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Emirates then and now

Browse through snapshots of the important milestones on our journey to becoming the fastest growing airline in the world.
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The milestones in Emirates’ incredible journey

Review the key moments in our airline’s history and how we grew from modest beginnings to become a global aviation player recognised for our industry-leading products and services.


An airline is born

In 1984, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, then UAE Minister of Defence and a member of Dubai’s progressive royal family, asked Sir Maurice Flanagan, then managing director of dnata, to look into starting an airline.

By December that year, a comprehensive business plan was ready, and the name “Emirates” was chosen for the new airline.


A clear mission

In March 1985, Maurice Flanagan was tasked with the ambitious mission to launch an airline in 5 months with $10 million seed funding. He was told that the airline had to “look good, be good, and make money”. There would be no subsidies or aeropolitical protection under Dubai’s open skies policy.


First flights from Dubai
On 25 October 1985, Emirates operated its flights from Dubai to Karachi and Mumbai, using a Boeing 737 and an Airbus 300 B4 wet-leased from Pakistan International Airlines.


First owned aircraft

On 3 July 1987, A6-EKA flew from Toulouse to Dubai as Emirates took delivery of its first owned aircraft, an Airbus A310-304.


First destinations

In its first 5 years of operations, Emirates grew its network to 14 destinations

1985- Dubai, Mumbai, Delhi, Karachi, 1986- Amman, Colombo, Cairo, Dhaka, 1987- Male, Frankfurt, Istanbul, 1988- Damascus, 1989- Jeddah, Kuwait


Setting a new standard

Emirates leads the way for inflight entertainment, becoming the first airline to install video systems in all seats, in every cabin class throughout its fleet.


A new terminal at DXB
In 1992, Dubai International airport completed a major refurbishment, and Emirates moved into a new $2 million departure terminal.


First 777 order makes global headlines

Emirates’ order for 7 Boeing 777s with 7 options signalled its ambitions was a vote of confidence for the industry hard hit by the first Gulf War.


Pioneering inflight connectivity
Emirates becomes the first airline to introduce telecommunications on an Airbus – in all three classes.


Fax services in the sky
Emirates becomes the first airline to equip its Airbus fleet with an inflight fax facility for customers to stay in touch while in the air.


Emirates buys 43% stake in Air Lanka

Emirates Group takes a 43% stake in Air Lanka (later renamed SriLankan), and signs a 10-year management contract.


Terminal 2 opens at DXB
The new Terminal 2 opens at Dubai International, expanding capacity at the airport by 2 million passengers per year.


Dubai’s growth as an aviation hub

Passenger arrivals at Dubai international hit the 11 million mark.

That financial year (1999-2000), Emirates carried 4.7 million passengers on its fleet of 32 aircraft.


Routes added during the 1990s

By the turn of the millennium, Emirates had grown its global network to 50 destination cities

1990- Riyadh, Tehran, Singapore, Manila, Manchester, 1991- London Heathrow, Hong Kong, Beirut, 1992- Paris, Rome, Zurich, Jakarta, 1993- Dammam, Muscat, 1994- Nice, Larnaca, London Gatwick, 1995- Johannesburg, Nairobi, 1996- Athens, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, 1997- Dar-es-salaam, 1998- Malta, Peshawar, 1999- Islamabad, Lahore, Munich


Sheikh Rashid Terminal opens
The Sheikh Rashid Terminal opens, increasing the capacity at Dubai International to 22 million passengers a year.


First airline to sign up for Airbus A380

Emirates becomes the first airline to sign up for the Airbus A380, ordering seven with options for five more at the Farnborough Air Show.

The world’s largest commercial aircraft will become a flagship of the Emirates fleet over the next two decades.


The GBP100 million deal with Arsenal

Emirates signs a GBP100 million deal with English Premiership club Arsenal, including naming rights to its new stadium for 15 years and shirt sponsorship for eight years, starting from the 2006/07 season.

Renewed in 2012 and 2018, this is the longest running shirt partnership in the Premier League, and one of the longest relationships in world sport.


Largest Boeing 777 order in history

Emirates makes history with an order for 42 Boeing 777s in a deal worth $9.7 billion. This was the largest-ever Boeing 777 order at the time. Today, Emirates is the world’s biggest operator of 777 aircraft.


Emirates Terminal 3 opens at DXB
The Emirates-dedicated Terminal 3 saw 500,000 passengers depart from the facility within its first month of operation.


Emirates Flight Catering
Emirates Flight Catering begins operations at its new $120 million facility at Dubai International.


Routes added from 2000-2010

Expanding global network

2000- Bahrain, Sydney, Entebbe, Milan, Chennai, Birmingham, 2001- Dusseldorf, Hyderabad, 2002- Casablanca, Khartoum, Perth, Mauritius, Osaka, Kochi, 2003- Moscow, Auckland, Brisbane, 2004- Lagos, Accra, Shanghai, Glasgow, Vienna, New York, Christchurch, 2005- Seychelles, Seoul, Thiruvananthapuram, 2006- Abidjan, Hamburg, Kolkata, Addis Ababa, Beijing, Tunis, Bengaluru, 2007- Venice, Newcastle, Sao Paulo, Ahmedabad, Toronto, Houston, 2008- Cape Town, Guangzhou, Los Angeles, San Francisco, 2009- Durban, Luanda


Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International
Al Maktoum International airport opens at Dubai World Central, and welcomes its first commercial flights. Emirates SkyCargo moves freighter operations to DWC by 2014.


Emirates-Qantas partnership

Emirates and Qantas sign an extensive commercial partnership to give customers of both airlines seamless Australian and international network connections, exclusive frequent flyer benefits and world-class travel experiences.

The 10-year partnership goes beyond codesharing and includes integrated network collaboration with co-ordinated pricing, sales and scheduling as well as a benefit-sharing model.


World's first A380 concourse

Concourse A, the world’s first purpose-built A380 facility opens at Dubai International, expanding the airport’s capacity to 75 million per year.

Home to Emirates’ A380 fleet, Concourse A features dedicated Emirates First and Business Class lounges spanning over 19,000m 2, with direct boarding to the upper deck of the A380 aircraft.


Most valuable airline brand

Emirates is named the world’s “Most valuable airline brand”, and the Middle East’s most valuable brand by Brand Finance, with an estimated value of US$3.7 billion.


Emirates named world's best airline
Emirates is named the World’s Best Airline and receives 12th consecutive award for best In-flight Entertainment at Skytrax World Airline Awards 2016.


flydubai partnership
Emirates and flydubai announce strategic partnership, including an expansive codeshare agreement, schedule alignment and network optimisation.


Introducing the “game changer”

Emirates launches the world’s first fully-enclosed First Class private suites, with unmatched luxury and privacy.

This game changer, with design touches inspired by Mercedes Benz, was introduced in a global ad campaign fronted by TV celebrity and motoring expert, Jeremy Clarkson.


An order for 30 Boeing 787-9 aircraft

Emirates buys 30 Boeing 787-9 aircraft worth USD 8.8 billion at list prices at the Dubai Airshow.

This adds to its USD 16 billion Airbus A350 order, taking its total aircraft order at the Dubai Airshow to USD 24.8 billion.


A world record breaking flight

Over 540 volunteer passengers from 145 nationalities take off on Emirates flight EK2019, breaking the Guinness World Record for the most nationalities on an aircraft.

The historic A380 flight marks UAE National Day and the UAE Year of Tolerance, and showcases the diversity and unity of the citizen and residents of the UAE.


Routes added from 2010 to 2019

Connecting the world to, and through, Dubai

2010- Tokyo-Narita, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, Dakar, Medina, 2011- Basra, Geneva, Copenhagen, St Petersburg, Baghdad, 2012- Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Lusaka, Harare, Dallas Fort Worth, Seattle, Ho Chi Minh, Barcelona, Lisbon, Washington DC, Adelaide, Lyon, Phuket, 2013- Warsaw, Algiers, Tokyo-Haneda, Stockholm, Clark, Conakry, Sialkot, Kabul, 2014- Taipei, Boston, Abuja, Chicago, Oslo, Brussels, Budapest, 2015- Bali, Orlando, Bologna, Istanbul via Sabiha Gokcen Airport, 2016- Cebu, Hanoi, Yangon, Fort Lauderdale, 2017- Newark, Zagreb, Phnom Penh, 2018- London Stansted, Santiago de Chile, Edinburgh, 2019- Porto, Mexico City (from 9 December)


Emirates named the largest international airline
Emirates remains the largest international airline as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, carrying 15.8 million passengers in 2020.


The Emirates Pavilion
The Emirates Pavilion opens its doors to visitors at Expo 2020 Dubai, showcasing the future of commercial aviation.