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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oman Air is pressing ahead with its expansion

Ravindra Nath

8 October 2009 MUSCAT — Oman Air made clear on Tuesday that it would press ahead with its fleet and route expansion plans despite the recessionary conditions. The airline plans to acquire 15 new aircraft over the next 18 months each costing $100-150 million and introduce five new destinations this year.

The national carrier of the sultanate said it was looking at long-term growth rather than gains in the near term, taking advantage of the increasing global popularity of the country as a
 tourist attraction.

“We are not making a profit this year. Our performance (in 2009) cannot be better than last year,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Hill said, adding that “but we are not looking at tomorrow. Our focus is on the long-term, five years from now.” He was addressing a Press conference at the Muscat International Airport upon return from a two-hour inaugural flight over Muscat and Khasab in the Musandam governorate with a group of journalists on the airline’s newly-acquired three-class
 A330-300 aircraft.

The new plane features Oman Air’s brand new ‘First Class Mini Suite’’ and the new Business and Economy class seats, menus and uniforms. Hill said the three-class service would be introduced on a range of routes across Europe and Asia, including non-stop direct flights between Muscat and London Heathrow.

The airline’s fleet currently consists of Boeing 737-800s and Airbus A330s. The ongoing expansion programme will see the fleet strength reaching 15 B737-800s, two A330-200s and two A330-300s by this year-end. During 2010-2011, three additional A330-300s will be added.

The carrier has also ordered six Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which are now scheduled for delivery in 2014, as against 2012 originally planned. However, if the manufacturers again express inability to deliver the Dreamliners on time, other options will be considered, Hill said. Oman Air’s international route network now includes all major cities in the GCC, 10 destinations in India, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Karachi, Cairo, Beirut, Amman, London and Bangkok. In September, the airline added two new destinations to its network — Frankfurt and Munich, and services to Paris, Maldives and Colombo are due to be launched this month.

“Next year, more destinations in South Asia, especially Pakistan, East Africa and South East Asia will be introduced,” Hill said, adding that plans for 2010 also included more flights on the existing routes.

Answering a question, he said although H1N1 had affected the airline industry in the Gulf to some extent, the impact of the economic meltdown had been much more severe. “Airlines are suffering from too few passengers,” he observed, but said that the Gulf “is suffering less than the rest of the world.”

He noted that the Omani flag carrier had recorded a 23 per cent increase in capacity this year compared to 2008, and another 10 to 15 per cent rise was projected for 2010. Hill predicted that the Oman Air group, consisting of the airline and ground handling, catering and hotels and engineering divisions, will break even in five years.

In reply to a question, Hill said that Omanisation of jobs in the company was progressing fast and had now reached 67 per cent, adding that “we want Omanis to take over all positions that expatriates currently hold.”

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