SHARJAH GIVES YOU WINGS

Sharjah 2015 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Ali Salim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Airport Authority, on future growth plans and the unique advantages of Sharjah International Airport.

What strategies has the Sharjah Airport Authority implemented to foster the exponential growth in passenger numbers and cargo tonnage over the past decade, and how would you describe future growth plans?

Growth has several causes that are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. First, the attractiveness of Sharjah as a business and tourist destination, coupled with the economic growth of the UAE, is a key element that has contributed to the airport's growth. The Emirate is strategically located and is one of the safest destinations for business and leisure travellers alike. Secondly, efficient procedures and excellent services have boosted its attractiveness. Thirdly, new routes and the increased frequencies of existing carriers have been instrumental in driving growth. Air Arabia, in particular, has provided a key stimulus by offering low-cost travel, which has increased demand. As a result, Air Arabia has increased its operations and flights. Indeed, we expect the growth of passenger numbers and cargo volumes to continue over the coming years. Sharjah Airport Authority has also selected the engineering, construction, and projects management company Bechtel to design a new master plan for airport. The company will conduct short-term and long-term analyses of the airport's future needs. Further studies for large-scale expansion projects are currently ongoing and are expected to be announced shortly to maximize land use at the airport, and come up with new facilities for both passengers and cargo services. Running parallel to the exponential growth of Sharjah Airport we are meeting the demand of airport users by increasing existing capacity in various areas, including check-in counters and additional boarding gates, and by expanding human resources, and utilizing the latest innovative technologies and equipment to enhance the passenger experience. Furthermore, HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohamad Al Qassimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, launched the new, $136 million runway at Sharjah International Airport in October 2014, which has increased our capacity significantly.

How would you describe the strategic advantages of Sharjah International Airport, versus other airports in the region?

There are many competitive advantages at Sharjah International Airport. Some are related to its strategic geographic location, while others are the result of operational aspects, such as a direct approach for flights and short taxiing distances, which reflects in less fuel burn on the ground and less holding to land. Other advantages are more commercial, resulting from our competitive rates in various airport services. Sharjah Airport International Free Zone's proximity to the airport, Sharjah's two seaports, ongoing projects to develop the airport infrastructure, the free trade atmosphere with the open sky policy, in addition to easy and transparent cargo procedures also contribute positively toward Sharjah Airport's competitiveness. Having said that, I am an advocate of cooperation between the UAE's airports, rather than competition. We should be complementing other airports, as each boasts advantages that make it a more viable choice for a particular passenger. Our airport is more convenient for short-haul passengers because of our emphasis on faster processes. We are capitalizing on this, and try to not exceed the 20-minute gap between the check-in counter and aircraft boarding. The increasing number of passengers, however, is requiring Sharjah Airport to be more efficient, so working smarter, not harder and ensuring that the aircraft to curb time for our passengers is kept to the minimum and the envy of many airports internationally.

“Growth has several causes that are intertwined and mutually reinforcing."

How do you assess the future of the aviation sector in the UAE, and what does this mean for your organization?

Within five years, the UAE will undergo a huge development to cope the UAE's vision for 2021, and will host major events like Expo 2020, which need a lot of investments and planning. The aviation sector is one of these sectors that will expand to meet the high demand, and all national and foreign carriers especially have plans to expand. As one of the most important sectors in terms of contribution to GDP, we should be prepared for the increase of passengers and cargo. We expect growth to continue, as demand is high. Once development is completed, we should be looking to attract long-haul airlines to the airport, as this is an area where we see growing demand. I assume that one day we will start operating long-haul flights, but only when we are either ready to handle more flights in peak hours, or when long-haul airlines bbecome willing to operate in off-peak hours.

What are your organization's expectations for the coming year?

We expect to continue our normal annual growth as forecast. This will entail an increase compared to 2014, when our passenger numbers were boosted by 700,000 passengers that we temporarily took over from Dubai International Airport due to ongoing construction there. We may not retain all of those passengers this year, whilst some have recognized the attractiveness and convenience of a less-congested airport, yet one that boasts comprehensive facilities and modern amenities, and our own growth should see us reach the target 9.5 million.

© The Business Year - May 2015