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Coming soon: a multi-modal, integrated transport network

Article - November 21, 2014

The government is now developing ports, railways, roads and airports in such a way that they will conveniently link up to move cargo and passengers seamlessly.


“I believe that in the future that transport and logistics will be one of the economic sectors that the country can rely on to be one of the replacements for the oil,” Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al-Futaisi, Oman’s Minister of Transport and Communications, boldly states. And rightly so. With its prime location on the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea, Oman is a natural, and historical, logistical base.

Add to this the ambitious and visionary plans the government has embarked on to develop a solid, integrated transport infrastructure network, and it is clear that Oman is well on its way to building a strong logistic chain that will be the envy of its neighbors. “We are really starting to look strategically at how to integrate roads, airports, ports and the planned railways,” says Mr. Al-Futaisi.

Vic Allen, former acting CEO of Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC), believes that the multi-modal logistics hub idea has “huge potential for strategic reasons”. “To be south or outside the Straits of Hormuz is a huge strategic advantage,” he says. “As time goes on, that will become increasingly important and as Oman develops its infrastructure and transport links I’m sure that it will grow massively.”

Oman is currently developing a network of five regional airports – in Salalah, Sohar, Ras Al Hadd, Duqm and Muscat. The latter will soon have a new terminal with capacity for 12 million passengers per annum after phase one is completed. If demand deems it necessary, three subsequent phases will expand capacity ultimately to 40 million. According to Paul Gregorowitsch, CEO of Oman Air, once the new terminal has opened, “it will offer 96 check-in counters, 29 passenger boarding bridges, 30 aircraft remote stands, and will be able to process up to 5,500 bags per hour.”

A brand new runway, now in its test phase, will soon take over in place of the 40-year old one currently in use, which will in turn be upgraded next year so as to afford the international airport with two runways in the near future.
The country’s five airports will be state-of-the-art, and Mr. Allen points to investment opportunities for the supply of services, concessions, and contracts for operation of commercial activities. New regional airports mean, of course, more convenient access for passengers to the far reaches of the Arabian country.

“Domestic services have already received a boost with the increase in frequencies between Muscat and Salalah and the launch of our new service to Duqm,” says the CEO of Oman Air. “However, the opening of more new airports in Sohar, Adam and Ras Al Hadd will enable Oman Air to easy and affordable air travel around the Sultanate for both Omani citizens and overseas visitors.”

In terms of its ports, there are six under development, three of which will be special economic zones (Salalah, Duqm and Sohar) that will have convenient access to their adjacent airports. Two existing ports that will experience a complete change in format are those at Muscat and Sohar. Due to constraints to expansion, and not to mention the beautiful setting, adds Minister Al-Futaisi, Muscat Port will be transformed into a tourism port of call, complete with cafés, restaurants and shops, while Sohar will take on Muscat’s commercial activities.

“I think it serves to show just how much tourism is becoming an important factor in Oman,” states Tarik Al Junaidi, acting CEO of Oman Shipping Company. “Especially between November and March, you see people from the huge cruise ships heading down to the souq area, walk around and go back.”

Speaking about the plan to link Oman’s ports with the planned 435-mile national railway network, Mr. Al Junaidi says, “It will definitely change the dynamics of logistics. It’s cheaper for shipping lines actually to drop all their containers in Oman, basically in Salalah or Duqm, and then shift them by railway.” Owned by the state and by Oman Oil Company, Oman Shipping Company mainly focuses on the import and export of oil and gas products (especially liquefied natural gas, or LNG) and ore.

Passengers who wish to travel along Oman’s coast can do so with the National Ferries Company, which runs services to Oman’s enclave governorate, Musandam, as well as to the island of Masirah from Muscat. The company’s CEO, Mehdi bin Mohammed Al Abdwani, also underscores the importance of connecting the country’s modes of transport. “In Oman, land and sea transport is inextricably linked so having an integrated system linking the cities to the ports is essential,” he says.

Perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching of Oman’s transport infrastructure plans is the railway project. Construction will begin next year on the railroad, which will not only interlink the sultanate’s port cities, but will also connect to the $15.5 billion, 1,400-mile GCC rail project, which will run through all six GCC countries – Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.