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Interview: Oman Air chief executive, Peter Hill

Oman Air chief executive Peter Hill (below) was back in London this month as the airline looked to make a splash at the annual World Travel Market. I interviewed Hill a year ago at the same event and its certaintly been an interesting year for Oman Air. Where many airlines pulled back capacity and their premium offering to counter the slump in demand, Oman Air embarked on a major investment and expansion programme with the introduction of its new A330s.

 
“I think its been bold, brave, some say fool-hardy,” he chuckles, but adds: “this time last year seat factors out of Europe were in the mid-50s. Now we’re looking at seat-factors in the 70s. And in business class, its even higher in the mid-80s.”

He highlights the advantages of going against the grain. “You can put out a clear message in an uncrowded market, at a time when nobody else was doing it. This time last year, nobody elese was talking about the first and business class, or bringing in wi-fi [onboard],” he says. “What we are seeing is the new business class on the A330 is really attracting a lot of new customers for us.”

Operating in such an tough environment, Hill says yields were below original expectations but that this has been countered by higher seat-load factors. "This year has been difficult for yields," he says. "[But] just in the last few months from mainland Europe, we are seeing it come back, particularly in the front-end, though from the UK it is not moving as fast.

VIDEO VAULT 

Watch our video interview with Peter Hill from the recent World Air Forum in Cannes. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO
It all ties with the airline's strategy to build an airline to suport the Omani state's aim to develop itself as a higher-end tourism destination. Here the strategy contrasts with the transfer hub aspirations of the big Gulf network carriers and Hill believes in the last 12 months, Oman's message is getting across. He is optimistic on 2011, and even with the continued slugglish recovery in Europe - a key market for the carrier which flies to London Heathrow, Paris, Frankfurt and Munich, sees this countered by its increased presence tourism brochures this year.

“We don’t have a bottomless pit. We have a proper five year plan. We are in year one and we are on track. We will have a proper audited report. If we don’t meet expectations, it will be in the annual report, and if we do, it will be in the annual report.” Under the five-year plan, Oman Air aims to reach breakeven – at a group level – by the fifth year.

“I have always said we are not building for today, but for tomorrow. And we are putting in the foundations now,” he adds.

 

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