DXB - Chronological History

Dubai has grown from a relatively unknown city with a tiny airport mainly used as a refuelling stop into a globally celebrated destination for tourism, trade, finance and aviation within a matter of decades. DXB’s rise has been nothing short of phenomenal.

To put DXB’s growth rate into perspective, consider this: DXB reached the major milestone of having served 1 billion passengers by the end of 2018. The airport took 51 years – from September 30, 1960 to December 31, 2011 – to reach the first 500 million passenger but clocked the remaining 500 million in just 7 years.

Having risen to the top of the list of the world’s busiest international airports in 2014 with passenger traffic exceeding 70 million, DXB has since extended its lead over the competition to further cement its position. DXB topped 86.4 million passengers in 2019.

DXB currently has capacity for 90 million passengers per annum, which is being increased to more than 118 million by 2023 under a process enhancement project.

Combined passenger traffic at Dubai’s airports (DXB+DWC) is expected to increase to 120 million by 2025.

A brief chronological history

  • 1959: Work to build ‘Dubai airport’ began on a vast expanse of a wasteland some 4km from what was then the edge of the city of Dubai.
  • 1960: The airport comprising a sand compacted runway and a small terminal building was opened on September 30 and was capable of handling aircraft up to the size of a DC-3.
  • 1963: Work to build an asphalt runway began. It's opened in 1965 with numerous other newly built or refurbished facilities.
  • 1969: DXB accommodated nine airlines serving a total of 20 destinations.
  • 1970: The 70s witnessed many developments across DXB, starting with a new three-storey terminal building, a new control tower, additional taxiways, lengthening of the runway, extension of aprons, airfield lighting and landing instrument.
  • 1980: On 23 December 1980, DXB became an ordinary member of the Airports Council International (ACI).
  • 1983: Dubai Duty Free began operations at Dubai International. From an annual turnover of US$20m in its inaugural year, DDF has grown to acquire the status of the world’s single largest airport retailer with a turnover of US$1.93b in 2017.
  • 1984: The second runway, equipped with the latest meteorological, airfield lighting and instrument landing systems to give the airport a Category II classification, was opened in April 1984.
  • 1985: Emirates airline is launched.
  • 1988: Passenger throughput at the airport increased was 4.3m and more than doubled in a decade to 9.7 million by 1998.
  • 1998: Terminal 2 was opened, increasing DXB’s capacity by two million passengers per annum.
  • 2000: The opening of Concourse 1 (now Concourse C), marked the start of a new chapter in Dubai’s aviation history. Built as part of the first phase of the general expansion project at a cost of AED2 billion, the Terminal increased the Airport’s capacity from 10 million to 23 million.
  • 2002: Dubai International was ranked the second fastest growing airport in the world according to Airports Council International (ACI) traffic statistics. The facility handled around 18 million passengers in 2003 and was firmly established as the aviation hub of the Middle East.
  • 2007: Department of Civil Aviation is restructured leading to the formation of Dubai Airports –operator of Dubai’s airports – alongside Dubai Civil Aviation Authority – the local aviation regulatory body.
  • 2008: Dubai Airports opened the much-awaited Dubai International Terminal 3 for the exclusive use of Emirates airline. The flawless opening of the world’s largest single terminal expanded Dubai International’s capacity to 60 million and won the airport accolades from passengers and the aviation industry worldwide.
  • 2009: Passenger throughput surpasses the 40 million-mark with traffic reaching 40.9 million and DXB becomes the world’s fastest growing airport among top 50 major hubs. Work begins on Concourse 3 (now Concourse A), the A380 dedicated facility for Emirates’ super jumbo fleet. Terminal 2 undergoes major refurbishment for the launch of flydubai, Dubai’s own low-cost airline.
  • 2010: Dubai Airports opens the first phase of Dubai World Central (DWC) for cargo operations on June 27.
  • 2013: Concourse A, the world’s largest facility purpose built for the A380 opens at DXB.
  • 2014: DXB welcomes 70.4m passengers in 2014 to become the world’s number 1 airport for international passenger traffic.
  • 2016: Concourse D, a $1.2b facility that serves some 70 international airlines operating out of DXB’s Terminal 1.
  • 2018: DXB welcomes its one billionth international passenger.
  • 2019: DXB retains title of the world’s busiest airport for international passengers for the 5th consecutive year with 89.1m passengers in 2018.
  • 2020 – Operations at DXB are partially suspended on March 25, 2020 as part of measures by UAE authorities to combat the spread of Covid-19.
  • 2020 – DXB becomes one of the first major hubs globally to reopen on July 7, 2020 after partial suspension of operations on Match 25 (special flights, repatriation operations and cargo flights continued throughout).
  • 2020 – DXB celebrates 60th Anniversary
  • 2021 – DXB retains its position as the world’s busiest international airport for the seventh consecutive year with passenger traffic of 25.9m in 2020.
  • 2021 – DXB achieves Airport Health Accreditation from ACI for its health, safety and hygiene regime.
  • 2021 – DXB is voted as the world’s best international airport for the first time by readers of the Business Traveller.
  • 2021 – Dubai Airports in collaboration with Dubai Health Authority and Pure Health open a 20,000 square-foot lab capable of processing 100,000 PCR tests per day on June 22, 2021. One of the world’s largest in-house lab at an airport, the facility can process PCR tests within hours.