Recognizing the value of connectivity

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Recognizing the value of connectivity

Eng Abdulaziz Al Raisi, CEO of Oman Air, said aviation enriches the world. Graham Newton Interview.

Why are you so aggressive about fleet and network expansion?

Our airline’s approach to network expansion is not aggressive. Rather, we prioritize robust travel demand as a foundation for growth. As with many airlines operating in a post-pandemic environment, we are working to return to our pre-COVID operations. To achieve this, we are gradually expanding our network to meet the global recovery in air traffic demand. We also aim to remain dynamic in responding to market changes while carefully evaluating any changes.

One of our strategies to expand our network is to use codeshare agreements that allow us to provide more options to our customers. We are also excited about our upcoming oneworld membership, which will greatly increase our connectivity and expand our network.

We are also focused on exploring new growth opportunities through cargo operations. Cargo continues to provide new opportunities for us and we are excited about our upcoming project to launch a new cargo ship by the end of the year. We believe this will be a game changer in our freight operations and enable us to serve our customers even better.

How do you position the airline given the competition in the region?

Our airline has always strived to be the perfect size for our market and we are not interested in competing with the regional giants in terms of size. Instead, we prefer to focus on positioning ourselves as a premium boutique airline providing a unique product that has earned us international recognition.

Furthermore, as tourism is a vital industry for our country, we also see ourselves as ambassadors to the world, with a responsibility to promote Oman as a destination and enable visitors to experience all that our beautiful country has to offer. We take this role seriously and provide our guests with an exceptional travel experience that reflects the best of Oman.

You have an excellent record of punctuality. How closely do you work with Muscat International Airport and other stakeholders?

It is critical to have strong cohesion between different operations such as ground handling, catering, immigration and customs. This is essential to ensure we can maintain our punctuality record and provide a seamless journey for our guests.

We are fortunate to be supported by a highly skilled team of professionals who work closely with the airport authorities at each station to ensure our operations run smoothly across our network. In addition, our new hub airport has significantly improved our operations, improved our efficiency and supported our performance. Modern facilities and infrastructure have helped us maintain our reputation and services.

How important is sustainability and what are you doing in this area?

Sustainability is critical to the future of the aviation industry. But it is a complex and multifaceted issue that encompasses both environmental issues and business practices and requires the involvement of all stakeholders.

We implemented operational changes such as reducing downwind patterns, using single-engine taxis and other fuel-saving techniques. We have also renewed our fleet by phasing out older, less efficient aircraft and introducing the latest aircraft technology that is more environmentally friendly.

For example, we recently purchased new 737 Max aircraft, which are known to have the most efficient technology, as well as 787s. We have also made changes to our cabin configuration, including the use of lighter seats, which have a positive impact on fuel consumption. And we’re making small changes to our onboard products, such as removing single-use plastics.

Our upcoming inclusion in the oneworld alliance will also add impetus to our commitment to sustainability, facilitating collaboration between us and partner airlines. Our commitment to sustainability is an integral part of our organizational ethos and we continuously strive to improve our practices to achieve sustainable results.

What more needs to be done to make sustainable aviation fuels widely available?

Scaling up production and making SAFs more affordable and cost-effective is critical, as is standardization to ensure they meet the required quality standards. Raising awareness of the benefits of SAF is also important in generating more demand for these fuels. Finally, fuel companies need to invest more in research and development to reduce the cost of SAF and make it economically feasible for airline adoption.

You recently had your first female captain. What work is Oman Air doing to improve diversity?

Since its inception, Oman Air has maintained an inclusive work environment, in line with the vision of the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos in the 1970s, advocating for the full inclusion of women in the workforce.

Oman Air is proud to have set a precedent in the Gulf region by appointing its first female engineer in 1994. Today, we continue to encourage women to pursue careers in aviation through postgraduate training and cadet programs that are equally balanced between men and women , reflecting how we want the organization to move forward.

Women are a vital part of all areas of Oman Air’s operations, including technical operations, and many hold senior management positions. We hope to highlight their achievements and inspire more young women to pursue careers in this field.

What new technologies excite you and how important is it for an airline to invest in digital transformation?

In today’s highly competitive industry, investing in digital capabilities is essential to long-term success, allowing us to streamline operations, operate more efficiently and meet customer expectations.

At Oman Air, we have introduced a program of digital initiatives to keep pace with the rapidly evolving landscape. One of these includes restructuring our Passenger Service System (PSS) to enhance our digital retail capabilities, facilitating the launch of a new online booking engine and mobile app. This will provide our customers with an enhanced digital experience and a more seamless interaction with our airline.

In addition, we developed a New Distribution Capabilities (NDC) solution that enables travel agents to deliver rich content and ancillaries to customers, providing them with more personalized travel experiences. We also recently joined IATA as a founding member of the pioneering Modern Airline Retailing program alongside a global consortium of airlines. We recognize that investing in our digital capabilities is vital to staying ahead of the curve and providing our customers with the best possible travel experience.

What other challenges do you see facing the industry, both regionally and globally?

The aviation industry has always been subject to external factors that can significantly affect operations and profitability. Therefore, it is extremely important to remain flexible and be able to deal effectively with future crises. Taking the lessons learned from the pandemic, we understand the importance of making better decisions and the possibility of making them quickly. As the world continues to navigate an uncertain economic climate, volatile fuel prices and unexpected consumer demand, airlines must remain flexible and responsive to changing conditions.

In addition, geopolitical factors are another consideration that airlines must keep in mind. Global events, such as changes in government policies, trade agreements or conflicts, can significantly affect aviation operations and stability. As a result, airlines must have contingency plans in place to address geopolitical risks and be able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

If there was one thing you could change about your airline or aviation in general, what would it be and why?

Airlines are the core of aviation, but they are also the weakest in the chain. As an airline CEO, I would like to seek more developed and improved partnerships between all stakeholders in the industry, including manufacturers, regulators and service providers.

COVID-19 has taught us many things. Once again, the industry weathered a global crisis, much like the earlier global financial crisis or SARS, and emerged stronger. No other industry I can think of has shown such resilience.

During the pandemic, the media predicted a “new normal” in which video conferencing, whether for business or personal reasons, would signal the decline of aviation, especially in business class cabins. What we saw was just the opposite – the industry recovered much more strongly than expected and that recovery was led by Business Class.

After all, as human beings, we are a social species that thrives on face-to-face contact. Keeping in touch with friends or family abroad or with business partners is what aviation allows. Without aviation, the world would be a much smaller and less enriched place. What I would like to see change in our industry is a recognition of how our industry brings people, families and businesses together.

Yes, the industry does need to pay attention to environmental issues, but there also needs to be more awareness that our industry carries the hopes, ambitions, expectations and joy of every person who flies on one of the aircraft operating around the world at any time.

What skills do you think an aviation leader needs to steer his company and the industry toward a safer, more efficient and sustainable future?

Flexibility is critical to responding to sudden market changes and industry trends, allowing leaders to make quick and informed decisions. Proximity to the market is also essential for leaders to anticipate and adapt to changing customer needs and preferences. And a successful aviation leader must continually prepare future leaders for the industry, ensuring they have the skills and knowledge to meet the challenges ahead.

Above all, one should never compromise on safety! Effective leaders must prioritize safety above all else, ensuring that their operations are always conducted in accordance with industry regulations and best practices.

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