TBY talks to Eng. Saeed Khamis Al Zadjali, Acting CEO of Oman Airports Management Company, on challenges in the sector, airport expansion, and Omanization.

Eng. Saeed Khamis Al Zadjali
Eng. Saeed Khamis Al Zadjali is the Acting CEO of Oman Airports Management Company. He joined the company in 2007 as Director of Safety, Compliance & Maintenance and became General Manager—Technical Services before taking over the role of Acting CEO in July 2014. Prior to joining the company he held several senior and leadership positions at Petroleum Development Oman. He has a post-graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Crisis Management.

What principle challenges does your sector face?

The challenge we face at Muscat Airport is to continually expand and increase the capacity of our existing airport facilities, with the high level of growth we continue to experience; 2013 growth exceeded 10% in Muscat, with growth of over 15% in Salalah, and for 2014 we are expecting a growth of 6% to 7% in Muscat and more than 15% in Salalah. Our existing airport facilities are 40 years old, and despite having seen various expansions and enhancements over the years, these are at the end of their useful life. We are therefore very keen for a new generation of airports to be brought into service.

Investment in aviation projects is due to exceed $6 billion by 2015. How will the new airport networks benefit the national economy?

Essentially, the capacity for air transport into Muscat and the rest of Oman is constrained. We believe that many airlines would wish to bring extra services to Muscat, in particular cargo service flights, but they simply cannot be accommodated in terms of their preferred flight schedules and capacity. The new airport should reverse this malaise, particularly on the cargo/freight side of the business.

What is the true potential for the cargo business?

Currently, much of the airfreight entering Oman in fact arrives at Dubai International Airport, and is trucked down to the Sultanate. Yet once we get the new airport open, with a cargo terminal 10 times larger than the existing facility, all that will change, with a much better service becoming available for importers and exporters.

What are the particulars of Muscat Airport and how does it differ from other airports in the GCC area?

The main difference is that in Muscat we started our major airport development later than other airports. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha will shortly open their new terminals and facilities, so in that sense we have lagged behind, but this does not mean that we have any less growth potential.

The expansion of the airport will increase the number of existing routes into and out of Muscat. Which regions will be your main target markets?

Our major growth in direct destinations derives from Oman Air's plans for fleet expansion and the opening of new routes. Its focus has been, and will continue to be, on Europe, Southeast Asia, and India when air service rights become available, as currently the Oman-Indian routes are constrained by the agreement between the two countries. Oman is no different from other GCC countries, such as the UAE and Qatar, where a huge proportion of the world's population is just a narrow body aircraft flight away. Key developing countries such as China and India have an increasingly affluent middle class with the propensity and ability to travel by air, which corresponds to huge growth potential through the GCC, including Muscat. Civil aviation in Africa, though starting from a low base, is also growing rapidly.

As part of the development of the airport, you will see a huge rise in employee numbers. What role will Omanization play?

In order to operate these new airports, we are currently in the process of tripling our staff numbers, and retain our 90% Omanization threshold. By that you can see that we are recruiting and training a large number of Omani nationals. That is a major focus of the company at this time, as we are recruiting not only experienced people from other industries, but also university graduates, and are sending many of our new recruits for training, both locally and abroad. For example, our job training schemes send Omani nationals to other airports, such as Munich, Dublin, or Singapore, where on-the-job training is delivered to our young staff.