Doha/Muscat: Investment in training locals in various industries, including aviation is what distinguishes Oman from other countries, according to senior officials at NATS, the United Kingdom's leading provider of air traffic control services.
Training programmes are important as Oman is investing a huge amount of money in civil aviation and new airports, Richard Deakin, NATS' chief executive officer, told the Times of Oman in an exclusive interview in Doha.
"I think full credit should go to the government of Oman for recognising the importance of the airspace," said Deakin on the sidelines of the 70th annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association.
NATS, which handles 2.2 million flights and 220 million passengers in UK airspace every year, recently announced that it will hold a training course for a number of Omani engineering graduates.
Delegates from Muscat and Salalah airports will attend a series of 16-week courses at NATS' training college in Hampshire. The training will begin with English language lessons followed by expert Air Traffic Safety for Electronics Personnel (ATSEP) training. The Omani Public Authority of Civil Aviation (PACA) wants all its engineers to achieve ATSEP compliance by 2016.
"In order to have efficient operations, you need really well trained people. So we are very keen to share our experience with Oman," Deakin noted.
According to NATS, this is the second tranche of Omanis to be trained by NATS experts in the UK. A similar training programme was held last year.
The NATS' chief executive officer said that his company has been working with Oman since a long time and is now studying how it can build up the capacity of Omani nationals and what systems are required in the country.
In addition to providing services to 15 UK airports, NATS works in more than 30 countries around the world spanning Europe, the Middle East, Asia and America.
"We have done a lot of work on safety, and we are very keen to transfer the skills to Oman to train them up," Deakin said, adding that NATS can cooperate with Oman in many specialised areas, including air traffic management.
Ben Kiff, head of information at NATS, also hailed Oman's efforts to enhance the skills of its citizens in the aviation industry and other spheres. "What is encouraging with Oman is that they are not just investing in technology, they are also investing in the people with training," Kiff said. "That is really important."
It will be a "wasted investment" if you bring nice aircraft and build airports but do not train locals to use the technology, he added.
Commenting on the main challenges facing the aviation industry in Oman and other Gulf countries, Deakin said that they are mainly around air traffic management as it is not keeping pace with the infrastructure development.
Everyone here has a nice shining new airport in the region or is building one and has nice aircraft fleet but the main challenge is for people to understand that airspace also needs to be well designed, he added.
However, he says that this problem is not limited to this region.
"Lots of countries around the world spend huge amounts of money on airports and aircraft fleets but they actually run into difficulty because the airspace side is not designed well," Deakin said.
According to the official, allocation of a large part of the airspace for military use is one of the reasons behind civil traffic in this region.
"In Europe and the UK in particular, military airspace is opened and closed as required," he noted, adding that in Europe around five per cent of the airspace is dedicated to military purposes while the percentage is 40 to 60 per cent in the Gulf skies.
The airlines in the Middle East will soon start to realise that their growth may be stopped by traffic inefficiencies which cause cancellations or delays, said Deakin.
So NATS is keen to train Omanis to make sure that the country's growth is not limited by these inefficiencies, he noted.
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