WINGS OF CHANGE
Muscat’s new passenger terminal opening this month lifts Oman into a new aviation era
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.