Alongside ostentatious neighbors like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain has tended to get overlooked as a Middle Eastern hub for air transportation. Yet, the island kingdom in the Arabian Gulf actually lays a fair claim to being the birthplace of aviation in the Middle East. Next month (January 21 to 23) it intends to point the world to its aviation future when it hosts its own airshow for the first time.
Eighty years have passed since Bahrain became the first Gulf country to receive an aircraft, when, in 1927, a group of pearl merchants chartered a flight to take them to Basra in Iraq. In 1932, Britain’s Imperial Airways started using Bahrain as a key staging post for its flights to and from India. It subsequently became the main en route air traffic control center for the region, a position it still holds.
In 1950 British aviator Freddy Bosworth and a group of investors established Gulf Aviation to support oil fields in the region. In 1974 (after Bahrain had become independent from the UK in 1971), Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Abu Dhabi bought the controlling share in the company, which by then was known as Gulf Air. But beginning in the 1990s, ambitious start-ups such as Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways and, most recently, Etihad increasingly threatened the carrier’s position. In 2006, the government of Bahrain assumed full control of Gulf Air and has committed itself to regenerating the operator under new management.
Capt. Abdul Rahmen Mohamed Al Gaoud, Bahrain’s undersecretary for civil aviation, told AIN that the country is now pursuing a 20-year master plan that will see both Gulf Air and Bahrain International Airport undergo a comprehensive modernization through 2030. The aim is clear: to help Bahrain reclaim what it sees as its rightful place as the epicenter of Middle Eastern aviation.