Gulf Air, one of the first commercial airlines established in the Middle East, is the flag carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Today, Gulf Air operates one of the largest networks in the Middle East, serving, from its hub at Bahrain International Airport, 43 cities in 24 countries across three continents.
In March 1950, Gulf Aviation Company Limited was registered by Freddie Bosworth, a British pilot and entrepreneur as a private shareholding company. Operations started in July, and the early fleet contained 7 Avro Ansons and 3 de Havilland DH.86Bs.
In October 1951, BOAC (British Overseas Aircraft Corporation) became the major shareholder in Gulf Aviation after acquiring 22% of the shares.
In the 1950s, 5 De Havilland Herons and 5 Douglas C-47s joined the fleet, and the scheduled network grew when Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain, Kuwait, Muscat, and Sharjah were connected.
In 1967, a major equipment upgrade occurred when the first Fokker F27 aircraft was added to the fleet, followed by a second aircraft in 1968 and a third in 1971.
In April 1970, a major milestone in the airline’s history was the start of long-haul services: Gulf Air used VC10 airliners in Gulf Aviation colours to launch service.
In 1973, BOAC’s shares were bought out by the governments of four Arab countries: the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (on behalf of the United Arab Emirates), the Sultanate of Oman, and Qatar.
On 1 January 1974, the Foundation Treaty was signed and gave each government a 25% shareholding in Gulf Aviation. The airline was branded as Gulf Air and became the flag carrier of each of the four states.
By 1976, Gulf Air expanded its route network to include destinations such as Jeddah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sana’a, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Khartoum, Amsterdam, Athens, Larnaca, Paris, Bombay, Bangkok, Manila, Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, Hong Kong, and Karachi. The fleet comprised 2 Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 200s, 5 Boeing 737–200s, 4 Vickers VC10s, and 3 BAC One-Elevens.
In 1977-1978, the short-haul fleet was renewed using 9 Boeing 737-200s to replace the One-Eleven and Fokker F27 aircraft, and the Tristar fleet was doubled to replace the VC10s.
In 1985, as a result of Gulf Air beginning to cut back its services to Dubai, Emirates, the national carrier of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, began operating. Emirates would later become a major rival of Gulf Air.
From 1988, the Tristars were gradually replaced by Boeing 767s, and the last left the fleet in January 1998.
In the early 1990s, Gulf Air started services to Singapore, Sydney and Thiruvananthapuram. Gulf Air was the first Arab carrier to fly to Australia and the first Arab airline to fly directly to Johannesburg and Melbourne.
In the mid-1990s, the first Airbus A340-300 joined the fleet, and Gulf Air signed codeshare agreements with American Airlines on flights between New York and London and with Cyprus Airways on flights between Bahrain and Larnaca.
In 2002, James Hogan was appointed President and CEO of Gulf Air. In response to a drastic fall in profits and increasing debt, he initiated a three-year restructuring and turnaround programme, which was unanimously approved by the Gulf Air board. By mid-year, the State of Qatar announced its intention to withdraw from Gulf Air but remained a member state for a six-month period after the announcement. Also, Gulf Air became the first Middle Eastern airline to introduce in-flight chefs to serve First Class passengers.
In 2003, Gulf Air introduced a new livery and, as a worldwide premiere, Sky Nannies specially trained to provide in-flight child care on board long-haul flights. In June, Gulf Traveller, a subsidiary all-economy full-service airline started service out of Abu Dhabi.
In 2005, following the successful completion of the IATA Operational Safety Audit, Gulf Air was placed on the IOSA registry. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi announced its decision to withdraw from Gulf Air and establish its own airline, Etihad Airways.
In 2006, Gulf Air announced a new three-year strategic plan that included the renewal of the fleet, refurbishment of the present aircraft and product upgrades. At the 2006 Skytrax Awards, Gulf Air won two awards for Best Onboard Catering Excellence and Best Regional Airline – the Middle East.
In May 2007, after joint-owner Oman withdrew from Gulf Air, the government of Bahrain claimed full ownership of Gulf Air. The airline became fully owned by Bahrain in November.
In 2008, Gulf Air placed orders for 24 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and 35 Airbus aircraft (15 A320s and 20 A330s) to upgrade its fleet and signed a lease agreement for 5 Airbus aircraft (2 Airbus A319s and 3 Airbus A330-200s) due for delivery in 2009.
In March 2010, Gulf Air launched Falcon Gold cabin, a new premium cabin that offers higher standards of comfort for the standard premium price. As of August 2011, the flat-bed seats were installed on all aircraft except short-haul aircraft.
In 2011, following the delivery of its first A330-200 aircraft retrofitted with Panasonic Global Communications Suite, Gulf Air was the first airline in the world to launch Sky Hub, offering global live television, high-speed internet, very fast mobile data speeds, VoIP (voice over Internet), and streaming videos.
In 2013, Gulf Air embarked on a comprehensive three-year restructuring to stem the run of heavy losses it had suffered over the prior decade. The airline re-aligned its network, cut capacity dramatically by retiring a third of its fleet, ended a number of lease agreements and dropped eight loss-making routes. At the same time, eight profit-making routes were consolidated by adding more frequencies, and new routes to five destinations were launched. Although, Gulf Air concentrated its network in a radius of four-hour flying time from Bahrain, it had maintained some of its strategically important links to Southeast Asia ( Manila and Bangkok) and to Europe (London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, and Larnaca).
During early 2014, Gulf Air began to rebuild its network, a sign that it was transitioning from restructuring to consolidation and development. In January, with a route to Mashhad, it resumed services to Iran, after a 15-month hiatus. In March, this was followed by the return to Tehran. Outside of the Middle East, Gulf Air prioritized the European and South Asian markets for expansion. In January, the airline added service to Sialkot in Pakistan, in June to Athens, and in October to Moscow.
In 2014, Gulf Air obtained its strongest financial results in a decade, with annual losses reducing from BHD 93.3 million (USD 247.5 million) in 2013 to BHD 62.7 million (USD 166.3 million) in 2014, the equivalent to a 32.8% reduction.
In October 2015, Gulf Air announced it is in final talks to place an order for up to 50 Airbus aircraft in the next six months, which will include narrow-body and wide-body aircraft and is part of the expansion plan from the end of 2016 when Gulf Air expects to be debt free.
In January 2016, at the Bahrain Airshow, Gulf Air ordered 12 A320neo and 17 A321neo aircraft with delivery from June 2018, while also canceling a commitment to acquire 6 A330-300 aircraft and replacing an existing order for 16 Boeing 787-8 aircraft with an order for 16 Boeing 787-9 aircraft.
In 2017, Gulf Air signed codeshare agreements with Aegean Airlines, Oman Air, and Turkish Airlines. In October, Gulf Air officially launched Gulf Air Holidays, the airline’s dedicated holidays unit offering attractive holiday packages to destinations across the Gulf Air network. In November, Krešimir Kučko, former Croatia Airlines President and Chief Executive Officer, was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of Gulf Air.
In October 2018, Gulf Air implemented a new and simplified baggage policy, a harmonized Piece Concept worldwide replacing the existing Weight Concept. On many routes, the new Piece Concept means increased baggage allowances, while in most cases, the fees for excess baggage have been cut significantly.
By November 2018, Gulf Air took delivery of 3 Boeing B787 9 Dreamliners with 282 seats in a two-class configuration, with 256 Economy Class seats and 26 Falcon Gold Class seats. New Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner service is offered on the London and Casablanca routes. By the end of 2020, a total of 10 Boeing 787 9 aircraft will be part of Gulf Air’s fleet, gradually replacing the Airbus A330 aircraft.
In the past 25 years, two major accidents involved Gulf Air aircraft. In September 1983, a Boeing 737 flying from Karachi, Pakistan to Qatar via Abu Dhabi crashed after a bomb exploded in the cargo compartment, killing all 112 people on board. In August 2000, an Airbus A320 flying from Cairo crashed into the Persian Gulf on approach to Bahrain International Airport, killing all 8 crew members and 135 passengers.