Emirates has been one of the few airlines that has sustainably cemented its brand as one of the world’s largest, beloved by employees and customers alike, and one of the most valuable airlines, thanks to its exponential rate of expansion with the behemoth wide-body fleet over the last several years. In just over three decades, the airline has gone from operating three flights with four leased aircraft to operating a fleet of 259 aircraft to over 150 odd destinations around the world! The airline also operates one of the youngest fleets in the world, a feat that is commendable, given the gargantuan fleet that Emirates owns.
The 1980s – Birth of Emirates
Emirates, as a brand, has transformed abundantly over the years – an airline that started its first flights to India and Pakistan in 1985, to one that today connects almost 70% of the world! It has been a story of revelation, one that has stood its ground through a multitude of tests, and even when aviation is at a standstill today, due to COVID-19, the story of Emirates gives many the hope that the airline shall get back to who it was.
The idea for Emirates was conceived when Gulf Air, which was operating flights in and out of Dubai at that time in the 1980s, decided to reduce its number of flights. This move led to increasing concern for the city of Dubai, fearing that they were helping other airlines by only serving as regional feeder flights. Thus, in 1984, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sir Maurice Flanagan launched a new airline based in Dubai. Sir Flanagan was appointed to set up the brand new airline with $10mn, entrusted after his success of working at Dubai National Air Transport Association (DNATA). The airline found an early success after its business model reverberated with the requirements of aviation market of the day.
It is interesting that the choices for name of the airline were: ‘Dubai Airlines’ and ‘Emirates’. When Sir Flanagan put these two options on the table, it was Sheikh Mohammed who opted for his country’s new airline to be called Emirates! And so, Emirates, was born!
One year later, the $10 million capital investment was soon repaid, concluding the successful start-up phase for the carrier.
In the early days of business, Emirates struck a deal with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to the wet-lease of two aircraft, a new Boeing 737-300 and an Airbus A300 B4-200. The Dubai Royal family even gifted two additional aircraft from the Dubai Royal Air Wing – two Boeing 727-200 aircraft.
The year was 1987, when Emirates purchased its first ever aircraft – an Airbus A310. The aircraft was built according to the specifications that Emirates had put forward to Airbus so as to offer passengers a superior flying experience compared to its rivals. It was back then that luxury and opulence would form the core values of Emirates! Till 1988, Emirates operated flights to Damascus, Amman, Colombo, Cairo, Dhaka in addition to their flights to Pakistan and India.
Emirates was one of very few airlines that tasted success very early. In the 1990s, the carrier had cemented itself as one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, with revenues booming to around $100mn each year! And so, one of the most influential airline of modern times had taken shape right under the noses of major European carriers!
From 1985 to 1990s, Emirates showed remarkable growth. Not only did Tim Clark, the then President and current CEO, realize that middle-east would later become the hub for travel between the eastern and western parts of the world, but he would also strategize the business model that would later make Dubai International airport a crucial connecting airport between Asia, and Europe and Americas.
It was still the 1990s, but Emirates had already made a dent in the universe! In times to come, not many incidents would disrupt Emirates’ ferocious urge to expand and influence! In part 2 of the article, we will further see how Emirates took the shape it is in today. Stay tuned!