Challenging times for Sharjah but efficiency on the up

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This year has been a challenging one for Sharjah Aviation Services as even the Middle East has seen a slowdown reports Justin Burns.

Head of cargo at Sharjah International Airport, Gonzalo Jacob explains it has been tough due to soft markets, while the sea-air business has “almost disappeared” but despite this feels there are interesting prospects if you remain flexible.

Jacob says generally speaking, perishable products and healthcare are the growing cargo sectors, with perishables out of the Indian subcontinent and specific African market segments are performing well.

Sharjah is planning on investing, Jacob explains: “The year 2016 has seen us investing in new infrastructure, such as a new dedicated temperature-controlled centre for healthcare products, specialised monitoring systems and ancillary equipment for TTC healthcare products.”

Jacob says in April Sharjah successfully completed an audit by the International Air Transport Association’s Center of Excellence for Independant Validators (CEIV) pharmaceutical certification and it has also achieved a first general handling agent (GHA) in the Middle East and Africa.

Jacob also notes: “We are in the last phase prior to roll-out completion of our NextGen Cargo Management System, which will pave the way for an all new era and approach to cargo handling systems, for both us, as users as well as our customers. Further IT related investments are expected for next year as well as facility enhancements to tweak existing capacity and services.”

Jacob feels air cargo has evolved in the last years, becoming more of an “opportunistic business”, with less steady flows and more single chances for quick, flexible providers, in all areas.

He adds: “Having said so, we seek to grow in all areas, especially enhancing our offering of bespoke services where there is growth, whatever that is, including e-commerce.”

Jacob says from the perspective of a GHA located in the Middle East, the biggest operational challenge is represented by the adverse climatic conditions, which one way or the other affect all regional operations for half a year, every year.

Sharjah is aiming to improve cargo handling such as in the unit load device (ULD) build-up and break-down of general/mixed cargo, which Jacob says does not offer much of the automation possibilities that would theoretically be possible.

However, he notes integration and automation of clerical and e-services will improve efficiency and customer satisfaction, while there is efficiency and process improvements to be made through IoT and e-freight.

Sharjah is in a competitive air cargo location, and Jacob says with no more than 12 kilometres between Sharjah and the region’s busiest airport, Dubai, work is definitely challenging, but as the distance itself shows, there is no remarkable distance so Sharjah is a “good, flexible alternative”.

He adds: “The development shown in the region, especially when looking at the market opening in Oman and Saudi Arabia has brought an otherwise unusual development for the region. Let’s see how it develops, but will definitely bring a new air.”