In what seems like a previous life, Gulf carriers like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar were accused of surviving only due to the extravagant spending of their governments to prop them up. But now these same governments have been accused of failing to support their airlines.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) blamed Middle East and African governments today for failing to act decisively to protect their airlines from crisis due to COVID-19.
Muhammad Albakri, IATA Vice President for Africa and the Middle East, told the New York Times:
“We have not seen the desired movements and decisions of governments and decision makers to … put on the table the economic stimulation packages and the rescue packages, financial packages necessary to keep the airlines in the region alive.”
The solution, according to Albakri, is to “prioritize aviation and announce specific rescue measures for the airlines and aviation industry in line with other nations.”
Interestingly, Albakri even appeared to condemn what appears to be the inevitable collapse of South African Airways.
“Air Mauritius has entered voluntary administration, South African Airways and SA Express are in business rescue, other distressed carriers have placed staff on unpaid leave or signalled their intention to cut jobs. More airlines will follow if urgent financial relief is not provided.”
There’s no doubt he is correct in his last sentence, but is that really a problem? Or is this crisis a chance to weed out less competitive airlines and create a more stable and eventually profitable environment for remaining airlines once this crisis is over?
The United Arab Emirates has pledged support to Emirates, but no disclosed details. Etihad is in limbo and Qatar Airways has not been promised aid yet. Other carriers like Kuwait Airways, Oman Air, and Gulf Air are struggling. Kenya Airways is holding on by a string and Ethiopian just announced it was in a fight for survival.
But the irony of Gulf nations being condemned for NOT providing airline aid is not lost.