Ready for takeoff

Oman’s ambitious airport expansion programme is central to the country’s tourism development and economic diversification strategy

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The base for Oman’s impressive transportation infrastructure development lies in a vision tract launched in 1995. The key objectives laid out in Oman Vision 2020 were economic and financial stability; broadening private sector participation; diversifying the economic base; globalising the Omani economy and upgrading the skills of the Omani workforce and developing human resources.

The economic diversification agenda also incorporated the goal of increasing the tourism sector’s share of GDP, from 2.4% to 5%, by 2020. Oman is blessed with a rich heritage and landscape, and a diverse culture, so the government has always viewed tourism as a job creator and multiplier to absorb the rising numbers of young Omanis, who currently make up 70% of the total local population.

Globally, growth of tourism has always enjoyed a strong correlation with superior transportation infrastructure. This is acknowledged in Oman’s 8th five-year plan (2011–2015), where a major portion of its $78bn outlay is allocated to transportation infrastructure including the Oman National Railway ($15.60bn), airports ($6.24bn) and roads ($3.12bn). In fact, Oman’s portfolio of airport projects constitute one of the largest infrastructure programmes underway in the Middle East today.

Oman is currently building five new airports — three green-field and two brown-field — to improve international and domestic connectivity and ensure all-round development.

“Oman’s aviation sector has experienced massive growth over the past 40 years,” says Eng. Khalfan Said Al Shueili, the Readiness General Manager of Oman Airports Management Company (OMAC). “We have experienced more than 31% growth in the past four years alone. We are targeting 16m visitors by 2020.”

Muscat International Airport
Seeb International Airport, now known as the Muscat International Airport, was officially inaugurated in 1973. However, soon it began to get squeezed on the capacity front, due to economic expansion fuelled by rising oil revenues as well as growing visitor numbers for tourism, business and employment purposes. Five years ago, Oman’s government embarked on an expansion programme for the Muscat International Airport. In fact, passenger numbers over the past four years have averaged 12-13%, with 2013 numbers touching 8.3m.

The new Muscat International Airport has been designed as a midfield terminal sitting between two runways. Currently, only the southern runway is operational; the northern runway will be opened towards the end of 2014 as part of Phase 1. OMAC hopes to have the airport in full operation mode by late 2015 or early 2016.

“The design capacity of the new terminal is 12m passengers per annum,” says Eng. Al Shueili. “The terminal building has a net floor area of 340,000 sqm while overall project area is 600,000 sqm.”
Further expansions can be carried out, depending on growth, in three phases from 24m to 36m to 48m passengers per annum.

Apart from passengers, Muscat Airport will also will have a 1km long strip for cargo operations. Construction work on the new cargo terminal started recently.

“In terms of connectivity, the airport is connected to three major highways,” said Al Shueili. “For easier access, we have envisioned a major railway station at the southern part of the airport for freight and hopefully, for passengers as well.”

Salalah International Airport
Economic activity in Salalah is driven by its strategic position on the Indian Ocean Rim where major east-west shipping lanes converge and its proximity to major markets in Asia and the Middle East.
Salalah Port, which is Oman’s largest port, is one of the top 30 container ports worldwide and nurtures a fast developing free zone. Salalah’s distinctive monsoon environment also attracts growing numbers of local, regional and international tourists.

These elements have been factored into the expansion of Salalah Airport, which is the second largest airport in Oman. It involves building a new runway, long enough to handle the A380 Airbus, and a new terminal, which will improve the airport’s capacity to 1m passengers per annum. Post-completion, the new airport’s built-up area will be 20 times bigger than the existing area.

Al Shueili said: “The existing airport has maintained an annual growth rate of more than 20%, and this trend will continue with the new airport. Last year, we handled 800,000 passengers, and by 2020, we hope to touch 2m passengers. We are working towards opening the airport by the end of this year.”

Based on demand, the terminal building capacity can be expanded in three stages to 2m, 3m and 4m passengers per annum.
In addition to the international airports under construction in Muscat and Salalah, three regional green field airports are being built in Sohar, Ras Al Hadd and Duqm. The construction work at these airports have been divided into three packages — the first phase comprises of civil works including roads and utilities; the second is for airfield infrastructure like runways and taxiways while the third package includes construction of passenger terminal buildings and cargo buildings.

Sohar Airport
In recent years, Sohar and the wider Batinah region, have attracted significant industrial and commercial infrastructure investments. Sohar Port was established in 2002 with the freezone following in 2010. The government recently set August 31 as the deadline to shift all commercial activities from Port Sultan Qaboos in Muscat to Sohar Port, which is expected to boost the ports’ container and general cargo traffic significantly.

The new Sohar airport, located 10km northwest of Sohar city, is designed to handle 500,000 passengers and 25,000 tonnes of cargo annually. The airport will serve as the gateway for passenger and freight traffic for the north of Oman and as a domestic and emergency alternative to the Muscat International Airport. Together with the Sohar Port and the freezone, it will be part of a multimodal network which includes a major expressway and railway network that will come up in the near future.

Ad Duqm Airport
The Omani government has created a blueprint to develop the coastal city of Ad Duqm, in the south east of Oman, as the country’s next major industrial and shipping hub. With a land area of 1,777 sq km and 80km of coastline along the Arabian Sea, the Duqm Special Economic Zone is the largest in the Middle East and North Africa region. Duqm Port is being developed as a joint venture between the government of Oman and the Consortium Antwerp of Belgium.

Ad Duqm Airport is designed to handle 500,000 passengers and 25,000 tonnes of cargo annually. It will cater to business and eventually, tourist traffic. The airport’s airfield infrastructure has been completed and is currently in the handover phase. The third package of Duqm Airport project, which includes a passenger terminal and an Air Traffic Control (ATC) structure was awarded to India’s Larsen & Toubro (L&T).

Ras Al Hadd Airport
The Ras Al Hadd Airport, which is located near the town of Sur, is being developed primarily to support the development of ecotourism in the Al Sharqiya region. Beaches in the region attract thousands of visitors every year, hoping to observe rare turtles in their natural habitat. The new airport will cater to this traffic and can accommodate 250,000 passengers per annum.

While the first two packages have been completed at Sohar and Ad Duqm airports, in the case of Ras Al Hadd, only the first package has been completed. Ad Duqm Airport has started official operations from 23rd July while no date has been fixed yet for starting operations at Sohar Airport.

Oman’s massive investments in its airport sector is expected to yield long-term dividends in line with the objectives outlined in the Vision 2020 document, especially in terms of economic diversification and job creation for nationals.

With five major seaports and 30,000km of highways and roads already operational, and five new airports, and a pan- GCC rail network in the works, Oman’s transportation sector is surely heading for a new era of growth.

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