SalamAir, the sultanate’s only budget airline, currently operating to 17 destinations. In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily, Captain Mohamed Ahmed, CEO of SalamAir said that the budget airline’s five-year plan is to have a fleet of 20 aircraft and serve 60 destinations. He said SalamAir is looking to expand operations to cities, which are located within four-five hours of flight time.
SalamAir has been in operation for nearly two years now. Can you tell about your plans for the near future.
The airline has carried 1.4mn passengers since the start of its operations. Of these, 600,000 passengers were to and from Salalah only. Going forward, our idea is to connect destinations that are appealing to our customers and general public in Oman. So, what we have been doing continuously for the past few months is to get regular feedback from our customers. And our customers tell us where they want to go and we try to expand our network to that city.
We followed this process in adding the destinations such as Shiraz, Iran in our network and we did the same when we went to Khartoum, Sudan. So, our customers’ feedback is very important to us. For the next few years, we are planning to increase the frequency of flights to existing destinations.
Which are the key locations where SalamAir is looking to increase frequency of flights?
We are increasing the number of flights operated by us in a number of locations. We are increasing the frequency to daily in cases of Khartoum, Shiraz, and Dhaka. We are also going to start flights to Chittagong in Bangladesh soon. And also, we will start soon to fly to Alexandria in Egypt. For Alexandria, we are starting with four flights a week and we will be operating daily flights during the summer season.
Besides these routes, we will surely be connecting to more destinations in the GCC region because there are lots of requests from customers. Moreover, Oman is very popular among the GCC customers during the Khareef season when the whole region faces sever heat and the weather in Salalah is very pleasant. The largest number of visitors to Salalah are from the GCC only; so, we decided to put direct flights to Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Kuwait. Further, we are also looking at increasing the number of flights to short-to-medium hauls i.e. any city within the radius of four-five hours of flight duration. Besides this, during summer we will also be doing some special flights keeping in mind the customer demands. Last summer we did the same for Tbilisi, Georgia and Baku, Azerbaijan. This year, we might do Baku or somewhere else; this will be a pleasant surprise for customers.
How are you maintaining a distance with Oman Air as careful analysis of the destinations served by SalamAir indicates that you are avoiding a direct completion with them?
According to me, the competition is always healthy as it benefits customers. Today, we are operating on a number of destinations where Oman Air is not operating. They are a long-haul legacy carrier, while our target customers are different. In fact, we complement each other on a number of factors.
I don’t think we are competitors. Our competitors mostly are other low-cost operators based in other countries like Bangladesh, the UAE and India. So, Oman Air is definitely not our competitor.
What are your plans for the next five years?
The five-year plan put forwarded by us aims to have a fleet size of 20-aircraft and to serve at least 60 destinations. Off course, our destinations will be on short-to-medium haul only.
We are looking at expanding our operations this year also. We are going to add 17 new destinations this year thus by the end of 2019, we will be having 31 destinations. Some of these new destinations are subject to the outcome of the current negotiations, which are going on at various levels.
We are almost tripling our fleet size from three aircraft last year to have at least nine aircraft by the end of this year. We have recently received one aircraft and five more are expected to come this year starting from April onward. We will be following a mix of purchase and leasing for adding new aircraft to the fleet. Most of these aircraft will be Airbus A320, which is more fuel efficient, have much lesser noise, and has better passenger comfort. We are the first operator in Oman to have such aircraft.
With Indians being the largest expatriate community in Oman, when are you planning to add Indian cities among destinations served by SalamAir?
India is a very important destination for us. We know that there is a lot of demand from Indian community here, and today some of our customers are facing inconvenience of not having direct flight to Indian cities. We are working closely with Indian authorities to increase the seat numbers available between Oman-India route. As soon as that happens, we are ready to fly to India. But we have to wait for approvals for the increase in number of seats before making any decisions.
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