Improved facilities and new flight connections could help Sharjah International Airport (SIA) build on growing passenger numbers.
SIA posted a 2.9% year-on-year (y-o-y) increase in passenger movements in the January-June period, when it registered 5.5m arrivals and departures, according to the facility’s operator, the Sharjah Airport Authority (SAA).
The airport also recorded 37,300 aircraft movements in the first half of 2017 – representing a 3.8% increase on the same period last year.
With a rise in air travel likely during the Eid Al Adha celebrations set to start at the beginning of September, SIA could top the 11.04m passengers it processed last year, as well as the 75,967 aircraft movements it handled.
Freight figures for the period were less positive, however, with 72,998 tonnes of cargo moved in the first half of the year, down on the 92,127 tonnes freighted in the same period last year.
Provisions for Hajj pilgrims
With the Hajj season confirmed as starting on August 30, the SAA has also made provisions to accommodate pilgrims travelling through SIA.
"The authority has been working – long before the Hajj season – to increase the number of operating teams in the airport and assigning additional staff to facilitate the travel procedures for the pilgrims," Sheikh Faisal bin Saoud Al Qasimi, director of SAA, told media earlier this month.
SAA’s preparations have also included setting up three reception halls for pilgrims using the international airport, as well as allocating travellers the facility’s smart gates for passport clearance.
The smart gate system was installed in October last year to facilitate swifter passenger processing times. The 16 gates effectively replace border control workers and allow for eligible passports to be read by machines that process personal information and biometric data using high-resolution cameras and scanners.
A total of 850,000 passengers passed through the gates in their first nine months of use, with processing time reduced to just 20 seconds for fully enabled passports, though first-time travellers utilising the system have to undergo a retina scan for their data to be logged.
The electronic gate system is being implemented throughout the UAE’s airports and entry points, and is available to nationals and residents, as well as citizens from the GCC and a number of other countries with compatible passports.
Moves to speed up passenger clearance across the emirate’s border will certainly be of benefit given the recent increase in the number of flights to Sharjah, with international airlines either adding the emirate to their rosters or putting on additional flights.
Earlier this month, for example, Indian airline SpiceJet announced it would be flying direct into Sharjah from Biju Patnaik International Airport in the state of Odisha on India’s eastern seaboard.
Sharjah-based Air Arabia is also moving to increase services to Oman, adding two flights a week to the existing four services to the port city of Sohar at the beginning of August.
While there are currently 17 airlines flying into SIA – either passenger or freight carriers – an increase in routes could support further revenue growth for the local carrier.
Air Arabia posted a Dh158m ($43m) profit for the second quarter, according to a statement issued on August 7, representing a 21% y-o-y increase and well above market expectations. The company said it carried more than 2m passengers during the quarter with an average load factor of 79%.
Meeting higher demand for private aviation
An SAA announcement from mid-July suggests that SIA will also start catering to the luxury segment of the travel market, with the operator announcing it will be undertaking the construction of a dedicated terminal for private aircraft.
Two agreements have been inked between SAA and UK-based Gama Support Services to build and operate the $30m private jet terminal, and to provide ground-handling services.
The new 40,000-sq-metre terminal complex will include hangers, lounges, duty-free concessionary areas and a standalone passport control area. The project also covers the construction of taxiways and aprons, car parks and a refuelling point.
Ground will be broken on the project after final planning and design work is undertaken, though no definite completion date has been set.
The new terminal will help meet the growing demand for private aviation facilities in the region, helping to raise Sharjah’s profile in the sector, Sheikh Faisal told media last month.