x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Oman Air begins Al Ain service

Plans for a second major hub in emirate draw ever closer

Oman Air has become the first airline to operate a daily service into Al Ain International Airport. The new Muscat to Al Ain route could provide a major boost for Abu Dhabi's second city as it develops its tourism and industrial sector. It is also a coup for Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), which has been promoting the airport for regional and budget flights.

"This shows that Al Ain is considered as a regional airport that can have its own independent traffic," said George Karamanos, the vice president of corporate marketing and communications at ADAC. ADAC was in discussions with two other airlines and hoped to announce their arrival plans this year, Mr Karamanos said. The airports company has marketed Al Ain as a centre for budget airlines and promoted the airport's availability for day and night flights, as well as the minimal likelihood of fog in contrast to other UAE airports closer to the coast.

Last October, ADAC played host to the Low Cost Airlines World MENA conference in Al Ain. The airport is used by the UAE national cargo carrier Midex Airlines and a handful of airlines serving the city's population of about 375,000 with weekly flights. They include Royal Jordanian Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Shaheen Air International, Air India Express and Ariana Afghan Airlines. "With this addition to the Oman Air network we are sure many new markets will open up," said Peter Hill, the chief executive of the Muscat-based carrier. Last week, the airline also launched services to Ras al Khaimah International Airport.

The Abu Dhabi Government is planning to transform Al Ain under its 2030 plan, which could see the city evolve into a base for desert-themed tourism adventures and a sophisticated industrial centre including a local aerospace industry. One of the flagship tourism ventures is Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, a planned multibillion-dirham resort, which will include luxury lodges, a five-star hotel with 200 rooms, 1,000 villas and a 900-hectare wildlife park. On the industrial front, plans are afoot to develop the area around the airport into the Al Ain Aerospace Cluster. It is envisaged that the facility would house a range of aerospace companies covering manufacturing, maintenance, research and development, and an integrated logistics centre.

One of the anchor tenants is Strata Manufacturing. Strata is a unit of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, which will make aerostructure parts for industry giants such as Airbus. "With developments such as the Al Ain Aerospace Cluster, ADAC expects demand for services to and from Al Ain to grow even more over the coming years, as we continue to promote the airport and attract new operators," the company said.

ADAC announced the new service during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai this week. Other airlines' announcements included the budget carrier flydubai's new route to Karachi, Pakistan's financial capital, on June 21. Qatar Airways, meanwhile, said it was targeting the UK's Farnborough Air Show in July to announce its latest fleet expansion plans. After urging Canada's Bombardier plane maker to speed up negotiations to sell the airline its CSeries jets, Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, said he might instead become the launch customer of Airbus's new re-engined A320 aircraft.

"We are only in negotiations with Bombardier for the CSeries," Mr al Baker said, adding that the order could be for as many as 30 jets. But he added: "We could be [the launch customer of the new A320], if we cannot conclude a deal with Bombardier." igale@thenational.ae