Department of Civil Aviation, Abu Dhabi in Dubai Directory
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Abu Dhabi International Airport has a history that actually dates back to 1929, when British Royal Air Force flying boats began using Abu Dhabi s sheltered coastal waters as a base. Since the early 1960s, oil has fuelled Abu Dhabi s spectacular development, and it continues to be the main engine of its economy. Recent estimates calculate the emirates recoverable reserves to be in the region of 92.2 billion barrels – the fourth largest in the world, and sufficient to permit production of more than two million barrels per day well into the twenty-second century. Gas reserves at more than 20 trillion cubic metres are the third largest in the world. Before the discovery of oil, it was a very different story: the emirate was little more than a coastal trading community – but home to one of the biggest pearling fleets in the Gulf. Human settlement in the Abu Dhabi region stretches back several thousand years and Abu Dhabi was one of the major powers in south-eastern Arabia during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Following World War II, the emirate fell into economic depression but its fortunes changed dramatically with the discovery of oil, which it began exporting in the 1960s. The history of aviation at Abu Dhabi dates back to 1929, when early flying boats operated by the British Royal Air Force used the sheltered coastal waters offshore from what is now the modern city of Abu Dhabi as their base. More aircraft movements followed, including other RAF machines which used a landing strip on Bani Yas Island off the coast for fuelling facilities. By the late 1930s, a long stretch of salt flats to the south of Abu Dhabi was considered suitable for aircraft, and was established as an RAF base. The same airstrip was later used in the mid-1950s by oil exploration teams, and later again for the air services operating on behalf of the offshore oil projects. By this time, the aerodrome had become an established part of everyday life in Abu Dhabi – the landing strip marked by discarded oil drums, with regular patrols to divert stray camels from wandering on to the runway! In the late 1960s, a new airport was built in Al Bateen district, which in the ensuing decade became Abu Dhabis first international airport, complete with a hard-surface runway and purpose-built terminal building catering to pioneering airlines, such as Gulf Air and BOAC. By the time the airport was completed, progress and prosperity in the region was gathering pace and the Abu Dhabi township had become a city, its limits creeping out towards Al Bateen. By the end of the 1970s, it was clear that another airport would be required, further away from the business and residential areas – and equipped to handle the passenger and cargo volumes for the generations to follow. The present airport was opened on the mainland in 1982, close to the trunk route linking Abu Dhabi with Dubai, about 30km from the now fast-expanding city. Designed by Aérports de Paris, the architects responsible for Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, the new Abu Dhabi International Airport was built to cope with a maximum of five million passengers a year. By the mid-1990s, however, further expansion was necessary and the terminal building was enlarged to accommodate increasing numbers of business and leisure travellers – a large number of them in transit between Europe and the Far East .