Oman’s first budget airline, SalamAir, plans to start flights to six new destinations by next summer, which include Iran, Sudan, Nepal, Kuwait, Bangladesh and India. Revealing plans for the upcoming year, which will also coincide with the anniversary to mark the first year of its operations, Captain Mohamed Ahmed, CEO, said in an exclusive interview that SalamAir is planning to reinforce its fleet with additional aircraft to support its growing network of destinations. He said SalamAir has been successful in providing an affordable travel alternative and starting services to popular destinations such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.
Captain Mohamed said, “It has been a fantastic year for SalamAir. Starting international operations within the first 12 months of operations has been nothing short of remarkable. We look forward to achieving sustainable growth in the future and providing affordable travel options that suit everyone’s needs. Therefore, we are exploring new destinations across Asia, including Peshawar, Islamabad, Shiraz, Khartoum and Dhaka, among others.” The airline is planning to announce new orders for its fleet in the next few months to add 20 aircraft and connect to 60-65 destinations by 2023.
Captain Mohamed said, “As a budget airline, our focus is on trimming expenses. We are determined to provide our guests with good options on board. That extends to incorporating technology and generating ancillary revenues to provide passengers with more choice.” He also touched on SalamAir’s plans to enter the Indian market, saying: “As the world’s third largest aviation market, India represents a major opportunity to nurture our business model. We are currently working hard to secure bilateral rights and will make a formal announcement as soon as we are ready.”
The airline’s growth has included pioneering the Suhar-Salalah domestic route with two convenient weekly flights, and a plan to add Duqm to its expanding network. Captain Ahmed said the current focus is to consolidate its presence in Oman’s southernmost governorate — Dhofar. “As per demand, we will be adjusting the frequency of our flights to Suhar, with a particular focus during summer. We are currently aiming to increase the service we provide to the Sultanate’s biggest destinations, Salalah and Muscat.”
He said, “Being a vast country with a small population, it is imperative that we provide people with the option they need to have affordable flights wherever they require. Additionally, given the Sultanate’s close proximity to major population centres in India, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, it is imperative that we capitalise on our location to connect travellers to their destination of choice.” Commenting on the effectiveness of the Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) business model under the current economic climate, the CEO said, “So far, it has proven to be both a positive and negative, with individuals and companies cutting costs and travelling less.
However, the government’s emphasis on tourism development and economic diversification is serving as a mitigating factor, helping us expand within the Sultanate and beyond.” With close to a 60 per cent Omanisation rate and a new batch of Omani pilots and cabin crew set to join the company, SalamAir’s success story extends beyond its route network. He said, “While there are no plans for long-haul routes or wide-bodied aircraft, we can afford to look at other options such as the A320 Neo and 737 Max. What we are looking for is greater efficiency to support our expansion plans.”
The airline said it may not try to break-even within four to five years but would attempt to beat expectations put in the business plan.
“Our strategy is not rigid as we need to constantly assess supply, demand and the needs of our passengers. For example, launching the Jeddah and Salalah-Taif route was not in our initial plan but proved to be highly popular with travellers during the months of Ramadan. Given the customer feedback and demand, we will reintroduce them during Ramadan 2018.”