WINGS OF CHANGE

Mus­cat’s new pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal open­ing this month lifts Oman into a new avi­a­tion era

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS DO­MINIC EL­LIS

Mus­cat’s pas­sen­gers can ex­pect an en­hanced travel ex­pe­ri­ence when the new pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing opens this month, re­ports Do­minic El­lis

Walk­ing off one of Oman Air’s B787-8 Dream­lin­ers which has parked on a re­mote stand at Mus­cat, I catch the bus – for the last time – and within min­utes I’m in im­mi­gra­tion. An hour later, on the other side of the air­port, I’m stand­ing by a brown-car­peted air­bridge in the empty new pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal, which is sched­uled to open on the af­ter­noon of March 20. As tran­si­tions go, it’s stark. Mus­cat In­ter­na­tional Air­port hasn’t changed that much in 45 years but in a short space of time I’ve seen past, present and fu­ture unite. It’s been a long time com­ing but with the open­ing of this 345,000sqm ter­mi­nal, Oman’s avi­a­tion scene is about to change ir­re­vo­ca­bly. Trans­fer in­con­ve­niences aside, the old air­port had its charm and the com­pact de­sign was a bonus for time­pressed busi­ness travellers as it never took long to get to the taxi queue on ar­rival, or duty free and gates on de­par­ture. Those days are now num­bered; but what travellers may lose in time they will surely gain in terms of an al­to­gether more com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence be­fit­ting of 21st cen­tury travel.

The new ter­mi­nal raises ca­pac­ity to 12 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year, around five mil­lion more than the cur­rent air­port is han­dling – which it­self was de­signed to han­dle 3.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally, which in­di­cates the pres­sures on the for­mer ter­mi­nal.

The big­gest sin­gle change sees the in­tro­duc­tion of air­bridges which means most pas­sen­gers no longer have to catch buses, although there are 16 re­mote stands. This will not only be wel­comed by pas­sen­gers but also air­lines as trans­fer pas­sen­gers will flow faster – they ac­count for 70 per cent of all busi­ness – thereby boost­ing on-time per­for­mance (min­i­mum con­nect­ing times will re­main at 90 min­utes). Two gates are A380 com­pli­ant (C2, C4).

Oman Avi­a­tion Group will be hop­ing the new ter­mi­nal draws new car­ri­ers and boosts point-to-point traf­fic, in tan­dem with tourism growth.

SEP­A­RATE DEPAR­TURES AR­EAS

From the mo­ment you travel down the straight mul­ti­lane ap­proach road – the ter­mi­nal can be ac­cessed via three roads – and en­ter sep­a­rate drop-off lanes on the depar­tures level, you’re struck by the sense of scale which con­trasts sharply with the ex­ist­ing air­port (wave good­bye to traf­fic jams on the nar­row road out­side ar­rivals). Short and long-term car parks pro­vide space for up to 800 cars.

On the depar­tures level, first and busi­ness class pas­sen­gers are dropped off first at A, with B re­served for Oman Air econ­omy class and C for all other air­lines’ econ­omy pas­sen­gers.

Hi­lal, who has been work­ing on this pro­ject for eight years, greets me. He points out how Oman Air pre­mium pas­sen­gers turn right into a sep­a­rate check-in area (A) with 12 desks and they can avail of com­fort­able seat­ing and soft drinks. First and busi­ness class guests can ac­cess self check-in kiosks and ded­i­cated elec­tronic gates and se­cu­rity ma­chines. Check-in ar­eas B to G are laid out one af­ter another (12 coun­ters in C and D ex­clu­sively for Oman Air). The na­tional car­rier can also ac­cess E dur­ing peak hours.

There is cer­tainly more than a hint of ‘Gulf hub’ about the new look, par­tic­u­larly when you see the eight cen­tral palm trees be­tween D and E in the check-in area, but Mus­cat isn’t Dubai. In to­tal there are 29 con­tact stands. It’s suit­ably Omani: larger but per­sonal, aug­mented by au­then­tic Mashra­biya de­signs.

“The pas­sen­ger jour­ney will be bet­ter – we are very limited what we can of­fer to­day,” says Saleem Aman­ulla, Oman Air’s Vice Pres­i­dent of Air­port Op­er­a­tion. “We are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to mit­i­gate risks, we have our SOPs (stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures) con­ducted by Mu­nich Air­port which is con­sult­ing us on our move. I’m bring­ing teams from out­sta­tions, such as Heathrow, and ex­perts on bag­gage sys­tems who are used to pro­ce­dures.”

As be­fits large-scale in­fra­struc­ture projects, heart­beats are ris­ing as dead­lines near. The Bech­tel-led con­sor­tium has un­til March 7 to com­plete all con­struc­tion and the last flight will be on 1445 on March 20, be­fore the first land­ing, from Oman Air, is sched­uled for 1730.

Hard hats and coloured vests were plen­ti­ful on my visit with duty free still to be fit­ted out and it was a shame I couldn’t see the lounges or 90-room ho­tel, but I saw enough of the main in­fra­struc­ture from the check-in, se­cu­rity and piers – plus coun­ters for the likes of Trav­elex and WH

It’s suit­ably Omani: larger but per­sonal, aug­mented by au­then­tic Mashra­biya de­signs

Smith – to know they are on the home straight; for all the ac­tiv­ity, pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence tells me that fit-outs can come to­gether quickly in the last few weeks.

ARAB- GLOBAL DE­SIGN

It’s hard to look at an empty ter­mi­nal and en­vis­age pas­sen­gers, bags and flows. But with pre­mium pas­sen­gers (A) di­vided from econ­omy – and within that, Oman Air pre­mium pas­sen­gers hav­ing their own ded­i­cated check-in area – it looks a good mar­riage of de­sign and prac­ti­cal­ity.

With plen­ti­ful glass and mar­ble, it has the look and feel of most in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nals, but mashra­biya de­signs – some are pro­jected onto the floors which are dif­fer­ent as you’re walk­ing through – lend an au­then­tic Omani touch. Other neat touches are semi-cir­cu­lar wooden di­viders be­tween im­mi­gra­tion coun­ters.

The four-pronged, ris­ing steel fix­tures are preva­lent – they’re es­pe­cially no­tice­able in the check-in area – which must be in­te­gral to sup­port­ing the wave-like ex­te­rior, which you ap­pre­ci­ate best if you’re in a win­dow seat on land­ing or de­par­ture.

Once in duty free, pas­sen­gers peel off along three piers, each de­signed on its own theme (desert, sea, moun­tains). I walked most of the length of A which took about five min­utes; the cor­ri­dors were wide and there was some in­ter­est­ing seat­ing – colour­ful and wave-like to match the ex­te­rior. It doesn’t look a daunt­ing ter­mi­nal and I doubt pas­sen­gers will have prob­lems with nav­i­ga­tion.

The food court has been de­signed on a mid­dle floor which is ac­ces­si­ble by de­part­ing and ar­riv­ing pas­sen­gers. An­nounce­ments will be kept to a min­i­mum with in­for­ma­tion dis­played on screens.

The most at­trac­tive as­pect is the ar­rivals hall in which you come down a short es­ca­la­tor into a spa­cious hall with an oval light cen­tre­piece, and walk through a ‘ Wel­come To Mus­cat’ gate. Eight belts are for in­ter­na­tional and two for do­mes­tic. An ar­rivals lounge will be avail­able for Oman Air pre­mium pas­sen­gers and fast track lanes.

LARGER LOUNGES AND HO­TEL

Oman Air’s pre­mium pas­sen­gers are in for a treat in the new fa­cil­ity as it will be six times larger than the ex­ist­ing one, with room for three bars. A spa and prayer room will also be avail­able. Two other lounges ( TUV, Ma­jan) are on site for in­ter­na­tional air­lines’ pas­sen­gers.

OMAN AIR PLOTS EX­PAN­SION

The ca­pac­ity in­crease co­in­cides with a new push from Oman Air, which is re­ceiv­ing new air­craft and launch­ing new routes. It re­cently re­ceived the sec­ond B737 MAX – it has 30 -8s on or­der – and the next three are sched­uled to ar­rive this sum­mer.

New routes to Casablanca ( June), Is­tan­bul ( July), Moscow (Oc­to­ber) all raise the prospect of new trans­fer and O&D busi­ness and key routes are also be­ing con­sid­ered for up­grades; the Dream­liner is be­ing lined up for twice-daily Lon­don Heathrow ser­vices this sum­mer, for ex­am­ple. In Fe­bru­ary, a new hold­ing firm to house the coun­try’s trans­port as­sets was es­tab­lished which will in­te­grate strate­gies.

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