Emirates sees unprecedented travel surge once China reopens

EMIRATES, the world’s largest long-haul airline, said it’s expecting a surge in global travel on a scale beyond anything seen for many years once China fully reopens to overseas flights. 

While most aviation markets are already “rebounding at pace”, the dropping of Covid-related curbs in the world’s second-largest economy will trigger a “tsunami” of bookings, Emirates president Tim Clark said on Nov 23. 

“At some point, China will unleash demand for travel the likes of which we will not have seen for a long, long time,” Clark said in Berlin. “The longer they press the cork down in the water, the greater the velocity of return.” 

Emirates is heavily dependent on Asian traffic flows, with its business based around intercontinental flights that link the region with the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East via its hub in Dubai. Even so, the group was able to post a record first-half profit equivalent to more than US$1 billion (RM4.51 billion) through September amid the upswing in travel after two years of Covid disruption. 

Clark said Emirates flights to Asian destinations that have already reopened, such as Thailand, Malaysia and Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, are essentially full. 

Capacity cuts at carriers including Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd and PT Garuda Indonesia will mean the industry could struggle to cope with pent-up demand for the next few years, he said. 

For the time being, the situation on the ground in China remains tense as the government seeks to stamp out a surge in virus cases. China is seeing near-record numbers of Covid outbreaks, spurring major cities from Beijing to Shanghai to revert to broad restrictions on people’s movements. 

Emirates is expecting an update on engine issues afflicting Boeing Co’s long-delayed 777X wide-body on Dec 6, Clark said. A glitch discovered about a month ago halted testing, with a turbine sent to its manufacturer GE Aviation in Cincinnati for analysis. 

If the problem is diagnosed as a manufacturing or component issue, tests could resume as early as January, according to Clark, who said Boeing should have enough slack built into the 777X’s revised delivery date of July 2025 to cope with a delay, “provided it is not a design issue”.

Still, Clark said it’s possible Emirates could consider pulling 777X orders if the model, already five years late, suffers further delays. He added that the company is continuing to assess a possible role for the largest A350-1000 variant of Airbus SE’s biggest current airliner, which competes with the 777X. 

“If it continues to be late, or the regulator is unhappy, our patience will be truly tested,” he said of the Boeing jet. “We’ve got a business to run, we have an ageing fleet that needs to be replaced, we want to continue to innovate.” 

Clark has said previously that the A350-1000 must demonstrate the reliability of its Rolls-Royce Holdings plc engines before Airbus considers an order. — Bloomberg

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition