Gulf Air adds new routes to China and India; increasing capacity to Europe this winter

Image: Route launch celebrations
Gulf Air launched Bahrain-Shanghai services in June. The service is operated with an A340-300. Bahrain International Airport director Mohammed Tamer Al Kaabi said the new link is a great achievement and a welcome addition. “We welcome more flights between the two countries and will exert efforts to develop trade and commerce links, in addition to further strengthening tourism, culture and historic ties,” he said.

Logo: Gulf AirBahrain-based Gulf Air, while no longer the biggest carrier in the Middle East, can claim to be one of the oldest as it was founded back in 1950 by a British entrepreneur. In 1974 Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar became equal joint owners and the airline blossomed during the 1980s as the region’s leading international airline.

Now, the airline is 100% owned by the government of Bahrain as each of the other partners has recently pulled out – Qatar in 2002, Abu Dhabi in 2005 and Oman in 2007.

This has left the airline facing some serious challenges as it now faces regional competition for transfer traffic from Emirates in Dubai, Qatar Airways in Doha and Etihad in Abu Dhabi. Since February the airline has also had to face a new local rival, Bahrain Air, which already flies to 11 destinations in the Middle East and North Africa, 10 of which are served by Gulf Air.

Gulf Air has around 57% of scheduled capacity at Bahrain airport compared with 6% for Bahrain Air. Thanks to this increased competition traffic at Bahrain airport has been growing at around 20% so far in 2008. After abandoning its Abu Dhabi base after the creation of Etihad, Gulf Air’s passenger numbers fell from over seven million in 2006 to under six million in 2007. The airline has also struggled financially in recent years.

41 non-stop destinations from Bahrain

Gulf Air daily service to Hyderbad
Gulf Air began a daily service to Hyderabad, India’s fifth largest city, in July. “It is indeed a proud moment for us at Gulf Air as we connect Hyderabad, the City of Pearls with Bahrain, the Pearl of the Gulf known for its centuries-old pearl-diving tradition,” said Gulf Air COO Captain Christopher Cain. “The launching of services to Hyderabad is a very good example of the successful and long-established bilateral relationship between Bahrain and India.”

Gulf Air currently serves 41 destinations non-stop from Bahrain with a fleet of 30 Airbus’ ranging from A319s to A340s. All of the airline’s 767s were phased out earlier this year. The most recent network additions were Shanghai and Hyderabad which were launched in June and July respectively. This marked the airline’s first route to China and eighth to India. Its top 12 markets based on seat capacity are dominated by regional operations.

Chart: Top 12 Markets
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 29 September 2008

Dubai is less than 500 kilometres from Bahrain and Doha is just 145 kilometres away. Scheduled journey time between Bahrain and Doha is 45 minutes, though presumably the ‘in-air’ time will be considerably less.

Heathrow is the most popular long-haul destination and is served with three daily flights. The only other European destinations currently served by Gulf Air are Athens, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Larnaca and Paris. Frequency on both the Frankfurt and Paris routes will be increased by almost 30% this winter from daily to nine flights per week.

A total of 26 country markets are served with UAE leading the way thanks to multiple-daily flights to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. India is the second biggest country market with flights to eight destinations (seven of which are served daily), followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UK.

Airbus and Boeing aircraft on order

Gulf Air is currently looking to lease additional wide-body long-haul capacity and will be adding three former MEA A330s to its fleet in early 2009. It has also placed orders for A330s and B787s as well as awaiting delivery on 20 further A320s.

Sponsoring football and motor sport

Image: Chairman posing amongst Gulf Air air stewards
Gulf Air signed a three-year sponsorship deal with London-based Queens Park Rangers football club in July. The airline branding features on the team’s shirts. Flavio Briatore, Chairman of QPR Holdings Limited (pictured centre), said: “The relationship brings together two brands that have mutual objectives and desires to move forward and embrace a global audience. It is a very exciting time for everyone involved with the Club. Today we are one step closer to achieving our goal of making Queens Park Rangers Football Club a global brand.”

Gulf Air has been the corporate sponsor of the Bahrain Grand Prix since it first took place in 2004. Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has another link with Gulf Air as well. He is part owner (with Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore) of unfashionable London football club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) which Gulf Air recently became the official shirt sponsor of. This season QPR is attempting to gain promotion to the lucrative Barclays Premier League. They are currently fifth in the second tier of English football – ‘The Championship’.

Image: Gulf Air Plane


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