Cover Story

Soaring to new heights

September 23 - 29, 2020

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly Soaring to new heights

ONE of Bahrain’s top aviators is set to soar even higher as an invitee to take the prestigious British Livery of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots (HCAP).

Captain Ameen Budagher, 66, has witnessed and shaped many of the kingdom’s most vaunted aviation milestones from the moment he started flying in 1975 until his retirement in 2013, flying with Gulf Air from 1976 to 2013.

Capt Ameen said: “I had a fascination with flying since I was three years old and saw a flight deck for the first time.

“I spent a lot of my childhood watching planes take off and land near the airport. When I finished high school in 1972, I had a choice between medicine and aviation.

“I think everyone is born with a purpose. I knew my purpose lay in the skies so I decided to study meteorology at the IAL International Aeradio.

“Three years later, I continued my studies in management and meteorology at the prestigious Royal Air Force (RAF) College and finished my meteorological studies at Bracknell.

“That was just the start of my journey as I started my career at Gulf Air in 1976 and was sponsored to attend the Hamble College of Air Training in the UK.”

In 1978, Capt Ameen was the first pilot to fly the then-newly-established Gulf Air route from Bahrain to New Delhi.

By the time he retired, Capt Ameen had logged over 25,000 hours of flight time, shouldering the safety of a variety of passengers over the years, from holidaymakers to VIPs.

He recollected: “One of the most interesting trips I took was a commercial flight in 1994 from Cairo to Doha. In addition to the regular passengers, I was also charged with flying a general to an arms control and regional security conference.

“It was quite the nerve-wracking experience as he sat behind me for the trip, which brought all the news media outlets to the cockpit. However, as he was a pilot and had logged more than 3,000 flight hours, mostly in fighter jets, we had a lot to talk about. It was definitely a flight to remember.”

In 2001, Capt Ameen also flew British explorer and writer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, also known by his Arabic name ‘Mubarak bin London’, from London to Abu Dhabi to receive his honorary UAE citizenship.

Being an accomplished pilot is the most basic requirement of taking the Livery of the HCAP.

The company was established as a Guild in 1929 in order to ensure that pilots and navigators of the then fledgling aviation industry were accepted and regarded as professionals.

In 2014, it was granted a Royal Charter in the name of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots. It is unique amongst City Livery Companies in having active regional committees in Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and North America.

Charity, fellowship and education are the three fundamental pillars that all Liverymen are expected to uphold.

For Capt Ameen, these have become a habit as he became one of the stalwarts of Bahraini society. For years, he and his wife, Benedicta Dias Budagher, have hosted visiting British heroes - the Chelsea Pensioners - for dinner at the British Club, as part of annual Poppy Ball celebrations.

In addition, he plans to support retired air force operatives in his new role.

The Livery is the most recent feather to be added to Captain Ameen’s fellowship cap. He is a founding member of the Bahrain British Business Forum, founding member of St Christopher’s school board of directors, a member of the British Air Pilots Association, upper freeman of the HCAP, fellow of The Royal Aeronautical Society, member of the RAF Club and a holder of the Freedom of the City of London.

Education has always been in the former Gulf Air pilot’s veins, as he trained aspiring pilots at Bahrain’s national carrier for years. He continues that tradition today with courses, seminars and conferences for the HCAP, nurturing the next generation of fliers.

He added: “My advice for aspiring aviators is that you must have a backup. Being a pilot is a lot like being an athlete – it is an incredible opportunity but we have regular medical and flight tests. Just in case a medical problem arises at some point, you always have another degree on which to fall back, which will help you rise through the leadership ranks as well.”

Today, when he is not busy supporting good causes, Capt Ameen is an avid traveller, reader and golfer and spends his time with his grandson, Khalid, his wife and his three daughters.

More on Cover Story