Oman Air CEO Leaving Before Mass Jet Influx as New Posts Beckon

Oman Air Chief Executive Officer Wayne Pearce said he’s leaving the carrier so that a successor can manage a two-year fleet upgrade that will boost capacity almost 50 percent, and is considering new posts in the industry.

Pearce, an Australian whose departure was disclosed Feb. 5, will leave Feb. 28 with Muscat-based Oman Air poised to take 16 more aircraft including its first Boeing Co. (BA) 787 Dreamliners through the end of 2015, he said today in an interview.

Chief at the Gulf carrier since January 2012, Pearce has overseen an expansion into long-haul markets as Oman seeks to establish itself as a premium destination while maintaining short-haul links to south Asian labor markets. In addition to the 787-8s, the carrier has three Airbus Group A330-300 wide-bodies and 11 single-aisle 737s due in the next two years.

“These plans will be transformational for a carrier with 30 aircraft today -- that’s why I had to leave now,” Pearce said by telephone from Switzerland. “The alternative would have been to stay on for another two or three years.”

Pearce said that he’s exploring his future options, with at least of a couple of positions under consideration within the airline industry or related sectors. The executive, who has worked at Etihad Airways PJSC and Qantas Airways Ltd., declined to say if he was likely to remain with a Middle Eastern company.

Tourist Niche

With eight aircraft due to retire, Oman Air’s new arrivals will take the fleet to 38 planes by the end of 2015, with four more jets on order. The carrier, which took its first wide-body in 2008 after previously operating as a regional airline, is also examining further orders for A330s or Dreamliners, most likely the larger 787-9, as well as more short-haul planes.

Pearce said he envisages the aircraft on order being used to build up frequencies while adding a limited number of new destinations, though his successor “may have other ideas.” Oman Air said when announcing the CEO’s intention to leave that the process of hiring a replacement had begun.

The carrier -- which aims to build a 50-strong fleet -- is also increasing the seat count by 25 percent on the A330-300s due for delivery, while refitting planes already in service, resulting in the near 50 percent gain in overall capacity.

Pearce said his strategy throughout has been to carve a niche for Oman Air in the point-to-point market as the country seeks to develop its tourism industry, rather than to compete with the hub-based models of Dubai-based Emirates, Qatar Airways Ltd. and Etihad of Abu Dhabi.

Oman Air is seeking code-share partners in Europe and Asia after Pearce brokered deals with Qatar Air, Turkish Airlines (THYAO), Royal Jordanian Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise, he said. The carrier also has agreements in place with Emirates and Malaysia Airline System Bhd. which predated his arrival.

The executive said his view remains that membership of a global alliance isn’t vital for Oman Air, though the next CEO might revisit the option.

A possible restructuring of short-haul operations into a low-cost unit remains “a government policy issue,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Jasper in London at cjasper@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

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