The airline was established in March 1970 by Luxair, the Salen Shipping Group, Loftleiðir and various private interests in Luxembourg. Einar Olafsson was the airline's first employee and CEO. It started operations in May 1970 with one Canadair CL-44 freighter with services from Luxembourg to Hong Kong. Over the next two years, the airline grew, as did its public visibility.
By 1973, Cargolux had five CL-44s and made the leap into the jet age by acquiring a Douglas DC-8. This enabled the company to speed up its cargo deliveries. In 1974, Loftleiðir and Cargolux amalgamated their maintenance and engineering departments, and by 1975, Cargolux enjoyed new facilities consisting of central offices and two hangars.
In 1978, the airline began to take shape into the company it is today. The CL-44s began to be retired and the airline ordered its first Boeing 747s. In that same year it also began flying to other places in Asia, as well as to the United States. In 1979, as the company concluded its first decade, its first Boeing 747s were delivered.
In 1982, China Airlines became the first airline company to sign a strategic alliance with Cargolux.
1983 saw the introduction of CHAMP (Cargo Handling And Management Planning) and the start of some charter passenger flights for the Hajj pilgrimage.