Dubai's Emirates Airlines began operations on Wednesday from the world's first concourse dedicated to Airbus' A380 super jumbos at the Gulf emirate's rapidly expanding airport.
Concourse A, which cost $3-billion to build, gives Emirates - one of the world's fastest-growing carriers - an additional airport capacity of 15 million passengers a year, the company said.
The expansion takes place as the CAPA Centre for Aviation said Emirates could become this year the world's second-biggest carrier in terms of capacity, right after United Airlines, and way ahead of legacy European carriers.
Flight EK003 took off to London Heathrow from Concourse A, which will become "home of the Emirates A380," Emirates said.
The new extension to Terminal 3, featuring 20 gates specifically designed to accommodate the long-haul planes, will open gradually, with just four gates operational on Wednesday, Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths said in another statement.
The government-owned carrier is the largest operator of A380s, with a fleet of 31 and another 59 on order.
The new concourse spreads across 11 floors with a total area of 528 000 square metres.
Dubai Airports has earmarked $7.8-billion to further expand the capacity of the international travel hub, as it expects to handle 75 million passengers by 2015 and 98 million by 2020.
It expected the number of passengers who used Dubai International airport in 2012 to be around 57 million.
The new facility will be available to A380 flights to Europe operated by Australia's Qantas, as per the global partnership announced recently and awaiting the approval of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Emirates said.
Emirates has a fleet of 195 wide-body Airbus and Boeing, and has some 204 units on orders worth more than $74 billion, it said. It flies to 128 destinations in 74 countries.
The carrier, which began operations in 1985 with two leased planes, has become a major competitor of legacy airlines, turning Dubai into a major transit hub for travel between Europe, Asia and Australasia.
Sydney-based CAPA said this week Emirates remained last year third in global ranking of world's airlines by capacity, with 4.993 billion available seat kilometers (ASKs), compared to 6.15 billion ASKs for United Airlines thanks to its merger with Continental, and 5.64 billion ASKs for Delta Air Lines.
But Emirates registered a whopping growth of 18.4 percent in ASKs last year, compared to a drop of 0.3 percent by Delta.
This put Emirates ahead of many traditional airlines, including British Airways, which was ranked seventh with 3.049 billion ASKs, and Air France, which followed with 2.825 billion ASKs.
Other Gulf carriers, vying to grab a chunk of the trans-continental travel market, followed behind. Qatar Airways rose to 17th place, with 1.798 billion ASKs, and Abu Dhabi's Etihad advanced to 28th, with 1.135 billion ASKs.
In addition to Dubai International Airport, the busiest regional hub, the city-state is developing another airport.
Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International has been open for cargo since 2010, but passenger operations have been repeatedly delayed.
The airport, launched at the height of Dubai's rapid economic growth, is touted to become the world's largest with a capacity to handle 160 million passengers annually.