Oman Air is staking a claim to become the de facto local airline for the cities of Al Ain and Ras al Khaimah as the UAE's home-based airlines focus on bigger markets. The Omani airline began services to the two secondary UAE cities in May, drawn by the lack of competition and the opportunities to carry passengers destined for Oman or further afield. "We think Al Ain deserves its own air services," said Barry Brown, the chief commercial officer of Oman Air, who was part of a ceremonial visit to Abu Dhabi's "Garden City" yesterday to showcase the airline's new wide-bodied aircraft, an Airbus A330-200.
Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Air Arabia do not operate feeder services to these two cities. RAK Airways is planning to resume operations later this year after cutting services and reducing staff last year because of the global downturn. With the UAE's local airlines flying only international routes out of their bases, Oman Air has the widest coverage of any airline in the Emirates, serving the two regional centres, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
It operates a daily service between Muscat and both Al Ain and Ras al Khaimah, using a mix of 150-seat Boeing 737s and 50-seat ATR aircraft as part of its plan to link holiday centres in the region for Europeans, Mr Brown said. "We try to promote twin centre holidays," he said. "We serve Oman now with the Maldives, Oman with Sri Lanka, and Oman with the UAE - Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and now Al Ain and Ras al Khaimah."
Another major source of demand will be expatriates in the two cities who are heading home to India and Pakistan for holidays, Mr Brown said. But he said the Omani carrier would not compete directly with Emirates or Etihad, which have specialised in using their Middle East bases to serve long-haul passengers travelling between Asia and the West. "We don't want to compete, we want to forge our own niche," Mr Brown said.