Over the next three years, Fujairah International Airport will treble in size to reinforce its position in the Middle East cargo market.
Hidden within picturesque mountains, the dreamy and relaxed emirate of Fujairah has been steadily plotting its rise to become a cargo hot spot.
Through an approximate US$30 million investment package, its airport is planning to treble in size over the next three years, exemplifying the ambitious scale of the emirate's development plans.
Presently, 90% of Fujairah International Airport's aircraft movements are devoted to the cargo sector. Keen to continue this focus, the airport also hopes to diversify into new markets and further cement its reputation both in the UAE and the greater Middle East region.
"During 2007 we recorded very healthy growth, with overall aircraft movements growing by 27% compared to 2006 and cargo growing by 25%. Bearing in mind that Fujairah airport does not have a national carrier like many other airports in the region do, then this level of growth can be considered very high indeed," says Dr Khaled Al Mazouri, general manager, Fujairah International Airport.
"The number of aircraft we cater to at the airport has been rapidly increasing and during 2007 there were times when we did not have enough space available for them all. At one point we had 91 aircraft on the airport's apron and had a number of requests to handle more planes," he illustrates.
To help combat this problem, only two months ago the airport opened a new maintenance facility capable of accommodating a minimum of 12 different-sized aircraft.
Supporting the move, an agreement was signed with the France-based Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) company, Europe Aviation.
The MRO provider is able to cater to Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s, allowing the facility at Fujairah to strengthen its handling capabilities for western aircraft operators.
"We are beginning to concentrate more on western aircraft rather than focus on eastern ones."
"The airport has witnessed an increase in the number of Boeing and Airbus aircraft using the facilities and we are trying to attract new clients to use the location as a technical stop for long haul flights between Europe and Asia," notes Dr Al Mazouri.
Development plans will continue to proceed at full steam at the airport over the coming months.
The current apron area will be expanded specifically for cargo purposes and on completion a free zone area will be developed adjacent to the facility.
A new cargo-handling structure will complement the extension, which, while significantly increasing the airport's overall capacity, will offer greater levels of technology.
Finally, the airport will build a new Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower, which will house near to 100 offices for resident airlines. This will also complement plans to expand its passenger offerings and the airport also hopes that private carriers will elect to launch services out of Fujairah on its completion.
"The new cargo tarmac area will be able to accommodate around 30 additional cargo aircraft. To support this, the new cargo complex will be larger in scale, technology and handling capability than the existing facility. It will be almost completely fully automated and should be operational by 2009," indicates Dr Al Mazouri.
"We in fact only handle 25% of cargo at the existing cargo complex. The rest is rented out to companies and we are therefore limited with what we can do there. The forthcoming complex, however, will be leased and custom built to the requirements of each company. It will include offices and will have space either side to expand if need be," he adds.
The new hub will also include a specialised perishables handling area and a designated hazardous goods area. Currently, hazardous goods play a prominent role in the airport's operations, with a large amount of ammunition and military cargo passing through on a regular basis during 2007.
"I would say we are one of the specialist ground-handling airports for dangerous goods in the region," Dr Al Mazouri says.
Aside from military planes, the airport is home to a range of carriers, including the Russian airfreight operator, Volga Dnepr. In recent times, Fujairah International Airport has adopted a number of incentives designed to attract a greater variety of companies to its growing facilities.
"We persuade companies wanting to operate in the UAE to let us become their local agent on the condition they use Fujairah airport for 70% of their operations. By doing this they avoid the additional expenses that accompany local sponsorship and benefit from the support of our government," illustrates Dr Al Mazouri, "As a result we have developed a number of long standing relationships with airlines, with many having operated here longer than when I first joined the airport in 1991."
With an average of 60 flights a day rising even further during peak periods, 80% of all cargo flights are geared towards exports.
With sufficient space and a large presence of eastern-style carriers such as Antonovs and Ilyushins, the airport's outsized cargo capabilities speak for themselves.
On the whole, however, it is general cargo, such as electronics, appliances and furniture, that are handled on a daily basis at the Fujairah facility.
A solid business plan is required to triple the size of an airport in three years and Dr Al Mazouri is confident the construction of a new highway between Dubai and Fujairah will offer the means by which the facility's growth will be sustained.
Reducing the existing route of 130km to just 77km, the road promises to enhance both cargo and passenger business between the two emirates.
"Dubai is considered the commercial capital of the UAE and the new highway has unlimited potential for our cargo and passenger operations. We will have a better opportunity to promote the airport, attract more business and develop Fujairah as a tourist destination," says Dr Al Mazouri.
Yet cynics would be quick to point out that around the same time the highway opens and Fujairah airport's three-year US$27.2-million expansion plan is complete, Dubai will possess one of the largest airports on the planet in the form of the Dubai World Central project. Such a formidable rival raises the question: is the UAE market strong enough to support such a wealth of airport facilities?
It is clear that Dr Al Mazouri strongly disagrees with this assessment.
"The airports in the UAE are in many ways like a family. The new airport at Dubai will be like a new child and if it turns out to be famous and successful, then the world will become aware of the family it comes from," he explains.
"The UAE's aviation growth has so far surpassed all expectations and looks set to only continue. Each emirate will claim its own piece of the market and I am absolutely confident that with the developments we have set in place, Fujairah will only complement the projects in Dubai. In my opinion, the UAE is living in the golden age of aviation," he concludes.
Areas of expansion: Cargo apron will be expanded to accommodate 30 additional aircrafts.
Free zone will be developed adjacent to the expanded cargo apron.
Brand new custom-built automated cargo complex.
New air traffic control tower complete with over 100 airline offices.
Target: To raise handling capacity at the airport to over 100,000 tonnes.