It began 25 years ago when Gulf Air, a politically contrived joint venture between Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar, decided (inexplicably, in retrospect) to cut back its services to Dubai, which was already the region’s transport and trade hub. Dubai’s then ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, responded by asking his younger brother, Sheikh Ahmed, to launch a rival airline. With $10m of start-up capital, a couple of leased aeroplanes (a Boeing 737 and an Airbus A300) and two formidable British aviation executives (Maurice Flanagan and Mr Clark), Emirates was born. After losing a little money in its second year of operation, it has made a profit ever since and doubled in size every three or four years.
Wholly owned by Dubai’s sovereign-wealth fund, it is now one of the world’s most powerful airlines, with 138 planes, all wide-bodied, and 140 more, including 50 A380s, on firm order. Some recession-hit rivals have deferred or cancelled orders, but Mr Clark complains that he can’t get his hands on the new aircraft quickly enough. He sees no problems financing them and is negotiating for even more. By around 2020, Emirates expects to have a fleet of more than 400, dwarfing the long-haul capacity of any other airline. From Dubai, it flies to more than 100 destinations in over 60 countries, reaching every continent.
Aviation in the Gulf: Rulers of the new silk road | The Economist