Expatriates began moving to work in the Middle East's emerging aviation industry in the 1970s. But what was it like for the crews back then?

Norwegian-born Erik Molberg (below) has amassed around 22,000h over his commercial flying career, and following 10 years at East African Airways ended up in the Middle East in 1976 with Gulf Air, where he flew until his retirement in 2002.


Molberg says: "Flying is different today. I joined Gulf Air as a first officer on VC10s and we'd get the crew bus straight up to the steps of the aircraft and get on. We'd have, more or less, an open cockpit, and at the captain's discretion we'd have passengers in the cockpit for landing ortake-offs.

"Gulf Air's fleet was certainly luxurious. Our L-1011 Tristars had something like a 50:50 split between economy and first class. You'd seepeople sitting at the bar, or at dining tables."

One of the draws of the Middle East has been lack of taxes, and Molberg says that while salaries in direct comparison may be lower, the fact there was no tax made it attractive. And free accommodation as well as subsidised education was a bonus too.

"When Cathay were expanding there were a lot of our guys looking at moving over because of the larger salaries, but by the time you accounted for taxation there wasn't really much difference," he explains.

The perception that in the late '70s and early '80s the crews were pure party animals is to a certain extent true.

"We enjoyed ourselves. The whole social relationship was different to now. Of course, there was somemixing of the boys and girls

"But we had to be careful. In Bahrain alcohol wasn't restricted, so we could enjoy ourselves. However, Saudi Arabia is much stricter and you certainly felt that if you were caught there with alcohol they would lock you up and throw away the key."

When the crews weren't socialising on stopovers, the home scene was always pleasant - if you could bear the weather, says Molberg.

"For six months of the year the heat and humidity are a real challenge - but even then we had air conditioning, which was a necessary luxury.

"When we were at home and not flying we'd always be around the swimming pools with the children and then usually there were parties a couple of evenings a week.

"For me, moving to the Gulf was nice because of thesecurity. Coming from Africa it was nice to have that comfort, and with two young children a good education also helped," adds Molberg.

Rapid development has changed the Gulf, but Molberg believes not necessarily for the worse: "It's not quite the good old days, but it's still a good place to be."


Source: Flight International