The president of Emirates Airline has predicted the aviation sector could return to “some kind of normality” during 2021.

Sir Tim Clark was speaking this morning during the opening session of Arabian Travel Market, which has moved to a virtual event this year as the industry deals with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

He forecast that the industry had “sufficient resilience” to weather the storm of the current crisis, but warned it was still “early days” in terms of how it may unfold.

Sir Tim said: “I don’t think in my career I have seen anything like [the Covid-19 pandemic], it is a huge structural change to our industry.

“In general terms, we have seen a US$15 trillion torpedo hit the global economy and it’s crippled many, many sectors, with transportation and leisure just a few of the casualties.

“My own belief is there is sufficient resilience in the global economy to take this trauma as long as it doesn’t go on for too long. If we can accept there is a finite point where we will see the back of this, with adjustments to the way we go about our lives, the way we go about our business, and our travel aspirations, we will see things moving back to some kind of normality during the course of 2021.”

Looking ahead to the future, Sir Tim said: “Planning for resumption is quite complicated, needless to say, we have a 24/7 watch on it as countries start to relax their access requirements but I see some difficulties as I don’t believe they will open at the pace we would like. I think there will be a degree of what they started to call the bubble effect, i.e. countries selecting other countries that are relatively Covid-free and therefore allowing services between those countries.

“We’ve seen the beginning of this and until we get much more clarity on quarantine, flight protocols and how airports are going to handle these passengers when they eventually get moving, it’s still early days in terms of understanding what is going to happen.”

Sir Tim called on governments around the world to recognise the role the aviation sector plays in the wider economy.

“The aviation business is in a critical and very fragile state at the moment and needs all the help it can get,” he said, adding that “getting passengers and freight moving again”, although “not necessarily to the levels pre-Covid” would give airlines “the cash lifelines they need”.

Without government support, he warned he was “not optimistic that some of the carriers here today, having already been significantly bailed out, will get through the next few months.”