Air Arabia, the largest airline operating at the airport, is set to nearly double its fleet size over the next 5 years. What plans are in place to ensure that Sharjah International Airport can keep pace with the growth of Air Arabia?
HAJRI: We are very pleased that Sharjah International Airport is the home base of Air Arabia. This has provided the airport with tremendous growth in terms of passengers and movement. Throughout the past 5 years we have managed to improve our facilities and infrastructure. We have actually tripled the capacity of our terminal, which can now take up to 8m passengers per annum. Now we have plans to expand the terminal; we have already opened 25 new parking bays last year and this year the program is to extend the new runway, which will enhance the capacity of the airport. We have already developed the cargo side as well; we have added 10 cargo positions to the previous six, so we now have a total of 16, which will take us through 2018.
With Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai now open for cargo operations, how concerned are you that this massive facility will eventually attract cargo operators away from Sharjah? What competitive advantages does Sharjah International Airport hold compared to other facilities?
HAJRI: We feel that in the UAE all of the airports actually complement each other. Al Maktoum Airport is one of the strategic projects for the whole of the UAE, not just for Dubai itself. We believe that the added capacity will add traffic to the UAE. The UAE has always positioned itself as a trading hub. Because of the liberal policies and encouragement, many airlines have been attracted from all around the world and we saw tremendous growth in our airports. We actually expect that we will be able to complement each other because at the different airports we provide different services and different quality of services. Each airport here has its own strengths and weaknesses. Over time, we are all working to improve and upgrade our facilities and services. In the UAE, we believe that supply creates the demand. So we always have the right infrastructure to sustain potential growth in the future.
What were the most profound effects of the global economic downturn on operations at Sharjah International Airport?
HAJRI: There is no doubt that the global economic crisis affected us just like any other airport in the region. We are a trading hub and we depend on our trading partners to the East and the West. The issues in those parts of the world will affect the UAE because all of the traffic coming from the Far East or Europe passes through the UAE in order to service the markets around the UAE: not only the Middle East, but Africa and the CIS countries as well. We have realized a slowing in traffic and a decrease in the number of freighters into the UAE in general. Nevertheless we are still showing growth and that growth is evidence that our infrastructure is capable of meeting the requirements of the world and we are flexible enough to meet the requirements of our clients. We can still provide them with efficient service, safety, and reasonable costs in order to maintain their commitment to our airport.
How well positioned is Sharjah International Airport to capitalize on the changing landscape in the global aviation industry?
HAJRI: The aviation sector is one of the most efficient and fast developing industries in the world. We always see changes taking place in terms of the size and speed of aircraft and policies and regulations around the world. As we are a link in the chain of all of this we have to be flexible enough to meet the international and local requirements of the authorities. The authorities in the UAE are very keen to have the most efficient and safe operations, and they are capitalizing on the services we are providing in order to maintain a healthy, safe, and economically viable model. The flexibility and the modern management techniques we have throughout the UAE make us one of the leading countries in the world in air travel. The UAE is the only country in the world that is linked directly to all 6 continents.
In 20 years’ time the UAE’s 6 largest airports (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai, Al Maktoum, Sharjah, RAK) will have a combined capacity of over 300m passengers per annum. How would you respond to critics who say that such expansion will result in massive overcapacity?
HAJRI: As stated earlier supply will always create its own demand. We are aware of our own needs. People never thought we would have all of the world’s major airlines operating here or that we would be able to sustain low cost airlines. But we have succeeded in both of these because we know what we need and we are the ones that make the decisions.
In the UAE, we believe that supply creates the demand. So we always have the right infrastructure to sustain potential growth in the future.
Do you believe the current share price of Air Arabia is fair?
HAJRI: I think the share price of Air Arabia is not fair. The airline is the most successful in the whole MENA region and has operated at a profit since it started. We have grown very rapidly and we already have 2 hubs outside of the UAE. The potential for this airline is huge, so therefore, we believe it deserves much better than what is in the market right now.