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Sharjah (SHJ)

Sharjah - a name to set any airliner fan's heart racing. This place really is a Mecca, and you can't call yourself a real enthusiast unless you've made the pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime! It's not the busiest airport in the world by any means (bring a book), but sheer quality is what's given Sharjah its well-deserved reputation. CIS aircraft abound, particularly propliners (the An-8 was rediscovered here after many years of being thought 'extinct'), as well as other vanishing breeds such as the venerable Boeing 707. As for operators, these are exotic to say the least, and the chances of you even having heard of more than a handful before are slight. Where else in the world could you see aircraft registered in such places as Angola, Liberia, Kyrghyzstan, Sao Tome, Central African Republic, Congo, Cambodia and Equatorial Guinea all in the same place at the same time?!

There's no public transport to the airport, but taxis are plentiful from Sharjah city (about 20 dirhams), or you can hire a car and take in some of the other airports in the area, too.

As well as just being able to see all these stunning aircraft, Sharjah offers one of the best opportunities in the world of actually being able to photograph them. The authorities have long recognized the attraction that such things have in the minds of a certain segment of the population, and airside photo passes are easily obtainable. These allow you a full day of almost total freedom (within obvious safety limits) to wander around the various ramps and photograph whatever you like. The only downside of all this is that you have to pay for the privilege (currently 200 Dirhams per day, about 40GBP), but most people would agree that this is a small price to pay for the end result.
Actually getting a photo permit can be a little time consuming and complex, but well worth the trouble. As of my last visit the procedures were as follows:

  1. Send a letter to:
        The Airport Manager
        Sharjah International Airport
        P.O. Box 8
        Sharjah, U.A.E.
          (Fax +00 971-65-581167),
    stating your wish to take photographs, and the date(s) you plan to visit. Ideally you should do this as far in advance of your visit as possible, to allow for an acknowledgement to be sent to you (a fax number will help), but this is not essential. It is possible to just turn up without any prior warning and get a permit, but this is not recommended - at the very least this will involve you spending a lot more time hanging around waiting for the right people to sign the right forms.
  2. You will need some passport-type photos (three, I think) and a copy of the pages in your passport showing your general details and your entry stamp to the UAE (and visa if you have one). Although it's probably possible to get this done at the airport it's very much easier and a lot cheaper if you ensure you have these before setting out.
  3. When you arrive at the airport, walk along behind the check-in desks (the way in is on the left-hand side) and down the corridor at the end. Very soon you'll find a door on the left, with a sign on it saying something like 'Security Passes', from where everything is handled. Just go in, let them know who you are and what you want (which should be pretty obvious!), and follow the instructions. There are a few forms to fill in and be stamped, after which you go back to the main terminal area where you pay, and then wait (usually 30 min's to an hour) before going back to pick up your highly coveted pass. Enjoy!
Sharjah is divided into a number of distinct ramps and other areas where photography is possible:

a) The terminal area is used for all passenger flights and some of the freight movements. There are only a few gates at the terminal itself, so most aircraft park on the large ramp adjacent to this.

RA-82003 UK-76427 EX-7504 EK-65831 AP-BDR
RA-82003
Titan Cargo An-124
UK-76427
Krylo Il-76
EX-7504
Star Airlines Il-18
EK-65831
Armenian Air Lines Tu-134
AP-BDR
PIA F-27

b) The cargo apron is possibly the busiest part of the airport, as Sharjah has developed into a major freight hub. Both Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines are frequent visitors, sometimes with as many as 3 or 4 daily flights each. Most of the other movements are from various CIS carriers (particularly with Il-76s), often taking cheap duty-free goods back from the Middle East.

EL-JNS T9-CAB RA-75449 UN-85742 YA-FAU
EL-JNS
SkyAir Cargo Boeing 707
T9-CAB
Phoenix Il-76
RA-75449
Ramaer Il-18
UN-85742
Jana Arka Tu-154
YA-FAU
Ariana Boeing 727

c) Continue on past the military helicopter base on the left (the one area which you are not allowed to photograph) and you come to a third ramp. This seems to be used mainly for maintenance of the larger aircraft types, some long-term parking, and a few more obscure freight services.

YA-DAA RA-11363 RA-11003 EP-ALB XU-229
YA-DAA
Ariana An-12
RA-11363
Transaero Samara An-12
RA-11003
An-12
EP-ALB
Atlas Air Il-76
XU-229
Yana Airlines Il-62

d) The final ramp is probably the most rewarding, as it is here that you tend to find the real exotica (if you thought you hadn't seen enough already!). This is the main maintenance area, particularly for propliners, and some quite amazing machines can be guaranteed to be found here.

S9-CAP 3C-ZZO N104BB UK-11109 EL-AKY
S9-CAP
YS-11
3C-ZZO
Bismillah Airlines An-8
(N104BB)
Canadair CL-44
UK-11109
Uzbekistan An-12
EL-AKY
Santa Cruz Imperial An-8

e) Once you've finished looking at all the ramps the best place to go is the fire station, between the main and the cargo aprons. This is the closest point to the runway, so is obviously the best place for monitoring and photographing whatever movements there are. An An-12 on the runway needs a 300mm lens, but anything going past on the taxiway to or from the terminal area will be easily photographed with a much shorter lens.
And just to show what a great airport Sharjah is, it doesn't really matter what the wind direction is, and the sun is behind you pretty much all day. Heaven!

UN-86068 UR-11316 RA-85687 RA-65126 RA-85814
UN-86068
Kazakstan Airlines Il-86
UR-11316
Motor Sich An-12
RA-85687
Sibir Tu-154
RA-65126
KMV Tu-134
RA-85814
Ural Airlines Tu-154

Wrecks and Relics

Just beside the road opposite the military ramp is a small collection of rather sorry-looking Cessna twins. Exactly why they're here is a bit of a mystery - they can't really be fire training machines as they're in the wrong place for that purpose. However, one of these aircraft has now been preserved near the fire station, as a kind of gate guard.

5B-CDL JY-DCA N6746X   (N6746X)
5B-CDL
Cessna 320
JY-DCA
Cessna 310
N6746X
Cessna 310
  (N6746X)
Cessna 310
 

Warning: Sharjah can be very hot, even in the cooler winter months, and you need to protect yourself against this if you don't want to suffer from severe sunburn or heatstroke. Remember to use plenty of sunblock, wear a hat (good wide-brimmed ones are easily and cheaply available in the market areas in Dubai, and probably in Sharjah too), and carry a large bottle of water with you. Luckily there is a drinking water machine in the fire station near the toilets - just ask one of the firemen where it is.

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Last visited on 20 January 2001 Top of page
 
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Maps

Click on the icons below to see maps relating to Sharjah airport. Note that these are all external links to other sites, and will open in a new window.

Area Map  
General map of the Sharjah area

Courtesy of:
Maps by Expedia.com Travel
maps.expedia.com

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Links

Sharjah International Airport (official)
Very reasonable site - easy to navigate and some useful information. Includes such things as general facts, figures and information about the airport and Sharjah itself, airport facilities (for passengers), airlines, movement statistics, and a potentially quite useful timetable of all scheduled passenger and cargo flights - whether they'll actually turn up as advertised is an entirely different matter, though!

1st Spotters WWW
Click on the 'Photo Gallery' section of this awesome site to find a good selection of some very nice shots taken by the author at Sharjah (and elsewhere in the UAE), as well as various other airports around the world.

Lee's Aviation Home Page
A section of the main page, with a small sample of some great aircraft taken during a previous visit by the author. The quality could be better, but anything taken at Sharjah's worth a look!

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