Oman air cargo leaping ahead with customized solutions
Contributions from Oman Air, as the national airline, to the economy of the Sultanate of Oman have been very significant and these are expected to show further growth. Each new destination started, adds to an already existing successful bilateral relations apart from the trade, business and tourism prospects. In addition to our online network, we work with almost 75 interline partners helping us extend our selling horizon to all continents in the world. -Mohammed Ali Al Musafir
Oman Air Senior Vice President, Commercial Cargo
Aviation connects people and business. In the Sultanate of Oman that fact is taken by the government to its core, investing heavily not just in planes, but also in infrastructure, technology and human resources.
Oman Air Cargo, cargo division of Oman Air, the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman, which traces its roots to ground handling services in 1970 until it was officially established as an airline in 1993, is leaping ahead with customized solutions and bigger plans in a globally competitive industry that accounts for more than a third of the international trade.
Last year, the company posted a 38 percent increase in cargo volume compared to just 5 percent in 2016. It sees growth on the horizon this year with the first half of 2018 showing a 25 percent increase in business.
“Oman Air Cargo continues to be one of the most innovative and fastest growing cargo carriers in the world and in 2017 carried 87,830 tons of cargo,” said Oman Air Cargo’s Senior Vice President Mohammed Ali Al Musafir. “The main trade lanes driving business last year were from the Far East, the Indian subcontinent and Europe. But growth has also been helped by our newer services to Guangzhou, Manchester and Nairobi.”
Stimulating the economy
Apart from tourism, Oman’s aviation industry also plays an important role in creating jobs and business opportunities not just for the country but for companies and individual traders in various economies across and beyond the region as well.
Oman Air is one of the country’s biggest employers and it facilitates air transport solutions for traders and businesses that export and import food products, pharmaceuticals, perishables, machineries, equipment, among many others.
“Contributions from Oman Air, as the national airline, to the economy of the Sultanate of Oman have been very significant and these are expected to show further growth. Each new destination started, adds to an already existing successful bilateral relations apart from the trade, business and tourism prospects. In addition to our online network, we work with almost 75 interline partners which helps us extend our selling horizon to all continents across the globe,” Al Musafir pointed out.
Oman Air currently has a fleet of four Boeing 787-8, four 787-9 Dreamliner’s, six Airbus 330-300s, four Airbus 330-200s, five Boeing 737-900s, 21 Boeing 737-800, four Embraer 175s and three 737 MAX. But by the end of 2018, the airline will have taken delivery of five new MAX aircraft and three 787-9s. And by 2022, Oman Air’s total fleet size is expected to be around 70, Al Musafir disclosed.
The veteran executive who has more than 30 years of experience in the aviation industry says Oman Air has major plans to further grow its freight sales share in the region by competing better with other carriers.
“The airline has major plans to grow its cargo share in the GCC states and compete against carriers within the region. Oman Air Cargo is one of the fastest and most innovative cargo carriers in the world with a much improved infrastructure at its Muscat Hub–the new cargo facility has certainly expedited this process,” Al Musafir shared.
“With the new and improved facilities at its hub, Oman Air Cargo is working on launching specialised products with customised solutions for its customers. During the end of 2017, we upgraded our cargo reservations and operating system by implementing ‘SmartKargo’ which has helped us in simplifying the booking and reservation process providing real time updates on shipment tracking to our customers,” he added.
Part of that plan also calls for investing on new technologies that will facilitate easier and seamless transactions for Oman Air Cargo customers for better transparency and transhipment of cargoes.
“Going forward we will be working on the implementation of e-AWBs within our network starting with specific lanes. Automation of business process and information transparency to our customers is one of our prime objectives and we continuously work towards improvising on it,” Al Musafir noted.
To complement Muscat Inter-national Airport’s new passenger terminal, Oman Air also upgraded its cargo facility and operations.
“The facility features a 22,780 square-metre, air-conditioned warehouse with the capacity to handle 350,000 tonnes of cargo per annum – a substantially larger capacity than the previous cargo facility. The new facility includes 367 pallet or 734 container configurations for Unit Load Device (ULD) storage over three levels, as well as 2,208 Euro Pallet Positions – all serviced by Elevating Transfer Vehicles (ETV),” Al Musafir shared.
New bays for trucks and other vehicles involved in hauling and transporting cargoes have also been built for easier movement.
“Accompanying these are dedicated bays that can accommodate three ‘Code F Freighter’ Aircraft, along with 25 40-foot truck parking bays (or 50 20-foot truck bays), as well as 400 car parking bays and 34 truck docks,” said Al Musafir.
The facility also features Bulk Cold Rooms (consisting of 3 chillers, 2 freezers, and 1 ambient room), and ULD Cold Rooms with 28 airline pallet positions in the chiller rooms, and 8 airline pallet positions in the freezer rooms. In addition to this, there are Scissor Lift & ULD Bypass Lane facilities, as well as X-ray machines for joining and trans-shipment cargo screening.
“In addition, the facility has a 2,500 square-metre Live Animal Centre, a 228 square-metre Dangerous Goods Room (DGR) with the capacity to handle 90 skids and loose cartons, and a Vulnerable Goods Cage with 264 pallet positions. The Diplomatic Room, Human Remains Room, Radioactive Room and Strong Room make up the remainder of the facility’s handling units,” said Al Musafir.
“The entire facility is supported by 24-hour services for import and export cargo, and its automated cargo system for documentation and warehousing, export cargo acceptance, and imports cargo delivery,” he added.
Improvements also extend to Oman Air Cargo’s service level in terms of speed, efficiency and safety.
“Service level has been one of the key factors in the continuous growth and success of Oman Air Cargo. Over the years, we have been able to improvise our services and keep our commitments to our customers. We follow the principle of ‘under promise and over delivery’ which helped us gain the trust of our customers in Oman Air Cargo product over the years,” Al Musafir noted.
“The move to our new cargo facility at our hub will bring a lot of enhancements to Oman Air Cargo product in terms of speed, efficiency and safety which we will share with our customers and industry partners as we progress.”
Resilient to Challenges
Al Musafir said the air freight industry is primarily driven by speed, thus, the length of time cargoes are processed at airports greatly affect the movements of goods. And so does the fluctuating global oil prices which affect cargo sales volume and freight prices.
“Air freight is primarily driven by speed and one of the traditional and major challenges for air freight industry has been the lengthy process at airports in moving shipments. There has been changes and improvement over the years with implementation of e-freight, however, we still have a long way to go as majority of the airports are yet to upgrade their practices and implement e-freight procedures,” said Al Musafir.
Nevertheless, he believes “air cargo still remains both time-efficient and cost-effective for businesses compared to other modes of transport and as an airline we do all we can to ensure that any decisions we take do not negatively impact our customers and stakeholders.”
“As a business, we are also very keen to use the growth of e-commerce to support the business wherever possible by using Muscat as a distribution HUB and Oman Air Cargo as the preferred carrier for e-commerce business within the region,” said Al Musafir.
Majority of goods that Oman Air ship are considered general freight but it is very confident on increasing the sales volumes in terms of high value products such as pharma-ceuticals, valuables, dangerous goods, etc., with the opening of its new hub.
“Majority of the business currently carried on Oman Air Cargo is general freight with more than 80% of the business being transit. Having said that, around 7% of our business consists of perishables and expected to increase with the introduction of new stations in Africa such as Casablanca which started in July 2018 and as we expand our network going forward,” said Al Musafir.
The cargo executive said the company’s new facilities will enable them to “cater to the requirements of temperature control and pharmaceutical customers.”
“We can carry temperature control shipments in intact units during transit using the ETV system which can store ULDs in specific temperature requirements. We are also working with the local authorities and handler at Muscat to increase the reefer options at airport i.e. ramp to the warehouse and vice-versa. This will help us in providing end to end cool chain solution to our pharmaceutical customers with the required certifications such as GDP and CEIV,” he explained.
In June of this year, Oman Air began serving the Istanbul route which also proved positive for its cargo department.
“The launch of the Istanbul service, which commenced in June, has been a great success for Oman Air Cargo. The new route between Oman and Turkey will also continue to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, enhance the trading and tourism prospects, as well asenables Oman Air Cargo customers to have direct routing options for their business needs between Oman and Turkey,” said Al Musafir.
Located within the Middle East region, bilateral trade relations are at the heart of Oman Air’s business and with multiple frequencies per day, it helps our customers move cargo volumes within the region. The airline currently operates direct international flights from Muscat to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Madina, and Kuwait, in the Gulf region as well as Cairo, Amman, Tehran, Mashhad, Najaf, Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam within the wider Middle East/Africa region.
Due to location proximity, which brings with it many advantages and volume of business traded, Oman Air Cargo is placed strongly in this region. Being strategically placed from a geographical perspective, our sea-air product, using Salalah and Sohar Ports as sea-air hubs, is a great advantage to our customers to connect their business from the Indian Subcontinent and Far East stations to Europe and US, saving time and transportation costs.
Oman Air currently flies to seven key business and finance hubs in Europe—London, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Zurich. Choosing to fly to these locations has proven very fruitful for us and we are keen to build on this. In addition, the airline recently launched a direct flight from Muscat to Turkey. Our Pan-European trucking network connects to more than 70 destinations within Europe though our online gateways.
India and Pakistan
Flying to 11 destinations in India and three in Pakistan, it is undoubtedly clear to recognise that these are key destinations to Oman Air.
In 2017, the Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of India agreed to increase the number of flights between the two countries through an open sky air service agreement and this decision has been mutually beneficial for trade partnership. What’s more, the trade and business relations extend to destinations within the Indian Subcontinent such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Africa is certainly a growing market for Oman Air. We are constantly reviewing the network with the aim of expanding our routes across Africa. The airline already flies to Cairo in Egypt, Nairobi in Kenya, Zanzibar, Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania and as of 1 July, we now fly four times a week to Morocco’s Casablanca’ offering yet more choices to our customers and opened another door for bilateral trade between Oman and Morocco. Our network and planning team is working hard to assess the viability of other new routes. For instance, Khartoum in Sudan is being investigated thoroughly as a potential additional route to serve.
Mohammed Ali Al Musafir
With rich and valuable experience in the aviation industry spanning over 30 years, Mohammed Ali Al Musafir is looked upon as one of the most influential and knowledgeable movers in the industry.
Working for Oman Air since 1996 or for the past 21 years, Al Musafir has witnessed the company’s growth from a narrow body operating regional carrier to a wide body operating intercontinental carrier.
In 2016, he took the responsibility of leading Oman Air Cargo and has since been instrumental in turning around its business to a robust one, posting 38th percent positive growth in 2017 from merely 5 percent in 2016.
As the head of Oman Air Cargo, Al Musafir is also highly regarded for his astute business sense, nourishing talents and keeping a healthy work environment, sharing his success with his young and well experienced team members who have contributed to the company’s growth, year-on-year, focusing on improving the quality of service to their customers.