Aviation in the United Arab Emirates focuses on the huge hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with the new Dubai World Central set to take center stage at some point in the near future. Yet when planes first started stopping in the area on their east-west journeys across the British Empire, a small outpost that is now part of a residential complex in central Sharjah was the passenger terminal of choice.

In 1977, a new airport opened a little farther east, boasting better facilities than Dubai Airport, which had opened in the 1960s. But that's where the progress seemed to end. The new Sharjah Airport became a busy cargo hub with a few passenger services mostly to regional destinations.

Air Arabia brought new fortunes to Sharjah in 2003 when this new low-cost carrier (LCC) opened its headquarters there, linking cities all around the Middle East as an alternative to the dominance of Emirates Airline out of Dubai.

The stimulus of having such a fast-growing airline based at Sharjah has led to services from other carriers and a growing airport as a result. It handled more than 11 million passengers in 2017, marking consistent year-on-year growth since 2001 when around 860,000 passengers used the facility.

UAE Innovation Month has been taking place in Sharjah in February where, at the Smart Travel Initiative event, Ali Salem Al Midfa, chairman of Sharjah International Airport Authority (SIAA) spoke of the work being undertaken to expand the airport for the future.

First and foremost, the strain being put on the passenger terminal is being addressed to expand the facility in several phases and projects, which will include the ability to handle up to 20 million passengers per year. The road network will also be expanded and improved, with a new bridge to ease traffic flow.

"Sharjah International Airport's growth has been driven by the success of inbound tourism industry and Air Arabia, headquartered in Sharjah," said Shaikh Faisal bin Saud Al Qassimi, director general of SIAA. "The airport's proximity to Dubai and the main highways connecting the country's seven emirates has made it a convenient hub for both business and leisure travelers."

However, it seems some announcements have had to be clarified by the airport over the past week. Many news outlets reported a new arrivals building at Sharjah would arrive in April this year. The Khaleej Times and several other sources reported Wednesday that the building, with self check-in kiosks and advanced parking facilities, would be opening soon.

However, Sharjah Airport was forced to deny claims that there was "going to be a new terminal." The expansion work previously announced, set for a number of phases, would only begin this year with no date set for completion.

Talking about UAE Innovation Month, Al Qassimi added: "Through our participation in the UAE Innovation Month, we are showcasing the most innovative initiatives and projects being implemented by us. One of the displays is a video presentation on our smart travel initiative, which provides an easy and quick travel experience for travelers passing through Sharjah International Airport."

Travel to the UAE is at record levels, with Dubai International reporting 88.2 million passengers in 2017. It makes sense for Sharjah Airport, which is only 25 kilometers away, to capitalize on its facilities and create capacity to handle some of that demand and attract new carriers on top of its important Air Arabia base.