(from left) Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths, Christoph Mueller, chief digital and innovation office, Emirates, Amir Amidi, Managing Partner, Travel and Hospitality Center of Innovation at Plug and play, Skyscanner CEO and co founder, Gareth Williams and Caroline Strachan, managing partner Festive Road at a panel discussion at the IATA World Passenger Symposium in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The rise in “right-wing populism” around the world is a threat to the growth of the airline industry and global air travel, the chief economist of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Tuesday.

Right-wing movements from Europe to the United States challenging established political systems have becoming increasingly popular, pitching tighter, protectionist trade polices.

It is these policies, which also include closing borders to foreign citizens, that threaten growth of air travel demand, chief economist Brian Pearce said at an IATA conference in Dubai. “We as an industry depend on open borders,” he said.

The June Brexit referendum that saw the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union (EU) is one of many examples that analysts and commentators argue is the rise of right-wing populism. In the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for renegotiating or even reneging from international trade agreements while also setting out a policy of building a wall on its southern border with Mexico. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CD) came third in a recent regional election behind the Social Democrats (SPD) and the the rightwing populists Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

IATA expects 7 billion passengers to travel by 2035, around double the 2015 number, newly appointed director general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said at the conference. In November, IATA estimated that 7.2 billion would travel by 2034, which was a downgrade from its previous 7.4 billion outlook.

The IATA chief de Juniac later told reporters that he is “worried” that right-wing “trends … could have a negative impact on air traffic.”

Demand for travel in 2015 grew at its fastest rate in the five years since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), growing 6.5 per cent compared to 2014. However, IATA has warned this year of softening demand, largely due to weak economic outlook and a number of high profile terror attacks in Europe and Turkey that have deterred travellers.

Emirates president Tim Clark said he didn’t see the right-wing movements as a “long-term” threat to the air travel industry.

“I don’t see that as an impediment to the demand for air travel either regionally or globally,” he said.

However, Clark did say that he hoped that whoever wins the US election next month would not consider changing the country’s open skies policy that allows many airlines to fly to and from the US without restrictions.

“The value of air transport to the US by people like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad [Airways] … is quite clear,” he said.

The three Gulf carriers have faced an intense lobby campaign by the US’ three major airlines; American, Delta and United, to restrict access to them in the US market.