Emirates is reportedly preparing to lay off 30,000 employees due to the Covid-19 epidemic and resultant border closures. Credit: Emirates.

Emirates and Qatar Airways, leading international carriers at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, are set to shed tens of thousands of jobs amid what looks to be a protracted global recession.

Emirates Airline, whose hub Dubai served the most international travelers of any airport in 2019, is reportedly preparing to lay off 30,000 employees, Bloomberg said Sunday.

The carrier did not immediately respond to Asia Times’ request for comment, but the news comes during a protracted global slowdown sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Qatar Airways, in rival Doha, is meanwhile prepping to let go approximately 9,000 members of its workforce.

“Unfortunately, we will have to lay off about 20% of our workforce, equal to the number of aircraft that will not resume flights,” CEO Akbar al-Baker told the BBC on Thursday.

“The decision was very difficult, but we had no alternative,” he said.

Earlier this month, Emirates chief Tim Clark heralded the demise of double-decker passenger planes, which had come to count on the dueling Gulf aviation hubs for viability.

“We know the A380 is over, the 747 is over,” Clark told The National, referring to the largest passenger plane in the world, the Airbus 380, and its closest rival, the Boeing 747.

Airline passenger revenues are projected to drop by well over US$300 billion globally this year, a 55% decline from 2019, the International Air Transport Association projected last week.

That represented an even more dire scenario than the association’s March forecast, which predicted losses just over $250 billion.

“The updated figures reflect a significant deepening of the crisis since then,” the IATA said, citing extended travel restrictions and economic recession as the driving factors.

For the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which have built themselves up as global travel hubs, encouraging tourism through initiatives like the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the hosting of the 2022 World Cup, the downturn is a huge loss for economic diversification.

It is also likely to put on hold Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to create a new global expatriates hub from scratch.

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Alison Tahmizian Meuse

Alison T Meuse is the Asia Times Middle East editor and correspondent.