Gulf Air has been flying since 1950 and the Golden Falcon always brightened up my boyhood trips to Heathrow on their lovely Tristars. The airline grew quickly from the mid 1970s through to the mid 1990s expanding its network to cover the Old World continents, including Australia, with a large fleet of modern Boeing and Airbus jets.
For the last twenty years the story hasn't been so happy but that hasn't stopped the carrier delivering to a high standard and introducing a beautiful livery in 2003. Here's Gulf Air's story...
In 1949 Freddie Bosworth began flying commuter and sightseeing trips between Bahrain, Doha and Dhahran using an Avro Anson 1. These duties were formalised on March 24, 1950 when Bosworth formed Gulf Aviation. In 1951 the fleet was expanded using De Havilland Doves, though sadly Bosworth himself was killed during a demonstration flight of the type at Croydown in June. Following this BOAC became a major shareholder (22%) and by the mid-50s 5 De Havilland Herons and 5 Douglas C-47s had joined the fleet. One of the C-47s (a leased example with an Indian registry of VT-DGS) was lost in a mysterious crash on July 10, 1960 when it disappeared en roue to Sharjah. No trace of it or its 16 occupants was ever found. A second C-47 was lost in 1966, upon take-off from Muscat, but thankfully this time all the passengers and crew survived. A major equipment upgrade occurred in January 1967 when the airline's only new Fokker F27 (G-AVDN) arrived. She was joined in 1968 by a second (ex-KLM example) and in 1971 by a third (ex Balair) aircraft. The airline's first true jet wasn't long in coming when in 1969 a BAC One-Eleven, G-AXOX, arrived.
A major milestone was the start of long-haul services, albeit operated by a BOAC VC10 in Gulf Aviation colours, on April 1, 1970. More drastic changes would elevate Gulf Air into the ranks of national airlines when in 1973 BOAC's share was bought out by the governments of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. A year later the Foundation Treaty gave each of the nations a 25% shareholding and rebranded Gulf Aviation to Gulf Air. Services under that name began on April 1, 1974 and gradually the fleet was reregistered using the new A4O code.
The initial jet fleet consisted of One-Elevens and VC10s the latter all ex BOAC aircraft. A4O-VI was originally G-ARVI delivered to BOAC in April 1964 and leased to Gulf Air ten years later when British Airways withdrew its short VC10s. It and four others allowed Gulf Air to expand its route network throughout the Middle-East, Europe and Asia as far as Bangkok and Hong Kong. After a busy three years the VC10s were replaced by L1011 Tristars and sold onto the RAF. VI was converted to a K.2 as ZA142 and finally withdrawn in 2001.
The short-haul fleet was renewed from 1977 using 9 737-200s (A4O-BC-K) to replace the One-Elevens and F27s.
Given Gulf Air's UK links it was no surprise that they purchased Rolls-Royce powered Tristars beginning with A4O-TW in February 1976. A4O-TY was the third aircraft, after TX, though she was originally delivered as G-BDCY. She was followed by TZ a month later. Two TWA planes were leased from 1977-1981 when three new build Tristar 200s (A4O-TA/TB/TT) arrived. The fleet was expanded in the 1980s with four further aircraft from Cathay Pacific (TV – 09/80), All Nippon (TS – 05/83) and Air Canada (TP and TR – 06/84). The Tristars were gradually replaced by 767s from 1988 and the last left the fleet in January 1998. TY was converted to a freighter and became N306GB with Rich Int, Arrow Air and Fine Air. In 2004 she was damaged by a Hurricane at Miami.
Gulf Air celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1990 and was expanding impressively becoming the first Middle-Eastern airline to serve Australia (Sydney in 1990 followed by Melbourne in 1992). By then the fleet was servicing a wide number of destinations in Africa, Europe and the Middle East as well as long-haul Asian routes like Bangkok, Colombo, Delhi, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Manila and Singapore. The fleet expanded rapidly, by mid 1995, consisting of 13 A320s, 20 767-300s as well as the remaining Tristars. The first of 5 A340-300s also joined in July 1994. However 1995 was the start of difficult times for the airline which that year made a BD52.9 million loss due to decreasing yields and increasing fuel prices. A profit was recorded by 1998 however losses have returned continuously since then provoking numerous restructures.
The airline has been hit by the rise of the ME3 (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways) as well as the exit of three of the four founding nations (Qatar in 2002, Abu Dhabi in 2005 and Oman in 2007). Now completely Bahraini based the fleet consists of 28 aircraft (mainly A320s and A321s with 6 A330s). The most recent restructuring has been successful at reducing the airline's losses drastically however break-even still remains a long term goal. Hopefully the Golden Falcon will continue to fly for a long time yet.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: