Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

12.32 16 May 2020


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The head of Emirates in Ireland says there won't be a quick return to its normal passenger operations at Dublin Airport.

The middle-eastern company is among the many global airlines severely impacted by global COVID-19 travel restrictions.

However, it has recently started operating bi-weekly cargo flights between Asia and Ireland - something that's now providing 'much needed revenue' as passenger flights remain grounded.

Enda Corneille, country manager for Emirates in Ireland, spoke to Down To Business about the situation currently facing the airline and the industry more broadly.

Emirates' Ireland boss says return to passenger flights will be 'very, very gradual'

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He said: "Cargo are now the new rockstars.

"Cargo has always been important - we would have operated double daily flights, and in the belly of each aircraft we would have carried 25 tonnes of cargo.

"In the last week, we've started a bi-weekly cargo operation... each carrying 35 tonnes of Irish produce to Dubai, Asia, Australia and so on... and then reporting PPE mainly from Japan."

He said it's an "encouraging first step" for the Dublin operation ahead of passenger services resuming.

Mr Corneille said passenger services are 'tentatively coming back' internationally - with Emirates set to operate services to and from locations such as London Heathrow, Paris and Chicago.

He said: "A number of these flights had been operating on a pure repatriation basis - bringing people home.

"This is the first commercial operation. Demand is going to be light, let's be honest about it... but it's really about getting aircraft flying."

He explained that for flights to start resuming, the travel restrictions will need to be lifted in key markets and people will want to feel safe when they fly.

He observed: "At the moment, this is a step by step process.

"I'd like to see us getting the operation underway in Dublin. We certainly won't be starting back with a double daily... we may not even start with a daily.

"If you were to offer me four or five flights a week at this stage, I'd take them and then we'd build traffic and demand."

'People will want to travel'

Mr Corneille said ultimately it will be down to customers to determine how much they want to travel.

He told Bobby: "I'm a realist but I'm also an optimist.

"That genie will not be put back in the bottle - people will want to travel.

"Will it come back this year, will it be 18 months? Nobody can answer that."

In terms of a business model for the future, Mr Corneille suggested "it's still too early to call" what that will look like.

He said: "While carriers will want to follow expert medical advice, there's also national government requirements, and national and international aviation authorities.

"If you look at Dublin Airport, pre-COVID this is a 30 million passenger airport... can you imagine if each of those 30 million passengers had to be two metres apart at all times.

"This isn't easy... I think a well planned and cautious approach is really going to get us back flying, but it will be very, very gradual."

He also stressed that individual countries will handle the situation differently, with some markets moving at a "different pace".

Main image: File photo of passengers looking out the window at Emirates planes parked at Dublin Airport. Picture: RollingNews.ie

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