Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, has called on governments around the world to offer clarity on the reopening of the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking as part of the new ATM Virtual online show, he argued many carriers were living day-to-day as they sought to recover from an unprecedented shock.
“Every airline is looking at survival, and in the short-, medium- and long-term there can be no certainty – we are by no means out of the woods,” he said.
“The airline business is in a critical and fragile state; we need access, to get a cash lifeline to some of the carriers, or they will not get through the next few months.”
He added: “If you were to aggregate all the crises we have seen in the last 30-40 years, they would not amount to what we have seen with the pandemic.
“We have seen a $15 trillion torpedo hit the world economy, and transport and leisure are just two of the casualties seen so far.”
Emirates itself announced a cautious return to flying last month, and is currently offering a number of commercial routes.
For the industry as whole, Clark added, there could be some return to normalcy by next summer, but only if a vaccine can be developed to reduce the risks of travel.
“My instinct is that by the summer of next year – because of a potential vaccine and the role of social distancing – we will see quite a large uptick, both in short-haul and long-haul travel.
“We at Emirates are well placed to take advantage of this; we are always in a state of readiness.
“Demand will then continue to increase into 2022 and 2023, when we hopefully will see some sort of normality.
“But this is dependent on some kind of vaccine, whether it has a 100 per cent success rate or not.”
He added: “People are anxious to get on with their lives, to enjoy their lives – and as we move into 2021, we will see this beginning to happen.”
In conversation with John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting, the Emirates leader said airlines themselves had a vital role in reassuring passengers it was safe to return.
He explained: “In the airline world we have a job to do, to show passengers we have introduced measures that are not just a one off, but long-term and consistent.
“We need to show we pay constant attention to the hygiene onboard.
“This means giving passengers their own tools, be that masks, gloves or sanitisers, to clean their own seats or seat-back screens, to give a sense of personal control.”
In Dubai, Emirates’ check-in and boarding formalities have been adapted with social distancing in mind.
Protective barriers have been installed at each check-in desk to provide additional safety measures to passengers and employees during any interaction.
The carrier has also begun offering Covid-19 tests to passengers.
However, leaving the middle seat empty on aircraft was not part of the solution, Clark added.
“If we start leaving the middle seats empty in the economy inventory, we need to be consistent – what about the seat behind?
“To do this effectively, we will have to take 50 per cent of the seats out of the cabin – and the economics of this do not stack up.”
He added: “On an environmental side, it makes no sense to fly half empty aircraft.”