Today, Gulf Air is the flag carrier of Bahrain and the only commercial airline based there. But this has not always been the case. From 2008 to 2013, it was joined by the private airline Bahrain Air. It operated Middle Eastern and regional flights, with an all-Airbus narrowbody fleet, and ceased operations amidst political difficulties in the country.
A new regional airline
Bahrain Air was founded in July 2007 and started flight operations in February 2008. Unlike Gulf Air, which is a state-owned airline, Bahrain Air was a privately owned company. It started out as a low-cost airline but moved to a more full-service model.
Its first flight was from Bahrain to Dubai. Over the next few years, services expanded, with a total of 18 destinations served (but a few of these were seasonal), and at peak operated 112 flights per week (according to the airline).
This included service to the UAE, Turkey (Istanbul), Qatar, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Slightly further, it also served India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
Part of its mission statement highlighted its regional focus. It said of itself:
“The airline is playing a major role in linking Bahrain, the financial centre of the Middle East, to the destinations in the GCC, the Levant, Africa, and the Indian Sub-Continent with fast and economical point to point services, for the business community and the travelling public.”
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Bahrain Air’s first aircraft were two A320-200 aircraft, introduced in January and February 2008. These were both previously operated by Germanwings and were both 12 to 13 years old at the time of introduction. Bahrain Air leased these aircraft – as it did all of its aircraft.
These first two A320s were joined by four more in 2009 and two in 2011. Two smaller A319s were introduced in 2008 and 2009. They remained with the airline until it ceased operations, but by that time, the A320 fleet had reduced to just two as well.
Ending service in 2013
Bahrain Air only had a short life. It ceased operations, with voluntary liquidation, in February 2013. The airline blamed its collapse on the ongoing unrest in the country, together with a lack of support from the government.
Troubles had been ongoing in Bahrain since 2011, with pro-democracy protests and outbursts of violence damaging the economy and business. According to reporting in the Financial Times at the time of its collapse, the airline claimed a leading reason was the lack of compensation from the government or even deferments of loan payments. It particularly blamed transport minister Kamal Ahmed, who was also a board member of rival Gulf Air.
The government had placed restrictions on flights to several countries (includes Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran), costing the airline (according to the Financial Times) 4.5m Bahraini dinars ($12m) just in the few months before bankruptcy.
Its collapse was not necessarily due to any problem with its business model, although it had shifted away from its low-cost intention. Dubai-based flydubai started operations slightly later, in 2010, and has expanded significantly since. It of course codeshares will fellow Dubai airline Emirates.
Would you like to share any more thoughts on Bahrain Air and its failure? Did you fly it when it was operational? Let us know in the comments.