By Ahmad Lala
Newly appointed CEO talks about the next phase for the airline, the fleet and route expansion plans, and about winning awards
Oman Air may not be in the headlines as much as its GCC counterparts are, but in terms of service offering, it is right up there with the best of them. Smart innovations have resulted in awards and global recognition for products such as its Business Class seats and amenity bags.
The carrier also boasts something more valuable, the best airline staff service in the Middle East, winning the category at this year’s Skytrax’s World Airline Awards. Now with a new CEO at the helm, and the first aircraft of a 24-plane order on its way, Oman Air stands at the cusp of an exciting phase.
First up, the arrival of new planes. Between now and 2018, the airline is expected to take delivery of 24 new aircraft – 15 B737s, six B787s and three A330s. Its first Boeing Dreamliner is slated to arrive next year, and CEO Paul Gregorowitsch, who joined the airline in August, is understandably pleased.
“The arrival from late 2015 of our B787 Dreamliners is very exciting,” says Gregorowitsch. “They offer us outstanding economies, as well as a reduced environmental impact per every kilometre flown. Vitally, they also offer a superb passenger experience. Higher cabin pressures, cleaner air and larger windows all help to minimise jet lag on long haul routes. These elements, combined with our new seats and inflight entertainment systems, will ensure that Oman Air’s Dreamliners offer one of the most enjoyable passenger experiences in the world.
“The new aircraft will provide the backbone for Oman Air’s expansion and will, with our existing fleet, provide the necessary reliability and flexibility for us to meet our goals.”
And those goals? Amongst them is continued expansion, says Gregorowitsch. Two new destinations to be launched next month are Manila and Jakarta. The CEO explains that the airline will not target any specific regions or routes for expansion, but instead focus on commercially viable routes and serve its domestic and international markets.
“For that reason, the first two new routes will, as I have said, be between Muscat and Jakarta, and between Muscat and Manila. The Filipino and Indonesian diasporas are sizeable and located throughout our network, including in Oman,” he says. “They need a comfortable, reliable and competitively-priced carrier to serve their needs and Oman Air is perfectly placed to do so. In addition, both Manila and Jakarta are thriving, exciting cities. As such, they will be much sought-after destinations for both business and leisure travellers from Oman and elsewhere within our network.”
The new aircraft also gives the airline a chance to review and upgrade its passenger experience, Gregorowitsch reveals. “We have made a substantial investment in new Business Class seats, which will be fitted to both the new aircraft and many of our existing fleet. We have also invested in state-of-the-art new inflight entertainment systems. These will, I am sure, delight customers and build on the reputation for innovation that we developed by being the first airline in the world to introduce complete inflight mobile phone and Wi-Fi connectivity.”
Innovation is something close to the fabric of the company, as the string of awards suggests.
“There is a huge amount of thought and effort that go into every aspect of our operations. This is especially true of our products and services for premium customers,” says Gregorowitsch.
“Our fully lie-flat seats in First Class and Business Class are extremely comfortable and very long. In fact, a couple of years ago, we had our Business Class seats tested by some very tall members of the UK Basketball team, and they said that ours were the first airline seats they could comfortably lie down in. The seats also offer superb amenities, such as reading lights, large IFE (inflight entertainment) screens and ample storage. The seats are complemented by exceptionally high standards of staff service and inflight catering. And, of course, our amenity bags have gained international acclaim for their quality.”
“Both our Business Class and First Class amenity kits have won awards at the TravelPlus Airline Amenity Bag Awards over a number of years. This year, however, we submitted our brand new First Class kit and, once again, walked away with the best First Class male amenity kit award. The award recognised not just the design and usability of the bag, but also the very high standard of its contents.
He adds that all products try to capture the Omani character. “Perhaps most notable are the toiletries, which are supplied by the highly prestigious Omani company, Amouage. The amenity kits are, then, a good example of how Oman Air works. We offer the very highest standards of products and services, but with a distinctly Omani character.”
But airline growth needs to be matched with infrastructure support at its home bases. In this regard, Oman is investing heavily in upgrading its airports, including the building of a new $1.8bn terminal at Muscat International as well as a new runway, taxi, taxiway system, aprons, roads, and utility buildings. The airport which currently handles about six million passengers per year, will have the capacity for 12 million passengers when the terminal is complete in 2016.
While Gregorowitsch identifies “coping with the current infrastructure until the new Muscat airport is complete”, as one of the airline’s challenges, he is happy with the airport infrastructure projects under way.
“Oman Air carried five million passengers in 2013, and Muscat International Airport handled seven and a half million passengers. Oman Air is therefore a very major player in the region and our expansion will only increase that standing,” says Gregorowitsch. “However, Oman has made enormous investments in its airport infrastructure. The new Muscat International Airport is nearing completion and will be able to cater not only for very significant increases in passengers, but also in the number of aircraft that use the airport.
“Salalah International Airport has been expanded and refurbished, and we now operate more scheduled flights to the city from Muscat than ever before. We have also launched a new scheduled service to Duqm, where the new airport is working very well indeed. And the forthcoming opening of airports at Sohar, Ras Al Hadd and Adam will further increase domestic traffic. So, Oman Air’s forthcoming growth is mirrored by that of Oman’s airport infrastructure. The two are different aspects of Oman’s aviation sector and will work to the same high standards in the future as they do now.”
Oman also recently launched an advanced air traffic monitoring system to oversee aircraft in the skies above Muscat and Salalah. The new system, operated from the transitional air traffic control centre (ATC), includes 56-inch monitors with multiple views on a single screen and the latest systems and software, and was developed by the Spanish firm ‘Indra’.
“Muscat is Oman Air’s home base, so all our routes originate here. It is therefore vital that we can rely on a modern, effective air traffic management system, and that is exactly what Oman has,” says Gregorowitsch. “As Oman Air grows, the system will become even more important. Furthermore, as Oman’s civil aviation sector expands, notably with the increased number of domestic airports, we can expect many more visitors to the country, the vast majority of whom will arrive by air. So, Oman has certainly done the right thing by investing in the new air traffic management system.”
The challenge of the airline’s profit remains. Oman Air reported a loss of $293.40m (OR113 million) in 2013, a 16 percent rise on the previous year, attributed to new aircraft purchases. However, the mood is positive. In the same period, the carrier saw increases in revenues and passenger numbers, supported by growth in seat capacity, cargo operations and the number of passengers carried. There is also a plan under way to spin off business units such as ground handling, cargo handling, and duty free as separate legal entities.
“By the end of 2013, Oman Air was carrying more passengers to more destinations, aboard more aircraft, than ever before. We also carried more cargo, provided more meals and received higher revenues than at any previous time in our history. This year, we are on course to do even better. The keys to this are the clarity of our aims and the quality of our staff. Both are excellent,” says Gregorowitsch.
The airline CEO says the staff dedication was a key factor as it begins the next phase of its expansion plans.
“I am particularly proud of our staff, who are working ever more closely together to move Oman Air forward. Since I joined Oman Air in August, I have been impressed by their commitment and dedication. They have worked hard, and continue to do so, to prepare the airline for its next phase of ambitious expansion, which starts later this year,” says Gregorowitsch.
“That preparation has included reviewing our training and procedures, increasing our focus on quality standards and revisiting every aspect of the passenger experience to ensure that it really is seamless. As a result, our staff service has attracted awards, and our internal procedures are more efficient and effective. Furthermore, customer feedback has been very positive about our refreshed website, our increased online check-in period, our lounges in Muscat, Salalah and Bangkok, our premium check-in lounge at Muscat and many other aspects.
“Oman Air is a truly excellent airline, but we can be even better. Through commitment, dedication and working together, our staff will get us there,” he adds.For all the latest transport news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Oman Air in concert with the Ministry of Tourism, would be better served by marketing " Fun in the Sun " travel packages, to Canadian snowbirds who experience five months of wintry conditions.
Newly rebranded Oman Air, should operate thrice weekly service to Toronto, operating B777 or B787 Dreamliner.
Muscat-Toronto-Muscat flights can operate with snowbird passengers as well as a large S Asian population in Toronto, who can further connect via Muscat to S Asia or further East.