Book launch marks Dubai Airport's soaring success

Dubai International Airport

By Abbas Al Lawati

In 50 years Dubai International Airport has gone from having a candlelit landing strip serving 10,000 passengers a year to one of the world’s busiest hubs serving 47 million passengers annually.

Dubai International AirportA new book on Dubai civil aviation, Civil Aviation in Dubai – History and Future 1937-2020, was launched on Wednesday recounting the city’s aviation history and the role it played in making Dubai a global aviation hub.

Its author, Gassan Amhaz, spent six years researching the topic and has launched it in time for Dubai airport’s 50th anniversary.

“I was given access to rare pictures by the late royal photographer Noor Ali Rashid that have never been published,” he said.

The most surprising finding during his research, said Amhaz, was that the late ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, had been planning to create a Dubai based airline since 1962.

“He had ambitions to make Dubai a global aviation hub since 1962, but the plans didn’t work out,” he said.

The first flight landed in Dubai in 1933 when Britain’s Royal Air Force chose Dubai as a location for maintenance stops for its planes.

“Back then, the range of planes was about 200 to 300 km only so the military needed various places to be able to refuel, and it chose Dubai as one of them,” he said.

Ras Al Khaimah, however, was the first in what became the UAE to receive a flight in 1930.

The first civilian flight landed in Dubai in October 1937, carrying 17 people, mostly British businessmen from the UK via Karachi. “The flight would go to Sharjah and Bahrain too,” said Amhaz.


Amhaz said the research gave him an insight into Shaikh Rashid’s business acumen as well as the challenges he faced in financing the project and finding an appropriate location for it.

“When Shaikh Rashid was building Dubai airport, he was asked why it was so big. Shaikh Rashid responded that in four years it would be considered small, and that did happen,” he said. The old airport, he said, lay approximately 300 metres from today’s airport. “At terminal 1’s gate 13, actually,” he said.

Shaikh Rashid, he said, realised the potential of Dubai in becoming a global hub which led him to build a transit hall with 400 beds.

“He also widened the airport and eventually added an asphalt runway to convince airlines to send bigger planes and increase their flight frequency to Dubai. Back then, the only airlines that flew here were Gulf Aviation, Middle East Airlines, and BOAC, the precursor to British Airways,” he said.

By the 1980s, Dubai had lured 50 airlines to fly to the city. Today, 130 airlines fly here, said Amhaz.

The book is available in Arabic and is expected to be translated into English this year.