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Building a new aviation hub on the Arabian Sea

Article - November 15, 2012
Air transport in Oman plays a key role in the country's development strategy and is vital to encouraging the growth of a vibrant tourism industry
The Sultanate of Oman is in midst of an ambitious plan to transform itself into a major, regional air travel gateway between Europe and Asia, by building and expanding a total of six airports.

The two international airports in Muscat and Salalah will expand on existing services and capacity, however all six airports are designed to have 4km runways (Muscat International having two 4km runways) and passenger terminal buildings capable of handling large domestic and international aircraft.

The new regional airports located in Sohar and Duqm (industrial centres), Ras Al Hadd (ecotourism destination), and Adam (future civil aviation training city) are intended to boost local economies and promote tourism. The first of the new airports are expected to begin operations in 2014.

The development of Muscat International Airport (MCT) is the nation’s biggest civil engineering project ever. The existing terminal in Muscat handled 6.48 million passengers in 2011, an increase of 13% over the previous year, while in the first half of 2012, traffic increased by 20%. MCT is being enlarged to have a capacity of 12 million passengers annually in 2014. A three-phase plan for subsequent expansions envisions boosting capacity to as much as 48 million.

Eng. Salim Al Aufi, CEO of the newly established Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA), believes that the private sector can help MCT meet the deadlines and ensure high standards. “We need to start setting up the market so that the new airports are fully utilised and really pushed to their maximum commercial utilisation soon after opening up. That can only happen by opening up and allowing the private sector to invest more in the civil aviation sector,” he said.

There are opportunities for local and foreign contractors and service providers, from the provision of office furniture for the MCT training centre, to the delivery of marine rescue crafts and training.

Providing excellent connections to a number of international destinations, MCT is well established already, having won the award for best staff service in the Middle East two years in a row.

“We want MCT to be amongst the best in the world in terms of the level and quality of services,” said Eng. Khalfan Said Al Shueili, Readiness General Manager at Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC), the state-owned entity overseeing the project. “It has to send the message that Oman is open to the world.”

Salalah, home of the second international airport, is the third-largest city in Oman with about 163,000 people. It is located in the southern region of Dhofar, near the border with Yemen. In 2011, 513,000 passengers passed through Salalah. That number is expected to double to 1 million by 2014, thanks to a new airport which will double the current capacity and has future options for more expansions.

“The transit business is huge. In Muscat we are just scratching the surface of that opportunity, while in Salalah it is yet to start” remarked Eng. Al Aufi.

However, the Omani authorities don’t just want people to transit; they want to encourage tourism in Oman. “Oman has its own culture and heritage,” said Eng. Al Shueili. “It has already reached out to the world, inviting others to come and experience Omani culture, its tradition and unique flavour.”