1950/1972 A brief history of the GULF AVIATION Company and its involvement in the air mail transportation.

This article issued in 2012 was the basis of my research on airmail in the Gulf countries. Following the collection that it was the direct expression won two Vermeil in Sharjah exhibitions in 2013 and 2015.

This brief work on post-war Gulf air mail is supposed to be a stimulating starting point for a more detailed study on this fascinating topic.

A great technical progress in the aircraft took place during the Second World War, both numerically as aircraft and also as pilots. Which meant that a large number of former military pilots was auto-converted to civilian pilots, sometimes with entrepreneurial ambitions. There was a large amount of low cost aircraft; for these dynamic pilots-entrepreneurs the problem was to enter with few financial resources in the lucrative air routes. The profitable air routes unfortunately remained in the hands of the big airlines who possessed at the time of the war outbreak. As in the case of BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation). Freddie Bosworth, a former British military pilot, immediately after the war he decided to use the available aircraft for to implant an aero-taxi transport service between Bahrain and Dhahran. It was a new unofficial line, connected Dhahran airport used by TWA with Bahrain international airport used by BOAC. The new airline was used almost exclusively by engineers and workers of the oil companies, because in this time begin the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbon fields in Saudi Arabia but also in the north Qatar. The activity of Freddie Bosworth began by use of a twin-engine Avro Anson demilitarized (fig. 1) with the logistical support of the BOAC. Probably, it is not the only line of the air-taxis existing.

1fig.1 – Postcard of the GF G-VROE, an Avro Anson XIX, on 1954. Can be seen the logo of the Royal Mail on the tail of the aircraft. 

On 24 March 1950, with the financial support of the Bahrain’s trader Mr. Hussain Yateem, Freddie Bosworth founded the “Gulf Aviation” airline. The fleet consisting of six Avro Anson, was enriched by three De Havilland DH.86 Bs (Figure 2).

2fig.2 – The De Havilland DH.86 Bs.

Unfortunately, on 9 June 1951, the visionary and courageous Freddie Bosworth he lost his life in an aerial show in Croydon, south of London. In October 1951 a change occurs in ownership level, BOAC became the company’s largest shareholder with 22% and simultaneously making complete technical support. This was guaranteed until the end of 1973, in fact, from 1 January 1974, the kingdoms of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and UAE bought the shares held by BOAC.

From the postal history point of view is worth remembering that the west coast of the Persian Gulf had already been served, from the first half of the thirties, by the Imperial Airways line London-Sydney with stops in Kuwait (discontinuous), Bahrain and Sharjah (fig. 3). The latter, a short distance from Dubai, Ajman, Umm Al Qiwain and Ras Al Khaima, served also these localities. Relatively common the covers sent from Dubai, while those originated from the others sheikdoms are progressively much more elusive to see.

3fig.3 – The friction occurred in 1932 between Iran and Britain caused many consequences, one of which was the change of the air route on the London-Delhi Imperial Airways line. The Iranians airports of Bushire, Linghe and Jask were replaced with those of Bahrain and Sharjah. By now begins the history of aviation in the Gulf countries.

Let us return to the aero-taxi period, which was the private service that Freddie Bosworth made between the airports of El Muharrak in Bahrain and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, for the transport of people and materials for hydrocarbon fields research. At the time the two locations were important air-stop, respectively for BOAC and TWA, the latter based a short distance of the oil wells of ARAMCO (formerly CASOC). The mail carried by this private airplane service between Dhahran and El Muharrak in the period 1945-1950 are rare because not always show the Bahrain transit cancel applied by the Island’s postal service. Only a few routing mark signs are seen, even in the early fifties (fig. 4 and 5).

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fig.4 – This cover is the first that I know certainly carried by the Aero-taxi service run by Freddie Bosworth. In fact, it departs from Khobar near Dhahran on 9 April 1947 and transit in Bahrain on the same day (back applied Donaldson #5C cancel). This was only possible with air transport. The activity of Freddie Bosworth Aero-taxi starts on the route Dhahran-Bahrain and Bahrain-Doha, and only at the beginning of 1950 is made official with founding Gulf Aviation Company.

5fig.5 – As already said, the Saudi locality of Daharan since the beginning of Gulf Aviation activities, was one of his terminal. The frequency of flights from the hub airport of Bahrain was preferable for the European destinations. Served by B.O.A.C. the airport of Bahrain was very active. The cover above was sent from Daharan on 1/12/1950 (date handwritten in the postmarks) and addressed to Switzerland. The prefered B.O.A.C. routing was indicated by the rare linear black seal “VIA BAHRAIN” applied on the envelope, implying so Gulf Aviation in the transport from Daharan to Bahrain (I recorded only three covers with this seal).

The period that interests most, namely fifties, sixties until the early seventies, result to be when the Gulf Aviation company was registered in all respects. Supported by BOAC was allowed to transportation of air mail, upon agreement with the various postal administrations, first with the Royal Mail and then with the postal administrations that replaced it. Gulf Aviation, until the first half of the sixties, was the only airline able to connect the various parts of west coastal of Persian Gulf between them. As said, the company began operating in March 1950 on the routes Bahrain-Dhahran, followed by the Bahrain-Doha on 16 May and then increase after a few weeks by Sharjah air-stop. Only in 1954 was formalized the connection with Abu Dhabi, which before was discontinuous on the air route to Sharjah (Fig. 6, 7 and 8).

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figures 6 and 7 – Gulf Aviation timetable, issued in March 1955. Inside, in addition to the departure times of flights, stands out the advertising of the camera “Bolex” of which the Yateem brothers were dealers. Mr Hussain Yateem was the co-founder along with Freddie Bosworth of Gulf Aviation in 1950.

8fig. 8 – Map of Gulf Aviation air-routes in 1954.

The paper’s witnesses of this period are not common, there are few covers come down to us (Fig. 9). Already by 1957 the company extended its line up to Muscat in Oman (Fig. 10).

9fig. 9 – Before the opening of the air service of Gulf Aviation in 1950, the few known covers departing from Qatar, were carried by hand until Bahrain. This habit continues for some time even after the opening of the post office in Doha, as in the case of the envelope above sent from the Qatari capital to Dubai on 22/6/1955. There were very few individuals who took care of by a cheap fee. One of these was Mr. “Mohamed Bin Khalife Artisanat n. 5 Al Nidal”. (It is not known as what is “Artisanat n. 5 Al Nidal”). I would add that the covers direct or departing from Dubai until October 1960 were systematically transported via Sharjah.

10fig. 10 – Map of Gulf Aviation air-routes in 1957.

The increase of trade relations between the states of the Persian Gulf, push the company to reach the Kuwait in 1958 with an agreement that also included the Kuwait Airways (Fig. 11 and 12).

11fig. 11 – Gulf Aviation air-routes in 1958 reached Kuwait.

12fig. 12 – In 1958, Gulf Aviation fixed another milestone by creating the new twice per week air connection Bahrain-Kuwait. Almost certainly, this was done by an agreement which also allowed the Kuwait Airways (KU) to make a similar connection.

By now the localities served are almost all Sheikdoms and the mail travels regularly and smoothly (Fig. 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17).

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figures 13 and 14 – Even in the Gulf’s countries, now a correspondence between the different states become customary and at the same time decrease the shipping timing: this cover sent from Dubai via Sharjah, arrived the same day in Manama, Bahrain, attested by cancel recorded by Donaldson #29. The right cover posted in Muscat on Sunday 25/1/1959, according to the timetables of the time although without date of arrival, touched his Qatari destination on the same day at 15:20 and was delivered the next day, Monday 26/1/1959.

16fig.15 – Already in 1969 the postal administration of Dubai felt the need to commemorate the means of mail transportation that had been used to develop its economy in the last 60 years.

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figures 16 and 17 – Posted in Muscat on 6/12/1959, this Registered cover left the next day on Monday 7/12/1959 at 10:15 with the flight GF10 made by a De Havilland Heron aircraft on the route Muscat-Sharjah-Doha-Bahrain. On 11/12/1959 by BOAC arrived in Rome at 07:00 and the same day was delivered to the post office of Foligno (back cancel).

The second is a nice cover carried by the Gulf Aviation flight on the route Muscat-Sharjah-Doha-(Bahrain). Consigned to the post of Muscat on 12/08/1969 was embarked the next day on the GF402 flight, departing at 13:45 and arrived in Doha at 15:45 of the same day to be promptly delivered to the post office.

The Dubai airport was inaugurated on 30 September 1960, it born with the will to be the hub of the south area coast and this leads to establish a direct air link between Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah in 1962 (Fig. 18).

18fig. 18 – Map of Gulf Aviation air-routes in 1962.

The experiment resulting a negative profit and was stopped shortly after (I am almost certain that the initiative was born when even the Ras Al Khaimah’s Sheik became owner of Gulf Aviation shares). In late 1964 another negative profit air-route was created: the direct connection Sharjah-Kor Fakhan (Fig. 19) which was shut down on September 1965.

19fig. 19 – Map of Gulf Aviation air-routes in 1965.

Is important to consider and remember that the air hub of the company is based in Bahrain, and consequential the postal concentration base for mail remains on that island until the end of sixties (Fig. 20).

20fig.20 – Since 1971 began the flights of Gulf Aviation from Dubai to Karachi. The envelope above was addressed to Dukhan, Qatar and was carried by this flight, the mail-bag was opened in Dubai which was also the postal sorting hub of Trucial States.

Only since 1965 began to take shape the centrality of Dubai, which will become slowly airport of regional significance, while that of Sharjah loses importance (Fig. 21, 22 and 23). For example the MEA (Lebanese airline company), since 1966 beginning a flight Beirut-Dubai. On 1967 finally is made the Dubai-Al Ain air-route that was performed by a Gulf Aviation flight to complete the connections between the localities truly active (Figures 24, 25 and 26).

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fig.21 – Many times the “Philatelic” shipments are much more interesting than commercial, as in the case of this registered air cover, sent from Beirut and addressed to Fujeira. The letter arrived in Dubai was taken over by the postal agent of Fujeira that carried him by car to the destination.

22fig.22 – A registered air mail cover transported by car from Ras Al Khaima to the postal hub of Dubai. This time appears the transit cancel affixed on 26 September 1972. Were used also Shaikh Saqr stamps to pay this commercial shipment, direct to the headquarters of “The British Bank of the Middle East” in London.

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fig.23 – Thi’s an uncommon air cover sent from Beirut on 28/11/1972 to Sharjah where arrived on 4/12/1972.

19fig. 24 – Map of Gulf Aviation air-routes in 1965.

24fig. 25 – Map of Gulf Aviation air-routes in 1967.

25fig.26 – By the end of 1967, when the post office was opened, Al Ain (territory of Abu Dhabi) was connected with Dubai by a DC3 aircraft. The fact that the connection was done to Dubai and not to Abu Dhabi, is explained that Dubai had become the hub of postal reference for the Trucial States.

In concluding this brief wrote, I add that the dates of departure, transfer and arrival of the covers are taken from the timetable outlined of Gulf Aviation company and the others air company involved for the years between 1950 and 1973.