Dubai — Emirates Airline, the world's biggest airline for longhaul traffic in 2019, saw its passenger traffic plunge 95% in its first half fiscal year that began in April as COVID-19 restrictions dented aviation and jet fuel demand.
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Emirates, which posted its first-half loss in over 30 years, carried 1.5 million passengers between April 1 and Sept. 30, it said in a statement Nov. 12.
"No one can predict the future, but we expect a steep recovery in travel demand once a COVID-19 vaccine is available, and we are readying ourselves to serve that rebound," Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates CEO, said in the statement.
Passenger flights out of Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international traffic last year, were suspended for eight weeks starting March 25 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emirates operates out of Dubai International Airport, which handled 86.4 million passengers last year.
Jet fuel demand
Emirates, which gradually restarted scheduled passenger operations on May 21, was operating passenger and cargo services to 104 cities at the end of September. Prior to the pandemic, Emirates flew to over 155 destinations.
Emirates' reduced capacity and passenger numbers will likely hit jet fuel consumption in the UAE, which accounted for around 30% of total Middle East jet fuel demand in 2019, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data.
Emirates operated the world's biggest fleet of A380 airliners, manufactured by Airbus, and Boeing's 777 before the pandemic led to the grounding of most big aircraft.
Middle East outlook
The International Air Transport Association has reduced its aviation outlook for the Middle East and Africa as the region lags behind global numbers and its slow recovery diminishes the chances of returning soon to pre-COVID 19 levels, a bearish signal for jet fuel demand.
The Middle East region will not recover before 2024, said Muhammad Ali Albakri, regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, in a media briefing Oct. 21. Government restrictions and quarantines are exacerbating already weak aviation demand, he added.
The Middle East is home to international traffic hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE and Doha in Qatar, which rely mainly on transit passengers to fill up seats.