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Oman 2016 | TRANSPORT | FOCUS: AVIATION SECTOR

The long-term impact of continued government investment into the aviation sector reaches further than just the development of Oman's transport networks.

While the aviation sector itself has been boosted by major government investment, the impact of this support stretches far further. A stronger aviation sector not only has the potential to benefit trade, SMEs, tourism, and logistics, but it can also support the promotion and awareness of Oman on a global scale.

One of the critical factors of the development of aviation is that it has been affected throughout the whole country. Commercial airports have been developed in Muscat and Salalah (both international), and Duqm, Sohar, and Ras Al Hadd (all domestic). Out of the five, the most recent development has come for Salalah Airport in June 2015. Its launch at the beginning of the summer was timely as the coastal town is a particularly popular tourist destination during the summer “Khareef" season for GCC visitors. According to the National Center for Statistics and Information, visitor numbers to Salalah between June 21st to July 25th increased by 171% in comparison to the same period last year. However, the most spectacular figure was a 248% increase in Asian visitors. The upgraded airport could, therefore, play a fundamental role in facilitating an increasing number of international tourists.

The expansion of the domestic airports is also noteworthy, not least due to the ongoing multi modal transport links that are being established. With the Oman Railway construction project underway, these airports will provide necessary alternatives to road travel, an important issue considering limited public transport and increasing congestion. Sohar will be particularly benefited as the shift of cargo-related activities in 2014 from Sultan Qaboos Port in Muscat to Sohar Port has increased the city's relevance as a center for trade and industry.

For Muscat, the new airport is much needed. Reducing airport congestion and opening up new flights are certainly priorities. A new state-of-the-art airport is also more appealing to travellers from an aesthetic point of view. As it is the first and last thing a visitor sees when entering and exiting a country, its efficiency, outlay, and amenities can be the deciding factor for travellers as to whether or not to return. However, one of the greatest beneficiaries of the new airport will be for local private sector companies. SMEs, whether involved in retail or in the airport's supply chain, will have far greater exposure to new markets and customers, something that would never before have been possible.

Airports, however, are only as good as their primary airline. Oman Air has undoubtedly had some difficult years, but there has been a major turnaround since the middle of 2014. It was only in August of 2014 that Paul Gregorowitsch became the CEO of Oman Air, but his impact has been unprecedented. World-record charity events and promotional gigs in and outside the country have supported necessary airline upgrades such as new Business and First Class lounges at the new Muscat International Airport. The airline has also made efforts to match its external branding with a contribution to the local society. More opportunities are being provided for Omanis to work for the airline, including supporting the training of local Omanis to be pilots. Additionally, a recently formed partnership with Riyada, the Public Authority for SME Development, will allow for local SMEs to develop more business opportunities from Oman Air.

In any given country, citizens may not take much note of their national airline(s), but foreigners certainly will. The avid marketing campaigns carried out by Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines are some of the loudest and most successful ambassadors for Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Turkey. Tourism authorities in each location would undoubtedly attribute much of their success to the airlines and their dynamic marketing campaigns. Oman Air has taken on board many of the successes that these other airlines have launched, boosting the brand significantly.

From a long-term perspective, solid aviation infrastructure as part of a well-connected network is critical to the country's development. Hydrocarbons may currently account for the bulk of Oman's profits, but it will certainly be other sectors that drive economic growth in the years to come. Oman has natural advantages of location and access, but the transport network's rapid development will allow for this to be fully utilized.

Recent plans to introduce a new low-cost airline is also representative of the high demand for greater aviation capacity. Considering the reach that aviation has and the marketing and branding that airlines and airports naturally carry out, the Sultanate's dedication to its aviation sector is both timely and lucrative.