Oman Air readies for long haul take off

Al-Shikely: Tourists hate stopovers

OMAN Air is set to launch routes into Europe and the Far East as part of a new long haul strategy aimed at bringing in luxury tourists, Mohammed Mubarak Al-Shikely, senior manager marketing at the airline, told TTN at ITB Berlin last month.

This is a departure from the airline’s focus on the short haul market, with a reliance on Gulf Air, the carrier which it owns jointly with Bahrain, to bring in the long haul tourists. The move follows Oman Aviation Services’ approval, at a shareholders’ meeting, of a measure to nearly quadruple its capital to RO50 million ($129.9 million), to expand operations and acquire new planes. Oman Aviation Services operates Oman Air.
“The increased government shareholding to just over 80 per cent creates the opportunity for Oman Air to look forward to long haul operations,” said Al-Shikely. “We are currently in the process of studying routes and markets we would want to connect to, but certainly, we will be flying to the Big Three in Europe: Germany, France and the UK. Certainly, once you launch into Europe, you need to launch several destinations in the Far East, too.”
He said the airline’s decision follows Oman’s tourism strategy of targeting high-end luxury tourists. “Oman has everything a tourist is looking for in terms of culture, history and 1700km of serene coastline and the country is developing very quickly huge hotel projects and desperately requires a proper link to the rest of the world. Quality tourists, which Oman looks forward to welcome, do not want to spend long hours in transit.”
Al-Shikely could not put a date to the network expansion. “As you know, there is a huge shortage of aircraft, but we are talking to different aircraft manufacturers to see how quickly we can take delivery of wide-body aircraft,” he said.
Oman Air CEO Ziad Karim Al Haremi told media following the shareholders’ meeting earlier this year that the airline will name a consultant to draw up a strategic plan that will include fleet expansion. He said at the time that the additional funds would be used for expanding operations, and added that the ideal plane would be an aircraft with 230 to 240 seats.
The airline currently flies to destinations in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent and has announced flights to Lucknow and Jaipur in India this year. Its earlier plan to fly to Tehran and Damascus has been put on hold for the moment.
What this means for Oman’s other airline, Gulf Air, remains to be seen. Bahrain, the other shareholder in the Gulf Air, plans to inject up to BD500 million ($1.33 billion) in the airline, the company’s vice-chairman Mahmoud Hashim Al Kooheji was quoted as saying in a Reuters report late in March.
“Bahrain will own 80 per cent of Gulf Air and Oman will own 20 per cent,” he said in the report, adding that Bahrain will not be buying any of Oman’s stake.