Dubai airport history

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Construction

A model of Dubai Airport as it looked in 1959
Dubai Airport fire station and terminal/control tower seen from the landside, early 1965.
The first jet aircraft to land on the new runway at Dubai Airport in 1965 was a Comet from Middle East Airlines.

Construction of the airport was ordered by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, in 1959. It officially opened in 1960 with its first airfield, at which time it was able to handle aircraft the size of a Douglas DC-3 on a long runway made of compacted sand. Three turning-areas, an apron and small terminal completed the airport that was constructed by Costain.

With the expansion of the Airport Fire Services it was necessary to find more suitable accommodation and a hangar style building was made available to them at the end of 1976. This was located midway between the runway ends to facilitate efficient operations. A new building was also constructed to house the Airport Maintenance Engineer, Electronics Engineering section and Stores unit. Expansion of the Airport Restaurant and Transit Lounge including the refurbishing of the upper level and the provision of a new kitchen was completed in December 1978.

In May 1963 construction of a asphalt runway started. This new runway, alongside the original sand runway and taxiway opened in May 1965, together with several new extensions were added to the Terminal Building, hangars erected, Airport and Navigational aids were installed. The installation of the lighting system continued after official opening and was completed in August of that year. During the second half of the 1960s several extensions, equipment upgrades like a VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) and an instrument landing system (ILS) as well as new buildings were constructed. By 1969, the airport was served by 9 airlines serving some 20 destinations.

The inauguration was on 15 May 1966 and was marked by the visits of the first big jets of Middle East Airlines and Kuwait Airways Comets.

The advent of wide body aircraft a need for further airport development in the 1970s which had already been foreseen by the Ruler of Dubai and plans for a new Terminal, runways and taxiways capable of coping with international flights. The construction of a new terminal building consisting of a three-storey building 110 metres long and included an enclosed floor area of 13,400 square metres. A new 28 metre control tower was also constructed.

Expansion continued in the early 1970s including equipment, lengthening existing runway to, installation of a non-directional beacon (NDB), diesel generators, taxiways, etc. This work made handling the Boeing 747 and Concorde possible. Several runway and apron extensions were carried out through the decade to meet growing demand. (DXB) Information: Airport in Dubai Area, United Arab Emirates

The new precision category 2 Approach and Runway Lighting System was commissioned. The construction of the Airport Fire Station and the installation of the Generators were completed in December and was fully operational in March 1972. The ruler also commissioned and inaugurated the Long-range Surveillance System on 19 June 1973.

The next phase of development was the second runway, which was completed three months ahead of schedule and opened in April 1984. This runway, located 360 metres north of the existing runway and parallel to it and is equipped with the latest meteorological, airfield lighting and instrument landing systems to give the airport a Category II classification. Also several extensions and upgrades of terminal facilities and supporting systems were carried out. On 23 December 1980 the airport became ordinary member of the Airports Council International (ACI).

During the 1980s, Dubai was a stopping point for airlines such as Air India, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and others travelling between Asia and Europe that needed a refuelling point in the Persian Gulf. This use was made redundant with the advent of longer-range aircraft introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s such as the Airbus A340, the Boeing 747-400 and the Boeing 777 series aircraft, which had the range to fly between Europe and Southeast Asia nonstop.


1937 – 1940

The history of Civil Aviation in Dubai started in July 1937. An Air Agreement was signed for a flying boat base for the aircraft of Imperial Airways with rental of the base at about 440 Rupees per month – this included the guards’ wages. A landing fee of 5 Rupees was charged for each landing, later increased to 10 Rupees.

The Empire Flying Boats started operating once a week flying east to Karachi and West to Southampton, England. On the Westbound route, a night stop was made at Alexandria in Egypt, with Rome the next morning and Southampton in the afternoon. Passengers were than taken by train to Waterloo Railway Station which was the last stop included in the airline’s schedule. In February 1938, there were 4 flying boats a week.

1940 – 1950

The ‘Horseshoe’ route from Durban to Sydney via the Gulf was established. By the end of 1944, BOAC was operating 8 flying boats a week. January 1947 saw the last of the ‘C’ class flying boats operating the Horseshoe route through Khartoum, Luxor, Cairo, Kallia (Dead Sea), Habbaniya (Iraq), Basra, Bahrain, Dubai and Jiwani to Karachi.

1950 – 1960

In 1959 the Ruler of Dubai, H.H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, made arrangements for the siting, construction and equipping of a Civil Airport. The first phase of the original project consisted of the construction of a compacted sand runway with turning circles at each end and an additional turning circle approximately two thirds of the way along the length of the runway to lessen the amount of back tracking.

Also constructed was a taxiway and aircraft apron capable of accepting aircrafts up to the size of a DC3. At the same time, the Terminal Building and Fire Station were built. The layout of the airport was planned in such a way that it would allow for future expansion. The area chosen for the airport was located 2.5 miles from the centre of Dubai with the 6000 feet long runway in a, seemingly endless, flat and hard gravely surface with a few low sand dunes and patches of coarse vegetation surrounding it.

1960 – 1970

The official opening of the new Airport took place at the hands of the Ruler on September 30, 1960 and operation commenced with Herons and Dakotas. Initially the airport was open from 0700 a.m. to 1300 p.m. local time plus the acceptance of scheduled movements outside these times. This was later increased to 0700 a.m. to 1900 p.m. local time with a further increase to 18 hours per day from April 1961, which subsequently led to continuous operation some years later.

The Ruler had always intended to construct an all weather asphalt runway and this was finally decided upon in 1962. Work commenced in May 1963 and the 2,804 metre (9,200 feet) long runway was laid alongside the original sand runway. There were turning loops at each end, a width of 46 metres (150 feet), and the runway was designed to take aircrafts such as the Comets which were in current use at that time.

Extensions were added to the terminal building, hangars erected, airport and navigational aids were installed. Work on installation of the airfield lighting was mainly done after the official opening of the runway and was completed on 28th August. During the later stages of the work on the runway an extension to the terminal building was also constructed, the major part of which was rushed to completion in time for the inauguration.

Meanwhile a transmitter building and radio receiving station, each exactly half a mile of either side of the terminal building were completed in May 1965. An extension to the radio equipment room was added under the tower and the original viewing balcony was converted into a two-room office for administration. After the completion of the runway a new navigation direction building was constructed being completed by the end of August. It was sited 6,000 feet from the threshold of runway 30 on the extended centre line. As there was no power to this site a 4kw Lister Diesel generator was purchased to supply power and was introduced on 5th February 1966.

The first big jets of Middle East Airlines and Kuwait Airways Comets were welcomed at Dubai International with pomp and celebration on the 15th May 1965 following upgrades in navigation equipment. There was an aerobatics display by a Royal Air Force Hunter to commemorate the occasion.

A new Departure Lounge was added to the original terminal in October 1968 and a hangar for receiving freight was also constructed at that time. Aircraft parking problems necessitated enlarging the apron to the West providing an area of 600 by 300 feet consisting of subkha and bitumen on a compacted base. A new instrument landing system was ordered in 1968 and the equipment finally installed early in 1970.

The advent of wide bodied airlines created a need for further airport development in the 1970’s which had already been foreseen by the Ruler of Dubai and plans for a new Terminal, runways and taxiways capable of coping with international flights were already in hand.

A contract for sterling 4.1 million was awarded and the excavation of the foundations for the new airport terminal building commenced on April 15, 1969. The resulting three storey building was 110 metres long and encompasses an enclosed floor area of 13,400 square metres. At the western end of the building a single storey control block was sited with the 28 metre Control Tower. The lower level of the main building was originally given over to operational and servicing facilities and contained baggage handling, kitchens, employee changing rooms and cafeteria and a 1000-sqm area was allocated as stranded passenger accommodation.

1970 – 1980

In November 1970 an additional Pound Sterling 2.7 million contract was finalised for the reconstruction of the runway, a new taxiway and the installation of new airfield lighting. Work on the runway and taxiway was commenced in December 1970. All runway work plus the greatly improved lighting system was completed by the end of November 1971. Most importantly, this major reconstruction, including resurfacing the whole of the original runway, was carried out without any traffic diversions. The runway project included a 3,300 feet Eastern extension of concrete which was completed on 25th June 1971 and work on the strengthening and concrete overlaying of the Western end was commenced. This work was completed on 22nd November 1971 and the full length of 12,500 feet runway and taxiways were brought into use.

At the same time the new precision Category 2 approach and runway lighting system were commissioned. The construction of the airport fire station and the installation of generators were completed in December and were fully operational in March 1972. The resting of the ILS glide path, associated markers and the navigation direction building were also carried out and were back in full operation by this time.

The new international air terminal building, apron and link taxiway were officially opened by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai, on May 15, 1971. A squadron of RAF Hunters gave an impressive air display. The completion of this project allowed Dubai International to accept Jumbo and Concorde services with the terminal capable of handling 1,200 people in air-conditioned comfort.

The formation of the Department of Civil Aviation on 18 March 1971 was another indication of the increasing importance of Dubai as a major aviation centre. The Department was made responsible for the granting of traffic rights and operating permission to airline operators.

At the end of December 1971, the Dubai Air Traffic Control Unit assumed the responsibility for the 23 miles radius control zone. Sheikh Rashid inaugurated the long-range surveillance system on June 19, 1973. A first among the AGCC countries, it demonstrated the airport’s concern for the safety of passengers and aircrafts.

The increase in aircraft movements each year created a growing need for aircraft parking space and to meet this need the main apron was extended eastwards in 1973 and a further extension, also eastwards, was constructed in 1976. A new taxiway link with runway 30 was completed in 1977.

With the expansion and modernisation of the Airport Fire Services it was necessary to find more suitable accommodation. Therefore a hangar style building was made available at the end of 1976. A new building was also constructed to house the airport maintenance engineer, electronics engineering section and stores unit. Expansion of the airport restaurant and transit lounge including the refurbishment of the upper level and the provision of a new kitchen were completed in December 1978.

Taxiway ‘Bravo’, which was not included in the original runway reconstruction layout, was, nevertheless, in constant use and, because of this, it was necessary to strengthen the pavement to meet the needs of large aircraft. The reconstruction of this taxiway was completed in 1979.

1980 – 1990

Repairs to the runway extension were carried out in February and March 1981, which involved 965 metres of asphalt overlay commencing at the threshold of runway 12. This work was completed 50 days ahead of schedule and the project also included the installation of CATI approach lighting and an advanced instrument landing system to serve runway 12.

Six new taxiways, including three for high-speed turn off operation, were incorporated into the design of the new runway. Within the scope of this phase of development was the construction of two new Fire Stations, a network of access roads for security and operational vehicles and the laying of underground cables for telephone and remote systems.

The next phase of development was the second runway, which was completed three months ahead of schedule and opened in April 1984. Located in parallel, approximately 360 metres north of the existing runway, the runway was equipped with the latest meteorological, airfield lighting and instrument landing systems to give the airport a Category II classification.

On 23rd December 1980 Dubai International joined the International Civil Airports Association as an ordinary member.

A Master plan for the development of the Airport over a 10-year period completed Phase 1 at the end of October 1980. This included the construction of four secure lounges with a capacity of 400 passengers each, the latest security devices, luggage X-Ray equipment and walkthrough detectors, a new medical centre with direct access for ambulances.

Additional apron parking for four Boeing 747’s complete with hydrant refuelling system, extra flood lights, a new 1.5-km taxiway also including a taxiway widening programme, additional hardstand area for aircraft handling services, a building to house the mechanics, porters, cleaners, Marshallers and a new cooling unit for the air conditioning system in the terminal building were also part of the project.

The construction of a new catering building capable of providing 12,000 meals per day was completed during 1980. The airport car park was enlarged to accommodate additional 350 vehicles, and was opened to public at the end of July 1982.

Renovation and improvements to the main level of the existing terminal building included a bank, post office, information centre, public telex and telephone services, Arabic culture exhibition, computer room, snack bar and lounge area. These facilities were completed and in use in March 1984.

1990 – 2000

The growth story of Dubai International continued during the 90s, with passenger traffic approaching 10 million in 1998, a growth of 125 per cent in the decade from 1988-1998. Dubai's focus on transforming itself into a global tourist attraction and the ambitious expansion plans of the national carrier Emirates Airline fuelled the growth of Dubai International. Traffic continued to rise, maximising capacity utilisation of the airport's single Terminal and spurring plans for major expansion projects.

Dubai International became a two terminal airport on May 1, 1998, with the launch of Terminal 2. Built as part of the first phase of a multi-million dollar expansion project, Terminal 2 increased Dubai International's capacity by 3 million passengers per annum and relieved congestion in Terminal 1.

Terminal 2 caters to scheduled, charter and special interest flights during special occasions. It is also home to Dubai’s budget airline flydubai, which launched operations on June 1, 2009.

The opening of the Sheikh Rashid Terminal, also known as Terminal 1, in April 2000 marked the opening 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 25 million.

2000 – 2010

In 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 established as the aviation hub of the Middle East.

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 not only expanded Dubai International’s capacity to 60 million, it won the airport accolades from passengers and the aviation industry worldwide.

Work is currently in progress at Concourse 3, which as part of the Terminal 3 complex will be for the exclusive use of Emirates Airline. Expected to be ready in 2012, the world’s largest A380-dedicated facility will increase Dubai International’s capacity to 75 million passengers.

Dubai Airports is also opening the first phase of Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International (DWC) for cargo operations in June 2010. Work on the remaining phases of the mega-airport will continue through the coming decade to give Dubai an unparalleled aviation infrastructure with capacity for 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo annually.

With 46 million passengers and two million tonnes of cargo projected for 2010 Dubai is fast emerging as one of the fastest growing major hubs and is ranked among the world's top 5 airports in terms of international passenger and cargo traffic. Passenger traffic at Dubai’s airports is expected to reach 98 million by 2020 while cargo will increase by 48 per cent to surpass 3 million tonnes by 2015.



A brief chronological history of Dubai International

1959: Dubai International was established following the construction of the first airfield on a vast expanse of a wasteland some four kilometres from what was then the edge of the city. The humble facility consisted of an 1800-metre compacted runway, an apron area, a terminal building and a fire station.

1960: The airport was opened and was capable of handling aircraft up to the size of a DC-3.

1969: Dubai International accommodated nine airlines serving a total of 20 destinations. Ten years later, in December 1980 to be precise, the airport joined the International Civil Airports Organisation (ICAO) as an ordinary member.

1988: Passenger throughput at the airport increased was 4.3 million and 9.7 million in 1998.

2000: The opening of Sheikh Rashid Terminal, also known as Terminal 1, 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 25 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 established as the aviation hub of the Middle East.

2007: Department of Civil Aviation is restructured leading to the formation of Dubai Airports – responsible for the development and management of Dubai’s airport(s) and 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 not only expanded Dubai International’s capacity to 60 million, it 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 in 2009, and Dubai International becomes the world’s fastest growing airport among top 50 major hubs.

Work begins on Concourse 3, the A380 dedicated facility for Emirates’ super jumbo fleet. The facility is expected to be ready by 2012.

Terminal 2 undergoes major refurbishment for the launch of flydubai, Dubai’s own low cost airline.

2010: Dubai Airports prepares for the opening of the first phase of Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International (DWC) for cargo operations on June 27.

Today, Dubai International is one of the fastest growing major hubs and among the world's top 5 airports in terms of international passenger and cargo traffic.

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