DIA and History

Dubai International Airport, in a very short span of time, has grown from an airfield into an aviation hub. The development is the result of the far sighted visions of the late ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

Today, not only is it one of the fastest growing airports in the world, it is also recognised as the aviation hub of the Middle East. It now stands at the threshold of being among the top 10 airports in the world.


Dubai International Airport was established in 1959 when the late Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, ordered the construction of the first airfield. Located only 4 kilometres away from the city centre on a wide, level expanse of gravel and hard sand, the site was chosen not just for its proximity to town but also with future expansion in mind.

The initial airfield consisted of a 1,800 m compacted runway, an apron area, a small but adequate terminal building and a fire station.

Opened in 1960, the new airport was capable of handling aircraft up to the size of a DC-3.

The present day

From 9 airlines serving some 20 destinations in 1969, Dubai International Airport has grown to accommodate 107 airlines connecting to over 160 destinations in 2004.

Anticipating the travel demands of the 21st century, the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation had launched a US$540 million expansion programme in 1997 which was designed to turn Dubai International Airport into an even more user-friendly and efficient airport. This phase of expansion culminated with the opening of Sheikh Rashid Terminal in April 2000.


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.

In 1940 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.

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 original project consisted of the construction of a compacted sand runway with turning circles at each end 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 were a taxiway and aircraft apron capable of accepting aircraft up to the size of a DC3. At the same time the Terminal Building and Fire Station was 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 being 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.

With the expansion and modernisation 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.

The official opening of the new Airport took place by the Ruler on 30 September 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 such aircraft as the Comets which were in current use at that time. Composition was of 3”, high load bearing asphalt on a 12.5” sand cement and compacted sand fill base. At either end this was increased to 14.5” to take the extra load of landing aircraft.

One taxiway in front of the tower was provided, 23 metres (75 feet) wide, LCN 75, and 1,800 feet from the threshold of Runway 12. The final layer of asphalt and the runway marking was completed in May 1965.

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 were 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 built, being 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 original Navigation Direction Building sited behind, the Fire Station was replaced by a new Redifon Dual Beacon. Further to this a Wilcox 485 VOR System was installed in August 1985.

The inauguration was on 15th May 1965 and was marked by the visits of the first big jets of Middle East Airlines and Kuwait Airways Comets. There was an aerobatics display by a Royal Air Force Hunter and numerous other visiting flights to commemorate this occasion.

A new Departure Lounge was added to the original terminal in October 1968 and a hangar for receiving freight was also constructed at this 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 15th April 1969.

The resulting three storey building is 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 is sited with the 28 metre Control Tower rising from this. The lower level of the main building was originally given over to operational and servicing facilities and contained baggage handling, kitchens, employees changing rooms and cafeteria and a thousand square metre area was allocated as stranded passenger accommodation.

In November 1970 an additional Sterling 2.7 million contract was finalised for the reconstruction of the runway, a new taxiway and the installation of new airfield lighting throughout. 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 being necessary.

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 of runway and taxiways were brought into use.

At the same time 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 resting of the ILS Glide Path and associated markers and Navigation Direction Building were also carried out and were back in full operation by this time.

New International Air Terminal Building, Apron and Link Taxiway at The Dubai Airport were officially opened by the Ruler of Dubai H.H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum on 15th May 1971. A squadron of RAF Hunters gave an impressive air display, which was watched by the Ruler and prominent guests.

The completion of this project allowed Dubai Airport 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 now 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.

The Ruler inaugurated the Long-range Surveillance System on the 19th June 1973. The first of its kind in the area demonstrated the Airport Authorities concern for aircraft safety.

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 and a new taxiway link with runway 30 was completed in 1977.

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.

Repairs to the extension runway 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 a Wilcox Instrument Landing System to serve runway 12.

Six new taxiways have been incorporated into the design of the new runway three of which are for high speed turn off operation. Within the scope of this phase of development were 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. This runway is 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.

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

A Master plan for the development of the Airport over a 10 years 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 walk through detectors, a new Medical centre on the ground floor with direct access for ambulances, additional apron parking for four Boeing 747’s provided with hydrant refueling 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.

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, being completed 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.