Stock – Dubai Airport
Dubai International has revised its forecasts for passenger traffic this year - upwards. The numbers sure are looking good. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: London Heathrow was the world’s busiest airport with 3.38 million ‘seats’ in May, but not by as much as Dubai International placed a close second with around 3.3 million seats.

This is first time since 2019 that London Heathrow has reclaimed the title, as UK ushered in the full return of international travel, according to data from OAG.

Hong Kong, which was the world’s second-largest international airport in May 2019, stood in 84th place with only 12 per cent of historic capacity being operated. This is despite Cathay Pacific announcing the relaunch of a daily London Heathrow service in June. Similarly, Seoul Incheon – which used to be in the fifth position - sits in 50th place with a near 80 per cent decline in international airline capacity.

DXB, which had re-opened in full after the COVID-19 strike in mid-2020, forecasts a passenger turnout of 58.3 million this year after a sharp increase in traffic in recent weeks, and particularly during the Eid break earlier this month. The earlier estimates for 2022 were for 55.1 million passengers.

Eid travel and more

"DXB’s performance over the past successive quarters is nothing short of impressive and is a direct outcome of Dubai’s clear strategy and efforts to restore international air connectivity and mobility," said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports.

Despite high oil prices, UAE’s airlines could become profitable way ahead of some of their industry peers as they benefit from pent-up travel demand.

In its latest earnings report, Emirates airline said it expects to enter positive territory in 2022-23. This was after the airline narrowed its full year 2021 loss to Dh3.8 billion compared to a loss of Dh22.1 billion a year earlier.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, which was in the midst of a turnaround, had a profitable first quarter for the first time in its 18-year history. “This is still a work in progress, but what we have seen is a market that’s come back like a fire hydrant going off,” said CEO Tony Douglas during an industry event last week. “Yield is still good in terms of ticket pricing.”

The budget airlines are already in blue with flydubai posting a profit of Dh841 million in 2021. Sharjah-based Air Arabia reported a 756 per cent surge in its first quarter profit amid a recovery in global air travel demand.

The three large US carriers - American, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines — expect to report full-year profits this year amidst higher offtake in travel. Meanwhile, IAG, the parent company of British Airways, has predicted a return to profitability in the second quarter of 2022.

Issues persist

During an industry event last, Emirates’ chief operating officer Adel Al Redha said the aviation industry could bounce back in 2022 itself if airlines and airports ramp up hiring to deal with the severe staff shortages. IATA (International Air Transport Association) expects global airlines to return to pre-COVID levels in 2023.

“The industry could come back in 2022, but the only thing holding us back is our ability to source the required frontline staff, whether it’s the airline, ground handling or airport,” said Al Redha at the Arabian Travel Market.

The severe staff shortages are beginning to bite airlines in UK and US. British Airways reportedly reduced its flight schedules this summer. The UK airline plans to cut 10 per cent of its flight schedules between March and October, due to a staff shortage, according to media reports.

Several US airlines are also trimming their summer schedules as they struggle to meet the recent spike in air travel demand with current staff levels.

UAE airlines are doing fine

UAE airlines, which began hiring in mid-2021 anticipating a recovery in air travel demand, have not experienced any major staff shortages so far. “We have not cancelled or delayed a launch of any flight now and (will not do so) in the near future because of staff shortages,” said Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO of flydubai during a virtual event.

A majority of flydubai’s staff had opted for unpaid leave at the start of the pandemic, and this meant the airline did not have to make significant fresh hires when air travel demand rebounded in the second-half of 2021.

Emirates airline on Tuesday launched its latest recruitment drive to hire cabin crew in 30 cities. Under the latest programme, which will conclude in June, Emirates’ teams will travel from Australia to the UK, and dozens of European cities in between, as well as Cairo, Algiers, Tunis, and Bahrain.