The government has approved the budget for the expansion of the Sharjah International airport, according to Adil al-Ali, CEO of Air Arabia.

The planned expansion will take the airport capacity from 8 to 25 million passengers annually.

Sharjah International processed more than 11 million passengers in 2016, a rise of 10.5 per cent over the previous year.

Ali said work on the airport expansion could start this summer.

The Sharjah Civil Aviation Authority is the client for the airport expansion project.

The US’ Bechtel and UK’s EY were previously appointed as consultant and financial advisor, respectively,  for a masterplan that includes increasing the airport’s passenger capacity to up to 25 million passengers annually by 2025.

Sharjah International is the main hub of Air Arabia, the UAE’s first low-cost carrier.

Ali said he remains optimistic about future growth of aviation despite the economic slowdown induced by low oil prices. According to Ali, there is no reason to be concerned about slowing demand because of the Mena region’s young population as well as the region’s catchment area, which is within short flying distance of the world’s most populous and fast-growing regions.

The executive, however, suggested work needs to be done in decongesting the skies as well as in keeping the skies “truly open” by allowing more airlines access to airports. “Full open skies is a must now [in order] to expand regional growth,” Ali said in his keynote presentation at the ongoing Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) conference in Dubai. “Unless these agreements are implemented we will continue to limit the growth of airlines in countries with big populations.”