Arriving in Muscat's sparkling new airport terminal is a bit like entering a royal palace. With its modern steel and glass structures and towering atrium, the signature building blends Omani heritage with 21st century designs trends, creating a balance that both inspires and reassures.
Oman expects the new hub to be one of the top 20 airports in the world by 2020. Officially opened in November 2018, the facility has the capacity to operate 40 flights per hour with 96 check-in counters and 10 self-service check-in kiosks. And this is just the beginning: today's airport can handle 20 million passengers a year, a figure expected to rise to 56 million passengers after the completion of the last-phase construction project.
The silent terminal
The first thing you notice in the tiled expanses of the terminal is the absence of queues. With 40 gates and robots directing passengers to the right gates, automated baggage handling systems, high-tech security scanners and e-gates, travellers are whisked quickly and efficiently through the terminal. Creating a simple and effortless experience for the passenger, however, has been an enormously complex job.
The original airport at Muscat handled significantly fewer passengers, and airport operations relied on a patchwork of different IT systems, security systems and telecom networks. But the sheer scale of the $1.8 billion terminal project, launched nearly a decade ago, posed a new set of problems that called for a more unified approach.
Master Systems Integrator
That's when the operator stepped in to create a new role of Master Systems Integrator. And in March 2015 Thales was appointed, based on its record of success on some of the world's largest airport security projects, to deliver a complete package of Special Airport Systems and to unify IT, communications and security management across the entire airport complex.
The scope of Thales's contract included setting up a 70-seat master control centre for integrated management of airport resources including gate-to-gate passenger processing, airport IT and network management, and the provision of security systems such as smart video surveillance and access control, network security and cybersecurity, as well as airport IT and telecom systems (VoIP, Tetra and Wi-Fi). Airport operations at the smaller Salalah international airport in the south of the country are also part of the same overall architecture, although critical security and border control systems for the two airports have been kept separate.
User training and operational testing
Local Omani operators were already familiar with the legacy systems integrated into the new control centre, but additional training was needed to introduce users to the many new functions and procedures, and to explain the new unified approach to airport operations management. Omani nationals accounted for about one-third of the Thales project team, and as the work progressed, they played a key role in getting local operators up to speed with the new tools and the principles underlying the new architecture.
For a full nine months before opening day, the project team ran operational readiness tests with users in a realistic simulated environment to check that the new procedures were both feasible and fully understood. During that critical operational testing period, Thales worked directly with operators to make the necessary adjustments and create a high-quality user experience for all the different functions. The end result is a unified system of systems that is extraordinarily complex but seems almost as simple and effortless to operate as taking a plane in the terminal below.
A smarter future
Strategically located, Muscat International Airport has the potential to become one of the major hubs for logistics and passenger traffic between Europe and Asia. It's also a beautiful gateway to a country with its own set of unique attractions for business visitors and tourists alike. Thales systems engineers and the Omani operators who now coordinate every aspect of the new airport complex are proud to be part of this inspiring adventure.