Oman Air steps up operations amid GCC dispute
MUSCAT // Oman Air has increased flights by 25 per cent since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut transport links to Qatar on June 5.
The airline, which made a loss of 129.5 million rials (Dh1.24 billion) in 2016, is using five new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft to bridge the air transport gap between Qatar and the four countries after they barred all flights by Qatar Airways and banned their own airlines from flying to or via Qatar.
One niche market the state-owned carrier is now exploiting is Egyptian expatriates in Qatar who want to fly to their homeland from Doha. There are about 100,000 Egyptians working in Qatar, most of them in the government sector whose contracts provide them with flights home on Qatar Airways for their annual holidays.
Omani Air is also picking up long-haul passengers from other Gulf capitals who booked to fly Qatar Airways via Doha.
“Our current estimate shows our flight increase in the last few days has gone up by a quarter more than normal since the diplomatic row started. We fill up the gaps on transit and direct flights for travellers where Qatar Airways cannot fly or the regional airlines have suspended flights to,” an Oman Air spokesman told The National.
“We have five new Dreamliners that were working under capacity which are now taking the new load. So Oman Air is well equipped at the moment to shoulder the extra flying responsibility without any problem.”
But it is not just Oman’s national airline which is benefiting from the diplomatic crisis. Muscat Airport stands to gain from the closure of the Gulf’s airspace as well if Qatar Airways decides to use Muscat as an alternative transit hub to airports in the UAE and Saudi Arabia for long-haul destinations.
“Qatar Airways used to fly passengers from Doha to long-haul destinations using UAE and Saudi Arabia as transit //HUBS?//. Now it may pick up passengers in Muscat for transit to Europe, Far East and Africa. This will increase the aeronautical fees for Muscat airport,” said Hamed Al Kindi, an aviation expert.
Muscat Airport is undergoing an expansion that is expected to be completed by November. A new terminal building will increase the airport’s capacity to 12 million passengers a year from 8 million currently.
Mr Al Kindi said a prolonged row with between Qatar and its neighbours could help Oman Air improve its bottom line this year.
“AFTER a big loss in 2016, the increased flight operations from this problem will definitely increase Oman Air’s income this year to reduce its losses in 2017.”
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their arch adversary Iran — charges that Qatar denies.
Updated: June 10, 2017 04:00 AM