Middle Eastern aviation market is booming. Airlines like Emirates (EK), Etihad (EY) and Qatar (QR) are rapidly growing and connecting different continents with their hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. Oman, which is not an OPEC member, has always been overshadowed by more dynamic and better known GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries. Eyes of the people around the world were concentrated on the wonders built in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Qatar. Oman and its hidden beauty was almost invisible for travelers around the world. However this is changing very fast. The current ruler of this country, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said has a plan to emulate the success of Oman neighbors and transform it to one of the leading powers in region, restoring its past brilliance and rich heritage. Comparing to other Gulf Region countries, Oman is rather mid size with its 310 thousands square kilometer and doesn’t have as much natural resources like gas or oil. However it has 25th biggest oil and 27th gas reserves globally which are being responsible for 80% of Sultanate budget income. Additionally in last 40 years Oman was listed among the most improved countries in the world and entered the high-income economies states club. In 2014 GDP of Oman grew by 5,2% and 5% in 2013. The future looks rather optimistic as well despite oil price drop. According to World Bank, GDP will grow by 5% in 2015 and around 4% in 2016. The Sultanate similarly to other GCC members would like to move from oil driven economy to more balanced one with diversified sources of income. Country is constantly investing in its 3,2 million inhabitants, taking care of their proper education and trainings.
Very important element of Oman future growth strategy is travel industry. The country is currently developing tourism projects worth 3,3 billion dollars. This beautiful Sultanate has spectacular landscapes, amazing sea, sandy beaches, great mountains and large parts of green regions which is very unique in this area. All of this in combination with great weather and rich culture is a big trump in a fight for demanding tourists. So far the country is doing great in that field and according to Business Monitor International will host about 1,14 million visitors in 2015 improving the result from 2014 by 3%.
Aviation plays a very significant role in Oman tourism development. Sultanate pays particular attention to air transport and make a great effort to turn it into important aviation hub. Countries capital Muscat (1,2 million inhabitants) has been known for many centuries for being an important harbor and one of the gateways to Arab world. Today Muscat International Airport (MCT) is willing to act as big regional hub and repeat other Middle Eastern airports success stories. The airport handled 8,7 million passengers in 2014 which was a slight improvement over 8,3 million in 2013. MCT is now under development which will increase its capacity to 12 million passengers per year. It is just a first phase of the expansion worth 1,8 billion US dollars and if everything runs well after additional 3 phases it will be able to ultimately host 48 million travelers. These are a very distant plans and I rather doubt the airport will ever reach such a huge throughput. We mustn’t forget how many airlines are now in the region and how aggressively they are growing at the moment. Along with new terminal MCT will be equipped with new runway, taxiways, aprons, roads and utility buildings.
Muscat airport is not the only airport in Oman worth mentioning. The other is located in the most southern part of country in the city of Salalah. Salalah Airport (SLL) is the second largest in Oman and is surrounded by truly spectacular nature. Between July and September Asian monsoon touches the region and changes it into a “green island” in the middle of the “arid sea” which is covering vast majority of Arab Peninsula. Lush vegetation, rainfalls and the nearby mountains often shrouded in fog make this place special and unique. That is why Dhofar Governorate coast line is an interesting tourist destination. The expansion which is now taking place at SLL will increase its capacity to 1 million passengers per year and there are plans to make it even bigger reaching almost 6 million. In 2013 it carried almost 750 thousands visitors. Airport authorities additionally working hard to attract more international airlines and destination promoting the region and the whole Sultanate.
Both MCT and SLL are hubs for Oman Air (WY) which is a national carrier of Oman and its pride. It was founded in 1993 but gained its importance in 2007 when Omani government increase its stake in the airline from 33 to 80 percent and sold all Gulf Air shares, concentrating only on WY development. Currently the airline is in almost 100% state owned and has very ambitious growth plans. It would like to distinguish itself by offering best service in the industry. Carrier is very proud of its employees and treats them like its biggest asset. Additionally it has received numerous awards like Skytrax’s Best Airlines Stuff in the Middle East in 2014, which are confirming its excellent reputation. Carrier is famous of its modern and spacious business class seats and very comfortable economy seats. It is very important for the airline to have Omani character, so for example the toiletries used in First and Second class are provided by Amouage, highly prestigious Omani company.
Currently WY has a fleet of 10 Airbus A330, 4 in -200 and 6 in -300 versions. Moreover it operates 21 Boeing 737NG, 1 in -700, 19 in -800 and 1 in -900 versions. The airline is also using 4 Embraer ERJ-175 and 2 ATR 42. Whole fleet has average age of 5,5 years. Oman Air is very exited to get 6 Being 787-8 Dreamliners which will become a flagship of the carrier for many years to come. The deliveries are about to start in the end of 2015. Till 2018 WY will have a fleet of around 50 planes. Oman Air would like to grow and that is why just recently it has opened new routes to Manila and Jakarta, in the same time pleasing large Filipino and Indonesian diasporas in the Middle East. In 2013 the airline carried 5 million passengers and hopes to improve this result in 2014 and 2015.
Oman Air would like to benefit from both transfer passengers and those who would like to visit Oman in business or leisure purposes. Carrier is willing to serve native Oman citizen as well as large communities of foreigners inhabiting Arab Peninsula. I am very pleased to watch another contender rising in the Middle East and because it is so much focused on great service in all cabin classes it might be interesting offer for every traveller who cherish quality and syle.