 70 percent in the 2020/2021 fiscal year, reaching 595 billion Egyptian pounds ($37.9 billion), Minister of Planning and Economic Development Hala Al-Saeed has said.

In a speech at the Egypt Economic Summit 2020, she said that Egypt could become one of only three economies across the Middle East to achieve economic growth this year.

The growth followed reforms that helped make the Egyptian economy “more flexible” and “able to absorb external shocks,” she said.

Al-Saeed said Egypt faced great challenges that led to imbalances in the monetary, financial and external axes, which caused a decline in Egyptian economic indicators. The rate of economic growth reached about 1.8 percent — less than the population growth rate.

The minister added that a plan to control population increase will begin in January 2021, as Egypt’s population is expected to grow by 2.5 million annually and reach 130 million in 2030.

Al-Saeed said that achieving development requires sustained economic progress to overcome weak population growth and the challenges facing the Egyptian economy in light of political and economic changes and the coronavirus pandemic.

The challenge helped Egypt commit to reforms based on comprehensive planning and an ambitious vision for the future, in the form of Egypt’s Vision 2030 sustainable development strategy, the minister said.

Egypt’s implementation of reforms since November 2016 led to “overall stability” and “comprehensive growth.” This was reflected in positive indicators that the Egyptian economy saw before the coronavirus outbreak, she added.

The rate of economic growth was about 5.6 percent in the first half of the 2019/2020 fiscal year, and about 5 percent during the third quarter. There was an average growth of 5.4 percent in the first nine months of the year, before the coronavirus outbreak.

Al-Saeed said that international institutions had “positive expectations” regarding the Egyptian economy.

She referred to the results of the World Economic Outlook report issued by the International Monetary Fund in October 2020, in which the Fund raised its expectations for Egypt’s gross domestic product growth to 3.5 percent for the year, compared with a previous forecast of 2 percent in the June report.

If the prediction is realized, it will make Egypt among only three economies in the Middle East and Central Asia to achieve economic growth this year.