UAE's aviation chief says impact of coronavirus 'gradually fading'

Director general of the General Authority of Civil Aviation says 1,000 aircraft now using UAE airspace, up 200% compared to April

The UAE’s aviation industry is gradually re-emerging from the devastating impact of the global coronavirus pandemic as flights have increased to 1,000 a day in October, according to a senior official.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, director general of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said aircraft flying over UAE airspace increased by more than 200 percent compared to the volume of air traffic in April at the height of the pandemic when much of the UAE was in lockdown.

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Al Suwaidi (pictured below) told state news agency WAM that the negative impact of Covid-19 is “gradually fading away”.

He said that the UAE’s launch of two new national carriers during the crisis – Air Arabia Abu Dhabi and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi – are an important addition to the sector.

Air Arabia Abu Dhabi, the capital’s first low-cost carrier, launched on July 14, while Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is expected to begin operations in the coming weeks after being delayed due to the closure of Abu Dhabi to international tourists.

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Al Suwaidi said the government’s implementation of practical solutions and stringent precautionary measures that allow the safe operation of flights has allowed the industry to recover while limiting the spread of the virus.

His comments come just a day after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned that the Middle East’s aviation industry is set to lose more than 140 million passengers this year due to the ongoing impact of coronavirus.

It said full-year 2020 passenger numbers in the Middle East are forecast to reach only 30 percent of 2019 levels, down significantly from the 45 percent that was projected in July.

In absolute numbers, the Middle East is expected to see 60 million travellers this year compared to the 203 million in 2019.

In 2021, demand in the Middle East is expected to strengthen to 45 percent of 2019 levels to reach 90 million travellers, IATA added.

The aviation authority said that a full return to 2019 levels is not expected until late 2024 in the Middle East region.

Regional travel has picked up across the Middle East from the low point in April as countries in the region re-opened their borders.

However, international travel has remained heavily constrained owing to the return of government restrictions in the face of new Covid-19 outbreaks in a number of key markets.

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Forward bookings for air travel in the fourth quarter show a much slower recovery than had been expected previously, IATA said.

Bahrain saw a 21 percent surge in international air passengers in September after its decision to drop quarantine requirements for airport arrivals.

It took the decision last month after discovering only a small proportion of passengers developed Covid-19 during self-isolation.

IATA warned earlier this month that the damage being done to the Middle East aviation industry and on economies by the shutdown of air traffic owing to the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to deepen.

According to data published by the Air Transport Action Group of which IATA is a member, 1.7 million Middle East jobs will be lost in aviation and industries supported by aviation in 2020.

This is nearly half of the region’s 3.3 million aviation-related employment. It added that a total of 323,000 jobs will be lost in aviation alone in 2020, about 46 percent of the region’s 595,000 aviationrelated jobs.

GDP supported by aviation in the region will fall by up to $105 billion, 49 percent below pre Covid-19 levels, it said.

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