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ECONOMICS Last modified on August 19, 2011

Oman spreads its wings

CEO of Oman Airports Management Company, George Bellew, talks to Sarah Campbell about the Gulf state’s ambitious aviation plans.

As part of government action to diversify Oman’s economy and move away from a dependence on oil and gas revenues, Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC) is undergoing a period of rapid expansion that will see its two current airports grow to a capacity of 50mppa and four new regional airports open for business by 2014.

Oman, the second largest country by landmass in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC_, is working hard to develop its tourism industry and a strong aviation base is central to this work.

“The Oman government has several multi-billion-dollar investment plans in place, focusing on tourism, education and healthcare,” confirms OAMC’s CEO George Bellew.

At Muscat International airport, OAMC’s flagship aviation hub, the team are part way through overseeing the construction of a new 332,000sqm midfield terminal that will boost the airport’s capacity from its current 6.5mppa to 12mppa in its first phase, with further expansion capable of taking the airport up to 48mppa.

The development plans include a new runway, to be built in a parallel configuration with the current one. Both runways will be A380-compatible.

“There’s a whole suite of other airport infrastructure to come: maintenance, cargo, airline, and air traffic control facilities. It’s a big programme and we’ve got about 4,000 people working on site already,” Bellew explains.

The total redevelopment will include 29 air bridges, new aprons, a new cargo terminal, 6,800 parking spaces, a 96-metre high control tower, Air Traffic Management Centre and an Area Control Centre with the latest air surveillance equipment, including radar.

While a total investment value has still not been announced for the project, it is expected to run into several billions of dollars. US engineering firm Bechtel was recently awarded the tender for the terminal construction, with a value of $1.8 billion.

The new terminal will have the capacity to handle 12 million passengers annually. The main building will be 400 metres long and 200 metres wide, and will include a 90-room hotel.

While the new midfield terminal is under development, OAMC and national carrier Oman Air continue to invest in the current airport’s facilities.

In January, Oman Air opened two new premium lounges at Muscat International for its business-class and first-class passengers.

“A number of GCC carriers have been chasing the premium market pretty hard and some, particularly those with new fleet, have taken advantage of that with the lie-back seats and in-flight entertainment,” comments Bellew.

“For Oman Air, that flows through to what they are offering at the lounges at Muscat International. It gives us, as a mid-size airport, further emphasis on service delivery. For those that do consistently travel premium class it gives them a product that is right up there with the best and very competitive with some of the largest airports worldwide.”

Landside, OAMC has also invested in more check-in counters, while airside additional apron parking space for civil aircraft is planned.

Once the new midfield terminal enters operation the current terminal buildings will be redeveloped into landside commercial space.

At Salalah Airport, in the southern Omani province of Dhofar, some 1,000km from Muscat, OAMC is building a new terminal with an ultimate capacity of 2mppa.

The new development will also include an A380-compatible runway and is set to open by 2014, if not before.

Four regional airports are also planned in Adam, Sohar, Ras Al Hadd and Al Duqm.

“To illustrate the long-term commitment of the Oman Government each of these airports will have 4km-long runways, making them A380-compatible. These airports will be instrumental to regional development,” Bellew remarks.

Each of the four airports will cater to different markets. Ras Al Hadd, located in the east of Oman close to the Wahiba sands, is famed for its turtle watching and will therefore target tourism charter flights.

Al Duqm, which lies on the coast between Sur and Salalah, offers major industrial development with a dry dock and seaport.

“There will be an industrial focus for the airport. In addition, Al Duqm offers some pristine coastline so there is a tourism component,” Bellew explains.

Sohar, about 200km west of Muscat, is already a substantial industrial area. “This airport will serve as a diversion to Muscat and as a business hub. Sohar is located in one of the most densely populated areas of the country,” Bellew says.

Adam, 220km south of Muscat, services the interior city of Nizwa. The airport is situated close to a royal palace used by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and is expected to be used for VVIP flights and regional services.

Adam Airport, which received its first aircraft in July 2010, will offer a 4,000-metre runway, an apron to accommodate three aircraft and four helicopters, VVIP building, air traffic control facilities and a meteorology office.

The passenger terminal building is expected to be completed in 2014 and will have a capacity to handle 250,000 passengers annually.

“It is our aim to market, develop and grow the identities of these regional airports and run them as a network. They will receive international flights and we also see potential for tourism charter flights,” Bellew says.

The development of all six OAMC airports will have a huge impact on the local economy. Already, it has been predicted that the expansion of Muscat International will create some 5,000 jobs for Omani nationals.

Oman’s demographics are unusual to the extent that approximately 68% of the Omani population are under the age of 24 so there is an increasing workforce with secondary and tertiary education. The tourism sector has long been seen as an ideal outlet for such local talent.

“Our emphasis is on O&D (Origin and Destination) traffic as it has the greatest economic impact on the country. We are not setting out to be the biggest hub airport in this region; our mandate is to grow the economic benefits for the country,” says Bellew.

Tourism growth has been substantial in recent years with Muscat International Airport seeing a 26% increase in passenger numbers in 2010. The airport handled 5.7 million passengers last year compared with 4.5 million in 2009.

Several factors contributed to that growth: increased economic and tourism activity in Oman; expansion in the Oman Air fleet and route network; other airlines increased their number of flights including Air Arabia, Air India and Shaheen Air; and two new airline customers commenced services – flydubai and Kenya Airways.

OAMC projects further double-digit growth for 2011. Civil aircraft movements totalled 67,160 in 2010, a 21% increase on 2009. Cargo volume also saw a steep increase, thanks largely to Oman Air’s new fleet of wide-bodied aircraft. Muscat International handled 95,712 tonnes in 2010 – almost 50% more than the 63,762 tonnes carried in 2009.

Currently, 27 passenger airlines and one freighter operate from Muscat International. However, Bellew and the team are looking to grow Oman’s reach. After all, they have a target of 50 million passengers to reach.

“We are within seven to eight hours flying time of 50% of the world’s population and we already cater well to the Indian sub-continent,” enthuses Bellew.

“We are now very focused on what is happening in China and the northern hemisphere, such as Russia. We are out there as frequently as possible to tell the Oman story and talk to airlines.”

With six airports all targeting different markets, the Oman government’s target of economic diversification through tourism seems right on track.

This article was featured in Airport World 2011 - Issue 3

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