A visionary par excellence
When he arrived in Dubai it had no airport and construction of it began two years for the facility with a runway made of compacted sand, Norman William Turnbull had no idea that he will be playing an important role in Dubai and will be living here for the next 62 years developing from the civil aviation, a key economic activity contributing now US$80 billion to the country’s economy. Hailing from the borders between Scotland and England, Norman was a true Turnbull like many border families who loved wandering as they wish. He truly fell in love with the old world charm of Arabia and pitched his tent to stay put until his last days.
A pioneer and visionary with a go-getting approach to work, he carried out his tasks well under three generations of Dubai rulers and contributed enormously to the civil aviation. After serving in the RAF and BOAC, he turned his attention towards the Trucial States by joining the International Aero Radio Limited (IAL), which is now part of the SERCO, provider of ATC services in Dubai since 1967. After five years with IAL at Abu Dhabi Airport, he moved lock, stock and barrel to Sharjah to effectively manage for four years its airport, the first in the Trucial States since 1932.
A day before Trucial States became history with the UAE becoming a federation in December 1971, he took the crucial responsibility at Dubai Airport as its Manager, a time when the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) was managing it. His arrival was exactly four years after his crucial role in persuading Dubai to go ahead with the provision of ATC services. During his tenure at the DCA, a forerunner to DCAA till 2007, he contributed immensely to all aspects of airport operations and trained Emiratis which helped Dubai being in the select club of 12 airports which played host to one billion passengers.
I had the privilege of working with him after I joined as the Operations Director at DCA in 1982. In 1985, Turnbull was on the inaugural flight of Emirates which started off with just two leased aircraft and is now the world’s largest international airline and the world’s largest Boeing 777 operator. In 1989, he opened the Emirates Flying School.
His association with Dubai continues even after his death symbolically with his two grandsons working as pilots with the Dubai Air Wing, home to the ruling family’s private airliner. A fitting tribute to him is the achievement of DXB becoming the world’s largest airport with nearly 90 million passengers annually. Dubai has in place aviation strategy up to the year 2050 as part of the DCAA’s vision to make Dubai the Airport of the World.
Mohammed Abdulla Ahli