The national airline of the UAE, Etihad Airways expects travel demand to increase in the second half of 2021, as border constraints are eased and more people are vaccinated, stoking hopes for a summer travel rebound.
Mr. Martin Drew, Senior Vice President for Global Sales and Cargo at Etihad commented that there is a “very strong intake” on forwarding bookings for passenger flights to Seychelles, Moscow, and Casablanca, which resume at the end of March, as well as a new route to Tel Aviv, which expected to begin on April 6.
According to the airline, some routes, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, have “strong demand” as people travel to see family and friends.
Mr. Drew said that pent-up demand will fuel a strong rebound as vaccination campaigns become more common and travel restrictions are eased.
The briefing comes a year after the UAE halted most passenger flights on March 23 to curb the COVID-19 virus’s spread. The pandemic had a devastating impact on the global aviation industry, dwarfing 9/11, SARS, and the global financial crisis.
To allow healthy travel to restart, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents airlines around the world, has called for quarantines to be replaced by COVID-19 tests and vaccinations. One approach promoted by the organization is its Travel Pass health app.
Mr. Chris Youlten Executive Director of operations strategy explained that Etihad plans to test the Travel Pass on its North American routes in April.
In the area, it serves four cities: Toronto, Chicago, New York, and Washington. On its European and Pakistan routes, the airline has been testing several digital health apps from different developers.
The apps will not be the reason travel opens up but they will enable it “once governments decide on what regulations are put in place to cross their borders in either direction”, Mr. Youlten added.
Etihad said that it does not need passengers to be vaccinated, leading to a dispute in the industry about international travel conditions.
Mr. Drew pointed out that Etihad’s air cargo company had been a lifeline during the crisis, which had wreaked havoc on passenger travel. The airline operates five Boeing 777 freighters after converting four Boeing 777-300 passenger planes to cargo planes.
Etihad is also considering turning some of its Airbus A330 planes into freighters, but removing seats from more of its Boeing 777-300ERs is more likely, Mr. Youlten concluded.