A new 45 km jet fuel pipeline recently opened running between Sharjah International Airport and the Hamriyah Free Zone (HFZ). The line and associated 50,000 tonne storage facility at the HFZ are expected to further boost economic expansion in Sharjah and the other Northern Emirates.
The contract for the pipeline and storage unit was first signed in 2005. Designed by Mott MacDonald and built by Sharjah-based contractors, the pipeline and facility were constructed at a combined cost of $32m. The company Anabeeb, or "pipeline" in Arabic, was set up as a joint venture between the government and Air BP. Anabeeb will operate and maintain the pipeline, further cementing Air BP's presence in the emirate, which goes back to the 1930s. At present, BP Sharjah operates three gas fields, a processing plant, gas compression facilities and two liquid export terminals.
Air BP's jet fuel pipeline represents the emirate's next step in meeting the energy demands brought on by increased traffic at Sharjah International. The airport is one of the largest cargo and passenger hubs in the Middle East, third after the airports in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and is projected to grow. In 2006 Sharjah International saw a 36% increase in passengers, largely due to the expansion of Air Arabia, the region's first low-cost airline, which was established in Sharjah in 2004. The airport embarked on a AED227m ($62m) two-year expansion plan in 2005, increasing passenger capacity from 2m per year to 8m per year, and upgrading aircraft handling capacity to ten at a time.
Air BP is currently the largest fuel supplier to Air Arabia and holds 49% of a joint venture with Fleix Trading for Sharjah Aviation Services Company (SASCO), which manages the airport's fuel system and boarding services.
Air travel in Sharjah is speeding up, with new planes coming into the airport in addition to the new fuel services. At the Dubai Air Show on November 11, Air Arabia announced it was looking for up to 50 planes to add to its current fleet of 11 - a deal estimated to be worth over $3.5bn. Two days later airline officials signed a contract for 34 Airbus A320s with an option to purchase 15 more. The company aims to have more than 50 planes by 2015, in an effort to enhance its profile.
At the air show, Boeing was marketing its new smaller, fuel-efficient, wide-body aircraft, the 787. Despite the 787's features and its expected 1000 orders before the end of the year 2007, Air Arabia may not fill the rest of its fleet with the new aircraft, given that Air BP and Airbus have established an exclusive fuelling agreement for the A380, marketed as the world's biggest passenger jet. The opening of the pipeline is likely to further strengthen the relationship between Air Arabia and Airbus. Air BP also showcased its new environmentally friendly refueling vehicle, which is 100% emission free and runs off a 96 DC volt engine.
While it may not opt for the heavily marketed 'green' 787, the opening of the pipeline will reduce the number of fuel transport vehicles visiting Sharjah International by 50 per day, improving road safety and congestion issues, as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
At the official opening ceremony for the pipeline, Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed bin Sultan Al Qasimi, speaking on behalf of the Sharjah Petroleum Company, said the pipeline was "in line with our urban planning policies aimed at reducing road congestion and carbon dioxide emissions". He added, "The new facility is a highly strategic asset and will provide a solid growth platform for Sharjah's aviation sector and its flagship airline Air Arabia, while introducing internationally accepted safety and environmental standards for the emirate's people."