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:
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”