Huge news for passengers who often fly via the Middle East! Sources familiar with the matter have confirmed that Qatar Airways is planning to open a major hub in Oman, which is now being referred to as ‘The Second Doha Hamad.’ The new hub will be a ‘gateway to the rest of the world’ for Qatar Airways, and will be located at Sohar International Airport (OHS), in Oman. OHS is situated on the northern coast of the Middle Eastern nation, west of its capital, Muscat, and near the border with the United Arab Emirates.
Why a ‘Second Doha Hamad’ in Oman?
Qatar is in the middle of a complete blockade from its neighbors in the Gulf — the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. As a result, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has ruled out any further investment in those nations, and said he’ll look elsewhere to drive profits for the airline. The carrier has already confirmed that it will fly between Doha (DOH) and Sohar (OHS) with three flights weekly beginning August 8, 2017, which is the first step of establishing Qatar’s ‘second hub.’
Oman is maintaining its neutrality in the current political rift, and it’s friendly with the majority of the Gulf region. There are also other factors that could explain why Oman would be an attractive second hub for Qatar Airways:
- Sohar (OHS) is situated very close to the UAE border. 88.5% of the UAE’s total population is expats, and because of the the blockade (which looks like it could last a very long time), they’re unable to fly direct to Doha (DOH), like they could have in the past. However, with a second hub in OHS, these expats will only be about an hour away from an airport offering access to Qatar’s route network.
- Qatar has invested a lot in OHS, and a source familiar with the expansion says a recruitment drive has already started for airport managers, service agents, sales executives and other positions.
- Qatar has a lot of aircraft out of schedule at the moment. These aircraft are currently not being used, though normally as they would be flying to Qatar’s two biggest markets: Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as popular destinations in Bahrain and Egypt. Some of these planes are flying for British Airways at the moment, helping it manage the ongoing strike — however when the BA strike ends, they’ll be back in Doha, where they’d be sitting unused on the ground. A new hub give these aircraft new purpose and could improve aircraft optimization for Qatar.
- Al Maha (shown below) was intended to be an airline that would operate in Saudi Arabia as a subsidiary of Qatar Airways. However, Qatar had problems obtaining the licenses necessary to operate these routes, and so the CEO gave up and said he would ‘look elsewhere.’ These Al Maha aircraft have different cabins from Qatar’s jets. Due to the inconsistency of the cabins, they would be better situated at a new base, flying routes within the range of the A320.
- The new flight between Doha (DOH) and Sohar (OHS) could act as a ‘feeder flight,’ allowing passengers to begin their itinerary flying Qatar Airways from Sohar, Oman and continue their travel from Doha (DOH) Hamad International.
Which Destinations Will be Served From Sohar?
Sources familiar with the matter have said that there are plans for about 15 destinations from the new base in Sohar, and plans for the following destinations are being discussed:
- Amsterdam (AMS)
- Bali (DPS)
- Bangkok (BKK)
- Delhi (DEL)
- London (LHR)
- Paris (CDG)
- Phuket (HKT)
- Tbilisi (TBS)
- Zagreb (ZAG)
- Zurich (ZRH)
Other potential routes on the table include destinations as far as Sydney (SYD) and Kuala Lumpur (KUL), although it’s likely that these routes would be announced in a future expansion of the Sohar hub, rather than be a part of the initial route network.
Which Qatar Airways Aircraft could be based at Sohar?
While it’s not clear exactly how many Qatar Airways aircraft will be based at the airline’s second hub, it’s understood that plans for the short-haul fleet which is currently grounded due to the blockade, will be the first planes to operate from OHS. It’s worth highlighting that A320/A321 aircraft are able to fly European routes such as Paris (CDG) and Zagreb (ZAG), and Qatar operated an Airbus A319 between Doha and London not too long ago. Despite the blockade and the challenges it’s presenting to the airline, Qatar continues to expand its fleet, and will take delivery of their first Airbus A350-1000 XWB later this year, and several A321neos soon after.
These are certainly huge plans for Qatar Airways, and it’s welcome news to those who connect regularly in the Middle East. As Qatar Airways prepares to establish a second gateway, expats living in United Arab Emirates will soon have not just a direct link to Doha, but access to Qatar’s route network. It’s also good news for passengers, as more choice often means lower ticket prices. A popular cost-saving technique for savvy passengers flying through the Middle East would be to fly Qatar Airways between Dubai (DXB) and Doha (DOH) before leaving from Doha to a long-haul destination. With a second hub in Sohar, passengers could use the gateway to take advantage of cheaper fares, better flight times or even entirely new destinations.