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April 19, 2011 / oneworld82

What’s next for Gulf Air?

Once, Gulf Air was the pride of the Gulf. As the national airline of Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Oman, and Qatar, it foresaw a future of growth and strenght among countries that later on, in 1981, would come together under the GCC vessel, the Gulf Cooperation Council. Yet, history had decided otherwise. From a fast-growing period where, through Lockheed 10 and Boeing 737 the company expanded its reach from the Gulf to such far-away destinations as Paris, Manila, and Hong Kong, Gulf Air experienced a slow but steady decline throughout the 1980s and ’90s. The emergence of Emirates as a leading global airlines, the rise to excellence of Qatar Airways and, more recently, the successful launch of Etihad Airways (thanks also to Gulf Air former CEO who was “stolen” by the Abu Dhabi government) left Gulf Air confused and isolated and in search of a new identity.

After the departure of former-CEO James Hogan, the Bahraini government stepped up its efforts to revitalize the ailing carrier by taking full ownership of it. Since 2007, routes have been slashed and airplanes retired, in an efforts to reduce costs and rationalize fleet to save costs. New A330 and B787 have been ordered in an effort to modernize the plane inventory and to reduce maintenance costs. A modernized livery and new business- and economy-classes have helped revamp the company’s image. A new push into the European market is also signaling the willingness of the company to come back. Should Gulf Air decide to relaunch its service to New York and to expand its service to Asia, here we would have once again a clear competitor to the Gulf’s three giants Etihad, Qatar, and Emirates.

Yet, this plan will require a lot of careful planning and investment. The Bahraini government has certainly the resources to do that, and CEO Majali seems to have that clarity of vision to achieve these proposed goals. Only time will tell whether Gulf Air will dominate across the skies again…

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