What role does OAMC play in the overall development of Oman’s aviation sector?

ALLEN: Muscat International Airport is extremely important for the country because it is a gateway airport to Oman. Our facilities are 40 years old and we are looking forward to opening up the new airports in Muscat and Salalah. We also have 4 regional airports opening up in the next few years as well. It is a pretty exciting time for Oman Airports Management Company.

In the recent WEF Global Competitiveness Report, Oman received a ranking of 40th with regards to quality of air transport infrastructure. What new initiatives are being implemented in order to improve the overall quality of air transport infrastructure here in Oman?

ALLEN: The development of our new airports is a big step towards improving our overall quality of air transport infrastructure. It is a network of 6 airports, which is a fantastic strategic initiative by the government. Initially, four of those airports are going into regional areas where there is not a lot of demand for air travel. But that will grow, especially with the development of Oman’s tourism sector. It will not be long before those areas are thriving and paying their own way. They will help establish a complete network of air transport in the country. However, this is looking a few years ahead and it will take a while to develop them to that stage. We are continually improving our existing facilities as much as we can. The architecture of Muscat’s new terminal building is something that will remain in passengers’ minds for a long time. It is a wonderful mix between a modern international and Omani style. We believe that it is something very unique and it will set Oman and Muscat International Airport apart from everywhere else. One thing that we are really looking forward to is the development of Salalah Airport’s cargo facilities. We want to grow sea to air freight in the Salalah and Dhofar regions. We also see Salalah as a major tourism destination and we hope that in time Salalah will become the  second tourism gateway into Oman.

The new terminal at Muscat International Airport will be completed by 2014 and will have the capacity to handle 12 million passengers annually. How is progress being met to date? What implications will this project have on the downstream segment of Oman’s aviation sector?

ALLEN: We are currently running at roughly 7.5m passengers, which is a huge growth over the last few years. We are averaging somewhere between 15%-20% growth per annum. This is amazing growth. I know that we may be smaller than our neighbours up north, such as Dubai or Doha, but we are rapidly catching up and it won’t be long before we meet that 12m benchmark for the new airport. The new Muscat International Airport is capable of expansion up to 48m passengers per annum. As a result, we have plenty of opportunity for growth. I believe one of the biggest opportunities we have is the development of the airport city concept. The philosophy is that if you build up infrastructure around an airport the synergies allow tremendous economic growth for the country. We are already seeing this in the Muscat region. Muscat is slated for a big new convention center, many new hotels, relocation of head business offices, and further developments. We are already seeing the airport region starting to grow as a city in itself. This is really going to drive the economy. It will certainly provide modern economic growth for the country by leveraging the airport and aviation business.

How competitive is the aviation sector throughout the GCC? In what ways will the new Muscat International Airport be able to compete with other major international airports throughout the region, such as those in Dubai and Doha?

ALLEN: We are not really competing with Doha, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi. They are major airport hubs. We have no expectations to compete and become a  global airport hub. We are helping the government of Oman to meet its objectives, one of which is to grow Oman as a niche destination for tourists. Oman is trying to grow at a measured rate. It is a very managed growth particularly focusing on various markets. For example, in the industrial arena it is very much based on the diversification of the economy. Tourism falls into this realm. One of the ways that we are able to compete is by the very nature of Oman itself. Oman is one of the friendliest countries in the Middle East. It also has lovely scenery, mountains, deserts, and seas. The country has a lot of things going for it and we look forward to pushing that more unique aspect, in both existing and in new airports. Currently, we have  28 airlines servicing  55 different destinations. This is certainly a big increase over the past few years and it is mainly due to Oman Air introducing new routes. A lot of people enter and exit Oman via Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha but that is slowly decreasing as we establish more direct flights out of Muscat.

Muscat International Airport is currently following the philosophy of the government by catering to a niche market and trying to attract more high-end tourists into the country. How successful has OAMC been in promoting the country as a unique destination? What actions are being taken in order to increase overall passenger and airfreight traffic coming into Oman?

ALLEN: Presently, we are capacity constrained at the existing airport. We have not been out there pushing Oman as much as we certainly intend to when the new airport is opened. At the moment, it is a matter of looking at charters or other flights that can come in at off peak times. We are also focusing on enabling the growth of the national carrier Oman Air, which is very important for the development of the country. The other thing to remember is that it is not just about passenger traffic but cargo as well. At the moment, a large proportion of airfreight comes into Muscat via Dubai and it is trucked into Oman. Presently, our facilities are not adequate to cope with that sort of demand, but with the new airport we will be looking forward to a huge growth in airfreight. These are the areas we are focusing on at present rather than bringing in new airlines and directly moving into new markets. Next year, we are planning to do a lot more marketing for both Muscat and Salalah airports.

One of OAMC’s main functions is to ensure that the organization is fully manned, prepared, and equipped to operate all of the new airports. What actions are being taken to ensure that operations for the new Muscat International Airport will begin in 2014? Furthermore, what programs are being implemented to attract more Omani’s to the aviation industry?

ALLEN: This is a big build up for us. We are in the process of tripling our staff numbers. We are doubling it this year and adding an extra 50% for next year. We have a huge program for recruitment and training. We are recruiting a lot of young Omani graduates and putting them through training courses. There is a need in this country to provide employment opportunities for young people. The airport and the aviation sector can help provide these opportunities. A lot of people do not realize that, as a rule of thumb, you must rely on 1000 employees for every 1 million passengers that pass through the airport. As a result, by the time we move into our new airport, we expect to have roughly 10,000 people in employment relying on the airport. We are not only focusing on increasing employment, but also on establishing new contracts with local companies. We are currently floating contracts for all sorts of things, such as equipment, operations, and maintenance services. These all provide opportunities for businesses in Oman, both large and small, to take part in the industry. Also, it must be noted that we are taking a big technological leap. Our existing airport was originally designed and built in the 1970s. We are currently implementing new technological innovations and IT systems. This will help us become a modern  state-of-the-art world-class airport. We have a lot of learning to do across the board, operationally, technically, and with regards to marketing.