Sharjah airport expansion opens wider travel and tourism prospects

Sharjah authorities aim to attract more than 10 million tourists by 2021.

A passenger is seen at a duty-free shop at Sharjah International Airport. (Courtesy of Sharjah International Airport)

2017/06/04 Issue: 109 Page: 24

The Arab Weekly
N.P. Krishna Kumar

Sharjah - Sharjah International Air­port has been a major fac­tor in supporting and pro­moting tourism and trade in the UAE. It has also played a crucial role as the hub in the expansion of the regional budg­et airline Air Arabia.

The first airfield in Sharjah was built in 1932 at Al Mahatta as a stop­over for Imperial Airways flights to India and Australia. Sharjah Inter­national Airport opened in 1977, with its striking three-domed ar­chitectural profile.

The airport has undergone many changes, including the establish­ment of a freight centre in 1979 and an expansion in 1999. In 2008, the passenger terminal building was enlarged and, in 2014, a 4,060-me­tre runway — one of the longest in the region — was put into service.

However, the most significant event took place in 2003 when Air Arabia, the MENA region’s first low-cost carrier, made its inaugural flight from Sharjah International Airport, its home base. Fourteen years later, the airline operates 47 Airbus A320 aircraft flying 126 routes across the Middle East, Af­rica, Asia and Europe.

A $400 million expansion of Sharjah International Airport is on track. The project management rights were granted to Parsons Overseas Limited, said Ali Salim al- Midfa, chairman of Sharjah Airport Authority.

“It includes the phases of prepa­ration before design, as well as the design proper, supervision and the handover of the first phase,” Midfa said in a release.

The project aims at upgrading existing facilities, including an ex­pansion of the passengers’ build­ing, to increase the airport’s han­dling capacity to 25 million in 2027.

A release from the airport stated that the expansion would be car­ried out over a series of phases, the most important being the expan­sion of roads serving the airport.

“The new expansion project is an important addition to Sharjah International Airport and it will serve an increasing number of pas­sengers every year,” Midfa said in the release. “It will be an important stop for airlines and shipping due to the airport’s strategic location and the special services and facili­ties offered to companies on the main lines of navigation and air transport that link important loca­tions in a few hours.”

Sharjah International Airport has a significant Indian connection with Air India Express, Jet Airways and now IndiGo Airlines operating flights from there.

The airport handled more than 11 million passengers in 2016, a 10% increase from 2015. The first quar­ter of 2017 witnessed a 2% increase in passenger traffic. The number of passengers climbed to 2.74 million, from 2.69 million during the corre­sponding period in 2016.

Sharjah aviation authorities at­tribute the growth to increased passenger satisfaction in the qual­ity of services provided by the air­port.

The tourism development strat­egy of the emirate aims to attract more than 10 million tourists to Sharjah by 2021. Promoting family tourism and an emphasis on cul­tural activities and related infra­structure projects have set Sharjah apart from other destinations in the region.

“The expansion will dramatically improve the current travel options to and from Sharjah as well as pro­mote economic growth and job creation within the emirate,” said Parsons Overseas Limited Presi­dent Gary Adams.

Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Stra­tegic Aero Research, a London-based aviation consultancy, con­tended that “Sharjah has always been one of the key and oldest gateways in and around the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).”

While Sharjah’s operations were modest compared to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, “it is still home to an expanding Air Arabia,” Ahmad said. “We’re seeing more airlines flying to the city largely because it is not as congested as the airports in the other two emirates.

“Recently, we’ve seen Indian air­lines coming into the market and they too see Sharjah Airport as an untapped gateway. This will give customers additional connection and pricing options.”

Ahmad said: “Air Arabia has lev­eraged the strength of Sharjah’s close location to Dubai and has managed to successfully grow its operations around this facet and has become a key money-spinner for the local economy.”

“Sharjah can do a lot more to convince people that a renaissance is back in the cards as it was in the late ‘70s and ‘80s when the airport and city was the main transit point in the region,” he added.

N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.

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