One of Middle East aviation’s leading figures, Maurice Flanagan, has died. Flanagan, 86, was the founding CEO of Emirates Airline.

In 1985, he led a 10-man team that launched Emirates with, as he later described it, two leased aircraft, a $10 million grant and a strict warning from the emirate’s government not to come back for more.

In 1990 he became group managing director of the Emirates Group. He was the Group’s executive vice chairman until his retirement in 2013.

Flanagan left British Airways in 1978 to become director and GM of Dubai Airport services organization dnata during the early days of the emirate’s economic development.

During his career with Emirates, Flanagan steered the young carrier to become a leading international aviation player, espousing both high standards of service and innovations such as IFE screens in all classes of its aircraft. Emirates said he had been a vocal champion for the benefits of competition and innovation.

On Tuesday, Emirates reported a 40% full-year profit increase of $1.3 billion in 2014.

In a statement issued Thursday, Emirates noted his death “with great sadness” at home in London.

Emirates Group chairman and CEO Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said, “The 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% to everything he did. It was a great personal pleasure and privilege to have worked with him. His contributions to dnata, Emirates and Dubai will always be remembered.”