The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula. Being ruled by a branch of the Al Qasimi family since the early 1700s, Sharjah is one of the lesser-known emirates, despite the fact that others such as Abu Dhabi became independent much later in history. Only a few kilometres from rivaling Dubai, it is economically and tourism-wise less important, which might also be due to its very strict no-alcohol policy. Yet, it had long been a cargo hub for the region with dozens of old Soviet transport jets populating Sharjah Intl. Airport (IATA: SHJ, ICAO: OMSJ) at any given time. Unfortunately these days have passed, as some aircraft were banned due to their poor safety record, while a new star on the Sharjah skies appeared – budget airline Air Arabia. Nevertheless the Sharjah Airport International Free Trade Zone (SAIF Zone) located next to the airport provides a good environment for freighter services and some companies like Lufthansa Cargo still maintain a stronghold at the airport, although alternatives such as Al Maktoum International Airport (Dubai World Central) are an option. This might also be due to the fact that Sharjah city center is 10km and Dubai city center only 15km away from the airport.
The aircraft boneyard
Many airlines came and went, but some airframes staid behind. Those that are left to rot have long been a popular sight for aviation geeks from around the world. The airport once offered cheap ramp tours that were enjoyed by enthusiasts, but with increasing prices, higher safety burdens and less exotic traffic demand has died down and they are not being officially offered on the airport’s website anymore. This is what is left.
These two aircraft are probably the best-known at the airport and have been photographed frequently in the past (or at least until nobody came to visit anymore). They are located in the far west of the field, but there is more to explore!
Although its headquarter was in Abu Dhabi, MIDEX Airlines mainly operated from Sharjah with a fleet of Boeing 747-200s and Airbus A300s. They started flying in 2007 and even planned on passenger service, but in the end only ran freighters to Europe, Asia and around the Middle East. In 2012 only one destination was left (Kabul, Afghanistan) and the airline finally closed down completely in 2015. Of its three 747s none are operational anymore, while one A300 survived and is currently active in Georgia for The Cargo Airlines (former A6-MDA is now 4L-ABA). Most other aircraft are kept in the boneyard of SHJ.
Another surprise is an Aerospace One Boeing 747-200 with Greece registration SX-ASC. I am not sure if it belongs to the same Aerospace One company that can be found online, offering services in the India-Asia-Middle East region (such as cargo charters or flights for Tajik Air). However, this aircraft is not going anywhere soon… Sad end after roaring the skies in the colours of Martinair, Virgin Atlantic, Girjet and others.
Another business model at the airport seems to be the storing (and maintenance?) of Mil Mi-8 helicopters! Many of them are parked in one corner of the airport and I wonder what the plan for those is?
The cargo ramp at Sharjah Airport is located just to the west of the passenger terminals. It has 13 parking positions, but nowadays many are unoccupied. Nevertheless the occasional Russian transport jet can be seen and Singapore Airlines Cargo as well Lufthansa Cargo still operate scheduled services. The flights can also be seen on the airport’s website departure and arrival board!
One of my best videos was also partially filmed at SHJ Airport! Take a closer look at the airport and a typical flight on the Lufthansa Cargo MD-11F from Sharjah to Hong Kong:
Here are some more impressions from the cargo ramp!
Air Arabia was the first low-cost airline in the Middle East and has become very successful since then, with subsidiaries in Egypt Jordan and Morocco operating all under the same brand. The airline only operates Airbus A320 aircraft with more than 40 flying for it, mostly from Sharjah to the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Even though it started flying 6 years earlier than its competitor FlyDubai, it has since been outgrown by it.
While I still remember seeing exotic aircraft like a Sudan Airways Airbus A300 (unfortunately no photo), traffic has become more “standard” recently. Only very few airline frequently operate to SHJ and many flights take place at night hours. Most flights accommodate workers looking for cheaper options than flying Emirates. Here is a selection of airlines that can be seen from time to time.
Please note that photography of aircraft, airports and so on is not strictly legal in the UAE and will be enforced differently by the various emirates and airports. Sharjah is rather welcoming (remember the ramp tours), but caution has to be exercised. The airport only has limited viewing facilities from the terminal. One option is a public park to the east of the airport which is suitable for views on aircraft approaching to land on runway 30.
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