Dubai: The Dubai-London air route – the world’s busiest in the first week of January this year – will not immediately see a surge in demand after the UK resumes ‘non-essential’ international flights from May 17.
“That demand (for London-Dubai) only accounts for around half of the passengers travelling from the UK to the UAE - many are connecting onwards,” said John Grant, Partner at Midas Aviation. “That particular, and very important, segment remains at the mercy of travel restrictions in markets such as Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. And only when they are removed can we expect to see normal sort of volumes passing through (on London-Dubai sector).”
Before the UAE was added to the UK's travel ban, Dubai-London was the busiest with a seat capacity of over 190,000 in the first week of 2021.
But from a broader perspective, the UK's decision to permit international flights is seen as the right course, especially by the country’s flagship, British Airways. “It's a commitment to reopen travel - and I think that's an acknowledgment that the industry is important, and that the industry is a key lever in getting the economy up and running again,” said Sean Doyle, CEO of British Airways, during an online event.
The executive added that the US and UK should be the first air travel markets to bounce back, given the high vaccination rates. “Both countries have implemented successful vaccination programmes - that should lead to the ability for the UK and US to lead the way in opening up air travel,” said Doyle.
“There's over a million people of British nationality living in the US, so there's a huge amount of visiting friends and relative traffic. But the sheer amount of economic activity enabled by that relationship is significant.”
Why does the UK matter?
Getting the UK sector back in operation is crucial for Dubai’s travel and tourism prospects. Last December, the UK provided the highest passenger numbers passing through Dubai International Airport, but that was immediately curtailed after the UK announced severe travel restrictions.
Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths told Gulf News that the loss of flights to the UK has had an impact of “a couple of 100,000 passengers a month”.
“The market from the UK to the UAE is complex with both local and connecting traffic,” said Grant. “The local market demand will remain strong and people are eager to travel in both directions.”
However, due to continued restrictions in end destination markets that are connected via Dubai, airlines will have to operate smaller aircraft and drop frequencies as well, said Grant. “I certainly expect the airlines to provide as much capacity as the market requires, and it will be easy to turn more on at short notice.”