How important is the aviation industry to the overall development of the economy?
ALLEN: The government has a very strong policy on the diversification of the economy. Here, transportation plays a large role in that, particularly tourism. Transportation also supports a wide range of industrial activities in this country. For example, we have requests from businessmen who want to bring their private jets into airports in Oman. This supports the industrial developments that are underway. These sorts of things are a very important part of the economy. We do not deal solely in the mass transportation of tourists. We operate at the high end as well, and that is very important.
To what extent has the government of Oman prioritized investment in aviation and transport?
ALLEN: The government of Oman is currently investing in six new airports. That is a huge project, and we understand it is one of the biggest projects that has ever been undertaken in Oman. It is a very exciting time. It coincides with a period of rapid growth in transportation, both in terms of airlines coming to Oman and passengers. Oman Air, the national carrier, has also seen huge growth from this. It is a very exciting time, and we are looking forward to new airports coming on stream in two or three years time to support this growth.
How many travelers is Oman seeing annually? What are your growth projections going forward?
ALLEN: We currently have 8m passengers per annum in Muscat airport, which is the gateway airport through Oman. The growth has been averaging 16%. We expect that to continue into the future, and maybe even grow stronger than that when the new airport emerges. The new airport is designed for 12m passengers, but it is easily extendable to 24m, 36m, and even 48m ultimately. There is no shortage of capacity planned, and we know we are confident that it will support aviation growth for many years to come.
What are your growth projections going forward?
ALLEN: Oman Airports has enjoyed very strong growth for a number of years, averaging 16% per annum. The reason for that is the strategic positioning of Oman. We are within a narrow body aircraft flight of one-third of the worldâ€™s population. Not only that, we are very close to developing nations. The number of Indians and Chinese entering the middle class every year is very large. We are only looking for a small proportion of that growth to come through Muscat Airport, and we are confidant we will achieve that. This growth can be partially attributed to the growth of Oman Air. They have had a strong fleet acquisition there for a number of years, and they are continuing with that. There are also other airlines as well. It is not just the national carrier. There are a wide spread of airlines, and there are a wide spread of markets contributing to this growth as well.
What challenges remain in Omanâ€™s aviation sector?
The new airport is designed for 12m passengers, but it is easily extendable to 24m, 36m, and even 48m ultimately. There is no shortage of capacity planned, and we know we are confident that it will support aviation growth for many years to come.
ALLEN: One of the biggest challenges we have with these big new airports under construction in Oman is the manpower resources. The government of Oman has a very strong Omanization policy. There is a huge cohort of young people coming through the education system, all looking for jobs. We are playing our part in providing those jobs. We are currently running this company at 90% Omanization, and we are planning for the new airports to reach a similar figure as well. This requires a huge amount of recruitment and training of young people, which has already commenced. We hope to be completely ready for the new airports. That is the biggest challenge. In the meantime, we will have to recruit some expats to assist with the training of young people. Â This is by and large the main driver of our strategy for manpower resources for the new airports.
Where do you see opportunity for private investment in aviation and transport infrastructure in Oman today?
ALLEN: The government has recently made an announcement about it opening up the aviation sector to more private sector involvement, and it is a very timely initiative. With the new airports under construction, there will be a huge opportunity for private sector development, PPP type development, or joint venture type development. There is a large range of secondary industries supporting the airport. For example, logistics, warehousing, and hotels are all support industries for the aviation community here. Historically, those types of industries have not been centered around the airport. There is a huge potential for that here, and we are looking forward to providing opportunities for businesses to setup in the next few years.
What role does OAMC play in the growth and development of the aviation sector?
ALLEN: Oman Airports Management Company is 100% government owned, and specifically set up to manage the civil airports in Oman. At the present time, we have the main gateway airport in Muscat, and the secondary gateway airport at Salalah, which is in the Dhofar region at the south end of the country. We currently have another 4 regional airports under construction, which will be the supporting airports for the network. We are looking forward to building up our resources and to operating a network of airports throughout the country. We are building up our staff resources, our capabilities, our air systems, and our air processes. It is a big lift in capabilities for us, but we are looking forward to playing our part in supporting our economy, and the growth of Oman. Oman has a unique position in this part of the world. Being outside the Strait of Hormuz, it is in a very strategic location, in terms of sea transportation. It has many other logistical advantages as well. All of this needs supporting by the aviation industry, and we are looking to be part of that with our network of airports. Having said that, tourism is the major driver of Omanâ€™s economic diversification. Of course, the gateway airport is the major driver of tourism development in many countries, together with the national carrier. We are already working with the national carrier and the Ministry of Tourism to achieve that. We are looking forward to very rapid growth in all sectors from Asia, Europe, Africa, and of course from the Middle East.