Oman Air plans to go double-daily on its Muscat-London route and to allow frequent flyers to pay for onboard wifi with airmiles.
The Gulf carrier is also aiming to have a fleet of 50 aircraft by 2017, and next November will see the delivery of the first of three new A330s, to be operated on long-haul routes.
As the 20th year of operations for Oman Air comes to an end, its chief commercial officer sat down with Business Traveller to discuss the airline’s fleet improvements and its plans for the future.
Abdulrazaq J Alraisi said: “We also have six B787 Dreamliners [on order], which we will start receiving in 2015. In addition to these, we are going to have 11 B737s, out of which there will be five B737-900s – we will be the first in the region to have this kind of aircraft.
“These will start being delivered next year. Some of [the existing B737s], of course, will be phased out and replaced, while others will be in addition.”
At the moment, the B737-700s and -800s in Oman Air’s fleet do not have seat-back screens in coach or business class.
But Alraisi said: “The [new] B737s will be fully loaded with the latest entertainment systems and [will feature] a sort of mini look and feel of the A330s – colourwise and the seats. Each seat in economy will have a personal screen.”
Oman Air’s A330s currently have three cabin classes – economy, business and first – but might it introduce premium economy at point?
Alraisi said: “Not at this stage. Maybe we are not charging people for something called premium economy but our seat pitch is 34 inches, which is the same as premium economy [on some other airlines], but we are just charging everybody equally.” (Most premium economy seats actually provide 38 inches of legroom.)
He added: “With the introduction of these new planes, the average age of the aircraft will be just over four years. Once we have these new long-haul aircraft, then definitely we will be looking around at what are the most important destinations or nations that will bring tourists into Oman.
“We have a long wish list but nothing has been pinned down as to which we will have first.
“At the moment we do have plans to add two more points in the Far East, which are Jakarta and Manila, and of course we are looking forward to increasing the frequency into London Heathrow to double-daily, making it more convenient for people coming into Heathrow and leaving the UK going to various Oman Air destinations.
“Unfortunately, that is all depending on the availability of slots but we are on the search. As soon as we get hold of any morning slots, hopefully we will then be able to sell it.
“We are the only nonstop operator between London Heathrow and Muscat. At the moment our aircraft arrives at around 1800, and leaves around 2100.
“It is very convenient for people leaving the UK going to Muscat, as they arrive there in the morning  – so by the time they get to their hotel, it is close to their check-in time. By the time they leave in the afternoon, again it is check-out time and straight to the airport.” (Flights from Muscat to London depart at 1340.)
From its hub in Muscat, the carrier currently serves 43 destinations including six in Europe, with a daily service to London Heathrow, plus Frankfurt and Munich, Zurich, Milan and Paris. It also connects to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait, Cairo, Amman and Beirut, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, and ten points in India, as well as Bangladesh, Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Kathmandu, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
Alraisi said: “With the increase [in aircraft by 2017], the destinations will be increased. Either that or we will increase the frequencies. So even if there will be no expansion we will use the aircraft to increase the frequencies on existing routes.”
Oman Air was the first carrier to introduce onboard wifi connectivity and mobile phone use for calls and text messages in January 2010, and Alraisi said “uptake is growing”.
Between January 2012 and January 2013, the airline experienced a 130 per cent increase in internet package sales and a 180 per cent increase in connectivity revenues.
While calls and SMSs are charged at local roaming rates by your network provider, internet capability is provided as a package.
According to Oman Air: “Vouchers can be purchased for use with smart phones and tablets (excluding iPads) aboard the airline’s Airbus A330 long-haul fleet at the rate of US$5 for up to 3MB of data or US$15 for up to 10MB of data.
“Vouchers for iPad and laptop connectivity can be purchased for US$15 for up to 10MB of data and US$30 for up to 25MB. Usage beyond these data allowances is charged per MB.”
In a recent change to the payment system, Oman Air also revealed that over the last few weeks it began allowing frequent flyer members of its Sindbad loyalty programme to pay for wifi with airmiles.