Dubai International airport has entered a year of milestones. In September it will mark 60 years since it opened with a single terminal and compacted-sand runway on a salt flat in the desert, capable of handling aircraft up to the size of a Douglas DC-3.

In 2020 it will also be 55 years since the airport got its first asphalt runway (it now has two); 35 years since the founding of its home carrier, Emirates; and 20 years since it opened a new concourse that increased its capacity from 10 million annual passengers to 23 million. That final figure seems miniscule by today’s standards, as it approaches the 90 million mark. Between 1960 and 2011 the airport served 500 million passengers; between 2012 and 2018 it served another 500 million.

When Business Traveller’s Alex McWhirter visited in 1988, the airport was already popular as a transiting spot. It offered cheap duty-free and had a US$35 million arrivals terminal. Airlines liked its economical landing and airport handling fees, lack of night flight restrictions and the emirate’s liberal open skies policy.

Three decades on, transiting passengers are still key to the airport’s success, accounting for half of its traffic and making it the world’s busiest airport for international travel. Just under half of passengers are flying Emirates, which has cemented a reputation for competitive long-haul fares, excellent food and quality service.

What’s ahead for the hub? Like many airports it will look to boost its sustainability credentials. It has pledged to ban single-use plastics this year and has installed 15,000 photovoltaic solar panels. It will also continue to invest in biometric technology, having rolled out a “biometric path” allowing passengers to use facial recognition at check-in, security and boarding.

Its fortunes are bound up with those of Emirates, which is about to enter a period of transition under a new chief executive. The airline faces geopolitical tensions, oil price volatility and competition from new long-range, single-aisle aircraft, which could jeopardise the value of Gulf stopovers.

As Alex has written many times in Business Traveller, nothing is certain in aviation. Still, as the airport mulls ways to increase annual capacity from 90 million to 120 million, it is banking on a bright future.