Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Oman Air Nears Widebody Order As Network Expansion Takes Off

(Photo by TJDarmstadt)

Oman Air is close to ordering the largest variant of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A350, chief executive Abdulaziz Al Raisi has revealed, with a decision potentially expected by the end of this year.

The flag-carrier wants to replace some of its ten A330s around the turn of the decade, and Al Raisi believes that high-capacity next-generation aircraft are best-suited to its expanding network. The planned up-gauging comes as management conduct studies into a dozen possible route launches.

“With Boeing we are looking at 787-10, and with Airbus we are looking at A350-900 or -1000,” he told me in a telephone interview, referring to stretched models currently entering service that typically seat between 315 and 366 passengers depending on their configuration.

“We are hoping by end of this year we could finalize the whole deal.”

Oman Air already deploys seven smaller 787-8s and 787-9s with between 234 and 288 seats. Three more Dreamliners will arrive this year – including the airline’s first 787-9 configured in a three-cabin layout, due later this month – while another three are expected in 2019.

This year’s arrivals will be put to work on the London and Manchester routes. The A330-300s they replace will be reconfigured in a high-density layout – up from 230 to 312 seats – and re-deployed to Jakarta and Manila.

“Most of our routes are matured enough now,” Al Raisi said of the fleet-wide up-gauging, which will also see Oman Air retire its 71-seat Embraers. “A couple of years ago, we were looking at aircraft with 220 to 230 seats. Today, I am looking at aircraft with over 300 seats. Maybe by next year, or in a couple of years’ time, we will be looking at an aircraft with 380 to 390 seats.”

Asked about network development beyond this year’s already disclosed route launches – Istanbul, Casablanca, Moscow and Malé – the chief executive rattled off a dozen markets under consideration.

Flights to either Shanghai or Beijing could get under way in the first quarter of 2019, he said, following successful talks with the Chinese government.

Elsewhere in East Asia and Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Bali are now being evaluated. In Europe, Amsterdam is under review. In Africa, Tunis and either Johannesburg or Cape Town are considered attractive, particularly once feeder traffic from China increases.

But it is India – already Oman Air’s largest overseas market, with 11 points served – where the flag-carrier sees the biggest potential for growth. Muscat has long complained that its bilateral agreement with New Delhi unfairly curbs traffic rights. Predicting more liberal access, Al Raisi said that Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Mangalore and Coimbatore are now in his sights.

Frequencies will also grow across the existing network, he added, with Paris, Milan, Frankfurt, Munich and Guangzhou among the identified targets.

“I’ve got a very long wish-list, but it depends on the numbers,” the chief executive stressed. “Oman Air is very well known for its steady growth. We don’t want to grow really fast. We are doing it very wisely.”

The loss-making state-owned airline has postponed its breakeven target to 2024, by which time the fleet should have grown to at least 70 aircraft. Its outstanding order-book comprises five 787-9s, four 787-8s and 25 737 MAX 8s – five of which are due this year and “five to six” in 2019.

Oman Air currently operates to 50 cities in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa with a fleet of 21 737-800s, five 737-900ERs, two 737 MAX 8s, four 787-8s, three 787-9s, six A330-300s, four A330-200s and four Embraer E175s.

(Martin Rivers - Forbes)

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