It was very disappointing to see the MPs rejecting the Gulf Air bailout plan. They don't seem to have a clear image of the airline.
Let us first look at what Gulf Air was. It was an internationally known brand and one of the finest in the region and the most diplomatic, flying to pretty much every continent on the planet. The company was well known for connecting the Middle East, Far East, Europe, Australia and the USA with its amazing confection and great investment. In other words it was a diplomat from the GCC. The airline has so much experience and so many contacts that many airlines still can't actually beat it despite having unlimited funds from their government. This just displays the strength of the pioneering brand and the MPs seem to want it to be dissolved.
During the transition stage, the airline came back to Bahrain giving a great boost to the nation's GDP, connecting Bahrain to the world. Bahrain took it with great pride when the airline was readjusting itself in the region and went from three hubs to a single one serving from a single country for the first time in many years. Pumping money into Gulf Air was a good idea but during that time, everything in Gulf Air was pretty much lost. Readjusting its network, staff and maintenance department was not an easy job. Not to mention corruption the airline was battling, which seems to have occurred after constant change faced by the airline. Gulf Air tried to fight its way through but due to increase in competition, the carrier went into a loss-making stage.
Then came the time when Gulf Air formed the new restructure plan, removing excess staff, unprofitable destinations and lastly remarketing the brand. This gave it a positive feedback, especially when it commenced flights to Iraq and increased flights to Iran which was pretty much the most profitable market for them. The management then slightly adjusted its network to suit that specific market as well and invested a hefty amount of money in it to meet customers' demand.
However, as soon as the protests in Bahrain escalated, which nobody expected, the government advised the airline to cease flying to that destination altogether. It was okay if it was a temporary measure to review security and other official measures. But this ban has been going on for more than a year and what's worse is that a neighbouring airline which has a greater political issue with those countries is making huge profits from the market which Gulf Air first discovered and tried to capitalise on.
On top of all that, Bahrain faced travel bans, escalation of violence on television wrongly claiming that Bahrain was no longer safe for business or tourism, the causeway being closed temporarily and people from Saudi feeling jittery of using Bahrain airport due to the violence.
That was not all, the cancellation of F1 had a severe impact on Bahrain's tourism sector, which includes Gulf Air. Now suspension of six main destinations and massive fall in passengers is bound to significantly disrupt the restructure programme. Is it in any way Gulf Air's fault? It was a victim of the hardship Bahrain faced last year and it is being targeted as if it is the culprit. No airline in the world would make a penny if it faced all those challenges in the form of a single blow, which Gulf Air endured. So why not help to heal the wounds?
Like many businesses in Bahrain, Gulf Air needs the bailout. Not only that, most allegations made by the parliament were uncalled for. For example, alcohol ban. Now, being a Muslim from Bahrain, I support the sentiment. But before Gulf Air embraces the no alcohol policy, shouldn't it be embraced by Bahrain first? Why single out Gulf Air when you can single out countless hotels and restaurants in Bahrain? And when it comes to the flight attendants performing their duties on ground as well, we pretty much got the drift and I must say, it was a very subtle way of saying it. However, this is a serious allegation, specially when you generalise all the flight attendants. Yes it is morally wrong and I don't deny some of those women exist in Gulf Air, but they exist in every workplace in Bahrain, Middle East and the world! They all have a few immoral employees. Why single out Gulf Air? I have actually seen this happening in offices, hotels, management and even universities! So why does it stop Gulf Air from getting the bailout? Now when it comes to four aircraft on ground, those Airbus 340s were great for Gulf Air in the past. But now, the high fuel costs and maintenance cost have made those aircraft a burden on the company. On top of that, they aren't in demand either and so they can't be easily sold off for a good price, according to what I have heard. This just shows that the decision not to subsidise Gulf Air was not right and I believe that politicians should stop interfering if they want the airline to grow and aid Bahrain's economy in the future. Rather than closing down the airline they should be helping it get back on track.
It is a shame to see an airline of such integrity on the verge of bankruptcy. Is it what Bahrain is about? Can't it even sustaining a fully developed carrier without going through some hardships? I was hoping that Gulf Air would be one the finest in the world once it came under Bahrain rule. Sadly, it is being shrunk in every way possible. Is Bahrain moving forward or backward? The company which holds it in no way conveys the message that Bahrain is moving forward compared with its neighbours. Is that true? If you can't sustain an airline, please hand it over to some other management which would take good care of the carrier and at the same time, connect Bahrain to the world. Being the airline which represents Bahrain, it should not be changed into a budget carrier as it would only create mockery, especially after seeing the UAE, Qatar and even Oman being represented by airlines with class. Gulf Air still holds a great reputation in the market and Bahrain should hold on to it.
Shrinking is not the way to go in this region. Learn from Emirates, "the more of our world we see, the richer we become." In other words, the more we expand the more money we make. Shrinking and downsizing may work in the West and text books made by them but this region is special ... different policies should be implemented when facing losses. Further change in management will also hurt the airline. The main officials should remain to finish their jobs while the board of directors seems to be the only area which needs fixing, according to the audits. I trust that the Shura Council will make the right call and give the airline another chance to grow.