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Oman 2017 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi, Minister of Transport & Communications, on the development of Oman's transport and ICT sectors.

What is the Ministry's vision for the Oman Global Logistics Group, and what will be its main responsibilities?

We have many companies working on logistics and transport, which are either 100% government-owned companies or partially government owned. We have noticed that the work between these companies needs to be integrated, and we need to utilize the resources that these companies have. Therefore, we have established a holding company that has around 17 companies under it. We divided the holding company into certain categories such as ports and economic zones, some transport companies such as ferries, shipping companies, and some other support services included as well such as Dry Duqm Company. It is a new model for us in Oman to have all the logistics companies under one umbrella, and this group is linked to the Ministry of Transport so we can integrate the policy alongside its implementation. One major role of this group will be to look at the investments that the country needs in this sector, which will require examining KPIs to create profitable companies and elicit growth. We are expecting to see an improvement in our financial investments in these companies by integrating them and improving their financial status. The second mandate of the group is to act as the implementation arm for the national logistics strategy. The experts that helped us craft the logistics strategy told us that the country has no problem in transport infrastructure. The ports and deep ports that we have built, the excellent roads, and the state-of-the-art airport coming up in Muscat will be sufficient to grow the transport sector. However, what is lacking is the soft infrastructure, such as trade facilitation measures to improve processes, procedures, and regulations for a greater ease of business, human capital including more training, technology advancements, and marketing and markets. These are the four pillars and the spirit of the logistics strategy in the country. We hope to place logistics as one of the successful diversification sectors in the country. We are also working on an aviation holding group, where we will do a similar thing for the aviation sector with one umbrella holding company containing Oman Air, the airport management company, and the air traffic control company will be transferred from PACA. This has been approved by the government for establishment, and we are going forward with the process; we are looking forward to establishing it before the end of 2016.

How will the Ministry's move to grant two licenses to manage and operate local taxis help to increase the development of public transportation in Oman?

Taxis in Oman require a lot of improvement as they have not been regulated properly for many years. Countries worldwide are improving this sector dramatically because it is directly linked to tourism and any modern city requires a good taxi system. This year we have issued a new land transport law in the country. Using that law, we will start issuing regulations for taxis and imposing on them certain rules and conditions for how drivers should operate. The next step is that we will create management companies to manage the taxi drivers. They still have their taxi license, but there will be a management company at the top which will provide for them the systems such as meters, GPS, ordering service, credit card, and tracking systems based on certain fees. We will not give them new licenses, so one company will use the available licenses in hotels, ports, and harbors, while the other one will be in the airport companies and commercial centers. For the street taxis, we will be imposing regulations and rules and, while we may not ask them to use meters right away, we want them to use a fixed, published tariff. However, we are imposing on hotel, airport, commercial center, and mall taxis to have meters and advanced systems through these two companies. In addition, we allow them to do call services starting in Muscat only. It is our vision that street taxis will notice the benefit of the advanced system and will gradually migrate to it.

What are some of the new capabilities that will come to Oman as a result of the country's airport projects in terms of increasing the national tourism and logistics capabilities?

We are gradually completing our airport projects. The Salalah Airport is now operational and we are expecting the airport construction in Muscat to finish at the end of 2016, with its full operation in 2017. In all of our airport projects we are developing a complete airport in terms of cargo facilities, catering, and MRO. We are hoping that introducing modern facilities will grow our logistics business in Oman to be a hub for passengers, cargo, and possibly the maintenance of aircraft. We realize our infrastructure will require strong, state-of-the-art services in order to attract more airlines. We are floating tenders for international operators in related fields for our airports, such as introducing a second ground handler in the airport with Swiss Port. This is only the second airport in the Gulf, which will have two ground handling companies. Oman Air itself is partnering with a company from the UK to improve its ground handling capabilities and along with a Singaporean company to develop its capabilities in cargo handling and operations. We are reforming Oman Air to have subsidiaries; right now there is one company doing the flying, maintenance, cargo, and catering. We are creating subsidiaries under Oman Air with specialized companies for each area. We are seeking to have strong international partners in all of these areas to improve the quality of services provided in the new facilities. We are also floating tenders for the operation of cargo and maintenance in the regional airports in Salalah and Sohar. Within the next year, there will be more tenders coming out for the operation of such facilities, and we will see the appetite of international operators. While the market is not so big in Sohar and Duqm, it will require time for us to build up a market, but we are working in all directions to finish the infrastructure, bring in international operators, and market our airports and aviation sector. We have seen steady passenger growth in Salalah and Muscat. We have had double-digit growth in passengers and cargo and these numbers attract operators.

How will a well-developed logistics sector in Oman help carry the country into its next stage of development?

The good thing about the logistics sector is that we have done a good job in setting up a solid infrastructure over the past 40 years. We have three deep sea ports and five good airports. We are trying to progress the railway project for the GCC, which will be a good addition to the country. Oman also enjoys a strategic location. In addition, other sectors that we want to develop for diversification, such as mining, depend on logistics. If we want to export our fisheries or agricultural products internationally, then we need good airports and warehouses to take the products worldwide. The same thing applies to industrial output and even tourism. Logistics is the enabler for all of these sectors and crucial to their success.