Sir Maurice Flanagan, Executive Vice-Chairman of Emirates Airline and Group Image Credit: Francois Nel / Gulf News

Dubai: Sir Maurice Flanagan, the founding CEO of Emirates airline and its retired Executive Vice-Chairman, died on Thursday in London aged 86. He had been in hospital for his final few weeks as he battled cancer surrounded by his family and close friends.

On hearing the news, Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates airline and Group, said: “Emirates Group and Dubai has lost a great friend today. Maurice was a man of great character and a legend in the aviation industry. He was generous with his time, forthright in his views, and a person who gave 110 per cent to everything he did.

“It was a great personal pleasure and privilege to have worked with him. On behalf of all Emirates Group staff, I express our condolences to his wife Audrey, his son Julian, and his daughters Siobhan and Claire. His contributions to Dnata, Emirates and Dubai will always be remembered.”

Sir Maurice’s early career was with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British Airways (BA) with whom he enjoyed several postings around the world including Mumbai, Peru and Iran.

He came to Dubai in 1978 to manage Dnata, but in 1985 he was called to a meeting with His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, then Minster of Defence and now Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who said that he wanted to start an airline.

“I was asked how much money I would need, and being realistic I said $10 million (Dh36.73 million) although others were talking of $40 million or $50 million. Ten seemed like a nice safe Maktoum sort of number!” Sir Maurice told his retirement party in 2013.

“We launched with the support of His Highness, but he added that there was to be no protectionism, that Dubai would continue its Open Skies Policy, and there would be no subsidies,” he said. Emirates airline is now on track to becoming the largest airline in the world.

At his retirement, Sir Maurice received a touching tribute from Shaikh Ahmad who said, “I salute you as a friend and colleague. On behalf of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, we thank you for the huge contribution you have made.”

Warm tribute

Shaikh Ahmad told the assembled audience of friends and senior Emirates staff that he had shared an office with Sir Maurice for nine months when they started Emirates airline in 1985, and added in a warm and personal tribute that “I learnt a lot from Sir Maurice. Indeed, when you see some good in me, you see what Maurice taught me.”

Last night Emirates airline hailed Sir Maurice’s role in both building Emirates airline and in developing the global aviation industry.

“He helped steer the Group’s business divisions through many challenging periods to continually deliver growth and profits. A thought leader in the aviation and travel industry, Sir Maurice was a vocal champion for the benefits of competition and innovation.

He was actively involved in many industry forums, including as a member of the Executive Committee of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)”.

Sir Maurice’s achievements won him the honour of a knighthood in Queen Elizabeth’s 2010 birthday honours, who bestowed the accolade on him personally in a special ceremony when she visited the UAE.

Other industry awards include Flight International magazine’s Personality of the Year, membership of the British Travel Industry Hall of Fame, Aviation Legend award by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, and many others.

In addition to his work with Emirates airline, Sir Maurice made a great contribution to Dubai life. His personal enjoyment of rugby made a great difference to Emirates’ sponsorship of the Rugby Sevens in their early days.

He also played an important personal role in the Emirates Festival of Literature, attending many session and making valuable contributions, as well as hosting memorable end of festival parties at his home. He published a volume of his poetry that he would have presented at the 2015 festival had illness not intervened.

He is survived by his wife Audrey and his three children, Julian, Siobhan and Claire, and five grandchildren.