Emirates now flies to 99 destinations, and has also been bringing back the A380 on select routes. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The number of aircraft flying through the UAE's airspace has risen to 1,000 a day - and that's a 200 per cent gain on April numbers. The higher aircraft movements will spell some hope for a troubled global airline industry, still ravaged by low demand and worries about flying in a pandemic.

The launch of two new UAE airlines Air Arabia Abu Dhabi and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi - will also provide expectations of a faster growth in aircraft movements... and in demand. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has received its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) from the GCAA (General Civil Aviation Authority), completing the last step in the regulatory processes for launch.

UAE airlines have been adding more routes across their networks after the COVID-19-induced halt. Emirates now flies to 99 destinations, which is about 63 per cent of the airline’s pre-pandemic network. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad has 58 destinations up and running - nearly half of the routes it was running in March.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director-General of the General Authority of Civil Aviation, said the impact of the pandemic on the aviation sector is gradually fading away. 

But IATA sees fewer travellers

But industry forecasts suggest it will be a while before passenger numbers reach back to pre-COVID-19 levels. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) lowered its 2020 passenger traffic forecast for the Middle East to reflect a “weaker-than-expected” recovery.

Passenger numbers in the region are expected to reach only 30 per cent of 2019 levels, down from the 45 per cent that forecast in July. The Middle East is expected to see 60 million travelers in 2020, compared to 203 million last year.

Global traffic started to pick up globally in April and May, but Africa and the Middle East are “lagging behind global recovery,” said Muhammad Ali Albakri, Regional Vice-President at IATA.

Cargo as saviour

However, transporting cargo has helped airlines keep their fleet busy. In August, air cargo capacity for the Middle East was down by only 24 per cent. “They have fared better in terms of the reduction in capacity, which reflects the speed by which carriers in that region mobilized passenger aircraft for cargo-only operations,” said Glyn Hughes, IATA Global Head of Cargo.