Over the last couple of years, Oman Air has taken giant leaps to become another major player in the Gulf aviation market. The company expects to reach growth of 40% over three years by the end of 2019, which is a stunning achievement, whichever way, you look at it.
Oman’s airport now has a capacity of 20 million passengers per year, which while tiny compared to Emirates hub in nearby Dubai, it is still quite an accomplishment, the service and features of the airport have also been greatly improved with the opening of a new $1.8 Billion terminal.
A New Twist on the Gulf Strategy
The main three Gulf Carriers, Etihad, Qatar, and Emirates built their empires on providing a premium service at competitive prices and exploiting their geographic position to act as a bridge between Europe and Asia. The companies offered a premium product that blew the competition, (the Qatar QSuite in Business class are better than most European and US first class cabins). The companies also offered a better than average economy service, which attracted significant numbers of passengers.
Oman has adopted a slightly different strategy. The company has not tried to push long-haul growth at all cost but has opted first to grow in its own neighborhood of the world. The company serves many destinations around the middle east, including Dubai, Doha, and Jeddah. This wide network has proven quite lucrative after political problems led to a breakdown in the relations between Qatar and its neighbors.
Oman has stayed neutral and maintained relationships with all parties in the dispute. At this moment in time, if you are in the middle east or the gulf and you need to get to Qatar, your only option is to fly with Oman Air.
With so many short-haul routes available, Oman Air has chosen to launch a low-cost carrier “SalamAir”, the company plans to serve 60 destinations within 5 years. SalamAir CEO Captain Mohamed Ahmed told Aviation Analyst that
“If demand doesn’t historically exist for travel in a destination, we’ll create it by flying there,”
Actions back the confident words of the CEO; the company recently signed a contract for 6 new Airbus A320neo aircraft. Acquiring 6 new planes within 18 months of launching is a sure sign that the airline has confidence in its plans for future growth. The New aircraft would mean the carrier can compete with some of the other big players in the Gulf who operate less fuel-efficient aircraft on similar short-haul routes.
Don’t Forget the Premium
Even though short-haul low-cost operations drive Oman’s’ aviation growth, the company has not forgotten or neglected the most profitable aviation market sector. Oman Air offers a tremendous first and business class product. True, it is not quite up to Etihad’s Apartment, or suite standards, but it is still as good as anything in the sky offered by a European or American Carrier.
The traditional gulf expansion model has been very successful, although the recent woes of Etihad and the fact that it may need to merge with Emirates to survive is not a good sign for the future. Oman air has taken a much more balanced approach, blending low cost, with traditional premium operations. This approach will not produce the initial stunning growth figures enjoyed by other Gulf carriers, but far more likely will produce consistent and slower growth over a longer period, and the airline should remain solvent and profitable for the duration!