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Dubai — Dubai Airports, which manages two airports in the second biggest UAE emirate, does not expect passenger flights to return to pre-coronavirus levels before 18 months, its CEO said Thursday, echoing statements from Dubai-based Emirates, the world's biggest operator of long-haul flights.

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"While we're certainly ready to ramp up for the resumption of travel, it's virtually impossible to forecast with any reliability as to how rapidly air services will be re-established on a regularly scheduled basis and how long it will take to get back to previous traffic levels," said Paul Griffiths in a statement.

"We're looking at an 18 month to two-year time frame but that is highly dependent upon the development of an effective treatment or vaccine and the establishment of bilateral arrangements between countries."

Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest hub for international traffic in 2019, handled 17.8 million customers in the first quarter, a year-on-year contraction of 19.8%. The contraction was due to the epidemic and the UAE authorities suspension of most flights, except cargo and evacuation flights, in late March.

"We're dealing with a monster here for which we clearly have to find a solution," Griffiths said. "Until there is a proven level of confidence medically that people can travel without fear of spreading or contracting the virus, the situation we find ourselves in is likely to continue."

Bilateral agreements

Dubai Airports, which also manages Al Maktoum airport in the emirate, will have to rely on bilateral agreements with governments to resume services at the moment.

"Until a medical solution is found, the industry will rely on bilateral agreements that enable the resumption of service," said Griffiths. "We will gradually start to see some confidence build between trusted countries where the governments have acted significantly enough and early enough to get the spread of the virus under control."

Emirates, the world's biggest operator of superjumbo A380 and Boeing 777 fleet, does not see travel demand returning to "normality" before 18 months, its chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said this week. The statement came as the coronavirus outbreak bites into the company's revenue and passenger numbers.

Emirates resumed limited outbound flights on April 6 and said on May 9 it will be operating limited passenger flights to carry travelers from select destinations back to the UAE.

Jet fuel demand

The suspension of regular passenger flights in the UAE has hit regional and even global regional fuel demand.

Jet fuel demand in the UAE alone accounted in 2019 for more than 30% of the jet fuel consumption in the Middle East region and more than 2.5% of the global jet fuel demand, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. The demand does not include refueling abroad of UAE's international flights.

Emirates said it carried 56.2 million passengers during the last financial year that ended on March 31, a 4% decline from a year-earlier period.