Arab News, Saturday, Nov 21, 2020 | Rabi Al Thani 6, 1442
Riyadh airport domestic traffic rebounds by nearly 60% after COVID-19 closure
Domestic passenger traffic in Riyadh’s main airport has returned to
nearly 60 percent capacity, after closing for more than two months during the
All flights in, out, and within Saudi Arabia were grounded in March as part of
the Kingdom’s policies to help curb the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19). While international flights will not fully resume until January,
domestic flights restarted at the end of May.
“Domestically, we’ve seen a considerable return to traffic. So, we would be in
the 50 to 60 percent return of traffic to pre-COVID-19 levels,” said Nicholas
Cole, CEO of DAA International, the Irish company which manages Terminal 5 at
King Khalid International Airport (KKIA) on behalf of Riyadh Airports Co. (RAC).
Cole told Arab News that numbers began to recover quickly after domestic flights
resumed in May, but he forecast that a return to 100 percent of levels seen
before COVID-19 would not happen until “the middle of next year.” That is mainly
due to the lack of international traffic feeding into the domestic flights and
the reduction in pilgrims flying.
DAA International is owned by the Irish government and manages 16 airports
around the world, including operations in Paphos and Larnaca, in Cyprus, Beirut,
Riyadh, Doha, Manama, and Muscat.
While Riyadh’s domestic traffic had recovered quickly, Cole said COVID-19 had
dented traffic across the board at its international operations.
“We’ve seen between a 70 and 85 percent reduction in passenger numbers from this
time last year. This is something we’re seeing across our airport group
generally,” he added.
While many airlines and airports were forced to make staff redundant this
summer, at Riyadh airport they decided against staff or salary cuts.
“In order to make sure that the staffing levels are what we require, I think the
frontline pay being hit is obviously the last thing you would do,” Cole said.
DAA International also took the decision to stop charging RAC management fees
while Terminal 5 was closed during the summer.
“We decided that it was not appropriate for us to charge fees to Riyadh Airports
Co. while the terminal was shut. So, we’ve reduced our fees considerably for
what we’re doing for Riyadh airport. That is only appropriate as we are
essentially a provider of services to them,” he added.
This was in contrast to its operations in Dublin, where salaries were reduced to
80 percent and the airport operator is looking to cut around a third of staff.
While last week Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a COVID-19 vaccine had proved
to be 90 percent effective and could be rolled out in the coming months, Cole
believed it would not mean an end to testing completely.
“I think it’s testing and vaccines. I think testing is here for at least 12 to
18 months going forward. I think even in a vaccine world, there will be a
crossover, I think people will be expected to take the test,” he said.
Abu Dhabi International Airport also announced last week that it was trialing
the use of artificial intelligence to shorten queues and support social
distancing. Cole pointed out that this may not be necessary at Riyadh as there
was already a high level of compliance with mask-wearing and social-distancing
policies to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Most Saudis are very compliant with the rules, wearing a mask in public is
adopted wholesale, it’s very, very unusual that our guys on a shift are having
to ask people to wear a mask. For example, across the 12-hour shift, our team
might speak to two people to say, ‘please could you put your mask on.’”
While Cole could not give an exact breakdown of figures, total traffic –
including international and domestic travel – amounted to 26 million passengers
across all KKIA’s terminals in 2019, according to the DAA International website.