TBY talks to Vic Allen, Acting CEO of Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC), on new airports, demand for air traffic, and future flight numbers.

Vic Allen
A Civil Engineer by training, Vic Allen has worked in the management and operation of airports for 30 years, mostly in New Zealand and recently in Oman. His airport experience includes engineering maintenance, development projects, operations, and business development. Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC) currently operates the two largest civil airports in Oman, Muscat, and Salalah, plus a small regional airport near the rapidly developing industrial port of Duqm. Preparations are underway to manage the five new civil airports currently under construction in Oman.

How involved are you in the planning and design process of new airports?

We are very involved in the design process and have a particular influence on how the airports will be operated. Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC) carries out an extensive program for operational readiness in preparation for the new airports. Our main focus is on employing, recruiting, and training Omani nationals to add to the 600 staff members at the existing airports. In the end, we expect to manage around 1,700 staff. Currently, about 90% of the workers are Omani, and that will be the case for the new airports as well. This is a challenge because the new airports are technologically a step ahead for the country; they are state of the art, modern, and world class, equipped with all of the latest technology. Our approach is to maximize the number of Omanis on the team (supplemented by a few experienced expatriates), with a handful of specialized services outsourced to contractors. In terms of how the new airports will be operated, the government has made it very clear that it expects high standards of service. The government requires us to operate the airports in a way that meets the highest international standards.

How much of the operation of the airports will you be contracting to other companies?

OAMC is contracting high-level IT support and the operational maintenance of the automatic baggage handling system, which is a very complex, computer-driven software system with which we have no experience. However, even when we outsource work, part of the contract stipulates that the contracted companies will train Omanis so that they are prepared to manage the work ourselves within a few years. In Oman, the Public Authority of Civil Aviation manages air traffic control, the Royal Oman Police operates security, immigration, and customs, and OAMC contracts Oman Air to conduct the ground handling of aircraft, cargo handling, and flight catering.

How would you describe the demand for air traffic in Oman at the moment?

Typically, there is an average of 15%-16% growth per annum in passenger numbers, which means it is doubling every five years. That is rapid growth by anyone's standards. What we are finding is that growth is coming from everywhere—not just one particular market such as China or Europe. The Indian Subcontinent is a major market for us, while the GCC countries are growing as well. The growth is mainly driven by GDP and economic expansion, meaning that there is more business travel, more migrant workers, and with the increased prosperity in the country, more Omanis are choosing to travel by air.

Do you think that freight handling will expand across the board once Duqm Port has opened?

Sea-to-air freight is a huge opportunity for Oman. Salalah is a major container port, and essentially a transshipment hub. We expect that in due course, Duqm will also develop in that direction. Oman is taking advantage of its strategic position. We see huge potential for the sea-to-air business, and the driving force behind this possibility is the faster delivery of products to Europe. We could save a week or two of transportation time by carrying out the last leg of the trip by air. We are working together with the Port of Salalah and the airline companies to develop that business.

What is your outlook for the air traffic industry in Oman?

We believe there are many airlines, both passenger and cargo oriented, that are aware of our capacity constraints. When the new airport is open, then there will be plenty of publicity and an upward curve in terms of passengers and flights. In 2012, we transported 7.5 million passengers, and in 2013 we expect to move 8.5 million. We expect to be operating with 10 million passengers per annum when we move into the new airport in Muscat, and that new airport is designed to handle 12 million. However, the facilities can accommodate up to 24 million passengers, and it will be very easy to expand the rest of the airport.