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.