The aviation industry will likely take three to four years to get back to pre-Covid-19 activity levels, while Emirates, one of the first airlines to be impacted by the pandemic, will be among the last to recover from the crisis.
That is the “pessimistic” prognosis by Gary Chapman, president, group services and DNATA, Emirates Group, taking into account not just the recovery from the crisis but also “the mother of all recessions that will follow” to be marked by waves of unemployment and disruptions.
“I am very positive about the future and about our ability to come through this, but at the moment, it is a pretty horrible place to be in the aviation industry… because it is, frankly, a horror story,” Chapman said in a webinar called The Future of Travel, a World Travel and Tourism Council exclusive organised by the Philippine Department of Tourism.
He added that while there’s a need to plan for the uncertain future, “the real focus right now is making sure that we stop the haemorrhaging, the cash bleed that we’re all facing”.
It’s “a very emotional, a very difficult time” for Emirates, with 260 aircraft grounded and 105,000 staff in the organisation, while presently doing only a number of repatriation flights, he said.
Chapman shared that as a hub-and-spoke operator globally, Emirates will be among the last to recover from the pandemic given that “we have no domestic market” and “we are also bringing people (to and from all continents)”.
Based on what can be seen in the last few weeks as the pandemic progresses, “we become a little more pessimistic in the sense that we make forecasts and predictions… and it’s turning more and more into a worst-case scenario”, Chapman said.
“Any recovery will be toxic and erratic”, he added, as the travel and tourism sector fights for consistent and clear safety and security standards for travelling.
Chapman also noted the impracticality of some proposed travel protocols like a two-week quarantine for travellers and social distancing.
“There’s a risk that it will make the (travelling) experience rather unpleasant. You may compare it with going to the dentist for root canal and you have no anaesthetic and what happens is not about medical control but what the experience is going to be like,” he said.
Chapman added that “the talk of social distancing in aircraft is garbage as far as I’m concerned,” pointing out that the economics of it will be the “death knell” for the industry and that no airline will be able to operate commercially.
“If anyone wants that, let them buy six or seven seats and they can have their own space.”