Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have all recently relaxed travel and social restrictions
The health of the Middle East aviation sector was in focus at Arabian Travel Market 2021 which concluded last week at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
Regional experts debated the state of the Middle East aviation industry and a timetable for its recovery, particularly after significant announcements by Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai on relaxed travel and social restrictions.
The conference session entitled ‘Aviation – the Key to Rebuilding International Travel, Restoring Confidence, Global Solutions and Building Business’, was moderated by TV and radio presenter Phil Blizzard, with guest panellists including George Michalopoulos, chief commercial officer of Wizz Air; Hussein Dabbas, general manager of special projects for MEA region at Embraer, and John Brayford, president atThe Jetsets.
Overall, the panel was optimistic about the recovery citing pent-up demand, which could initially outstrip the availability of flights, until airlines resume their regular pre-Covid scheduled services and routes, particularly on domestic and regional routes, which they agreed would be the first to recover.
“Domestic and regional leisure passenger traffic will recover first. This will be driven by massive pent-up demand, helped by relaxed ‘local’ restrictions and improved consumer confidence,” said Dabbas.
Michalopoulos added: “Vaccine passports are the way forward and it is also important that we communicate just how safe onboard air conditioning is. Some people think that recirculated air in planes is not safe, that simply isn’t true. Aircraft have filtering systems which are as efficient as hospital ICUs.”
Looking to the future, Brayford, an industry stalwart whose company The Jetsets is pioneering fractional ownership in private business jets, said that airlines would need a clear plan moving forward: “A niche today might become a mainstream trend tomorrow, so no opportunity should be overlooked, the way in which some airlines have supplemented reduced passenger numbers with cargo is a good example. Flexibility and managing costs will also be key.”