Sunday, June 26, 2016

Unsurprising News: Oman Air suspends Sohar flights

Today, in news that shouldn't surprise anybody, Other Oman reports on the announcement from Oman Air that they will suspend flights between the Sultanate's capital Muscat, and Sohar, a thriving port city located a vast 190 kms from Seeb Muscat international airport. Certain members of the Majlis Ashura are apoplectic  Somewhat concerned about the cancellation of this thrice-weekly service and the loss of vast economic benefits that the service, which averaged ONE PASSENGER PER FLIGHT was bringing to the city of Sohar and the surrounding region.

Those were outstanding run-on sentences! Thank You.

I don't think anyone can or should be upset about the cancellation of a glaringly unpopular service that served basically nobody. On the other side of the coin, I don't think the criticism that is being heaped onto the Authorities for building a decent airport in Sohar is justified. The airport might be a few years ahead of its time, but I do think it's an asset to the North Batinah region and the northernmost suburbs / outlying areas of the capital.

Look at our national carrier's blue, silver, and gold livery!
 I was a skeptic at first, but now I think it's so pretty.
 Photo credit: Muscat Daily

So what's the back story on the Sohar airport? How did we get here?  I'm not 100% sure, but below is my understanding of the situation. Perhaps our resident aviation experts Muscati or Muscat Jet Driver would like to chip in with better facts of data? Your contributions are most welcome, Gentlemen.

Anyway, back in early 2008 or so, the government decided that Sohar needed a proper airport to handle cargo (great idea) and lots of passengers (not such a great idea). Tenders were issued, speeches were made, everybody I think was patting themselves on the back. Whether this had anything to do with the hubbub surrounding the now dead Blue City development, or the high hopes for Shoar's future as a port and industrial city is unclear to me. Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

At any rate, the Airport in Sohar opened sometime in maybe 2014 /2015 with the fancy-ass jetway equipped passenger terminal still unfinished and a quickie temporary terminal in its place. One assumes that the government was initially unsuccessful in getting international carriers to utilize the airport and so Oman Air was basically strong-armed into starting these flights in order to test the feasibility of using Sohar airport as a commuter hub, or something...

The problem with this is that one can drive between Sohar and Muscat in 1.5-2.5 hours for significantly less than the cost of the ticket. This might be useful if you are travelling onward to an international destination, but again you'd need the arrival and departure times to jive, otherwise it's faster and cheaper to grab a taxi between the two cities. Oman Air even went so far as to give away FREE flights from Sohar to muscat for passengers travelling on their connecting international flights. Sadly, No dice. The flights averaged a single passenger per flight, and must have caused the airline and Oman Aviation services to hemorrhage money trying to keep the service afloat.

BUT, BUT, BUT, I don't think it's a bad idea to have a good airport in Sohar, and I think there is likely a lot of viability to using the airport for charters full of Russians or tourists from Europe, or low cost reigonal airlines, perhaps offering a connection to muscat via bus. Kind of how Sharjah airport used to be (still is??) back in days of yore.

I think it is likely that Air India could operate a couple of international flights a day out of Sohar, given the number of Expatriates working in the region.

The other thing that MIGHT be viable to float the idea of a commuter service using tiny or smallish turboprops that would run a commuter schedule a couple of times a day up the coast from Duqum to Khasab, with stops in say, Qalhat, Sur, Muscat and Sohar on the way. I've used similar commuter airlines that fly from small towns in the American northeast into larger cities like Boston and New York. You don't even buy regular tickets, you buy a coupon book and use the coupons to exchange for flights. Lots of (usually pretty wealthy) people use these services as a daily or weekly commuter service, like a Mawasallat bus, but with wings. My daughter have taken a few thrilling flights in little 8 seater planes between Boston and elsewhere, and when I am not busy thinking about the ways I am going to die from the turbulance, the views are amazing, and an hour or so in an airplane saves me 5 hours of driving.

And Cargo, we could ship a shit-ton of Cargo out of the airport, and it would make great sense to have a robust airport cargo hub there since the port in Sohar is now handling all the cargo that used to come into Muttrah.

Anyway, there's my two cents on that matter. Your opinion or understanding of the background may differ from mine. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments below!

Later in the week I think I want to write about my newest addiction: Waygu Beef.  If you guys are not eating this beef, you need to start. It is so amazing.

1 comment:

SK said...

What Sharjah did back in the 90s was to shift focus towards cargo, offered international carriers such as Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, KLM, etc, like low handling fees, landing fees, aircraft parking fees, etc to attract them from Dubai which focused itself on the increasing passenger traffic. Even today, all of the major carriers have their cargo operations based out of Sharjah, instead of Dubai or even Abu Dhabi, be it FedEx, DHL, Lufthansa, British Airways.

They can do the same with Sohar but they will have to offer very good incentives to the airlines, and they would need to market the airport as a cargo hub for Oman and South Asia/South East Asia. The airspace around Sharjah and Dubai airports is too crowded, and it will become a head ache for airlines to get additional slots to land/take off by 2020.