Dubai (AFP)

Emirates estimated on Sunday that it would take at least 18 months for travel demand to return to "a semblance of normalcy", announcing an annual increase for the period before the new coronvius crisis.

The Dubai company, the largest in the Middle East, posted 1.1 billion dirhams ($ 288 million) in net profit for the year ending March, compared to $ 237 million the previous year, according to a press release.

This is the 32nd consecutive year of profits for Emirates, which operates a fleet of 115 Airbus A-380s and 155 Boeing-777s.

The company suspended flights on March 22 before resuming limited routes two weeks later.

Emirates Group President and CEO Sheikh Ahmed ben Said Al-Maktoum said the company had performed strongly in the first 11 months of the fiscal year.

"However, from mid-February things changed quickly, the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world causing a sudden and huge drop in demand for international air travel, as the countries closed their borders and imposed strict travel restrictions, "he said.

"We anticipate that it will take at least 18 months before travel demand returns to a semblance of normalcy," he said in the statement.

Emirates' profits were boosted by a 15% drop in fuel costs, which reached $ 7.2 billion, or 31% of operating costs.

However, the company saw its annual revenue decrease by 6% to $ 25.1 billion, due to the pandemic of the new coronavirus and the closure, for maintenance, of a runway at Dubai airport.

The company said it carried 56.2 million passengers in the year, a decrease of 4% from the previous year, and its cargo decreased 10% to 2.4 million tonnes.

A strong dollar eroded profits by $ 272 million, and net income was also affected by weak demand for air cargo and active competition.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the aviation industry, Emirates had reduced orders for Airbus and Boeing.

The Dubai government, whose economy relies heavily on aviation and tourism, said last month that it would inject capital into Emirates to help cope with the fallout from the pandemic.

© 2020 AFP