TBY talks to HE Ali Salim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah International Airport, on balancing growth with operational efficiency, investment opportunities at the airport, and the upcoming Expo 2020.
BIOGRAPHYHE Ali Salim Al Midfa has been the Chairman of Sharjah Airport Authority since 2014. He is considered part of the dynamic and active young leaders of the Emirate of Sharjah, having joined the Sharjah Airport Authority back in 1996, and gradually developed through the ranks, holding posts such as administrative and commercial director, airport director, and then director general. He enjoys over 18 years of extensive aviation experience, and besides his responsibilities at Sharjah Airport, he is a member of the Executive Council of Sharjah. He also is the Chairman of Sharjah Aviation Services.
More than 10 million passengers visited Sharjah International Airport in 2015. What strategy are you following to achieve these results?
Sharjah International Airport is coping with the ever-growing demands of airport users by enhancing the airport's existing capacity in various areas, including check-in counters, new gates, additional human resources, and the implementation of the latest technologies and equipment to facilitate these requirements. The airport witnessed a 12% increase in passenger traffic in the first quarter of 2016, against the same period in the previous year, and we are expecting a high percentage of passenger growth by the end of this year.
What have been the main drivers of Sharjah's aviation growth over recent years?
Sharjah International Airport has become the popular and preferred travelling option of many because of its efficient procedures, excellent services and facilities, and its strategic location. The presence of Air Arabia, the UAE's national carrier, is a key driver of the growth. Thanks to its reliable, safe and efficient services, excellent packages, and attractive prices, serving many destinations with a modern fleet of aircraft, many passengers choose to travel several times a year through Sharjah
International Airport. Strategically, there has also been increased competition, with many airlines increasing capacity of existing routes and adding new routes.
Sharjah International Airport is focused on short-haul passengers, targeting a check-in and boarding time of just 20 minutes. How does the airport balance this efficiency against the rapid growth in passenger numbers?
Sharjah International Airport is keen to facilitate procedures and provide the best services and amenities to our valuable passengers; therefore, we have invested in new food and beverage outlets and enhanced our car-parking facilities. Working in partnership with Sharjah RTA, there are now increased bus routes to our airport and we are continually investing in new technologies and behind-the-scenes improvements to enhance the passenger experience. The distance between the check-in counters and boarding gates is very close, taking just a few minutes to reach the gates.
What are the current investment opportunities for Sharjah Airports Authority?
The future for the UAE aviation industry is bright. Revenue passenger-kilometers (RPKs) are expected to increase in the years to come, given the steady development of short-haul, long-haul, and low-cost carriers. Today, the UAE is considered one of the world's favorite holiday destinations and a great place to do business. This would have been difficult to achieve without the success and growth of the UAE's airlines and infrastructure. Similarly, in trade and cargo, these carriers facilitate trans-shipments as well as origin and destination cargo, exploiting the excellent strategic location of the UAE and leveraging its world-class infrastructure of ports and road network to the fullest. Sharjah International Airport is expanding and growing; therefore, there are many attractive areas for foreign investment in general aviation, aircraft maintenance services, aircraft hangars, and other aviation activities.
What is your outlook on the region's aviation sector in the short to medium term, and how is Sharjah's airport preparing for Expo 2020?
The Middle East aviation market is set to grow by 6.6% through to 2016, which will make it the second-fastest growing market in the world. The aviation industry alone contributes about 15% to the UAE's GDP. In Sharjah, transport and logistics are a very dynamic market and the total market size reached AED3.53 billion in 2012, out of which AED1.28 billion worth was sea freight and AED0.7 billion air freight, offering rewarding investment opportunities for local and foreign investors. Regarding Expo 2020, we consider this event as important for the UAE as a whole and not for Dubai alone. We are planning for and expect an influx of people visiting the UAE by 2020. With SHJ's flexibility and with proximity to the Expo 2020 venue, we see ourselves as being very involved and busy during the Expo.
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