Four Things The President Of Emirates Believes About The Coronavirus Crisis in Aviation

Emirates President Sir Tim Clark is set to retire in June after 35 years with the airline and 17 as in his current role.

The 70 year old, who began his career at British Caledonian in 1972, gave an interview offering his perspective on where the airline industry is headed as it grapples with the coronavirus crisis. There are four key takeaways:

  1. We don’t need permanent social distancing on planes. The virus will either peter out or we’ll get a vaccine.

    The idea of reconfiguring planes, removing seats on planes or permanently factoring in spacing requirements in the future – in line with social distancing measures – is untenable and not sustainable, Mr Clark said.

    “My view is basically two-fold. One, it wouldn’t surprise me if this virus disappeared completely by the end of summer. But if it doesn’t, then the pursuit of the vaccine is the only way we are going to be able to deal with it when it comes to international travel, and to some extent hospitality and other kinds of transport,” Mr Clark said.

    “My own view, my gut feel is telling me that by the summer of next year we could be well on our way to mass global inoculation … and therefore things will change. If that happens all this business about spacing on aeroplanes, on buses, trains and restaurants and hotels goes away,” he added. “In the meantime of course, as long as this is going on, and if it’s another year then we are going to have to live with the agonies as far as air transport is concerned … with countries … taking down lockdown procedures.”

  2. Large widebody aircraft like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 are done. Emirates is the largest operator of A380s with 115 in its fleet and 8 more on order.

    “We know the A380 is over, the 747 is over but the A350 and the 787 will always have a place. They may not be ordered soon, they may have orders deferred and pushed back, but eventually they will come back, and they will be a better fit probably for global demand in the years post the pandemic,” he said.

    “Do I see demand for these bigger aircraft slowing, yes I do,” he added. “The numbers I would suggest will be lower in the next three to five years and I think Boeing and Airbus recognise that and are already slowing their production now. You can’t fly from Dubai to San Francisco in a 737 non-stop but you can on a 787 and you can on an A350 and very comfortably.”

  3. Even with governments providing massive subsidies to airlines in the U.S. and Europe there will still be several airlines that will fail.

    “There wasn’t room for more consolidation,” he added. “State intervention has kept that from happening and it has stopped some of the smaller carriers going out of existence. How long that will go on for I don’t know. I am still not optimistic about the survivability of quite a few carriers.”

  4. The airline industry will shrink 20% – 30% and carriers should write off the summer,

    “We have just got to accept that in the next year or two, perhaps a bit longer, demand for air travel is going to be tempered in many respects,” he said. “What emerges from this will be in my view almost perhaps 20 or 30 per cent less than what we were experiencing prior to the coronavirus kicking in.”

    …“It’s anybody’s guess as to what is going to happen, what people will do this summer,” he said. “Frankly if it was me, I’d write it off, and if you get anything good for you, that’s great. But don’t think it’s going to come back like a tsunami because I don’t think it will.”

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. To the end he tells it like it is bravo! Gary would be a great read if you were to get a one on one interview with him a wealth of knowledge. He’s correct and once again Boeing looked around the corner years ago in developing the 787 series planes, sad that they have now fallen so far down.

  2. @ ghostrider5408 — Can you please explain how the virus just disappears? That is utter nonsense.

  3. I mean, someone DID once say it would go from 15 to 0 cases in a week, not sure what happened after that…

  4. Yeah, agree 100% re Covid19 virus “miraculously” disappearing at any time, let alone within a few months’ time, which is what would be required to meet Sir Timothy Clark’s “end of summer” estimate for Corona Virus to exit stage right (as it were) from the global stage.

    And while blocking middle seats indefinitely is unrealistic and unsustainable, the type maximal densification seen in recent years also is unrealistic and spacing (pitch) between rows does need to increase a modest amount, while 17-17.2” wide economy class seats for flights longer than 3 hours on any mainline aircraft except Boeing 737s and 757s needs to go, too.

    Passengers on mid-, long- and ultra long haul flights should NOT be forced to be so close to their seat-/row-mate they’re literally pressing flesh against each other for 5-15 (or more) hours.

    Time to go back to 9-abreast seats with 18+” width for 777s, just as they were designed to be, and were flown by most airlines for the first 20 years 777s were in service.

    If an airline sees a need to pack in 10 seats per row, then they need to use aircraft that can accommodate 10 seats at a minimum of 18” width per row.

    Sorry, 9-abreast 787 ‘Nightmareliners’, even before Covid19 these obnoxious, overcrowded “densified” beasts were on my, and nearly everyone who turns to me for advice/booking of their flights, “No Fly” list.

    So, that only worsened with the onset of Corona Virus pandemic – as in “Never, Ever” fly aboard a 9 abreast 787 in economy.

    If it’s a premium economy seat or biz class, sure, no problem.

    But, if it’s steerage – now more than ever it’s a STEER CLEAR for a great plane that has *GARBAGE* configurations for economy class passengers (same applies for 10 abreast 777s – a garbage plane best avoided if ever there was one).

    So, I’ll just continue booking 8-abreast A330s or 9-abreast A350s for myself and others, as done since 2015 anyway…

    But, apart from the fantastical delusion/wishful thinking of Covid19 miraculously vanishing into thin air by summer’s end, the article featuring Sir Clark’s POV of airlines in the post-Covid19 pandemic era makes for an excellent read!

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