TAKE ME THERE

UAE, Sharjah 2017 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW

Strong air, sea, and road links make Sharjah one of the most well-connected transportation hubs in the world. New internal infrastructure is taking it to the next level.

Well positioned as an international trade hub with a thriving logistics industry, Sharjah is supported by its strategic location, seaports on both east and west coasts, an international airport, and excellent modern road links connecting the Emirate to the rest of the Gulf. Government authorities reported that the value of transportation activity in the Emirate reached AED1.82 billion in 2015 and AED2.06 billion in 2016. As the sector continues to attract worldwide attention and local and international SMEs look to Sharjah as a place to establish headquarters, transportation may be valued at up to AED3.43 billion by 2020.

In addition to FDI inflows, the sector also continues to enjoy heavy government support. In 2017, infrastructure investment comprised 31% of the national budget, marking a 7% increase YoY. Such commitment to the improvement of the sector is a key factor in Sharjah's ranking as the one of the best-connected cities in the world. A recent independent survey ranked Sharjah at number six, ahead of Frankfurt, Manchester, Miami, and Dubai, reflecting advanced regional infrastructure and the Emirate's attractiveness as a business destination.
Announcing the findings, Sharjah's Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) explained that the key connectivity criteria were internet penetration and the capability and ease of movement of goods, areas in which Sharjah has made “unprecedented progress" in terms of logistics, seaports, and airport infrastructure. The Emirate also serves as a gateway to other parts of the UAE, with access to vital emerging markets such as India, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

Sharjah International Airport handled 11 million passengers in 2016, registering a 10% year-on-year increase compared to 2015. In January 2017 alone, the airport handled nearly 1 million passengers, marking a 4% increase on the year before. In terms of cargo, airport freight handled in 2016 was 180,900 tons. Aircraft movement increased by 6% from 71,000 during 2015 to 76,000 during 2016. With 29 scheduled airlines and direct connections to more than 65 destinations worldwide, Sharjah International Airport is the second-largest airfreight hub in terms of cargo tonnage in the Middle East.

Experts suggest that Sharjah International Airport's growth has been driven by its strategic location, the success of Sharjah's in-bound tourism industry, and the expansion of Air Arabia, which is based in Sharjah. The airport also benefits from an ideal location, close not only to Sharjah city, but also Dubai city and the main highways connecting all seven Emirates, which makes it an unparalleled hub for both business and leisure travelers. Sharjah also boasts three of the region's most important deepwater ports, providing key access to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Gulf. Port Khalid, Khorfakkan Port, and Hamriyah Port have a combined capacity of 2.4 million containers per year, and are also fully equipped to handle a wide range of vessels. These facilities continue to attract a growing number of shipments that are East Asia and Gulf-bound.

Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah Airport International Free (SAIF) Zone, and Sharjah Healthcare City all provide business-friendly environments that feed into the emirate's wider connectivity through prime locations and the opportunity for 100% foreign ownership.

BUILDING BRIDGES

To ease traffic and make land connections more convenient, Sharjah has looked to building new bridges in the Emirate. In a bid to boost road performance and enhance the flow of traffic, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) Sharjah built the Badee Palace Bridge with a total investment of AED31 million. The bridge officially opened in May 2017, connecting the Al Dhaid Road with Badee Palace. In an interview with the press, Yusuf Saleh Al Suwaihi, Chairman of the RTA, said “The bridge consists of a steel structure and fortified concrete with two lanes that are 7.3m wide, along with a roundabout and free exit roads." With a forward-thinking outlook, designers of the 45m-long bridge leaves room for expansions of Al Dhaid road underneath, as well as an additional one-lane road in the adjacent area, which can be used as an exit ramp to Al Dhaid city. Al Suwaihi assured the press that road developments in Sharjah are meant not only to enhance public safety and security, but are also in line with the direction of HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. “Road development done according to the highest international standards gives a boost to the performance of roads and the entire road network of the Emirate for the benefit of the public," he said.

Road infrastructure is also a prime focus when it comes to the rapid distribution of cargo that has arrived by air or sea. Flemming Dalgaard, CEO of the Gulftainer Group of Companies, described to TBY the concept of the “Sharjah Land Bridge," a method for bringing more cargo into the deepwater port of Khor Fakkan to be transferred via land networks through Sharjah or to the company's inland container depot. “We then clear customs from there and get it out to the containers and the customers in both Sharjah and also elsewhere in the UAE," Dalgaard told TBY.

Additionally, a recent statement made by the management of Sharjah International Airport announced that the most important phase of planned expansions at the airport involves the improvement of access roads that will better serve the emirate's transportation needs, including a new bridge that eases the pressure of heavy traffic.

ABOVE THE CLOUDS

Expansions at the national airport and the growth of the national carrier are two of the main drivers of growth in the air transportation segment for 2017.

Air Arabia has come into focus as Sharjah's leader in aviation, operating over 130 routes across the globe from five hubs located in the Middle East and North Africa. The company commenced operations as a low-cost carrier in October 2003 and is in possession of a fleet of 46 Airbus A320 aircraft. Opening in July 2017, Hargeisa will be the newest destination to its growing international network. The airline first entered the African market in 2004, and currently serves destinations across Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya from Sharjah.

Operating in the business aircraft segment, Gama Aviation is also undergoing expansions in terms of fleets and facilities. The company has gone from operating eight aircraft in Sharjah to 11 in 2017. “Sharjah is a leader in the international fixed-base operator part of the business for the company. Our investment here is in the order of USD30 million and is the biggest single investment Gama Aviation has made," Martin Ringrose, Regional Director of Gama Aviation, told TBY.

To accommodate the growth in both the number of flights and passengers, as well as the increasing size of aircraft themselves, Sharjah International Airport appointed design and engineering firm Parsons to project manage an AED1.5 billion expansion that will allow the facility to handle 25 million passengers by 2027. Parsons will oversee designs, site preparation, and the supervision of the construction and the handover of the first phase of the project on a contract worth AED58 million. In an interview with the press, Ali Salim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Airport Authority, said the project would “provide one of the most architecturally distinctive landmarks in the Emirate." The project is also expected to improve the current travel options to and from Sharjah, as well as promote economic growth and job creation. The expansion project is expected to begin in summer 2017.

Sharjah International Airport opened a AED500 million airport runway to increase capacity in 2014. This newest runway accommodates large and next-generation aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing B747-8 Intercontinental and B747-8 freighter. As well, the airport launched 16 “smart" gates in both arrivals and departure halls, with two new facilities for disabled passengers.

WAVE MAKER

Sharjah is home to three deepwater logistics facilities: Port Khalid, Khorfakkan, and Hamriyah Port. Port Khalid contains 12 deepwater berths with container and loading services as well as shipping facilities. The port provides two 573m container berths with depths of up to 11.5 meters. The berths are equipped with two loading and unloading cranes that can handle all types of import and export cargo.

Khorfakkan Port has enjoyed increasing importance in recent years, providing shipping companies the opportunity to shorten distances, reduce costs, and avoid the risk of passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The port is over 14m deep and contains two berths of 430m. The berths are equipped with two 41-ton capacity cranes and winches, as well as a 180-ton capacity transport helicopter for manual loading and unloading.
Hamriyah Port is Sharjah's third-largest facility, which offers services to oil and gas tankers from fields within the Emirate. The port is capable of accommodating some of the world's largest natural LNG tankers, with depth of 15m.

The Emirate's state-of-the-art logistics infrastructure was showcased at the Sharjah Business Summit 2017, organized by Gulftainer, the world's largest privately owned independent port operator. Co-hosted by its logistics subsidiary, Momentum Logistics, the event was supported by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), Sharjah Municipality, Sharjah Ports Authority (SPA), Hamriyah Free Zone, and Sharjah International Airport Free Zone (SAIF Zone). The summit took place in May 2017. Innovations featured at the event included Gulftainer's land bridge for the integration of ports and logistics offerings with seaports and inland container depots, Sharjah Municipality's new cargo-clearing procedures, and SPA's customs clearance e-portal. “It was a great success. We gathered seven government entities that are a vital part of Sharjah's economy," Gulftainer CEO Dalgaard told TBY. Participants received insight into the cooperation opportunities between private companies and government entities. “We all concurred that we want to work together and improve the way we do business in Sharjah. It is not only about Sharjah, it is about improving the collaboration across the whole of the UAE," Dalgaard concluded.