Reflections on Gulf Air

This week I fly from the Middle East to Paris where I will be competing in the Paris Half Marathon.  Then I have a quick train trip to see friends in Amsterdam! See map below.

Last week, I landed at my 195th airport in my life: Bahrain in the emptiest plane I have ever been on. It was an Etihad 777 from Abu Dhabi that I swear was 10 to 15% full. Crew said the large plane was used because it was transporting freight.

Arrival at Bahrain  was frustrating because of the “security situation” (petrol bombs, tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades were used in last week’s clash between police and demonstrators in the Gulf kingdom).  We had extra screening which meant that the usual 5 minute max processing became a frustrating 2 hours.

The political situation in Bahrain is really taking its toll on Gulf Air, the national carrier. The carier used to be owned by a series of gulf states but they  pulled out to start their own carriers so Gulf Air now belongs to Bahrain alone.

  • In May 2002, the Government of Qatar withdrew from Gulf Air in favour of Qatar Airways  .
  • Abu Dhabi started their own airline Etihad in 2003 and sold out of Gulf Air in 2005
  • In March 2007, the Omani Government increaed its ownership of Oman Air from about 33 to 80 percent (it is now 99%). At the same time it pulled out of Gulf Air and Oman Air started long range services

The on going protests in Bahrain and the Arab spring have reduced Gulfair passenger numbers by 25 per cent. The airline is in an on-going contraction. In the last month, they have ended services to Athens,  Damascus, Entebbe, Geneva, Kuala Lumpur and Milan. The airline is pleading for government funds to keep going.

Will Gulfair be another carrier to go in 2012 or will the government bail them again?  We have already lost four in 2012: Spanair, Cirrus, Malev and Air Australia



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  1. If Gulf Air goes down, it will be the first time ever in the history of Middle East. So far all these airlines are being run by money pumped through their tiny kingdoms and profits are never an issue.

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