How Pakistan International Airlines Helped Start Emirates


Emirates is one of the world’s leading airlines… but did you know that when they were founded that they got help from another airline in the world? PIA, Pakistan International Airlines, offered crucial support to the airline when it first began and has since been a close partner ever since.

PIA involvement in Emirates was critical for the airline to become what it is today. Photo: Getty Images

What are the details?

Emirates was founded way back in 1984 as a response to Gulf Air cutting back on routes to Dubai. Gulf Air became concerned that it was just sending through passengers from regional areas to Dubai, only for them to board a competitor long-haul flight to Europe and Asia.

Thus the government of Dubai decided to make their own airline in order to ensure connectivity to the region. But, despite having the funding to do so, the airline lacked critical expertise and, obviously, aircraft.


Maurice Flanagan was brought onboard with the ambitious mission to launch an airline for Dubai in just five months and only with $10 million seed funding. According to Emirates today, he was told back then to make the airlinelook good, be good, and make money”.

But without staff or even aircraft, how could he make a new airline so quickly?

In stepped Pakistan International Airlines.


What did Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) bring to Emirates?

The new venture approached PIA with its idea of a new airline and asked for as much support as they could lend. With the budget of $10 million, Emirates would be able to rent two aircraft, receive administrative support and engineering assistance in running the airline

The two aircraft that the new airline Emirates rented were:

  • A Boeing 737–300
  • An Airbus A300B4-200

It would use these first aircraft to open a route to Karachi, Pakistan. The two planes would be operated by PIA but with Emirates livery. As Emirates didn’t have any crew or staff yet, they would be flown by PIA pilots and with their crew on board. With the additional training provided by PIA, new crew members would slowly be recruited by Emirates.


Emirates would use these aircraft to fly to Mumbai and Delhi in its first year. From here they would also fly to Amman, Colombo, Cairo, Dhaka, Male, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Damascus, Jeddah, Kuwait over the next five years.

Emirates would also receive additional support from the government of Dubai in the form of two leased Boeing 727s, which you can read about here.

An Emirates Boeing 727. Photo: Perry Hoppe via Wikipedia

But Emirates would not have its own airline fleet until 1987 when they got their first owned aircraft, an Airbus A310. They would use this plane to open up a route to London by the end of the year.

Emirates has had fantastic success and become one of the biggest power-players in the aviation industry, but we can’t forget their humble beginnings and PIA gave them a step up right at the start.

What do you think of this story? Let us know in the comments.


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Abdul Sami Khan

d**n, that’s cool. PIA is a cool airline with bad leaders now tho.. They are improving which is good.

Chandrasen Bhatia

Yes it was true that initially Emirates started in 1985 with wet leased aircrafts from PIA and it was a commercial deal signed with them. But Emirates grew leaps and bound due to high vision and support of HH Shk Mohd Bin Rashid Almaktoum. It was very well managed and organized by its management and that is the reason it has become the world’s biggest and best airline today.


A beautiful brotherhood story, glimpse a familiar life story of an elder and a young brother. Emirates has achieved their milestones and thriving miles ahead.. their determination to succeed is what leads them. Prayers and good wishes for both Airlines


A beautiful brotherhood story, glimpse a familiar life story of an elder and a younger brother. Emirates has achieved their milestones and thriving miles ahead.. their determination to succeed is what leads them. PIA has their own self esteem achievments different goals and prides they have seen so many ups and downs. Prayers and good wishes for both Airlines

Deepak Bhatia

Indeed was PIA who gave full assistance to EK and it was reciprocal by EK to hire PIA staff and then came AI staff as well. It’s all about business and the way UAE has come up is very exciting to know and to be implemented by other organisations and countries

Azam zaidi

I wonder what happened to PIA now, where are those hard working staff and management? May be Local Mafia took over, mostly untrained staff inside?


I was one of the lucky ones to be part of this beautiful history. Had the opportunity to work with the first batch eif management and was the first locally recruited cabin crew who was trained at the PIA training centre karachi, delivered the first baby on board ,…. Followed by many first beautiful years with EMIRATES . It was is and will always be special

Akbar Ali

Just because of corruption that’s why bribery will never stop ever


Amazing. Credit to given to pia for their initial support and help.

Alandur Yuvaraj Suresh

Nice article for aviation lovers . Good story, never knew this before.

Muhammad Ali

PIA downfall started when political people were given jobs many with FAKe degrees. These incompetent people ate PIA from inside like Termites. Things are improving today so let us pray PIA is restored to its past glory.

Elvira Gadiano Ur Rehman

Long live PIA! I love emirates airlines among all airlines,the world greatest airlines. Thank you UAE for my oeaceful stay for 16 years. uAE My second home country.May Allah always protect this country. Ameen.


Well in this way i can congratulate The Emirates Aviation Group. What ever step taken initially is different from the present level. Emirates did very well to its customers and to the industry and one of the best services. I will just congratulates the emirates airline.

SYED Naeem

Yes it is the result of a fantastic team work of EMIRATES that the EMIRATES is one of the world’s leading airline in aviation.

SYED Naeem

Yes it is the result of a fantastic team work of EMIRATES that the EMIRATES is one of the world’s leading airline in aviation.
And we should pray for PIA also……




I’m glad that this truth has come out. As a matter of fact, the whole of Middle East was built and still runs thanks to the workers, engineers and doctors from Pakistan, India & other South Asian countries. The contribution of Pakistan and other South Asian countries is never acknowledged by the Middle Eastern/Gulf states. These workers have been exploited & have been mistreated in most cases by their employers as they do not have any other option but to survive and pay for themselves and their families.

Vulcan James

HH Sheikh Mohammed

Emirates began in1985 with two leased planes. Today we connect 147destinations on 5 continents with 240 planes and we have 267 more on order

Above tweet is an evidence what kind of thankless bunch they are, that he did not mention who made them to boast like this, they way he boasted in this tweet. Nicholas Cummins, financial transaction you mentioned about, was “a drop in ocean” Yes there was a lot of good will from Pakistani side, But now (read above tweet once more) they claim to be h**l of guys, achieving this all by themselves. Tweet does reflect their character as a group/type of people.


Now Pakistanis would not get a job in Emirates airlines, just because there is Indian management. I know this. I applied for Air Arabia cabin crew and was rejected by Air Arabia for being a Pakistani!!

Thomas Foo

On many occasions, the students perform better than their mentors.
Emirates progresses in leap and bounce but PIA is still a laggard airline.
Besides having deep pockets,Emirates employed professionals regardless of nationalities.
Malaysian Airlines could not keep their expatriates because of interferences from non professionals.

Kashif Mehmood Siyal


Syed Hassan

This is how the world moves on. When one needs help, other comes to rescue. I wish Emirates becomes one of the leading airlines in the world. So, does PIA.


And now Emirates people forget everything even they are not thankful

Al Athar

Pakistani may be good advisors but inept and dishonest in doing things. Look at the mess PIA is in.


Well done PIA


Those who workhard will always be rewarded We as nation depend on others to work for us or support us and we enjoy our lives with others money.

Cibte Hacan

This is how the world moves on. When one needs help, other comes to rescue. I wish Emirates becomes one of the leading airlines in the world. So, does PIA.

Mansoor Pasha

This is heart breaking. An airline which was able and efficient to help establish Emirates.
Where stands PIA at present. Among airlines it ranks as the one on the lowest step of the ladder.
How did this happen


PIA could’ve been much more than what it is today, but corruption ate away the company.
Also i apologise for any misbehaviour of people of my country in the discussion.

Mohammed Moziburrahman excellent

Great to hear that. They should help pia now

Muhammad Kabir

But now PIA us suffering and gone through distraction, it’s now turn to pay back, Emirates should help PIA in terms of financial support to regain the charm of PIA

Waseem Yousaf

They started, delivered and kept improving to acheive what they have now, being a Pakistani, I feel proud to help our brother, this is what every big brother do for younger brothers, no matter they admire it loud or not..

Shahzad Ali

It has been best served on both sides,both countries have benefited from each other,great result.

Mary F

Please check your facts. Emirates leased aircraft from PIA for a short period in the beginning but they began 23 Sept with their own crew.

Capt. "Johnny" Sadiq

I was on the team of two Chief Pilots in PIA who selected the pilots that we would send to Dubai. There were TWO Airbus 300 B4s and ONE (very new) Boeing 737-300. The other Chief Pilot, Captain Ghani, was positioned in Dubai to makes sure that things went well on the flying side. Ghani’s record in managing the flight operations in the new airline was outstanding. I was Chief Pilot 747s at that time and also held the post of Deputy Chief Pilot Training. I often flew a 747 to Dubai for an overnight stop to see how things were going. There was great enthusiasm from the new Emirates trainees that were being recruited and trained by our Ground School in Karachi. After 20 years in retirement I am still proud of the contribution that we, in PIA, made to the start of a great airline.

Dr. Kausar Talat

PIA not only assist Emirates, it helped many other airlines. For fun fact the first 777 airplane delivered to emirates was received by Emirate team headed by Pakistani Manager. PIA also is known for its Pilots performance and the first airline to introduce audio in the air.