Emirates airline: Flying high for 31 years

Bernd Debusmann Jr./Dubai
Filed on October 25, 2016 | Last updated on October 25, 2016 at 12.06 am
Emirates airline: Flying high for 31 years

Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Emirates Airline and Group, was among the passengers of Emirates’ first flight to Karachi on October 25, 1985. The UAE’s first airline celebrates its 31st anniversary today. — Supplied photo

UAE jets escort Emirates’ inaugural flight out of the UAE’s airspace

Two other flights took off on that historic first day, one headed for Mumbai, and one for New Delhi.

At 11.45am on October 25, 1985, Emirates Airline's first flight - EK600 - took off from Dubai to Karachi. Few - if any - of the passengers or crew on board could have known that 31 years later, the airline would be one of the largest in the world, flying to more than 150 destinations across more than 80 countries on six continents.

Two other flights took off on that historic first day, one headed for Mumbai, and one for New Delhi.

In the cockpit of the Mumbai-bound flight, EK 500, was Pakistani national Ejaz Ul Haq. "The atmosphere was a mixture of festive and professional," Haq recalled. "The cabin crew were new and pretty well-trained, and it was time to put that training into effect. We took off right on time, and we were given a pretty good reception in Bombay (as Mumbai used to be called then)."

In the year after its 1985 inaugural flights, the airline had 200 employees and operated a fleet of three aircraft, flying 262,000 passengers to seven destinations: Karachi, New Delhi, Bombay, Amman, Colombo, Cairo and Dhaka.

It didn't take long for the fledgling airline to soar above many of its competitors. By 1994 and 1995, the airline had over 4,000 employees and a fleet of 17 aircraft, flying to 34 destinations in 29 countries - numbers which had increased to just under 20,000 employees and 76 destinations in 53 countries by 2004/2005. Haq - originally a Pakistan International Airlines employee who became full-time with Emirates in 1987 - said he could never have imagined that the airline would become as successful as it is today. "Absolutely not, we didn't know. It was a very exciting time. Things were happening all the time."

Haq, who retired from Emirates in 2011, said he credits the success of the airline to strong leadership and the support it received from the government of Dubai.

"It was the vision from the owners, from the very top. They saw the possibilities and they decided to stretch the horizons. The second thing was excellent, top-class management," he noted. "There were dedicated managers who not only worked hard, but worked smart."

In particular, he pointed to Emirates President Tim Clark and the late Maurice Flanagan, founding CEO of Emirates, as being among the main drivers of the airline's success. "Tim Clark is a genius. He's one of those chaps with an exceptional mind. And Maurice Flanagan - he's the real father of the airline. But of course, the vision was further up, from the government."

Looking to the future, Haq said he hoped future generations continue in the footsteps of those that founded the airline. "A very strong foundation has been laid, and now a multi-storey building is being built on top of that," he noted. "I hope that in the future people continue working on that. It's a dynamic project and should never stop, and get bigger and bigger, and better and better."

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