Royal Jordanian has gone back to between 60-70% pre-COVID-19 network utilisation. The flag carrier is using the present to build up its regional services. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Global airline recovery need not wait until 2023 – that’s according to the CEO of Royal Jordanian, the country’s flag carrier.

“We get a feeling this (COVID-19) is moving from a pandemic into a normal influenza type thing where a lot of people are immune,” said Samer Majali. This is why he reckons the airline industry will recover faster than many within the sector had been forecasting for some time now.

Majali may be well be right. Wherever governments have restored international borders, demand for air travel picked up overnight. Much the same happened with domestic travel too, as witnessed in China, the US, and, just recently, in India.

Royal Jordanian, is operating at just over 60 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 frequency. The focus going forward will be to be a sizeable played within the region. “We're trying to expand as the region itself opens up and regional conflicts become less of military in nature,” he added.

We're trying to expand as the region itself opens up and regional conflicts become less of military in nature,

- Samer Majali of Royal Jordanian

The airline incurred a net loss of JD161 million (Dh832.96 million) in 2020 compared with a net profit of JD10.4 million (Dh53.81 million) in 2019. “The first quarter of this year (2021) was essentially the same as last year,” said Majali. “Margins recovered in March-end, and we started bringing back airplanes into service and started opening routes.”

The US was the first destination to open for the Jordanian carrier. That country had “relatively free access in terms of health requirements, PCRs or vaccinations,” he added. “Generally, it was acceptable because there was a patchwork of different regulations in different US states. So, it wasn't really a very strong enforcement.”

The other market to open up early was the Gulf, but demand was weak in April due to Ramadan. As per Flightradar24, Dubai is currently the top destination from Amman, with 58 flights per week, followed by Cairo (55 flights per week), and Istanbul (48 flights per week).

Airlines introspect
The Covid crisis has forced airlines to re-think business models and strategies. Etihad Airways has opted for a leaner structure, while Emirates sought a closer operational relationship with Dubai-based peer flydubai.

“Initially, everybody is looking inwards at the moment to fix their own shop and reorganize their internal dynamics,” said Samer Majali. “Every airline has to look at its particular hub and base of operation and also what is happening on its on its primary network. Airlines are asking what do I do for the next 12 months?”

Israel deal

Last year, Jordan signed an aviation agreement with Israel that allows flights to cross over their airspace, a move that has shortened flight times and could open up new routes for UAE’s airlines. “There was traffic beyond the Gulf that we used to take into the Far East, which potentially now, those airlines can participate in,” said Majali. “Some of the Gulf carriers will be taking some of our traffic we used to take to the Far East.

“Something opens up and something closes down - this is the nature of the business,” he added.