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Comment: Reality check

Gulf Air's famous Golden Falcon was once an icon of premium airline travel.

The Gulf's original network airline was a pioneer as the long-haul widebody era began in the 1970s. And for many an ambitious young airline clerk or pilot serving with a European carrier, it represented a glamorous opportunity not to be missed.

That was three decades ago, a time when its main base - Bahrain - was an engine room of the region. The city state was the first destination on the British Airways Concorde network.

But the multinational airline became a victim of its own success. Being owned equally by Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi, meant it was well funded, but the penalty was that it had to serve each of its masters. This resulted in an unfocused, multi-hub operation - where frequencies to each were often driven by who was running the airline as each owner took its turn.

Simon Wilson/
 © Simon Wilson/

Meanwhile, up the road from Abu Dhabi, the relatively small trading port of Dubai was feeling a little left out, and launched Emirates in 1985. And it was ex-Gulf Air management - notably an Emirates founder member and current president Tim Clark - who realised that by taking the essence of the Gulf Air modus operandi - a strong brand and the latest generation aircraft - but focusing on a single hub, a successful network player could evolve.

And as aircraft range capability grew to match Emirates' ambitions, it made the most of the Gulf's geographic location, becoming the world's fastest growing global network carrier.

This success in turn prompted Abu Dhabi and Qatar to leave and start their own network carriers, while Oman has also pulled out to focus on its state airline.

And poor old Gulf Air was left behind eating dust in this stampede. For a while it tried to live with the young upstarts, but after a series of management changes it has at last recognised that the world doesn't need - and can't take - another Gulf network carrier.

Describing the loss-making airline as a burden on Bahrain's economy, boss Samer Majali has unveiled a credible restructuring plan, envisaging a resized airline focused on regional connections, but retaining key international links.

Some may wonder why a small kingdom like Bahrain chooses to retain a national carrier. If the airline fails to keep faith with the Majali plan, things may be taken out of its hands.

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