(Bloomberg) — Emirates sees a sharp recovery in demand for air travel next year as coronavirus vaccines are distributed around the world, meaning the carrier’s full fleet of jumbo Airbus SE A380 jets could return to the skies by early 2022.
Progress on the production and transportation of inoculations should be evident by the second quarter of next year, President Tim Clark said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Wednesday. That will lead to a release in pent-up demand “across all segments” led by those who have had to shelve travel plans during the pandemic, he said.
“I can see demand for travel moving at pace,” Clark said. “My own view, and it’s always an optimistic view, is by end of next calendar year or the first quarter of 2022 we’ll have all our A380s flying.”
The show of confidence from the veteran airline executive contrasts with a deteriorating outlook for airlines facing the worse crisis the industry has ever suffered. Bankruptcies are happening at a record pace, while the industry’s chief lobby on Tuesday estimated carriers will lose $157 billion this year and next because of the pandemic’s devastating impact on travel.
Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul carrier, has seen demand all but dry up on its key routes. The Dubai-based airline is the largest customer of the A380, whose sheer size has made it particularly unviable. The cost of storing and maintaining the fleet contributed to a $3.8 billion loss in the six months through September.
“What we have to face and continue to face is the carrying cost of the A380 fleet, which is very expensive for us,” Clark said. The carrier said earlier this month it has used some of the idled superjumbos for cargo, while a handful of others are flying passengers, but most of the 115-strong fleet remains grounded.
Clark has previously said the development of a vaccine would be key to the A380’s return to wide use. Emirates will receive three of the jumbos by the end of the year, at least one of which will have a premium economy cabin, the executive said Wednesday. That will leave five more to be delivered at a later date.
Emirates remains in the dark about when Boeing Co. will deliver its new 777X jet after a series of delays, as the model is yet to be certified.
“I have no idea,” Clark said. “They were due to be delivered this year in June, then it was 2021, then it was 2022. It hasn’t finished its certification program yet, both airframe and engine.”
The introduction of vaccines will still require airlines and governments to set rules about whether proof of an inoculation will be needed to fly, and Qantas Airways Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said his airline would make it a “necessity”.
It’s still “early days” to take a position on that, Clark said. “It is likely the countries themselves will decide on requirements.”
(Updates with more comment on A380s in sixth paragraph)
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