Oman Air has embarked on a major expansion programme to enhance fleet strength to 55 aircraft by 2017. Airline plans to launch new services to Manila, Jakarta and Goa. Oommen John P reports.

Oman Air will launch new services from Muscat to Manila, in the Philippines, and Jakarta, in Indonesia, from December 2014. The Airline also intends to start a new service between Muscat and the Indian state of Goa in 2015.

The announcement was made recently at a press conference addressed by Paul Gregorowitsch, Oman Air’s chief executive officer and Abdulrahaman al Busaidy, its chief operating officer.

“We have embarked on a massive expansion programme to enhance fleet strength to 55 aircraft by 2017,” said Gregorowitsch. The airline is investing in new aircraft, destinations, new products, new technology, call centres and also people. In the next one year, 16 new aircraft will join the airline’s fleet. The fleet expansion is part of a larger plan to strengthen Oman Air as two international airports – Muscat and Salalah – are scheduled to be completed soon and three other regional airports are getting ready for operations. The new aircraft, which will be deployed will be a mix of both narrow body and wide-body planes.

Gregorowitsch said the six Boeing 787 Dreamliners will join the fleet by the end of next year. The airline is also looking at 787 900s, which will enable it to have large business class, he said.

“Oman Air will start operations to Goa in 2015. We plan to operate three weekly flights to Goa, which will go up to five over a period of time using a 154-seater Boeing 737 aircraft. We also plan to increase frequency to Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia beginning in January,” said Abdulrahaman al Busaidy. “Oman Air also has plans to double its services between Muscat and various destinations in the Indian sub-continent, instead of a daily flight now,” he said.

“Oman Air is keen on getting more traffic rights to India to enable it to fly to every destination in India twice a day,” he said. Al Busaidy also said that discussions between Oman and Sri Lanka are scheduled for November to double its flights from the existing one daily flight on the Muscat-Colombo sector.

New operating model

Gregorowitsch said Oman Air is working on a new operating model, which will be introduced by January 2015. Under this model, there will be more flights to European destinations, in addition to the increase in connectivity and efficiency. For instance, passengers will find connecting flights to various destinations. There are also plans to raise transit passengers coming to Muscat airport from 60 per cent to 70 per cent of total passenger traffic by 2017, after the new airport is ready, he said.

Oman Air, he said has no plans to set up a budget carrier. The Sultanate’s small size of airline market and stringent labour laws are not favourable for starting a budget carrier. Additionally, the labour laws, which do not allow to get cheap labour on cash and carry basis, low level of air ticket reservation on Internet and bilateral agreements with countries on flying rights are not favourable for operating a viable budget carrier, he said. Oman Air is providing connectivity within the country and the region. The Airline has directly and indirectly contributed RO400mn to the Sultanate’s economy in 2013 and generated income for hotels, the travel trade and created jobs.

Gregorowitsch said Oman Air, which is currently operating at an annual loss of RO100mn, must become profitable within three years. A key challenge is to reduce losses. “The airline which is working to reduce costs will become more efficient as it moves towards profitability. If we are unable to earn profits by 2017, we’ve failed,” he said. A major part of the loss can be attributed to heavy investments in new aircraft.

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