Middle East region is the most important region when it comes to the air cargo fraternity. Be it airports of the region or airlines, they play a dominant role in the air cargo sector. One such airport that has scripted a success story in the cargo industry is the Sharjah International Airport. Serving the emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, the airport is considered as a key cargo hub in the Middle East region with five cargo terminals, catering to freight demand not only of the region but from around the world. It serves around 100 destinations in the Middle East, North Africa, the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia and Europe.

Growth with hiccups
Though Sharjah Airport is an important airfreight handler, bad days have adverse effects on everyone and the airport is no exception. “With the worldly trend, Sharjah is also experiencing a drop of tonnage volume to a tune of six to seven per cent month on month. This could be for many reasons of which the economic downturn experienced from November 2014 are yet to be seen picking up. Air cargo volumes in our view have been suffering since the last year,” said head of cargo for Sharjah Airport.
Sharjah has a capacity to manage over 700,000 tonnes a year. The airport handled 314,424 tonnes of cargo in 2012, 262,671 tonnes in 2013 and 237,250 in 2014. This is surely a positive sign.

Expanding destinations, Eyeing Africa
Though the air cargo volumes have suffered, the airport’s optimism has not been affected and they are quite upbeat with their expansion plans. “Sharjah actively serves Europe, Africa, Indian subcontinents and Middle East wherein the majority of the volumes are moved to airports within these countries. Africa has been witnessing some tremendous growth and we are happy to be part of the African business serving our customers through Sharjah operations, opening new destinations within Africa,” said the spokesperson for the airport.
India has always played an active role promoting traffic over Middle East both by air to air and sea to air. “We as Sharjah do share a part of this through the hub and spoke operation of Air Arabia and few charters who actively promote this concept. This in our view will continue through the passenger flight capacity from Indian Subcontinent to Middle East serving as transhipment to other destinations.”

Proud to handle all commodities
Sharjah Airport prides itself in managing all commodity through its facility of which perishable for the local market consumption through its hub carrier Air Arabia plays a major role. Pharma is a growing market for many airports, Sharjah being one of them. “Our present facility do cater to the requirement of our customers while an indepth study is being conducted aligning both our process and facility to its extended demand,” the spokesperson added.

Infrastructure development
Infrastructure is a key to growth of any airport and Sharjah Airport has invested a lot for infrastructural development. In the recent past, it has invested in different modern cargo equipment and infrastructure e.g. ULD X-ray machine, Truck Dock, Freezers / Chillers, special dangerous goods location and RA3 warehouse among others. “We have a fleet of over 2,000 modern technology GSE equipment’s including a fleet of Trepel Champ 350 main deck hi-loaders, with 35 tonne lifting capacity adding value while we serve our customers,” shared the head of cargo division.

Smart strategy in the competitive environment
According to IATA, the Middle East is forecast to be the fastest growing region in air cargo market. To enhance its competitiveness, Sharjah Airport is aiming to improve quality and widen the services it offers. “Middle East has always been a transhipment business projected market while local consumptions and demand are less when compared. With the Expat working crowd almost at each of the Middle East locations or most of all of them served through the national carrier do have a good level of cargo capacity promoting local terminating and transhipment cargo,” the senior official stated.
In March 2014, the airport started e-AWB and e-Clearance which is a part of the global initiative to modernize its processes and keep abreast in today’s ever changing business world. “We always aim to give the best quality of service to our customers. Speed, efficiency, safety, reliability and cost effectiveness are Sharjah’s USPs that our customers enjoy. We are flexible and responsive to their needs and we make every effort to exceed their expectations,” he said.

Plans for 2015
The year 2015 seems to be challenging and economic downturn is expected to continue, which will affect the business. However, the hopes are highs. “2015 will be a challenging year for all with the downturn expected while we are hoping our processes and services will attract customers while they choose preferred airport,” he concluded.

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