November 6, 2011
Commercial air services began in Abu Dhabi in 1955, following the construction of an air strip and a small barasti-style terminal/control tower, which was soon replaced with one made from blocks of coral.
The first flights were provided by Gulf Aviation, flying seven-seater De Havilland Doves from Bahrain. The aircraft touched down briefly en route to Sharjah, then an RAF base and the main aviation hub in the Trucial States. There was one flight a week in each direction.
This image, from the BP archives, shows passengers waiting with their suitcases for a flight. In addition to Bahrain and Sharjah, Gulf Aviation also ran charter services for workers on Das Island, the centre of offshore oil exploration.
Much has changed since those early pioneering days. Gulf Aviation became Gulf Air in the 1970s, and the airport has moved twice, first to what is now known as Al Bateen Executive Airport in the 1960s, and to the current location in 1982.
The first airstrip was some way out of town when it opened, the only place the surveying team could find 1,000 metres of ground firm enough to hold the weight of an aircraft. It was located just a few hundred metres from where these words are being typed; off Muroor Road near the junction with 17th street. We know this because, astonishingly, the original terminal has survived. Perfectly preserved it sits at the heart of the television and radio complex of Abu Dhabi Media Company, the publishers of this newspaper. It is hoped one day to restore the building and make it accessible to the general public.
* James Langton
Explore our pictorial history of old Abu Dhabi with the interactive map below, and see all of our Time Frames here.
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