Success in the Sultanate
We take an in-depth look at the many infrastructural developments that are being undertaken for the aviation industry in the Sultanate of Oman.
It is now just over 40 years since the first oil tanker docked at Mina Al Fahal port - or Saih Al Maleh, as it was then known - to begin the process of transporting Oman's most precious natural resource to the world economy.
Since that time, over 7.5 billion barrels of oil have departed Omani shores and new finds and updated technology seem to indicate that as a primary source of wealth, the oil industry still has a bright future.
We aim to provide high standards of service in terms of cargo, combining our expertise in airfreight management with state-of-the-art equipment.
But, along with other Gulf nations, Oman has long been seeking to diversify its markets, and has seen rich success through the construction of major port developments, such as those at Sohar and Salalah, on the sultanate's Indian Ocean shoreline.
The results are impressive; Oman qualified as a member of the WTO in 2000 and a recent survey conducted by the Maktoob Research company indicated that the Sultanate's citizens, along with those of Saudi Arabia, are the amongst the happiest in the GCC region.
As part of Sultan Qaboos' development plans, which started in 1976, the diversification of the Omani economy has focused on industry, information technology, tourism and higher education.
With regard to industry specifically, the state's future plans are concentrating on gas resources, metal manufacturing, petrochemicals and transhipments through Oman's growing ports.
From a freight point of view, the Sultanate is certainly more famous as a base for ocean transport, but the growth witnessed at the country's airfreight facilities is notable too.
In common with other countries in the Middle East, the increasing volume of both passenger and cargo volumes have given rise to airport developments, and Oman is upgrading both its international facilities to match the investment put down by its GCC neighbours.
Oman has two major airports, Muscat International (formerly known as Seeb International) and Salalah, both of which have significant airfreight facilities. Of the two, Muscat International Airport is by far the more substantial and is as a result subject to a higher level of development.
The Muscat facility saw just over 4.2 million passengers pass through its doors in 2007, and this figure was complemented by an annual airfreight volume of 77,391 tonnes.
However, the new airport, which is scheduled to be in place by 2011, envisages a total freight throughput of 200,000 tonnes of cargo annually, in a terminal building that will have a net floor area of 290,000m² and capacity for 12 million passengers a year.
From a passenger perspective, a further terminal currently being planned will increase volumes still further, to a reported 48 million people a year.
In order to prevent the runway development site being deluged by the occasional rainstorms that affect the mountains around Muscat, the area is being raised by around three metres by driving around 10-12 million cubic metres of rock and sand onto the location.
Three giant culverts are also being constructed, which will enable surface runoff into the Bay of Oman. In July 2006, French infrastructure specialist Airport de Paris Ingenierie (ADPi) was awarded the contract to design and supervise the development of the new airport.
The engineering consultancy firm, which specialises in the construction of passenger terminals, cargo facilities, control towers and aircraft hangars, will be supported by National Engineering Services Pakistan & Partners (NESPAK), another company that has also cooperated on a series of other major infrastructural projects in the Sultanate.
Currently, all of Muscat International Airport's cargo operations work under the umbrella of the Services & Delivery Division of Oman Aviation Services. "We aim to provide high standards of service in terms of cargo, combining our expertise in airfreight management with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, including an automated cargo handling system," says Sami Abu El-Fatouh, manager, Oman Air Cargo.
We can offer everything from 24-hour operations for the import and export of cargo, specialised storage facilities for dangerous and hazardous cargo, in addition to products requiring cold storage or freezer storage. We also offer high-level security, including an x-raying process, under the strict control of Royal Oman Police Airport Security.
• Utilises an automated cargo system for a number of features, including all relevent customs documentation, warehousing, export cargo acceptance and the delivery of imported cargo.
• Round-the-clock break-down and build-up of cargo and mail.
• Cold-storage and freezer-storage facilities.
• Storage for dangerous and hazardous cargo.
• Separate storage facilities available for newspapers, diplomatic and postal mails.
• Separate storage facilities for vulnerable and valuable cargo.
• Electronic weighing scales for accurate calculations of weight capacities.
• Cargo undergoes x-raying for safety and security purposes, under strict supervision of Royal Oman Police - Airport Security .
• Special handling of RFS-cargo for a variety of airlines.
With regard to freight entering Oman, the Cargo Imports section provides 24-hour information on arrivals and schedules. Within eight hours of arrival, cargo is checked, placed into storage, and the relevant documentation is then made available for speedy customs clearance.
Via the automated handling system and electronic data interchange gateway facilities, the freight status update (FSU) messaging requirements of major airlines are met.
For exports, cargo is weighed using state-of-the-art electronic scales and then x-rayed. The relevant documentation is handled by the computerised cargo handling system, where messaging requirements are also dealt with.
Oman Air has grown considerably since its inception in 1993 and is one of the first regional airlines to introduce the new Boeing 737 NG series. The company operates three B737-700s and seven B737-800 aircraft, with the last in the fleet being delivered in December 2007.
Bellyhold capacity on these passenger jets is substantial, with the B737-700 having space for 27.3mÃ‚Â³ of freight, while its close relation has 41.1mÃ‚Â³ of capacity.
By 2011, the fleet is expected to increase to 24 or 25 aircraft in total, with new purchases likely to include Airbus A350s and B787s. "At a time when most airlines are struggling to remain profitable in the current economic climate, we have been flying high with a modest fleet, mainly consisting of 737s," says El-Fetouh.
"Although we are surrounded by large carriers that primarily fly twin-aisle planes on long-haul routes, Oman Air has carved a profitable niche using single-aisle jets to connect a growing number of regional markets. However, we're now looking at larger aircraft and the procedures are ongoing to conduct a feasibility study on the issue."
At present, the Omani flag carrier offers a number of flights to regional destinations, including the UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah). In addition the carrier also flies to a number of new frequencies in India, the most recent of which are Bangalore and Calicut, which were added in June this year.
Oman Air also services Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the UK, via London Gatwick. "The subcontinent is very important for Oman Air, in terms of both passengers and airfreight," relates El-Fetouh. "We've already established considerable operations in India and the country's cargo market is really flourishing at the moment.
We have also signed a strategic agreement with Indian airline SpiceJet to provide us with pilots. We have also begun looking further afield for additional routes in the future, including destinations such as London, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Milan, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. These are alongside plans to re-launch flights to Zanzibar and Darussalam."
But Muscat and Salalah are not the only locations in Oman where the government is looking at creating or expanding aviation facilities. Six more locations have been earmarked as future airport destinations: Sohar, Ras Al Hadd, Al Duqm, Adam, Haima and Shaleem.
Along with Salalah, Sohar is the site of one of Oman's largest seaports, and is also home to the country's fastest-developing industrial zone. Hamra Associates, the Egyptian engineering consultancy, has already provided a detailed masterplan for the airport, as well as a pre-design study, and the firm is also developing preliminary and detailed design drawings for the various structures.
The company will also prepare the tender documents and supervise the construction of the Sohar facility, which will be designed to service aircraft as large as the new Airbus A380. In August, Indian logistics giant Arshiya International indicated that it was planning a major free trade warehousing zone in Sohar, which would include significant warehousing space for onwards transshipment to the subcontinent.
Although the project - which is scheduled to come online in 2012 if the appropriate government approval is received - is clearly designed to leverage the benefits brought by the seaport, the region's new airport would obviously gain significant volume
growth as a result.
Al Duqm, based on Oman's Indian Ocean coastline, is also a destination that the Sultanate foresees as being linked closely to sea trade. A modern port is currently being developed at the location, which will also see the construction of a ship repair centre, a grassroot oil refinery and a petrochemical complex close to the proposed site of the port.
US consultancy Parsons International won the contract to advise the Omani government on the design and construction of the Al Duqm airport in 2006. Both Sohar and Al Duqm, along with Salalah, have the potential to take advantage of the sea-air method of freight transportation, which has proved so effective in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, especially.
While smaller than other regional airports, Oman's major facility has certainly cottoned on to the importance of the trade in airfreight, and Oman Air's recent development plans means that larger freight volumes will be passing through the Sultanate's various facilities in the future.
Given its strategic location, the country should also benefit from increased sea trade and the onus is therefore on the authorities to leverage the symbiosis between the two methods of transport, an arrangement that has already proved so effective in the United Arab Emirates.
• One of the features of the development of Salalah airport will be a cargo terminal equipped to handle 100,000 tonnes a year in the first phase, rising to a reported 400,000 tonnes in future expansions.
• Will serve as an international and domestic hub for sea cargo in conjunction with Port of Salalah and Salalah Free Zone.