Sohar flight cancellation to hit Oman tourism, investment
June 15, 2016 | 10:38 PM
by Deeba Hasan / Hasan Shaban al Lawati
Oman Air’s one-way ticket fare from Muscat to Sohar was OMR18, while a return ticket cost OMR25, before the national carrier cancelled its flights earlier this week.
 
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Muscat: Tourism and investment will be negatively affected by Oman Air’s decision to cancel its weekly flights to Sohar, according to business leaders.

Read here: Oman Air suspends Muscat-Sohar route

“Investors may think twice before investing in Sohar. Businessmen may reconsider investing in the Wilayat after this decision. They were earlier excited to come and invest directly but now they will be forced to stop in Muscat and then drive all the way to Sohar,” said Hilal Al Sidrani, Shura council representative from Sohar region.

“The whole concept of launching this airport was to boost business activity in the wilayat and facilitate transportation to and from Muscat, but this decision will have a reverse impact.

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“We still hope that the airport will become an international hub and operate flights to Salalah, and all over the world. The huge amount of money, and the millions spent on this airport should be questioned, where is the feasibility study and plans?” he asked.

Oman Air’s one-way ticket fare from Muscat to Sohar was OMR18, while a return ticket cost OMR25, before the national carrier cancelled its flights earlier this week.

Another businessman and Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) member expressed his disappointment with the decision to cancel the flights.

“Everyone already had their plans in place, and many hotels had started operations there after learning about the plans for the airport. However, if Oman Air does not fly to Sohar, it will affect tourism and investment activities in the area. Restaurants and other tourism related businesses will also suffer. Everyone was anticipating the airport project, however with the flights now cancelled, their hopes are shattered.

“I don’t think this is going to have a direct impact on businesses, but it will affect the future plan for development. Oman Air only flew to Sohar three times a week, so that doesn’t hurt much, but the plans for future developments will be affected,” he said.

“We were also expecting the airport to become an international one in the next two or three years, as Oman Air was already flying in and that would have encouraged other carriers too. Last year, I flew from Sohar to Muscat and then London, it was a great experience, but at the same time they need to do something about marketing and promotions for Sohar flights and advertise this in newspapers. I am not happy with the withdrawal,” he added.

While businessmen and decision makers are not happy, the development does not seem to matter much for residents, such as Mohammed Al Balushi.

“I haven’t taken the flight to Muscat as I think the flight and travelling by car takes the same amount of time. We need to head to the airport an hour before the departure time, then it takes a while in the flight and then picking up your luggage and getting out of the place, that makes it approximately two hours, the same time it takes to travel by car,” he said.

Al Balushi also pointed out that the return ticket price of OMR25 was too expensive.

Where the national carrier cancelled its flights to the industrial hub, other airlines were still exploring feasibility plans to fly to Sohar. Flydubai, the United Arab Emirates-based budget airline, said on Wednesday that they are still interested in flying to Sohar airport. “We are still conducting the feasibility study to start operations to Sohar from the Dubai international airport,” an official said.But he refused to put a time frame on when the operations will start. Responding to social media comments about Oman Air’s decision to stop flights to Sohar, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) said the Sohar airport’s construction costs mentioned by some social media activists is incorrect.

“The original cost is OMR63 million for the first and second phases, while the third phase (Terminal) cost around OMR36 million,” the Ministry wrote in response to other tweets on its official Twitter account.

“The airport is still in the experimental phase and operational ineffectiveness of a certain airline does not reflect the futility of the airport,” the ministry added.

“It is too early to say that the airport has no economical feasibility,” MoTC tweeted.

Sohar airport was opened by Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Salim Al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, as part of 44th National Day celebrations in November 2014, and Oman Air operated an inaugural flight to mark the official opening.

At the inauguration of the airport, the Chief Operating Officer of Oman Air, Abdulrahman Al Busaidy said the Muscat-Sohar operation would initially run into losses, but the government would fund it for a full year. It was also said that it could take up to two years to break even.

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