THE RIGHT KIND OF NICHE

Oman 2018 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Captain Mohamed Ahmed, CEO of SalamAir, on satisfying a regional need, getting through the start-up phase, and benefitting the entire national network.

 Captain Mohamed Ahmed
BIOGRAPHY
Captain Mohamed Ahmed was appointed CEO of SalamAir in October 2017. Reputed for delivering operational, commercial, and financial results in the aviation industry, he is responsible for leading SalamAir through its next phase of development by focusing on driving efficiency, performance, and customer satisfaction. An industry veteran with over 30 years of experience, he started his flying career at Oxford Air Training Academy in 1987. He then joined Gulf Air where he flew Boeing B737s and B767s as well as Airbus A340s and A320s. In 2003, he was selected to be part of the startup of Air Arabia Group, where he was Group Director of Operations & Maintenance, among others.

As Oman's first budget airline, what does SalamAir represent?

SalamAir grew out of a need in the market. Today, travel and aviation have developed so much that it is important to keep up with demand. However, many people here were using other forms of transport, so the airline came to provide an alternative, both domestic and international.

What competitive impact does SalamAir expect to have in the region, and how does it differ from competitors such as flydubai and Air Arabia?

We complement them and build on their success. The companies have been extremely successful, not only financially but also in supporting their local economies. It is important to contribute to the growth of the country, one of our main objectives as a company. The country has invested heavily in the aviation sector, making it a perfect time for SalamAir to join the market. We see infrastructure coming up, such as the fantastic new airport terminal in Muscat that will boost the Sultanate's tourist capacity. Although there are many requirements to fly people in and out of Muscat, SalamAir gives everyone the opportunity to fly to many destinations at an affordable price.

How will the delivery of the new terminal in Muscat and the new airports in Sohar and Salalah impact SalamAir's operations in Oman?

The main reason for the new airport was to increase passenger capacity. The current airport and terminals have been at their maximum for a while now, and were even stretched to meet growing demand. The people running the airport are doing a fantastic job; however, it is now time to move to the new world-class terminal. This project will definitely put Muscat on the map for having an efficient, top-of-the-line terminal in the region. The terminal in Salalah is also efficient, and plans are being made to increase its capacity. In fact, SalamAir was one of the first airlines to operate from Sohar. These two cities brought in high demand, and the local communities were welcoming. Although other airlines operate on a seasonal demand, we decided to offer these routes year-round. Today, we even have two flights from Sohar to Salalah, allowing people to travel during the weekend; this has been welcomed by the local community, as it bolsters both business and personal travel plans. Other foreign carriers started to fly to Oman after they saw our success in Sohar.

Could you tell us about your fleet, current routes, and expansion plans for the near future?

Today, SalamAir has three Airbus 320s. These are well known for passenger comfort, efficiency, and being environmentally friendly; each has a capacity for 174 passengers. In regard to routes, the airline currently operates internally to Sohar and Salalah and is currently negotiating with the authorities to connect more domestic airports in the near future. In addition to this, SalamAir flies to Jeddah and Dubai and is looking to add Qatar and Kuwait. Outside of the GCC, we operate to Sialkot and Karachi in Pakistan and are assessing destinations such as Iran, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In 2018 we will add three or four new aircraft to our fleet, making it possible for the airline to extend its operations. Of course, the number of aircraft depends on their availability in the market. Our current expansion plans are to look into short to medium-haul flights. At this stage, we are not considering any long-haul flights; we will stay within the region and fill the three-to-four hour routes around us.

What are the airline's main objectives for 2018?

SalamAir is going through its start-up phase. During this, the main aim is to function properly. In 2018 we need to become healthier and start increasing our operations. We are currently stabilizing the company and making changes to prepare for the next phase of expansion. We are optimistic about 2018 as we look to open new routes and add three to four new aircraft to our fleet. Once this is done, the entire network will benefit.