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Sun 8 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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Grand plans

Fujairah International Airport is aiming high, with a plan to boost air cargo throughput fivefold in the next five years.

Fujairah International Airport is aiming high, with a plan to boost air cargo throughput fivefold in the next five years.

The year 2005 appears to have been a relatively quiet one for Fujairah International Airport. According to Airports Council International, passenger and cargo throughput stood at 35,887 passengers and 22,129 tonnes respectively, year on year declines of 7.4% and 13.3%. The number of aircraft movements totalled 8217, a fall of 10.3% on the year before.

Those numbers could be about to increase dramatically, however, if Dr Khaled Al Mazroui, general manager of Fujairah International Airport, and his bosses at the emirate’s Department of Civil Aviation have their way. In five years, they hope to increase passenger numbers to a whopping one million annually and to boost cargo throughput to at least 100,000 tonnes per year. “I’m looking forward to a very successful future for the airport and my challenge is to make this airport achieve very good profits,” says Al Mazroui.

There are several reasons why this provincial airport has set itself such ambitious growth targets. One is the federal structure of the UAE, which gives each emirate considerable control over its own economic affairs. “In terms of management and finances, each emirate is responsible for running its own airport,” explains Al Mazroui. “That has created competition between the airports, as well as ports and free zones.”

The timing of the move, however, is entirely down to developments in Fujairah. Due to its location on the UAE’s east coast and its distinctive geography, the emirate has always had considerable tourism potential. With several new hotels on the way and rising numbers of visitors both from inside and outside the UAE, that potential is now being more fully exploited.

Fujairah is also one of the world’s major fuel bunkering locations and plans to increase its capacity further under plans unveiled by Vopak Horizon Fujairah earlier this year. The Fujairah Free Zone Authority (FFZA) is planning to create its own logistics park and has already reserved around 100,000 m² of land near its head office for the first phase of the project.

When operational, hopefully by the end of the year, the facility will accommodate 200 business units. Longer term, the authority is planning to develop another zone in the Al Thouban area, which is 50 kilometres closer to Dubai. Professor Philbert Suresh, chief knowledge officer of TransLogistique Canada, a logistics services company, says: “This emirate has tremendous potential as a logistics hub.”

The signs point to a rosy economic future for the emirate of Fujairah, but the airport is not pinning its hopes on this factor alone. Another reason for setting such ambitious cargo and passenger targets is the construction of a new six lane highway that will link Dubai and Fujairah. Upon completion in around two years time, the road should cut the two hour travel time between Dubai and Fujairah to forty minutes.

Al Mazroui envisions taxis, coaches and trucks moving passengers and cargo back and forth between Dubai and Fujairah’s airport. Cargo companies, he says, will use the airport because of its superior customer service and competitive rates. Passengers will be attracted to Fujairah by cheaper tickets, and extra factors such as better availability of seats on busy routes and greater baggage allowances.

“People will be able to reach Fujairah from Dubai in forty minutes, which is the normal time it takes someone in a Western country to travel from their house to the airport,” says Al Mazroui. “[The highway] will help both cargo and passenger movement.”

Whilst much of Fujairah’s future plans revolve around increasing passenger numbers, the airport will not forget the importance of cargo. Air freight accounts for around 90% of its current movements, something that is clear from the number of Soviet freighters visible on the airport’s apron and outside its cargo facilities.

“Around 80% of cargo traffic is outgoing cargo and the rest is incoming,” the general manager explains. “We have many, many charter flights operating to various destinations. The cargo is general cargo: furniture, fruit, vegetables, cars, appliances, electronics and others. It comes from seaports and airports, both in Fujairah and elsewhere, and is re-exported.”

Cargo clients, he says, like Fujairah’s combination of competitive rates, responsiveness and availability of capacity. “We’re a small airport and that gives us the unique advantage of being able to treat everyone as a VIP,” Al Mazroui says. “We can provide manpower and equipment at any time.

“Another thing that is important is we have very competitive landing, groundhandling and parking charges. Airlines operate on a commercial basis and when they operate from Fujairah, they feel they are making extra profit.”

The relative success of the airport’s cargo operations is one of the main reasons why it is reaching the limit of its capacity. A shining new passenger terminal has been built in anticipation of future developments, but plans for a new apron at the airport are driven by current realities. “We have now reached a stage where we have no places to park the aircraft,” says the general manager.

The new apron, on which work should start about now, will double the number of planes the airport can concurrently handle to 30. Planning for a new cargo village is in the early stages and work on the facility will begin when the new apron approaches completion.

The airport currently has annual cargo capacity of 40,000 tonnes. The new cargo village will have to have at least 2.5 times that amount to meet the airport’s stated target of 100,000 tonnes annually by 2011. Alongside the expanded cargo village, construction of a new air traffic control tower is expected. A new, fully automated catering building is definitely on the agenda and a new taxiway alongside the current 3750 metre runway is under consideration to cope with the anticipated increase in aircraft movements.

The airport’s security has already been reinforced by a 16 kilometre fence and a new vehicle entrance. The airport is covered in closed circuit TV systems and is making use of biometrics to control access and movement.

Around AED 70 million was invested in the construction of the new passenger terminal and another AED 70 million is being sunk into the new apron. Around AED 25 million has been set aside to upgrade the airport’s groundhandling equipment and the figure required to build the new cargo village and tower is still to be decided. “The funding comes partly from the airport and the government,” says Al Mazroui. “Every five years, we will review our masterplan and invest based on that as well as the current traffic movements.” The airport, he says, covers its own running costs and turns a profit.

Fujairah International Airport has come a long way since it started operations in October 1987. The airport now handles around 25 movements per day, compared with one departure approximately every five days back then. Those figures will prove to be just a drop in the ocean if the emirate’s ambitious plans come to fruition.

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