‘We have the potential’
Oman Air’s CEO Abdul Rahman Al Busaidy is optimistic about the airline’s prospect for growth and equally upbeat on the future of Oman’s tourism industry.
‘‘Oman Air should grow at a moderate rate over the next five years, he says. ‘‘Our growth will be driven by the niche we have chosen, with a likely jet fleet strength of about 12 focusing on local and regional markets, though with possibly some wide-bodied aircraft.’’
He continues: This outlook is based on the scenario that Oman will continue to have two airlines. However, if Oman Air is to be the sole national carrier for Oman, then obviously its future network and fleet will be much larger to meet passenger and cargo demand.
“Under both scenarios I see the airline focusing and promoting in-bound tourism, the highest growth potential for the future.”
Also, when it comes to pulling in the tourists, Oman is distinctly different to other Gulf states – with its beaches, mountains, wadis and a variety of natural attractions – and Al Busaidy says that the country has made a lot of efforts to preserve its heritage and culture. “Some Gulf countries have gone for the Western look with highrises and Spanish style villas, with the identity of countries sadly lost, but here in Oman even modern houses have to have national or Islamic features,” he says.
As one of the Middle East’s few public shareholding airlines and with 1,000 employees, including 76 per cent nationals, Oman Air serves 20 destinations with its fleet of nine planes, including Muscat, Salalah and Khasab in Oman, the other five GCC states plus Cairo and Beirut, four Indian destinations, three East African destinations and Sri Lanka.
Early this year three new destinations – Delhi and Hyderabad in India and a new Middle Eastern destination will be added, with the airline’s long-term mission – unlike other Gulf-based airlines who focus on international destinations – being local and regional.
“We fly Muscat to Dubai seven times daily and are the businessman’s first choice, and we will introduce the same concept to other destinations,” he says. “We are also looking at diversifying and getting into the ground tours operation, and with Oman importing and exporting, future freighter services is an area we are examining.”
Al Busaidy, a man with a quiet and gentle demeanour through which emerges a passion for life, was not born into wealth and while his parents “had a major impact on life, Oman made me what I am and I am willing to make a lot of sacrifices.”
He still clearly recalls – in the late 60s and early 70s – moving with his family for economic reasons to Kuwait, where his father worked for an oil company, as there were few opportunities in Oman. “Going as a child for seven years to another country that was not home, I had the dream to go back to my own country, however welcome I was made by others,” he says.
Al Busaidy says Omanis historically have high levels of endurance, strong aspirations and will power. “They love their country, and to understand the modern relationship between people in Oman it is necessary to go back to the early 70s when HM Sultan Qaboos came to power and there were just two schools, while others in the Gulf had universities.’’
“The vision and the drive of the ruler and the endurance and faith of the people has created a very strong bond between Omanis and their country,” he says. “People like myself – and there are many – were sent by the government to study abroad. I was among the second batch of Omanis to graduate from a local high school in 1977. When students were sent abroad for scholarships, areas were identified that we should work in, including medicine, accounts and also aviation,” says Al Busaidy.
“I was consequently sent to the US to study aeronautical engineering, but this meant designing aircraft and I realised Oman was unlikely to become an aircraft manufacturer so I switched to aviation management.”
Joining Gulf Air in 1981 as a management trainee, during 19 years with the airline in Bahrain, he rose to executive vice-president, leaving five years ago for his present Oman Air position.
Established in 1993 by Oman Aviation – which was founded 10 years earlier as a ground handling, catering and charter services company for oil companies – Oman Air now generates 70 per cent of all revenue and is the public face of the company.
Al Busaidy views his greatest professional achievement as being in 1995 when, following Gulf Air losses of BD45 million, he drew up a strategic turnaround plan and in one year the company returned to profitability “without financial aid from the owners”.
His biggest disappointment was Gulf Air’s decision to terminate a joint venture with DHL to operate a Boeing 757 freighter service between Brussels, Bahrain, and other Gulf countries, “as the project had long-term strategic and financial significance, especially judging how things have expanded with DHL alone, which now uses three jets”.
As an intellect Al Busaidy, who took his BSc in Aviation Management in the US, and a Masters in 2003 through correspondence in Scotland would like to quench that thirst with getting a PhD in the future.
The eldest of six children with his 75-year-old father now a retired businessman, Al Busaidy, with twin sons and a daughter studying at overseas universities, and a nine-year-old son, is very family-orientated.
Despite a job that demands extensive travel and socialising, and serving on the Board of many organisations, he does his best to avoid being away at weekends, fully dedicating the time to family. “On a Friday I will not even lift a piece of paper. I have breakfast with the family, perhaps have a barbecue, and I make it a point to take short breaks, maybe one week to Colombo, and four days here and there during school holidays.”
He says his greatest strength is being a good listener followed by a strong analytical mind, and his weakness is “being too tolerant”. Advising young Omanis about to set out on the career path to aim high and work hard, he still recalls that his aim from his first day at Gulf Air was to become chief executive. “I made it, but at Oman Air,” he says. “People should not expect to work the normal hours to be a CEO, you need to work extra, and upgrade your skills continuously. When I went for my MBA, I was already a CEO.”