Oman has been implementing an ambitious multi-billion plan for developing both airport infrastructure and the country’s national carrier Oman Air. Plans are also afoot to open up the country’s sky for a budget airline, which will enhance airport activities and enable the country to fully make use of the expanded facilities of the two international airports. Fleet and routes of Oman Air will be expanded phenomenally in line with the commissioning of two international airports – Muscat and Salalah – which were almost redeveloped with state-of-the-art new terminals and other facilities to cater to the growing needs of both domestic and international passengers. Salalah airport is already operational, while Muscat International Airport expansion will take one more year to become fully operational.
The national carrier
Oman Air plans to carry six million passengers this year, against 5.1 million passengers last year, mainly supported by a massive route expansion programme and heavy investment in technology. In fact, Oman Air carried 5.1 million passengers in 2014, up from 4.9 million the previous year. More than 23,500 round trips were recorded and capacity in 2014 rose to 15.2 billion available seat kilometres, with an average seat factor of 74.4 per cent being achieved. The national carrier is also embarking on an ambitious expansion programme to enhance fleet strength to 55 planes by 2017. Plans are also afoot to enhance fleet strength to 70 aircraft by 2020 and the new aircraft will be a mix of both narrow body and wide-body planes. As part of the whole programme, the national carrier recently added several new destinations, including Manila (Philippines), Jakarta (Indonesia), Goa (India) and Singapore. It is also planning to expand services to various destinations in the Indian sub-continent (including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan), which are a major market for the airline.
Oman Air will have enough airport infrastructure when the entire expansion programme is complete, which will help it offer additional flights and right connections. Apart from fleet and new destination, the national airline is investing in products on board, infrastructure, information technology systems, and for training people.
Oman Air achieved a four per cent growth in revenue at RO398.389 million in 2014, while the airline’s losses were reduced by four per cent to RO95.87 million. However, the overall benefit to the country as a whole from various other related economic activities is estimated at RO400 million last year. Oman is also planning to allow a budget airline to make use of the new airport facilities and to take advantage of the projected growth in passenger traffic. In a way, a budget airline will allow the country to check flow of traffic to neighbouring countries for connecting flights to various destinations, besides offering relatively cheap option for the large number of expatriate working class in the country. The Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA) has already floated a tender inviting bid for a low-cost commercial airline. The new airline will be established for both international and domestic services. Oman government has been investing heavily in airport development in its efforts to attract tourists from across the world. A complete redevelopment of Salalah International Airport is now operational, while Muscat International Airport expansion is in an advanced stage.
The new Muscat airport is designed to handle 12 million passengers, which can be easily scaled up to 24 million, 36 million, and even 48 million in different phases, depending on the growth in passengers. The Muscat airport will have two parallel runways, 96 check-in counters, 29 passenger boarding bridges, 30 aircraft remote stands, a baggage processing capacity of 5,500 bags per hour, and a hotel with 90 rooms. With a new terminal and air traffic control facilities, Salalah airport is well-equipped to service the needs of a new wave of international tourists and business travelers. With the expansion to upgrade the airport to international standards, Salalah airport’s capacity is now raised to two million passengers and by the next phase it would be raised to six million, which will largely depend on the growth in passenger traffic to Salalah. The airport has a 4-km long run way and huge parking facilities, besides large number of check-in counters.
Further, the starting of early operations at two green field regional airports – Sohar and Al Duqm – added one million passenger handling capacity in the domestic sector per annum. Both these airports started early operations even before building the terminal buildings. Ras Al Hadd airport plan is also progressing, which will mainly cater to the tourists who visit the region. The government is looking at attracting airlines not only to Muscat, but also for local travel as regional airports need activity and Oman Air alone will not be able to operate to all these airports. Overall, the aviation sector in Oman is poised for rapid growth in the years to come.