Middle East airlines in four-year holding pattern as passenger numbers plunge again

The Middle East is expected to see 60 million travelers in 2020 compared to the 203 million in 2019, IATA said on Wednesday, reflecting the still unfolding impact of a second wave of coronavirus infections. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 21 October 2020

Middle East airlines in four-year holding pattern as passenger numbers plunge again

  • Passenger numbers are forecast to reach 90 million next year (45 percent of 2019 levels)
  • A full recovery unlikely to materialize until 2024

LONDON: The global aviation body has downgraded its air traffic forecast for the Middle East with passenger numbers to reach only 30 percent of last year’s level.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had in July anticipated passengers figures to reach 45 percent of the 2019 tally.

The Middle East is expected to see 60 million travelers in 2020 compared to the 203 million in 2019, IATA said on Wednesday, reflecting the still unfolding impact of a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Passenger numbers are forecast to reach 90 million next year (45 percent of 2019 levels) with a full recovery unlikely to materialize until 2024.

The latest forecast from IATA points to a much lower level of forward bookings in the last three months of the year.

THENUMBER

60 million

The number of travelers the Middle East is expected to see in 2020 compared to the 203 million recorded in 2019 according to IATA.

“The slower than anticipated return to the skies for travelers in the Middle East is more bad news for the region’s aviation industry,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East. “A few months ago, we thought that a fall in passenger numbers to 45 percent of 2019 levels was as bad as it could get. But the second wave, combined with continuing travel restrictions and quarantines, will result in passenger numbers in the region being less than a third of what we had in 2019.”

He called for governments to adopt systematic COVID-19 testing, echoing similar demands from European airline bosses who have complained about the impact of government “unilateralism” in adopting uncoordinated travel restrictions.

Last week Emirates President Tim Clark gave a slightly more upbeat assessment of the sector during a virtual event hosted by the CAPA aviation consultancy. He predicted that global air travel demand would return more quickly and more strongly than expected.

“The pandemic is a glitch,” he said. “We’ve had many of those in the past — perhaps not as significant and severe as this one for our industry, but nevertheless it’s a glitch. We will come through it and pick up again.”

Despite the optimistic assessment, global airlines continue to announce route closures and staff layoffs.


US sanctions Chinese and Russian firms over Iran trade

Updated 29 November 2020

US sanctions Chinese and Russian firms over Iran trade

  • Four companies accused of ‘transferring sensitive technology and items’ to missile program

LONDON: The US has slapped economic sanctions on four Chinese and Russian companies that Washington claims helped to support Iran’s missile program.

The four were accused of “transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program” and will be subject to restrictions on US government aid and their exports for two years, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The sanctions, imposed on Wednesday, were against two Chinese-based companies, Chengdu Best New Materials and Zibo Elim Trade, as well as Russia’s Nilco Group and joint stock company Elecon.

“These measures are part of our response to Iran’s malign activities,” said Pompeo. “These determinations underscore the continuing need for all countries to remain vigilant to efforts by Iran to advance its missile program. We will continue to work to impede Iran’s missile development efforts and use our sanctions authorities to spotlight the foreign suppliers, such as these entities in the PRC and Russia, that provide missile-related materials and technology to Iran.”

The Trump administration has ramped up sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

Earlier this week, Pompeo met Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah, when the campaign of pressure on the Iranian regime was also discussed.

“I want to thank Kuwait for its support of the maximum pressure campaign. Together, we are denying Tehran money, resources, wealth, weapons with which they would be able to commit terror acts all across the region,” he said.

It is not yet clear how the incoming administration of Joe Biden will deal with Tehran and whether it wants to revive the nuclear deal which would be key reviving the country’s battered economy. The Iranian rial has lost about half of its value this year against the dollar, fueling inflation and deepening the damage to the economy.

Iran’s economy would grow as much as 4.4 percent next year if sanctions were lifted, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) said last week. 

The economy is expected to contract by about 6.1 percent in 2020 according to IIF estimates.