FLIGHTS OF FANCY

As Oman's economy continues to enjoy unabated growth, the expansion of its aviation infrastructure has become a major national priority.

The construction of new terminals in Muscat and Salalah, both due to open in late 2014 or early 2015, represents an evident statement of intent on the part of the Omani authorities. Openness to investment from abroad and an eagerness to promote the country as both a business and tourist destination have led to these ambitious projects being swiftly carried out, and it is clear the government is looking outward.

The largest airport in Oman, Muscat International, was built in 1973, but has by now reached full capacity. “For the next two or three years, we expect to be somewhat capacity constrained," explains Vic Allen, Acting CEO of Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC), and “are particularly targeting airlines that can fly outside of peak hours and try to increase volume without increasing the load on our facilities." This will all change with the completion of the new terminals. While 2012 saw 7.5 million air passengers across the country, and with the projected number for 2013 expected to come to 8.5 million, the scale of the development is clear from the figures: the new terminal alone will initially cater to up to 12 million passengers.

The project is being run by the Ministry of Transport, in partnership with COWI-Larsen Joint Venture, but when complete, responsibility for the operation of the facility will be handed over to OAMC. The terminal building itself will cover a net area of 340,000 sqm, and the overall project comprises two runways, a 97-meter-high Air Traffic Control Tower, 7,000 parking spaces, and a total of 70 buildings, including a data center. Planning for the undertaking includes the possibility of subsequent expansion phases that would achieve capacities of 24 million, 36 million, and 48 million passengers, respectively.

Far to the south of Muscat, in Oman's tropical Dhofar governate, the new terminal for the burgeoning resort and port of Salalah will also open its doors. Currently serving several hundred thousand passengers annually, the new complex will have a million-passenger capacity, and again will allow for further expansions of up to 6 million when required. The airport will feature a 57-meter Air Traffic Control Tower, a 4,000-meter by 60-meter runway, a terminal building with an area of 65,638 sqm, and a cargo capacity of 100,000 tons per annum. Though these cargo facilities will be welcome, the most promising sector in Salalah is tourism. Due to excessive precipitation associated with Khareef or the monsoon season in this part of Oman, the area enjoys a pleasant summertime climate, with a verdant, green landscape in stark contrast to the surrounding region.

The expansion of these facilities is linked to parallel economic progress, and access to new markets will be increasingly possible once the infrastructure is ready. New airlines from the Gulf have launched routes to both Muscat and Salalah, as Air Arabia did in 2012. The Indian Subcontinent is an increasingly important market, with migrant labor accounting for the vast majority of potential passengers. Oman is home to over 500,000 Indian nationals, with close to 100,000 Pakistanis also resident. This population will continue to boost demand for air services over the coming years, as infrastructure megaprojects continue to be rolled out by the forward-thinking government.

The overhaul of Oman's aviation facilities will usher in a new era for the country; improved access will facilitate the arrival of visitors for both business and pleasure, and will contribute to a broadening of the nation's possibilities for the future. With the GCC strengthening relations among its members, and neighboring Gulf states nurturing robust economies, Oman stands to benefit from augmented communications with the region. When the projects come online, sufficient airport capacity will cease to be a flight of fancy for the Sultanate.