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Sheikh Ahmad presents a certificate in honour of Norman Turnbull’s memory to his grandson Richard Gepp. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The family of Dubai Airport’s first manager Norman Turnbull recently received an honour in his memory from Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman of Emirates Group.

The Englishman passed away in Dubai aged 98 on June 2 and left a big legacy in the UAE’s civil aviation sector, having first arrived here in 1957.

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Norman Turnbull, the first manager of Dubai Airport died on June 2 aged 98 Image Credit: Supplied

He worked for Abu Dhabi Airport from 1962, before moving to Sharjah Airport in 1968, finally joining Dubai Airport in 1971, until his retirement in 2000.

During this time, Turnbull witnessed the transformation of an industry from humble beginnings, and was one of the pioneers that led the aviation sector towards contributing an estimated US$80 billion a year to the UAE’s economy today — at approximately 15 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Norman Turnbull was a stalwart in the aviation industry in Dubai. His immense contribution will always be remembered by all of us.

- Sheikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum

“Norman Turnbull was a stalwart in the aviation industry in Dubai. His immense contribution will always be remembered by all of us,” said Shaikh Ahmad at the ceremony attended by Turnbull’s grandson Richard Gepp.

Gepp added: “Gramps would always say how lucky he was to have witnessed the enormous growth that took place in Dubai and the airport he loved in the 62 years since he first arrived.”

Mohammad Ahli, Director General of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, said it was Turnbull, who arranged for the locals, such as himself, to go on courses to develop their skills into being the leaders of tomorrow.

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Dubai Airport in 1971 when Norman Turnbull first joined Image Credit: Supplied

From 4-5 flights a week and just 40,000 passengers a year, it was pioneers like Turnbull — under the vision of the late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Former Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai — that helped turn Dubai Airport into the world’s busiest today, with 88.8 million passengers a year, and 34,000 flights a month.


number of flights per week at Dubai Airport in the early '70s.

The initial vision of Shaikh Rashid was made a reality by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Shaikh Ahmad, and it is trusted, loyal, servants like Turnbull, who evoked the necessary teamwork and comradery to ease the process, said Ahli.

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Dubai Airport during one of the first flights in 1960 Image Credit: Supplied

“He really was one of those people who helped build Dubai through teamwork,” said Ahli. “He was one of the pioneers who helped build this industry, and he will be sorely missed by the aviation community here,” he added.

Having been on the inaugural Emirates flight to Karachi in 1985, and having also set up Emirates Flying School in 1989, Turnbull also witnessed the rise of the UAE airline.

Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline, said, “Norman was a true gentleman whose contribution to the spectacular growth of Dubai Airport is hugely appreciated.”

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Dubai Airport when it first opened in 1960 Image Credit: Supplied

Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO of Fly Dubai, added, “Norman was a pioneer in the UAE’s aviation sector contributing to the success of the industry. He will be greatly missed by Dubai’s aviation community.”

Turnbull even played a key part in the birth of Dubai Duty Free (DDF), forging the initial link that brought current DDF Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Colm McLoughlin over from Shannon Airport in Ireland in 1983.

“On my first arrival in Dubai, Norman met me at the airport,” said McLoughlin. “He was an advisor in many ways. Recruitment advice, procedures, protocol, introductions, systems. We remained friends through the years.”

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A view of Dubai Airport now in 2019

Mohi-Din Bin Hendi, former Director General of the Department of Civil Aviation in Dubai, said, “Norman was a great person with a very good sense of humour and he was very ethical in his work place. He loved Dubai and lived over four decades here until he passed away. He will be missed.”


number of flights per month at Dubai International Airport — or about 8,500 flight per week

Mohammad Abdullah Lengawi, Deputy Director General and Executive Director, Aviation and Security and Accident Investigation at DCAA, added: “Norman Turnbull had the exceptional ability to grapple complex matters with ease. I consider it a privilege to have worked with him and was able to learn many aspects relating to aviation under his guidance.”

Turnbull is survived by his two grandsons and one great granddaughter, all of whom still live in Dubai. His wife Rachel passed away in 1999 and their only child Sandra passed away in 1990.