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Abdullah Bin Murad Al Balushi

CEO, Oman Aviation Academy

Capt. Mohamed Ahmed

CEO, SalamAir

Given the steady and progressive growth of aviation in Oman, the sector is cautiously optimistic about the prospects of developing more pilots and routes for its airlines.

Can you provide an overview of 2019 and your priorities for 2020?
ABDULLAH BIN MURAD AL BALUSHI At the end of 2019, we had almost about 90 cadets training through our collaboration with a university, and we increased our manpower, our agreements with contractors, and our contracts with academies. We also signed an agreement to acquire additional aircrafts in addition to our six single engines. We also signed contracts to acquire flight simulators with a Canadian company for it to be our main operator. We want to have a state-of-the-art infrastructure to dominate the market. In 2020, we aim to register our programs in a local civil aviation agency. The academy focuses on quality and not quantity, although the growing demand for pilots puts a lot of pressure on the quantitative side, since there are not enough flight schools across the world to cope with the demand.

What are the main implications of SalamAir’s fleet expansion strategy?
CAPT. MOHAMED AHMED SalamAir is on track to achieving its five-year plan by receiving more A320neos aircrafts, which means our flights will be able to reach up to seven hours of cruise time. As such, new destinations will open, and our flights frequency to some existing destinations will also increase. We are also finalizing a deal to add another two aircrafts in 2020 to bring the total to 11. We are currently going for another aircraft purchase that we expect to sign in the next few months. Ideally, we should have a mix of both lease and purchase because it manages the risks and improves cash flow.

Where will technology have the largest impact in the aviation industry?
ABMAB Technology acts as an enhancement of flights efficiency, though in the training segment, it is more important to provide the best standards available by putting the best professionals in the best positions. Providing the best services gives also more confidence to try different new products launched into the market. Technology is making life easier in many ways. It takes the loads off pilots, reduces the cost of training, since it takes less hours, and allows for a new concept of training to be implemented, based on competency. This is a great improvement, since people’s abilities are different, and judging cadets on the number of hours is a limited approach.

MA Every aspect of the aviation business is technical in nature, from fuel efficiency to replacing 20 manuals weighing 100kg with one tablet. However, the biggest impact on our business is how people book flights. Airlines only used to get a small portion of the ticketing revenue due to the various travel and booking agent fees. As such, now we are launching our mobile app to connect more with the new generation. We are taking this technology to the market to ensure we understand our customer and tailor our products according to their needs. These aspects will bring the real revenue for us.

Where do you draw the line on the human factor in the cockpit and in the aviation industry overall?
ABMAB There is always a debate on where one has to draw the line to know when humans can override the system. There are some who say the more we restrict human interaction, the more secure it is, since 80% of accidents are caused by human errors. Then, there are others who say we need the human factor because people can have better control of machines. The truth is, there is always a line that has to be drawn, and that line is the training, which has to be extremely solid because the pilot has to lead the machine.

What is your strategy to gain more domestic market share in Oman?
MA Today, our Salalah-Muscat route takes about 25-30% of our seat capacity depending on the season. We operate mainly from Muscat, though we occasionally fly from Salalah to Sohar. Then we have one of the oil field contracts, a daily flight to a Mukhaizna. Additionally, we signed an agreement with PDO to operate 40 sectors a week to oil fields in Fahud, Marmul, and Qarn Alam. We hope to be able to offer more of those charter flights for oil companies in future. SalamAir and Oman Air bring two totally different products to the market. If a route is commercially viable, we operate at a reasonable cost, which generates demand from the market. We need to market that product well.



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