Emirates Celebrates 37th Anniversary: Restores 90% of Pre-Pandemic Route Network

Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

LONDON – This week saw Emirates celebrate its 37th anniversary, with Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum announcing that 90% of its pre-pandemic route network has been restored.

The airline has had quite an intense 12 months, which has featured the reopening of Dubai as a tourist and connecting hub, as well as hiring over 6,000 flight attendants in that period too.

More to look at is the fact that in 37 years and a single flight to Karachi, the airline has been able to expand into a global phenomenon that connects millions every year.

The Last 37 Years…

Photo Credit: Emirates

In 1984, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the 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 of that year, a comprehensive business plan was ready, and the name “Emirates” was chosen for the new airline.

In March 1985, Maurice Flanagan was tasked with the ambitious mission to launch an airline in 5 months with $10 million in 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.

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.

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

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

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

In 1992, Emirates led the way for inflight entertainment, becoming the first airline to install video systems in all seats in every cabin class throughout its fleet.

Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

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

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

By 1993, Emirates becomes the first airline to introduce telecommunications on an Airbus – in all three classes.

A year later, the airline became the first airline to equip its Airbus fleet with an inflight fax facility for customers to stay in touch while in the air.

1998 was the year when the carrier chose to diversify by taking a 43% stake in Air Lanka, now known as SriLankan, which included signing a 10-year management contract.

In the same year, Terminal 2 opened up in Dubai, which expanded the capacity and market share offering for Emirates to an extra two million passengers per year.

By 1999, going into 2000, the carrier was handling around 4.7 million passengers using a fleet of 32 aircraft.

Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource

2000 was the beginning of the airline’s glory years, when they placed the first order for the Airbus A380, initially ordering seven, with options for five more.

By 2005, the carrier was ordering more airplanes, more notably from across the pond through its deal with Boeing for 42 777s, valued at $9.7bn at that time.

Terminal 3 in Dubai opened up in 2008 and became the dedicated terminal for the carrier. This terminal saw 500,000 passengers travel through a month after opening.

In 2014, the airline moved its cargo subsidiary, Emirates SkyCargo, over to Al Maktoum International Airport, following its opening back in 2010.

By 2013, the world’s first Airbus A380 concourse was built at Dubai International Airport, which expanded its capacity offering to 75 million passengers per year.

By 2019, the carrier placed an order for 30 Boeing 787-9 aircraft worth $8.8bn as part of the next stage in fleet renewal for the carrier.

Photo Credit: Karam Sodhi/AviationSource

In 2020, during COVID-19, the carrier became the largest international airline, having handled 15.8 million passengers in that year.

If we look to the present day, the carrier has handled 19 million passengers in 2021-22 and serves 152 destinations using its fleet of 262 aircraft.

Restoring 90% of Network…

The announcement of restoring 90% of its route network came via an announcement from Sheikh Ahmed, who was thanking his staff for a successful 37 years:

“We have restored more than 90 percent of our network, more than 80 percent of pre-pandemic seat capacity, and all of our Boeing 777s (151 aircraft) and more than 70 A380s are now in service.”

“The Fiscal Year 2021-22 was the year of recovery for Emirates Airlines, where we managed not only to restore our capabilities but also increase our future potential. We expect to return to profitability in the current financial year. We are looking forward with optimism to the future”.

“37 years ago today, Emirates started its journey with a single flight to Karachi. The airline was small back then, but its ambitions were large. And soon enough, it grew to become a global leader in the aviation industry, and we’ve never lost that pioneering spirit.”

“To the entire Emirates family – past and present – I give my eternal thanks for the hard work, perseverance, and passion that has made us who we are today. The journey towards greatness never stops.”

Photo Credit: Kyle Hayes/AviationSource


It remains clear that Emirates is getting ever so close to some form of normal pre-pandemic reality, especially with the new routes they are launching as well as restarting in some cases.

As more A380s get activated, the capacity offering will continue to increase, which will mean more passengers handled, more revenue, as well as a greater chance of profitability.

Either way, all eyes are on Emirates to get themselves back to the top once again in the Middle East and in the rest of the world too.

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