It is hard to imagine aviation today without the Gulf carriers. And it is particularly difficult to picture what the story of the Airbus A380 would have looked like without Emirates. However, when looking back, it was not that long ago that the superjumbo operator extraordinaire launched its first-ever scheduled services to Karachi and Mumbai. Meanwhile, the pre-launch VIP flights were escorted over Dubai by fighter jets.
Emirates has become a go-to airline not only for people traveling to the futuristic emirate on the shore of the Persian Gulf but also for those looking for comfortable transfers between Europe and Asia. However, both of Emirates’ first flights took off eastwards.
On October 25th, 1985, the airline’s inaugural flight left Dubai in the UAE for Karachi in Pakistan, designated as Flight EK600. Emirates still operates the just-about two-hour long flight with the same number, using one of its Boeing 777s.
The flight pushed back and took off on its scheduled departure time. Captain Fazle Ghani Mian piloted the plane. He shared his memories from the flight and the preparations leading up to it in connection with the 30th anniversary of Emirates’ operations.
“On the 18th of October, a group of 100 pilots, flight and aircraft engineers, maintenance staff, among others all came to Dubai to initiate the planning stages, and we began test flights from then on to ensure everything would operate to plan. (…) We had some great memories from the first flight. Some of the flight caps were oversized for some of our pilots, and they looked quite funny with them on their heads.”
Prayers for pre-launch VIP flights
Emirates’ second flight took off for Mumbai in India shortly after. The two flights were operated by an Airbus A300-200 and a Boeing 737-300. The planes had arrived in Dubai only five days prior, both on wet lease from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). Prior to their departure from Pakistan, they were painted in the Emirates livery in one of PIA’s hangars, all in secrecy.
As now-retired Captain Mian shared with Arab News, two days before the first commercial services, the crews had to operate five special VIP flights over Dubai. A task that was not entirely without its edge, the Captain revealed.
“I was praying that nothing bad would happen. The first Airbus flight was around 11 o’clock, and Sheikh Mohammed (bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai) and other royal dignitaries were sitting on the aircraft. We flew over Dubai for 45 minutes, and we were escorted by Dubai air force fighter pilots.”
The early years and first A380 to Pakistan
The A300 remained in Emirates’ fleet until November 1988, while the Boeing 737 was returned one year earlier. It was to be the only B737 operated by Emirates thus far. The initial fleet also consisted of two Boeing 727 trijets supplied by the royal family.
During its first year, Emirates carried 260,000 passengers. It caused the leading regional airline, Gulf Air, to take a 56% hit to its profits. Two years later, Emirates took delivery of its first owned aircraft – an A310-300 directly from Airbus in Toulouse. By 1990, the airline had grown its network to 14 destinations throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.
In 2018, Emirates operated the first-ever A380 flight to Pakistan, only this time to Islamabad. At the reception following the flight, the airline took the opportunity to honor its first-ever pilots – Captian Mian and Captain Ejaz Ul Haq, who was in the cockpit on the flight to Mumbai.
When was your first flight with Emirates? Where did you go, and on what aircraft? Leave a comment below and share your story.