Dubai: Airline ticket rates are again dropping sharply, with seats to Mumbai now available at Dh300-Dh400 from Dubai, while it's at Dh430 or so to Karachi. This comes as the aviation industry faces another disruption from a new COVID-19 virus strain, and governments impose strict measures against its spread through air travel.
These are available on flydubai and Air Arabia flights and are unprecedented for this time of the year, when holiday travel is typically at its peak. London, which is in the middle of another lockdown, can be had from Dh1,600, which is at least 30-40 per cent off from their usual December range. Maldives, which has emerged as the most attractive destination for UAE residents during the pandemic year can cost between Dh2,500 to Dh3,500.
“It's likely that there will be some bargain fares in the market in the coming days/weeks," said John Grant, Partner at Midas Aviation. "Airlines are trying to balance consumer confidence being rocked again by the new variant of COVID-19.
“At the same time, airlines are desperate for cash and need to try and stimulate any possible demand. So, expect more sharp fares.”
UAE airlines have so far not joined in the cancellation of flights to the UK after the country imposed another lockdown round. Spokespersons at Emirates and Etihad had confirmed earlier that flights to London are running on schedule. However, reports have been coming through of widespread cancellations as expats are deterred by COVID-19 curbs in the country.
“What is clear is that demand today will be nowhere near what it was like a year ago,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst, StrategicAero Research. “It’s fallen off a cliff – and with it, profitability. In large part due to restrictions, but also because so many have lost their jobs and income and can no longer afford to have a vacation.”
“The reality is pretty stark – until the entire globe is inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine, normality simply isn’t going to return,” said Ahmad. “Given the physical limitations on vaccine production and issues with distribution, it could easily take a year or more for the entire global population to be vaccinated - 2021 will be equally challenging.”
Middle East airlines are expected to lose $7.1 billion this year as the pandemic cripples global air travel, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) They will likely lose another $3.3 billion in 2021.
Still the hub
The crisis does not in any way take away UAE’s status as an aviation center. “Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become aviation hubs in the world,” said V.K. Mathews, Executive Chairman, IBS Software, which provides services to Etihad and Emirates.
“One, they have the centrality advantage - they are very well positioned between Africa, India, Asia, and Europe,” said Mathews. “They are very well-invested, so that means the infrastructure is great. Once the threat of COVID-19 is gone, I am quite sure they will come back.”
If that’s not enough, the Israel deal will come into full effect next year and tourists will come flocking. According to the CEO of Israir, 2 million Israelis will visit Dubai in 2021. “Dubai would be a very big competition to other favorite destinations for Israelis such as Cyprus, Greece and Turkey,” said Uri Sirkis, during a business summit earlier this month. “I think Dubai is a gamechanger.”