The COVID-19 pandemic was a cataclysmic snap back in the unyielding two-decade march toward globalization and free movement of people by air. Globally, about two-thirds of commercial flights have returned. Yet, traffic is still sharply depressed as travel restrictions remain in place forcing many flights to operate sparsely filled or solely with cargo and hardened by the rising cases in many countries.
There has arguably been no greater beneficiary of globalization than Emirates airline. The airline exists to eschew traditional borders. Dubai, a city state of the United Arab Emirates, wanted to be a superhub at the crossroads of the planet. One stop to nearly anywhere. The post-9/11 air travel era was The Age of Accessibility and Emirates its poster child. Borders opened, consular restrictions were lowered, markets liberalized and prices fell — all enabled by new generations of efficient aircraft at ever-lower acquisition prices.
It’s been one year since the global aviation system hit bottom and Sir Tim Clark, Emirates longtime president, is thinking about what the global aviation industry can look like on the other side of the crisis. “We’re in a worse situation now as an industry than we thought we’d be a year ago,” said Clark. “Nobody really thought this would go on for 14 or 15 months.”
In no uncertain terms, COVID-19 has ravaged Emirates. A quarter of its flight crew are gone and 25% of its headquarters staff have been cut. Emirates received a $2 billion cash injection in March 2020 from the government of Dubai, according to Reuters. But the airline itself has also grown and survived the industry’s ups and downs by being attached directly to the government of Dubai. Dubai’s goals are Emirates’ goals, the relationship is symbiotic. But as Clark and Emirates have benefitted from unbridled globalization and a 21st century brand of state capitalism, the airline is now at the mercy of a patchwork of travel restrictions.
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