Interview: Ali Salim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Airport Authority

How does Sharjah’s geographic location influence the emirate’s role in regional and international transport and logistics networks?

ALI SALIM AL MIDFA: The strategic position of the UAE, and Sharjah within it, plays a pivotal role in bridging eastwest transport routes. Since 1932 Sharjah has been a critical centre in aviation corridors, with airlines traversing from Bahrain through Sharjah to Muscat, Amman and beyond. This geographic advantage facilitates connections between east and west and serves vital north-south linkages.

To maximise the benefits of this location, Sharjah has been continually enhancing standards to meet the diverse requirements of travellers and airlines from different regions. This presents key opportunities for airports and airlines to cater to varied needs. However, the vision in the UAE, and particularly in Sharjah, is focused on meeting and surpassing the expectations of visitors and investors. The emirate is committed to updating and upgrading infrastructure to align with these requirements. This commitment extends to enhancing our international and local prominence by highlighting Sharjah’s advanced facilities, thereby meeting the standards and expectations of both passengers and airlines.

What role does Sharjah International Airport play in regional air cargo and passenger transport?

AL MIDFA: In terms of passenger traffic, Sharjah International Airport (SIA) has regained its preCovid-19 -pandemic levels, with a notable increase in the number of passengers. In 2023 it is anticipated that arrivals will surpass 14m, marking a significant jump from the previous year. The cargo segment has seen a roughly 21% rise, which is substantial, particularly as airlines shift from exclusive cargo services to integrating cargo in passenger airlines. This creates a unique niche where a considerable amount of cargo is transported in the belly of passenger aircraft.

To what extent do infrastructure investments and expansion projects contribute to growth in air cargo and passenger transport segments?

AL MIDFA: Since the initiation of a multi-phase scheme in 2018, SIA has embarked on significant expansion and development projects to accommodate an increasing number of passengers each year. The initiative includes upgrading the terminal building and enhancing road network connectivity to facilitate easier access for passengers. Parking facilities are also being upgraded, and the terminal’s capacity is being expanded. The ability to handle greater passenger throughput than the current capacity is a testament to effective collaboration with stakeholders, including airlines, immigration, police, Customs and handling companies.

In what ways have technology and digitalisation impacted the efficiency and competitiveness of transport and logistics operations?

AL MIDFA: Technology and digitalisation are no longer optional but essential for modern airports. At SIA, technological advancements are evaluated in order to ensure they are tailored to meet specific needs. From the outset of any development project, all relevant parties are involved in discussions to determine the technological requirements across various operations, including passenger, luggage and aircraft handling. The focus is on meeting security standards and airline specifications while also enhancing the passenger experience.

Adoption of smart technology includes paperless processes, online check-ins, self-service baggage drop and self-tagging systems. Smart gates at immigration facilitate efficient processing and reduce the need for human interaction. Consistently upgrading technology, including self-boarding systems, boosts efficiency and reduces staff workload, allowing them to concentrate on other critical areas of operations.