Gulf Air traces its origins to Gulf Aviation Company, which was established in the Kingdom of Bahrain by young British aviator Freddy Bosworth. Bosworth generated interest in the concept of flying via his seven-seater Anson Mark II. Gulf Aviation Company was registered as a private shareholding enterprise in 1950 with a modest capital of Rs 335,000 (about 1943 BHD as of today). Shortly thereafter, British Overseas Airways Corp (BOAC) became a partner in the company. The decade saw the introduction of de Havilland aircraft in 1951, the Doce in 1954 and the Heron in 1956. Services were launched to airports of Bahrain, Dhahran, Doha, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Kuwait.
1960s: Gaining ground
Two DC3 aircraft were added to the fleet in 1960, while two Dove aircraft were retired from service. VC10 aircraft were introduced in 1961 and were operated to and from Bahrain to Kuwait, Doha and Sharjah. The following year witnessed the inclusion of the third VC10 aircraft and acquisition of two more DC3. Gulf Hotel, the first five-star property in Bahrain in which the Gulf Aviation Company had 50% equity participation, was inaugurated in 1969. During the decade, services to Karachi and Salalah were launched.
1970s: Flies to London
The acquisition of a BAC 10-11 enabled the company to enter the jet age and services to London commenced. The governments of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar purchased BOAC’s shares in 1973. With the foundation treaty of January 1, 1974, Gulf Aviation Company became Gulf Air, the national carrier of four countries. Eleven Tristars and nine B737s joined the fleet in 1976. Amman, Amsterdam, Athens, Baghdad, Bangkok, Beirut, Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, Hong Kong, Jeddah, Khartoum, Larnaca, Manila, Paris, Ras Al Khaimah, Riyadh and Sanaa were added to the network.
1980s: A member of IATA
This decade began with a boom as Gulf Air became a member of IATA in 1981. By 1985, Gulf Air’s staff strength moved up to 4,500, comprising 41 nationalities speaking 23 languages. The three class cabin configuration – First, Business and Economy – on long haul flights was launched in the same year. The Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (Gamco) opened in Abu Dhabi in 1987. The first Boeing 767 joined the fleet in 1988. Flights to Frankfurt, Istanbul, Damascus, Dar Es Salam, Fujairah and Nairobi were launched.
1990s: All smiles
The beginning of the decade saw Gulf Air introducing Balenciaga-designed uniform and launching Falcon Reservations System. A new five-year USD 3 billion investment programme was initiated to improve services. In 1992, the new headquarters of Gulf Air was inaugurated in Bahrain. The flight Simulator Centre was opened in Qatar in 1993. In 1994, the state-of-the-art Airbus A340-300 joined the fleet. Gulf Air was the first Middle East airline to operate the A340 aircraft. In 1995, Gulf Air carried over 5 million passengers for the first time in its history.
2000: Golden jubilee celebration
As Gulf Air celebrated its golden jubilee, it introduced new uniforms in gray, blue and peach. As part of the 50-year celebration, Gulf Air hired two vintage aircraft – an Avro Anson and a de Havilland Dove – to recreate the company’s first flights. In November 2002, the Bahraini-flag carrier rolled out a new first class service – the “Restaurant in the Sky” concept in flights to London, Paris and Frankfurt featuring chefs from elite European restaurants.
2010: New Era Begins…
As Gulf Air enters a new phase of development, it has announced a 360-degree strategic review to bring the Gulf island kingdom more business and tourism. The airline is due to take delivery of 39 new aircraft, with the start of 787-9 deliveries. In 2018, 5 787-9’s and a pair of A320neo’s will begin the fleet renewal. The Bahraini flag carrier is also expanding its existing network in India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and starting new flights to Baku in Azerbaijan and Casablanca in Morocco. This is just the beginning.