Gulf Air: A Class of Our Own

Captain Waleed Al Alawi / CEO · Gulf Air

Gulf Air, the national Carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a subsidiary of Gulf Air Group Holding company under whose ownership Bahrain Airport Company and Gulf Aviation Academy.

Founded in 1950, Gulf Air is the proud national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain. As a pioneering airline in the Middle East region with more than 70 years of experience and expertise in flying people across continents, Gulf Air is today one of the most powerful brands and a name to reckon with in the global aviation industry.

One of the prime objectives of Gulf Air is to connect Bahrain to the Middle East countries and the rest of the world. As such the airline currently operates the largest network in the Middle East with non-stop flights while providing seamless onward connections to other international destinations. The airline’s current announced network stretches from Europe to Asia, connecting 58 destinations, with a fleet of 34 aircraft.

In tune with the Kingdom’s economic blueprint, ‘Vision 2030’, Gulf Air’s strategy is to build an efficient, commercially sustainable and dynamic airline that effectively serves the people and the economy of Bahrain and represents the Kingdom on the world stage. Reflecting the needs and aspirations of its customers, the strategy focuses on three
core areas: a targeted, more focused international network, a superior, more consistent product and a modern, more efficient fleet that will optimize value. However, Gulf Air’s goal remains unchanged; its commitment to the latest aviation technology complemented by its hallmark Arabian hospitality for which the airline is well known.

Aviation Bahrain wanted to know more, so Melissa Lamb met with Gulf Air CEO, Captain Waleed Al Alawi to learn more about this aviation success story.

The Gulf Air mission, “The Boutique Airline”

Gulf Air is embarking on a period of transformation and evolution and Captain Al Alawi is not under any illusions about where Gulf Air’s strengths lie, which is as a boutique airline.
As a company, Gulf Air is highly agile, so it can pre-empt and navigate industry challenges without compromising passenger safety and comfort. He explains, “With approximately 3,000 employees, our airline may not be as large as others, but it is certainly substantial enough for the kingdom of Bahrain, the focus is on the excellence of our aircraft and the level of service provided.” Our strategy focuses on creating a luxury product that will provide travel opportunities by targeting corporate and millennial passengers, as well as Gulf Air’s own premium leisure passengers, to become the customer’s airline of choice.

That includes providing smaller and cosier cabins; offering luxury products and unique experience; high personalisation; the most convenient connections at Bahrain International Airport; and a five-star lounge in the new terminal at Bahrain.

And the numbers back this up too. In 2023 Gulf Air has been rated a Five Star Major Airline by Apex and in 2021, Gulf Air received the World’s most improved airline. When comparing themselves to much larger counterparts, achieving this

is truly remarkable, and Gulf Air takes great pride in this accomplishment. as Captain Al Alawi explained, “.

That’s why it is truly impressive for Gulf Air to be ranked 22nd in the world. We take great pride in this achievement. The market is highly competitive, and as a connecting airline, our aim is to become the preferred airline of choice.”.

Gulf Air and the 787 Dreamliner: The choice of the environmentally conscious Airline.

To Gulf Air, the importance of environmental consciousness can never be understated. Capitan Alawi explains, “With our purchase of Boeing 787s, we have delivered an 18% reduction in CO2 emissions. As the fuselage of the 787 is made of composite material, it is strong, durable and greatly improves fuel-efficiency. It also allows for a better customer experience due to the large windows and lower cabin altitude pressure setting in the cabin. The skin of the airplane is able to cope better with the differential pressure, so the experience is better for the passengers.”

Gulf Air’s commitment to its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals go way beyond being a sustainability “lip service”. Robust ESG goals in aviation are an absolute must and to be taken seriously. Gulf Air has risen to the occasion, and this comes through with every Gulf Air take-off and landing with the Boeing 787 forming the cornerstone of this strategy. Captain Alawi also outlines how the 787 is more operationally

different than its counterparts as the engines work differently because of the thrust to weight ratio of the Dreamliner. “As pilots, we calculate the absolute optimum amount of thrust needed for a particular operation. Reducing thrust reduces pollution, noise level, fuel consumption and so on. On take-off and landing, we are gentler on the throttle which saves on fuel and carbon emissions.” He goes on to add, “The 787 is also electrically driven, unlike older generation aircraft which use heavier and less reliable hydraulic and pneumatic systems.

I mentioned the big and beautiful windows too, which is possible because the fuselage is made of stronger composite material. So, the passengers can enjoy looking outside. Then when you enter the 787, you have 26 ‘Falcon Gold’ seats which are our first-class experience and offer a flatbed that gives you privacy. The 787 is truly state-of-the-art.”

A Modern Fleet to Deliver the Ultimate Flying Experience.

Gulf Air currently has 33-strong fleet, including eight Dreamliner 787-9s. They also have 20 aircraft on order. This all ties in with Gulf Air’s bold plan to dramatically increase its global network of destinations with future orders of four 787s, ten A321s and six 320s. The A320s have been ordered in two configurations: one with 136 seats and another with 150 seats. They have also ordered A321s in two different configurations.

The first has 16 sleeper seats and 150 economy seats, while the second has 12 sleeper seats and 180 economy seats.

Captain Waleed Al Alawi: Gulf Air CEO and an aviation industry veteran with more than 40 years of experience

Captain Alawi can see the business from multiple perspectives as he is the CEO and a commercial pilot, He is also the Accountable Manager, as Captain Alawi describes, the accountable manger is the individual responsible for ensuring comprehensive oversight of safety and compliance. They diligently oversee all operations to ensure that every task is effectively executed.

And as a pilot?

“Being a pilot as well means that I also get to see the business from a different perspective. Realistically, it allows me to meet the crews, the passengers, the ground staff and the engineers. So, you’ve got your finger on the pulse. As a Captain and Accountable Manager, I have huge responsibilities so I don’t get to fly as often as I would like but I still fly.”

Keeping customer engagement at the forefront, Gulf Air has expanded its reach into new markets, such as holidays and specialised packages. The airline has introduced Gulf Air Holidays, a dedicated company that provides a comprehensive range of services, including tickets, hotels, and experiences, including Formula 1. Additionally, Gulf Air offer enticing “Stop Over” programs, allowing passengers to break their journey and enjoy one or two nights at an alternate destination en route to their final location.

Captain Alawi further explains, “In our ongoing efforts to enhance our digital presence, we are actively working on improving our electronic image and encouraging passengers to utilize our mobile app. Additionally, we consistently strive to enhance our onboard products, while seeking increased customer engagement.”

Gulf Air has launched ‘Fly Pass’, which allows Gulf Air customers to purchase tickets in bulk and offers very flexible options for days and times of flights. Captain Alawi explains, “If you are working in Dubai, you can purchase like 30 tickets in bulk, with luggage or without and you can change the dates, times and names as needed. It is an online system, so you design your own package. It’s like a metro ticket. It’s very flexible.” Gulf Air also offers VIP Charters and regularly offers charters to sporting events. They have even offered a very high-level charter for a

family that chartered a flight to Greece, “We are always looking to expand into new areas and to work with new partners. We will be looking at these kinds of relationships as well. It can be really interesting to see this area grow.

Gulf Air: A Leading Proponent of Sports Tourism.

As a member of the Tourism Board, Captain Alawi ensures that Gulf Air’s targets are aligned with Bahrain’s tourism targets. Working hand-in-hand with the Bahrain Tourist Board, they have partnered on multiple events across many different sports, including basketball, horse racing and of course, F1. Captain Alawi is the President of the Bahraini Basketball Association and sees a lot of potential for tourism in this area, “When

we qualified for the World Championships and the Asian Qualification Games, we actually hosted the tournaments. It was during COVID, but we used safety bubbles to make sure that everyone was safe. The players would fly over, and they would obviously be tested and then taken straight to the hotel and locked in until each game. Before the game, they would be tested again and after they would go back to the hotel. So, we had everyone in very controlled bubbles.”

Bahrain also hosts Golf events and as the Chairman of the Bahrain International Golf Course, he is looking to work with event partners to host international tournaments in the future.

By talking to Captain Alawi, it’s clear to see that Gulf Air is going through a period of significant growth. They are expanding their fleet and growing their global network while boldly reducing carbon emissions and putting their ESG responsibilities at the forefront of all they do. And they’re doing this with a pin-sharp focus on strategy, “As we grow our fleet, we obviously have to switch our assets and choose the markets that we want to fly into. We will continue to grow our routes and add new destinations. It is a continuous use of our assets going to the best destinations and the best markets that fit our vision. In fact, our vision and the vision of the Ministry of Tourism all go hand in hand.”