The Middle East carrier is internationally best known for its much-lauded passenger service. Cargo was not high on the management’s action plan in the past. However, things are about to change dramatically, evidenced by the extremely ambitious targets set for its air freight development, which have now been exclusively disclosed to CargoForwarder Global.
There is quite a leap forecasted: When this year draws to a close, the Sultanate of Oman expects a throughput of almost 250,000 tons of air freight, carried in the holds of passenger aircraft or
in the main decks of freighters serving the country. So far, so good. Yet for 2030, they estimate an annual 730,000 tons and a decade later even a stunning 1.5 million, with Oman Air capturing
the lion’s share of the estimated volumes.
Noteworthy figures! “But how will that work?”, we asked Mr Sultan Al Rawahi, the Air Logistics Program Manager at Oman Aviation Group.
His reply in a nutshell: through a coordinated mix of different but interconnected measures.
Step one entails the improvement of ground infrastructure, not only at Muscat Airport but also in Salalah at the southern part of the country. That place, located on the shores of the Indian Ocean, is ideally suited for combined sea-air traffic. It is the Sultanate’s secondary international airport after Muscat. “An ideal place,” Mr Al Rawahi states, “to set up a multi-modal sea-air product.”
However, it is Muscat Airport and the bordering areas which are the focal point of the government’s investment program. The airport (code: MCT) will be developed into a logistical showcase in the Middle East, attaining the status of air freight hub, Al Rawahi stresses. It is operational 24/7/365 and managed by the Oman Airports. MCT is home of Oman Air and budget carrier Salam Air.
To cope with the forecasted cargo upswing, a 350,000 m² new freight terminalhas been constructed, a day prior to the opening of the new Muscat International Airport. A 150k ton per year capacity expansion is planned. "Its specifications will be announced early next year, and the facility is intended to be operational in 2022,” manager Al Rawahi notes. It will be designed especially for the throughput of fish, flowers and other agricultural products, flown out primarily to consumer markets in Europe, Russia and the Far East, but also to places in Africa and on the Indian Subcontinent. “We are investing heavily in export capabilities,” states Mr Al Rawahi, “and upping our product quality by becoming CEIV pharmaand fresh certified.”
An Airport City will be developed adjacent to MCT, which will include a tax-free zone, thus aiming to attract international investors, logistics firms, traders, and creating jobs. It is a major cornerstone of the forward-looking new air cargo strategy.
In order to complement the network of home carrier Oman Air, other airlines are to be attracted to link the Sultanate with international markets, and enable access to African destinations, and cities in Europe and Asia. “Currently, we are identifying specific routes we are interested in for establishing direct connectivity to consumer markets, such as Japan, to name but one.” Japan accounts for 90% of green beans produced in and flown out of Oman, Mr Al Rawahi discloses.
Another important product is saltwater fish of which the Sultanate produces 500,000 tons yearly. He adds to this that cargo terminal operator Oman Air SATS, a Muscat-based JV consisting of Oman Air and Singapore based SATS Ltd, pays a great deal of attention to proper packaging, storage and throughput of temperature sensitive products, to keep them cool all along the way. “They do an extremely professional job,” he applauds.
Freighters as option
Asked about freighter operations to offer the market the required capacity to achieve the aforementioned tonnage increase, Mr Al Rawahi responds that this issue is right now on the table. According to him, there are two basic options: converting some of the carrier’s A330 passenger aircraft into freighters, he speaks of initially three units with more to follow. Alternatively, leasing all-cargo aircraft is also under consideration. “So far, our region is heavy on imports, but we are eager to leverage additional potential through exports,” he says, to balance volumes into and out of Oman.
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