Paul Gregorowitsch has been at the helm of Oman Air for over a year now. His career spans over 30 years in the airline industry having been with KLM, Air France/KLM, Martinair Holland, followed by the German based low cost carrier Air Berlin. This has given him a deep understanding of sales, marketing, customer service, operations, general management and at Board level in global-, full service-, charter-, cargo- and low cost/low frills airlines.
Oman Air is the flagship carrier of the Sultanate of Oman and an Official 4 Star Airline (Skytrax 2011). Founded in 1993, the airline has since witnessed massive growth and has played a major role in making Muscat an important traffic hub in the Middle East, supporting the commercial, industrial and tourism sectors.
The airline currently operates direct international flights from Muscat to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Madina, Tehran and Kuwait, in the Gulf region, as well as Cairo, Beirut and Amman within the wider Middle East region.
Currently Oman Air’s fleet consists of two Boeing 787 Dreamliners, six Airbus 330-300s, four Airbus 330-200s, five Boeing 737-900s, 18 Boeing 737-800, one Boeing 737-700, four Embraer 175s and an ATR 42. Four more Dreamliners will join the fleet in the following years. By 2018, Oman Air’s total fleet size is expected to be around 57 aircraft, rising to 70 aircraft by 2020.
Oman Air won two awards at the World Travel Awards Middle East 2015, where the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman came top in the ‘Middle East's Leading Airline - Business Class’ and ‘Middle East's Leading Airline - Economy Class’ categories. Oman Air was also named as the winner of the ’Best Airline Staff Service in the Middle East’ award at the Skytrax World Airline Awards 2015.
Superb new First and Business Class lounges have been opened at Muscat International Airport, featuring elegant and tranquil relaxation areas, complimentary spa treatments and à la carte dining. In addition, premium check-in facilities and a First Class lounge-to-aircraft limousine service are offered to passengers at Muscat.
Oman might be small, but they mean serious business when it comes to air travel. LEADERS Middle East speaks to Paul Gregorowitsch Oman Air’s CEO.
Mr. Gregorowitsch you joined Oman Air back in 2014 and it’s been over a year since your appointment as CEO. What would you say have been your main areas of focus since you took over the leadership of this airline?
My overall aim – and Oman Air’s mission – is to ensure that Oman Air ‘Becomes the best’. That means ensuring that Oman Air remains the airline of first choice for customers throughout our network. It also means that in little more than a year from now, we will have achieved a sustainable position of profitability.
When I took up my present position in August 2014, Oman Air was poised to launch its current ambitious programme of fleet and network expansion. Since then, we have added new Airbus 330, Boeing 737 and Boeing 787 Dreamliners to our fleet, taking its strength from 30 to over 40 aircraft. We anticipate operating 57 aircraft by 2018, and 70 aircraft by 2020. This will enable us to add many more exciting destinations to our network. It will also allow us to increase frequencies on established routes and improve connection times at our home base of Muscat International Airport. In fact, we have already launched five new international destinations, increased frequencies to a number of our Indian destinations and increased frequencies to Paris. And soon all eleven of our Indian destinations will offer daily or double-daily services.
Furthermore, our new aircraft feature brand-new interiors, seating and inflight entertainment. They offer elegant and contemporary design, combined with the high levels of quality, space and comfort for which Oman Air has become renowned. And they provide the perfect setting in which to enjoy Oman Air’s award-winning and uniquely Omani inflight hospitality. Customers have greeted the new aircraft – especially the Dreamliners - with delight and we look forward to rolling them out right across our network.
On the ground, we have refurbished our premium lounges in Bangkok and Muscat, opened a new lounge at Salalah, relaunched our website and unveiled new mobile apps. And behind the scenes, we have launched a wide-ranging Shape and Size efficiency programme which is already bearing fruit.
So it has been an extremely busy time since August 2014. But our customers are already enjoying an improved passenger experience, greater convenience and added value, so we are making important progress.
Mr. Gregorowitsch, you have been in the airline industry for over 35 years and have produced remarkable achievements for Oman Air with only a year as CEO. What can you say have been the substantial features that contributed to such success? Did you face any major challenges along the way?
The aviation industry faces challenges in every aspect of its work. This is true for Oman Air as it is for every other airline of significance. Fluctuating fuel prices, geo-political changes, competitors and a wide range of other elements can impact on an airline’s progress and ultimate success.
However, whilst Oman Air is subject to all these influences, it also enjoys some major advantages. As the national airline of the Sultanate of Oman, Oman Air is a reflection of the genuine warmth and hospitality that is central to the culture of the Sultanate. That culture strengthens Oman Air’s identity, generates a huge sense of pride and helps to set us apart from other carriers. Furthermore, we have a clear set of goals and a robust strategy for achieving them.
Oman Air has been recognized as the World’s Leading Airline – Economy Class by the World Travel Awards in 2014. What does this achievement signify for Oman Air?
Oman Air has for many years enjoyed a reputation for offering one of the world’s best Business Class passenger experiences. Our Business Class seats have been named as the Best in the World for two years running, we have been named as Best Business Class Airline – Middle East at the World Travel Awards for two years running and we have picked up Best Business Class Airline – Middle East at the Business Destinations Travel Awards a remarkable four times.
But our Economy Class product has been equally worthy of acclaim. Our seats are spacious and comfortable. Our inflight entertainment offers a huge array of choices. Our inflight dining is delicious and our onboard service is outstanding. So it was extremely pleasing to be named as the World’s Leading Airline – Economy Class at the World Travel Awards 2014. It is clear recognition that whichever cabin you choose to fly in, you will enjoy the best that 21st Century air travel has to offer.
Oman Air operates a network of over 46 destinations in 27 countries out of its primary hub at Muscat and has 11 airline services in India. What regions do you believe have the biggest potential for growth and what would be the strategy for fleet and network expansions going forward? What is your philosophy when it comes to customer satisfaction? How important is the client for Oman Air?
Let me take your questions in reverse order. At Oman Air, our customers are central to everything we do. They are the most important element of our work and the focus of all our efforts. So we have the utmost respect for every guest we carry and we do all we can to not only meet their expectations, but to exceed them.
This takes consistent attention to detail. We start by providing the highest levels of quality in terms of our products and services. Our new website enables customers to book with ease, and to manage their booking once it is made. Online check-in can be made up to 36 hours before take-off and we offer fast baggage drop counters. Our airport lounges, and those of our partners, offer excellent hospitality and our highly-trained staff are always pleased to help. First Class customers at Muscat can even enjoy a lounge-to-aircraft chauffeured limousine service! We offer outstanding aircraft with superb interiors and state-of-the-art inflight entertainment. We also offer complete inflight mobile phone and wi-fi connectivity on our long haul services – in fact we were the first airline in the world to do so. Our inflight dining and refreshments have won awards – as have our amenity kits.
Our international fleet is expertly maintained, ensuring that our on-time performance is exemplary.
Having provided the highest levels of products and services, we keep every element of the passenger experience under constant review. We seek our passengers’ feedback and act on any issues of concern. And our forthcoming mystery shopper programme will offer us further invaluable insight.
And finally, we are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to improve our customers’ experience. This may be by expanding the range of offers available to our Sindbad frequent flyer programme. It may be by introducing new dishes to our menus. Or it might involve the introduction of new technology. Whatever it is, the key question we ask is: Will this add to our customers’ enjoyment of their flights?
We take this approach throughout our network and will continue to do so as we enter new markets. Our network currently ranges from London in the West to Manila in the East. However, as we continue our expansion programme, we anticipate introducing more new destination in both Europe and Asia. Both continents offer excellent – if different – opportunities for growth, as does Africa, where we currently fly to three destinations. We aim to launch new services wherever clear customer demand can be identified.
Air travel has indeed been evolving over the last few years. In your opinion, what does the future hold for air travel and in particular, what are the impacts and the growth that you are witnessing in air travel within Oman and the Middle East in General?
The latest figures from IATA show that growth in air travel will continue. In fact IATA estimates that by 2034 – less than 20 years from now – more than seven billion people will take a commercial flight. This contrasts with 3.3 billion in 2014. IATA further anticipates that key growth areas will be China and a number of countries in Africa. It is clear, however, that growth will be global. We are already seeing significantly more people in Oman and the Middle East flying with Oman Air and other carriers and this is to be welcomed. The region is home to some of the world’s finest airlines – including, of course, Oman Air. And the increase in the number of low cost carriers operating from the Gulf is introducing many more people to air travel who may not previously have flown. They, in turn, often seek out high quality, full service airlines such as Oman Air for future travel.
So the market is dynamic and constantly changing. But the outlook is optimistic – especially for Oman Air.