DALLAS — Amongst the airline lot from the Middle East, Muscat-based, Oman Air (WY) has seen in its recent years a streamlining of the fleet, better on-time performance, cargo growth, and ventures into new partnerships and alliances – a sharper national career is truly evident.
Oman Air’s Chief Executive Officer, Abdulaziz Al Raisi, talks to Airways about the airline’s stance as of today.
SG: Joining Oneworld was indeed a big move, did you have a plan to join an alliance for quite some time? And, why Oneworld? What’s the real benefit over the others given that there’s already a Oneworld airline in the region?
AAR: We knew that joining a global alliance would open up a lot of opportunities for us in terms of connectivity and global reach, and in turn, add considerable momentum to Oman’s tourism targets. The decision for us to join Oneworld in particular was based on a combination of factors and ultimately, we chose them because of the complementary network that they offer, the additional codeshare opportunities, as well as a range of operational benefits.
Additionally, OneWorld’s strong focus on premium travel aligns well with our own premium focus. Plus, our guests gain access to the full range of Oneworld benefits. Members of our loyalty program, Sindbad, will be able to earn and redeem Miles on all Oneworld member airlines, with top-tier members receiving additional benefits including lounge access when traveling with other Oneworld members.
What’s in store for 2023 at Oman Air? How optimistic are you?
The Covid recovery has been much better than anticipated. Where predictions expected a slow return to travel, especially for business, it actually bounced back at a remarkable rate. As a result, we’ve recently increased our flight capacity by about 60,000 seats per week, re-launched destinations like the Maldives, Trabzon, and Moscow, and added to our fleet.
Cargo has been a massive area of growth and we’re planning a new freighter later in the year as well as several market launches. We also have a lot going on in the digital sphere, especially since we recently joined IATA as a co-founder of the Airline Modern Retailing Programme. We’re obviously working towards our Oneworld membership next year, which will open up a lot of opportunities for us. So, I’ll say we’re optimistic, albeit cautious.
Is it often hard as an airline when your neighbors, Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad are really strong at their game? How difficult is it to capture a share of the international transfer market?
This is a question we’re often asked. But the truth is, we don’t consider ourselves as direct competitors. We are the right size for our target market and our growth is measured to meet stable travel demand. Moreover, the experience we offer is unparalleled. Our unique product, which is defined by our Omani hospitality, is undoubtedly what makes our loyal guests choose us time and again. In terms of transfers, we offer something no one else does – Oman!
Stopovers in Muscat and beyond are extremely popular. We have a beautiful pristine coastline, some of the world’s best diving spots, vast mountains, historical forts, and storybook sand dunes, all within a few hours’ drive of the capital. And, we have the lush Dhofar khareef (monsoon) that you won’t find anywhere else in the Middle East. Who wouldn’t want to experience that?!
Fleet Focus: Will we see more Boeing 737 MAX join the airline? How much longer would you operate the A330? What could the Oman Air fleet look like by 2025?
We do already have 13 MAXs and are expecting five more to be delivered by the end of 2024, according to existing purchase agreements. Although we had planned to slowly phase out the A330 fleet, due to strong demand recovery we are now looking into reconfiguring some of the aircraft, so we will be operating them for a while longer. Today, our total fleet size stands at 52, and we’re assessing it for the longer term.
You’ve got plans to get a dedicated freighter aircraft soon? What type? And what cargo markets and routes are you looking at?
The air cargo industry is experiencing a remarkable surge post-pandemic and we are poised to leverage this to our advantage. We’ve already seen impressive gains, and the new freighter, which will be operational by the fourth quarter of this year, is the natural next step in our growth strategy.
I can share that it’s a B737-800BCF with a cargo capacity of 21,000 kgs and although we have not announced new routes as of yet, we are exploring opportunities in the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East, and Africa.
The top three challenges you face as an airline today?
First is the unpredictability of the market. Covid completely disrupted consumer patterns and behaviours and they haven’t returned to a reliable normal yet. This makes it challenging for us to forecast our operations and revenue streams, as well as make more long-term decisions. We have to be much more flexible, and much more creative
when it comes to pricing and introducing new routes, to accommodate changing demand patterns. Another significant challenge is fluctuating economic conditions. Political instability, unstable currencies, and resource availability impact all industries, especially things like fuel costs and travel demand, which are obviously our lifeblood. To navigate these issues and continue to operate efficiently and maintain profitability, we have to be extremely proactive and agile.
Lastly, I think is the pressure to adopt sustainable business practices. The demand is increasing, both from consumers and from a regulatory perspective, however, alternative fuels and green technologies are costly and not yet readily available. It’s something we have to work on as an industry. However, it is coming, and a lot of opportunities for innovation and growth with it.
For those of you keen on taking a peek into what it’s like flying with Oman Air, Airways were also onboard the carrier’s flagship Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flying from Milan (MXP) to Muscat (MCT).
Featured image: Oman Air A4O-SG Boeing 787-9 KPAE. Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways