Gulf Air, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, is celebrating its 70th birthday this year. The airline commenced operations in 1950 and was one of the first commercial airlines established in the Middle East. Let’s take a look at some of the airline’s significant events over that time.
The early years
Just like Kuwait Airways in its early years, Gulf Air also had influence from BOAC. The British Overseas Airways Corporation was in fact a major shareholder of the airline.
However, this would change by the 1970s. According to an archived page from the airline, BOAC shares were bought out in 1973 by the Kingdom of Bahrain (Emirate at the time), the State of Qatar, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the Sultanate of Oman. In fact, this would see it become the flag carrier for all four states.
The airline’s fleet was largely comprised of Lockheed L-1011 TriStars and Boeing 737s during the mid and late 70s. The 80s and 90s would see the airline add the Boeing 767 to its fleet as well as the quad jet Airbus A340. By 1999 the airline would also add the Airbus A330.
Throughout the early years and up to the 2000s, Gulf Air was adding numerous destinations to its network. Notable cities included Amsterdam, Paris, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Delhi, Manila, and Sydney.
As you may have guessed, Gulf Air would not stay the flag carrier of four countries forever. The first departure was by Qatar in 2002-2003 as it shifted its focus to building its own carrier – Qatar Airways.
The second departure took place in 2005, when the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, withdrew its share in the airline. Despite Abu Dhabi’s departure, Oman and Bahrain reaffirmed “their unequivocal and full support to Gulf Air”. Of course, Oman would not last long after this.
Finally, in 2007, the Sultanate of Oman gave up its share in the airline, leaving the Kingdom of Bahrain as the sole owner of the carrier. Once considered an aviation sector leader in the Middle East, Gulf Air had run into deep financial difficulties leading up to Oman’s exit.
Building a modern fleet
In January 2008, Gulf Air would sign an agreement with Boeing to purchase up to 24 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in a deal valued at nearly US$6 billion at list price. The agreement was for 16 Dreamliners, with the right to purchase an additional eight. However, it appears the airline would only ever take seven of the aircraft.
Later that year the airline would order 35 Airbus aircraft at the Berlin Airshow. The order consisted of a combination of A320s and A330s. A month later, in June 2008, it would retire its final Boeing 767. The following year Gulf Air would receive its first Boeing 777 – leased from Jet Airways.
Today, however, the airline has a much simpler fleet: A320 family jets for its short-haul routes and the Boeing 787-9 for its long-haul operations.
Today, Gulf Air serves 49 cities in 27 countries with its fleet of 33 aircraft. All of its flights originate at its hub at Bahrain International Airport – which is currently building a new terminal.
Gulf Air’s history is certainly as interesting as, if not more interesting, compared to many other airlines around the world. It is fascinating to think about how big of a player the airline could have been if it remained the national carrier of four states. Now, sadly, it has been largely overshadowed by the airlines of its neighbors in Qatar and the UAE.