20 APRIL 2009

YOUR WORDS


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BAA figures down dramatically in March

BAA is feeling the effects of the economic downturn with passenger numbers to the end of March falling by 11.3% year-on-year across its seven airports.  The knock-on effect will also be felt by not only the air carriers, but by airport retailers and the varied services that go to form part of the travel infrastructure.  Worst hit was Gatwick at 17.7%, its sale at an advanced stage, Stansted 15.9% and 13% at Glasgow.  Heathrow (only) dropped by l 7.5%, a better figure than its European rivals are likely to achieve. The airport actually showed a small increase in air transport movements, an indication of how badly the load factors are doing.  The April date for Easter this year would have played a part in numbers.  Charter traffic fell away by a dramatic 30%.  Leisure holiday makers are turning more and more to the flexible scheduled operations. www.baa.com

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Bombardier new passenger jet gets vital order

BOMBARDIER C series new regional jet has landed a second order.  Dublin-based Lease Corporation International Aviation has signed a firm purchase agreement for three CS100 and 17 CS300 aircraft along with 20 unspecified options.  Officially launched at the Farnborough Air Show in July 2008, on the back of a Lufthansa commitment for 30 plus 30 options, service delivery is set for 2013.  The Canadian company’s Bombardier Belfast facility, the former Shorts operation, will be home to the design and manufacture of the aircraft’s wings.  The C series, with a maximum 149-seat capacity will compete head-on with the long time stalwarts in the marketplace,  Airbus A320 derivatives and Boeing’s Next Generation 737 series.  The new aircraft is powered exclusively by Pratt & Whitney's PW1000G geared turbofan, which will also be fitted to the forthcoming Mitsubishi Regional Jet ordered by ANA.  www.bombardier.com

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CSA Czech Airlines could have new owners by the end of September

CZECH REPUBLIC’S finance ministry has advanced to a second round of tendering for the sale of CSA Czech Airlines.  Air France-KLM and a consortium comprising Czech Unimex Group and Travel Service remain in the bid.  The ministry says that the winner should be known by the end of September at the latest.  Up for grabs is a 91.5% stake.  CSA was profitable in 2008 and like AF is part of Skyteam.  Bidders need to meet conditions such as keeping CSA's national identity status to prevent the airline losing any of its international routes outside Europe.  Air France-KLM is expansion minded and would see an acquisition as outflanking Lufthansa.  Aeroflot were eliminated at this round.  British Airways seems to be less interested in mainland Europe than ever, with the exception of its North Atlantic Open Skies operation, and a proposed tie-up with Iberia. www.praguepost.com

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Icelandair expands UK - USA operation

ICELANDAIR’S low cost operation from Heathrow to the United States via Reykjavik is to be expanded with flights four times per week from Heathrow to Seattle via Reykjavik starting Wednesday 22 July.  Linking in with Alaska Airlines, the new services will enable travellers to access onward connections to destinations in Canada and the US including Calgary, Vancouver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  People who are willing to make an overnight stopover in Iceland will be able to depart Manchester.  Icelandair operates three-cabin Boeing 757s Transatlantic, a traditional 2+2 Business Class, Economy Plus, also 2+2, and standard Economy.  Other North American destinations include Boston, New York, Orlando, Halifax and Toronto.  www.icelandair.co.uk

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Luton Airport in the news for both good and bad reasons

LUTON AIRPORT visitors will be pleased to learn that the re-building of the dual carriageway road from the M1 J10 is now complete making the journey from the motorway both safer and quicker.  The bad news is that the Spanish owned airport is now charging for the privilege of dropping off passengers allegedly to keep the traffic flowing.  Regulars point out that the traffic flowed fine when Luton was announcing record passenger numbers.  Again on the positive front the loss of ThomsonFly to Tel Aviv has been more than made up by the arrival of El Al with daily services (except Saturday) and the opening of a seasonal twice weekly route by Wizz Air to Varna, on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.  Wizz Air already serves Bourgas, another popular Black Sea resort from Luton, and also Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.  It becomes the airline’s 16th destination from the north London airport.  www.london-luton.co.uk

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Singapore legendary hotel up for sale

SINGAPORE’S legendary Raffles Hotel, home to the Singapore Sling cocktail, has been put up for sale by its owner Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia, according to reports in the local media.  The Fairmont Raffles Hotel International Group, part of the Prince’s Kingdom Holding Company, is seeking buyers at around UKP300m.  Other properties within the group are on offer as Fairmont tightens its purse strings in the global downturn.  Still on schedule however is a UKP100m investment in London’s Savoy Hotel, due to re-open later this year. www.raffles.com

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ON TOUR: The Iguassu Falls

We live in a day and age where even the world’s most far flung capitals are within 24 hours flying time and just one stop from London.  Places that even 25 years ago were considered only by the rich or ambitious for visiting are now on most brochures.  We are privileged that it is relatively easy to visit some amazing far flung places with ease.  The most exotic of destinations are within the reach of those even with a modest budget.

One can argue which is the world’s greatest waterfall.  Niagara and the Victoria Falls both have their advocates, but for shear size and beauty, with its 276 separate cascades of water, Iguassu straddling the border of Argentina and Brazil, must rank supreme.

The falls are 850 miles by good quality roads from Buenos Aires, 700 miles from Sao Paulo and 900 miles from Rio.  There are frequent flights from the main hubs and both the Argentine and Brazil host local airports serving the quite large communities supporting the substantial tourist trade and industrial growth.

Europeans first set eyes on the falls in 1541 but it was not until end of the 19th century that its glory began to be known, a multi-million visitors per year tourism industry emerging into the millennium. 

Perhaps the best way of introducing yourself to Iguassu is to take a 30-minute helicopter trip.  It is a wondrous initiation.  The glory unfolds and the full size and majesty is held in an awesome panorama seemingly stretching for miles.  In fact you can view the falls from the air, from the water, and from an island that sits in the middle of the whole complex.  Plus from both banks where the authorities have done considerable work in making access easy, even for those with walking difficulties.  On the Argentinean side there is a miniature railway that runs down to a viewing complex whilst the Brazilians provide an elevator to the most spectacular of all the falls, known as the Devil's Throat. 

If you are brave and don’t mind getting wet, powered canoes take you literally under the falling water, the Brazilian access further along the river, giving longer on the approach and perhaps a more thrilling ride.  On the Argentinean side a steep pathway takes you down to the river level and a free ferry to the island of San Martin where you should have no difficulty in climbing up to the top and some splendid views.

The Argentinean part of the river offers a larger variety of cascades but from the restricted Brazilian bank there is more to see.  Visit both countries.  The border controls are as simple as they could be.

World’s greatest dam

The falls may be nature offering an outstanding demonstration of an awesome force but just a 30-minute ride away is another water-powered show of authority, the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant, man-made, and the largest in the world in terms of electricity generation.  Completed in 1984, the main dam structure hides a one kilometre-long turbine hall containing 20 generating units each having an output of 700mw.  Regular tours are organised into this vast cavern, part of a guided visit that includes the fascinating eco museum, in the reception area complex, and the Bela Vista Biological Sanctuary, a fascinating multi-national animal haven.  Jaguars, capuchin monkeys and skunks can be seen in special natural enclosures. 

Standing on the top of the dam the sheer magnificence of the complex can be seen, the man-made lake stretching back 100 miles and 40 miles in width at some points.  Itaipu is a 50/50 development between Brazil and Paraguay but South America’s largest nation in fact takes 90% of the electricity produced, or 19% of its total power requirements.  Payment for the extra energy a very nice earner for one of the poorest countries in the continent.

Iguassu is not just water

Iguassu is not just the massive water highlights, magnificent as they are.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to visit the Parque das Aves (aviary) on the Brazilian bank close to the heliport.  Set in 12 acres of lush subtropical rainforest you don’t have to be a bird fan to appreciate the splendid and natural way the sanctuary has been laid out.  A large number of birds are in huge walk-through aviaries, some 80ft tall and at least 200ft long, allowing visitors to watch the feathered folk interact as they go about their daily routines.  Highlights include the toucans and multi-coloured tanagers as well as roseate spoonbills, herons and egrets.  Signage is in English and allow two to three hours.  It was founded by a British couple 25 years ago.

We recommend three nights in the falls area.  The Sheraton in the National Park is the ideal base but AERBT stayed on the Brazilian side at the Bourbon Cataratas Convention Resort, with a fine resturant and splendid grounds.  Brazilian shows and terrific dining will keep you entertained in the evenings and if you are that way inclined there is even a casino right on the border.  For those interested in nature Cataratas, the Brazilian city guarding the falls, is the gateway to a stunning highland of rain forests and nature reserves. www.bourbon.com.br www.iguassuworldsdestination.com www.parquedasaves.com www.iguassu.com.br

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HAPPY TALK: Which direction?

An aviation enthusiast on his way to the site of a disused military aerodrome in the middle of rural Norfolk came to a fork in the road and stopped.  There was no sign indicating which route went where.   

Spotting a local by the road, he yelled out.

"Hey, does it matter which road I take to the airfield?"

"Not to me it don't," came the melodic reply.

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COMMENT: Heathrow - Where do we go from here?

It is now 12 months since Heathrow’s Terminal 5 shambolic opening, a total public relations disaster.  Those dark distant days are now well behind us, but did this national disgrace need to have happened?

The on-going economic crisis has in fact in some ways been good for the travel industry.  Lesser numbers has meant no further debacles as airports all around the globe have adjusted with difficulty to even more stringent security rules, and with larger aircraft arriving in smaller numbers than anticipated.  The world’s two biggest plane makers have gained breathing space as they struggle to get their latest wonder machines into the air.  Airports like Heathrow, and it was not the only one in trouble, have caught up.

It has been an interesting year.

In the UK the idea of an absentee airport landlord has failed to work and Ferrovial is now being forced by the Competition Commission to sell Gatwick, Stansted and one of either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports, within two years.  In has in fact to some extent jumped rather than being pushed, London’s second airport, which is also Europe’s eighth busiest, now on the market.

But let us return to Heathrow and the events of March 2008.

Could they have been avoided?

The answer is yes.

And can things be improved for the future?

Again the answer is yes.

Heathrow Terminal 5 is operated by BAA with BA one of many tenants in the building, albeit by a long way the largest.  There is a whole management team from BAA dealing with British Airways and the day to day and long term problems associated with running what is the world’s largest single airport terminal building.  Whether it is the cleaning, car parking, security, baggage handling, airside operations, or the shops, the customers, that is the BA passengers, expect the airline to deal with the problem.  They have little interest, and for the most part have a modest understanding, of how an airport works.  And why should they?

British Airways needs to take over the management of Heathrow Terminal 5.  This will speed decision making and eliminate a whole raft of supervisory staff.  It will reduce costs significantly and make the whole operation more efficient.  And at the same time SkyTeam can be responsible for T4, and Star Alliance T1 whilst BAA could remain in charge of T3, that is unless One World would like to be responsible for that complex which also offers a home for the non-aligned.

With each of the major players running a terminal at the world’s busiest international airport there would be true competition between the airlines, not only in the air, but on the ground too.  A healthy rivalry would exist.  BAA would still be getting its rents and be responsible for the infrastructure.  The terminals would compete and if one turned out to be better than another that would be in the true spirit of free enterprise.  The airport owner would be free to push ahead with the T6 project and at some time hand that over to an airline operator.

British Airways has always in the past responded that they are an airline and not an airport operator.  True, but an airline is a multi-functional operation.  BA is responsible for its own lounges, engineering and catering, all functions of an airline.  The check-in and other handling staff are for the most part employed by BA.  BAA should just remain the landlord.  

We are now in what once was called the ‘phoney war’ period at Heathrow.  Nothing is quite set in stone.  Vital decisions can be reversed without pain.  Changes can be made without too many problems.  Heathrow needs a re-think between airlines and airport.  Maybe the way it functions will continue, as is, maybe not.  An urgent and proper debate is required.

Malcolm Ginsberg

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BBC Worldwide considerably expands its coverage

BBC WORLDWIDE viewers on cruise ships can now view worldwide five new channels, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Knowledge, CBeebies and HD.  The new thematic portfolio was recently showcased to the international maritime industry at the 2009 Seatrade Cruise Shipping Exhibition in Miami.  This breakthrough follows the success of BBC World News which is currently available as a live channel on 80 cruise ships including Crystal Cruises, Cunard, Fred.Olsen, Norwegian Cruise Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International.  Linear versions of the programmes continue to draw in audiences for BBC Worldwide, with recent launches in Africa, Latin America and Scandinavia. www.bbcworldwide.com

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British Airways route moves from Gatwick

BA has relocated two important business routes from Gatwick to Heathrow.  It is part of a general trend to reduce capacity at the South London airport.  Toulouse is an important destination, besides being the largest city in the south of France, it is also the home of both Airbus and ATR, plus an increasingly developing conglomeration of aerospace support companies.  BA was competing with easyJet at LGW, but at LHR it is solo.  The second route is to Atlanta which in recent years has overtaken Chicago O’Hare as the world’s busiest airport.  It is the main hub for rival transatlantic airline Delta who last year transferred their operation from Gatwick.  BA operates the Boeing 777 on the route whilst Delta has the smaller 767.  On Sunday 31 May month BA re-introduces flights to Jeddah and Riyadh, in direct competition to bmi who took up the route when British Airways pulled off in 2005.  www.britishairways.com

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Hebridean Cruise Line sails on according to the administrators

HEBRIDEAN, perhaps the most iconic of all cruise lines, and certainly the smallest deep sea operator, is in administration.  Past clients include The Queen, who chose the 49-passenger Hebridean Princess for a family trip around the north of Scotland to celebrate her 80th birthday.  Hebridean was founded in 1989 completely rebuilding a former 1964 MacBrayne car ferry.  The company offered top quality boutique style cruising from its home base at Oban, with the occasional foray to Norway and Ireland.  In 2001 Princess was joined by the twice as large and purpose-built Hebridean Spirit.  Spirit was recently sold to a Middle Eastern buyer to be converted to a private yacht.  Ernst & Young have been appointed joint administrators and say that cruises on Hebridean Princess are not being cancelled. www.hebridean.co.uk

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InterContinental Hotels Group opens second UK Staybridge Suites

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP has opened its second UK Staybridge Suites property in Newcastle.  Bridging the gap between conventional hotels and serviced apartments, Staybridge Suites is designed for people seeking a residential-style stay when they spend longer periods away from home.  The 126-room Staybridge Suites Newcastle occupies a prime city centre site on Buxton Street, close to the Quayside and Newcastle. www.staybridge.co.uk

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OpenSkies, the airline, takes off

OPENSKIES, the controversially named and only surviving dedicated business class airline operating across the North Atlantic, is now a full subsidiary of British Airways.  The carrier, previously called L’Avion, and flying since January 2007, announced a BA E68m purchase last July.  This deal has now been completed.  The airline operates four Boeing 757 in a two-class configuration, and currently flies to Newark New York twice daily from Paris Orly and has a single service weekdays, again to Newark, from Amsterdam.  The airline offers "Biz Bed", a fully flat beds cabin, and "Biz Seat", still in the business class mode and offering a 51” seat pitch and 140° reclining.  www.flyopenskies.com

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Star Alliance gets on with its moves at London's Heathrow

STAR ALLIANCE carriers Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Blue 1, LOT Polish Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines are to surprisingly remain in Heathrow Terminal 3 until 2013.  Clearly the redevelopment of the predominately BA T1 is taking longer than anticipated.  Current Terminal 2 carriers - Austrian, Croatia Airlines, Lufthansa, SWISS and TAP will re-locate to Terminal 1 this coming summer.  bmi, essentially the T1 host airline, and the British member of Star Alliance, will launch a new lounge product in June as it moves the international lounge closer to its primary gates in the terminal.  With the new arrangement there will be a total of four lounges, Star Alliance First and Business Class, and two for bmi - one for domestic passengers and one for international. www.heathrowairport.com

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

 

THIS MONTH’S ROAD TEST         

 

Audi TT Coupe 2.0 TDI Quattro Diesel             

 

FIAT: A Start&Stop system has been introduced on Fiat’s 1.2-litre petrol powered Fiat 500 city car.  The system automatically turns the engine off when the vehicle comes to stop and the driver puts the car in neutral. Restarting is achieved by depressing the clutch pedal to select a gear.

HONDA: At a recent press brief on the new Honda Insight hybrid powered car, a Honda technician suggested the way ahead was via hydrogen power rather than the limited range/performance electric powered vehicle as backed by PM Gordon Brown.  The spokesman also hinted that future homes could be fitted with a gas fuelled power pack that would generate domestic electricity and also be able to refuel a hydrogen powered car within minutes.

HYUNDAI: The Korean car giant has reported that it is the only major car manufacturer to improve in retail market share compared to 2008.  Sales for the first quarter of this year were only down by 1.85% on last year - on a market that is down 29.7% overall.  They cite the new small 130 and i110 models and strong private buying as major contributors to their strong sales position.

JAGUAR: For the second year running the Jaguar XF has been voted the Best Executive Car at the What Diesel Magazine Awards 2009.  The British car beat a number of prestige brands including BMW, Audi and Mercedes.

LEXUS: The second generation Lexus Hybrid Drive version of the Lexus RX 450h will reach UK showrooms this July.  Makers claim a segment beating 148g/km CO2 emissions level and up to 44.8 mpg on the Combined Cycle.

MAZDA: An all-new range of compact Mazda3 models is due this May. Engine range will include a 2.2 diesel developing either 148 or 183 bhp and utilising a smart idling stop system to improve fuel economy up to 16%.

TOYOTA: The new B-segment hatchback crossover Urban Cruiser model, due this May, will use Optimal Drive technology to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy.  Both two-wheel drive and four-wheel-drive versions will be offered.

VOLKSWAGEN: A GTI version of the new Mk V1 Golf has just been launched.  Powered by a new 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine producing 207 bhp and using either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a DSG selectable automatic unit.  It is claimed to be sharper and more powerful than any previous Golf GTI.  Price range is from UKP22,210 to UKP24,300.

SMALL BUSINESSES are leaving themselves wide open to penalties and prosecution almost one year after the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force.  According to new research from Mercedes-Benz World and RoadSafe, 49% of small business fleets are unaware that under current legislation their business and a director or manager could be prosecuted if one of their employees is involved in a road crash.  The survey also revealed that 42% of business managers do not have any policy in place to manage road safety and 50% did not think that one was required. www.roadsafe.com

 

 

 

AUDI TT COUPE 2.0 TDI Quattro Diesel

 

They Don’t Come More Positive Than This!

 

There is no shortage of terms to describe car that stand out from the pack.  Motoring milestone, icon and classic are the most used terms and any or all of these can be used to describe the Audi TT Coupe and Cabriolet models, now in its second generation and continuing to woo enthusiasts around the globe. What better than to combine the charisma of the Audi TT with one of the most proficient 2.0-litre turbo diesel engines in the business to provide enthusiast class motoring with miser class economy plus a carbon footprint that should appease the save the planer pontificators?

We now take it for granted that diesel powered prestige cars have arrived big time, underscored by Audi’s string of victories in oil fuelled race cars at the classic Le Mans 24-hour endurance race and evidenced by the use of these engines in all the top makes from Germany, Jaguar of Britain and Alfa Romeo of Italy etc. In the case of the Audi TT with diesel power there are plenty of positive aspects. By far the most important is its performance including an ability to return well over 50 mpg without compromising on a top speed in the region of 140 mph and an ability to reach 60 mph from rest in a mere 7.7 seconds.

What is more this car really handles, admittedly in this case, aided by that highly regarded quattro all-wheel-drive transmission and a thoroughly developed all-independent suspension system, that ensures really positive road control under all conditions. A formula that should ensure driving satisfaction for both discerning and easy life drivers.

As with every Audi TT I have experienced this one begs to be driven and for that purpose it comes with a positive acting 6-speed manual gearbox (no, you can’t chicken out and have an automatic) and nicely weighted responsive high geared steering. This car could well be the cure for anyone claiming that driving, particularly in the UK, has got boring!

This second generation TT is not only a better driving car than its ancestor but it is sleeker of line (a rear spoiler automatically rises when speeds of over 50 mph are reached to add to an already inherently strong degree of stability) and a bit bigger and roomier than before. To all intents and purposes this car is it is what I recall the Grand Touring cars used to be before the Coupe term became fashionable. In essence that is an occasional four-seat car majoring on high degrees of comfort for the front two occupants, especially the person behind the steering wheel while making clear that anyone else apart from small children are not exactly welcome. It is a formula that remains popular, so who can argue.

Yes, the Audi TT Coupe is a true Grand Tourer that has a good sized tail-gate providing access to a passable luggage compartment that can be augmented by flat folding either or both rear seats. Just the job for that designer luggage!

It is also easy to appreciate Audi’s successful emergence as a ˜must have” brand. Sit in the cockpit of this TT and there is feel good ambience created by a seriously comfortable driving position, a fully functional yet very attractive fascia layout, top quality trim material (plenty of brushed aluminium, of course), superbly contoured (leather upholstered/power adjustable) seating and excellent ergonomics apart from a is better positioned for left hand drive versions.

Take it for granted this is a well appointed car but worth mentioning is the provision folding exterior mirrors and the lack of a rear wiper to clear the large glazed rear window of the morning dew. Those with business minds may well agree that a good car is one that makes a profit for its creator and in the case of this Audi TT it more than appeals to a heck of a lot of buyers they simply love it. I know, they keep telling me, so it must be a good car!

Some rivals: Peugeot 407 Coupe V6 JHDI Sport UKP22,290m, Volvo C30 2.4 D5 Lux UKP21,105, Alfa Romeo Brera 2.4 JTD UKP28,395.

 

STAR RATINGS
Performance: 9
Handling: 9
Transmission: 9
Noise: 9
Economy: 9
Ride and Comfort: 9
Accommodation: 8
Styling: 9
Brakes: 9
Finish: 9

 

TECHSPEC: Engine: Transversely mounted: Capacity: 1,968 cc, 4 cylinders, 16 valves, high pressure common rail turbo diesel, max power: 168 bhp/170 ps@ 4,200 rpm. CO2 Emissions: 139 g/km. Transmission: Four wheel drive, 6-speed manual. Suspension: Fully independent Brakes: Ventilated discs front, solid discs rear with ABS/HBD/ESP Steering: Electro/hydraulic power assisted, 2.9 turns lock to lock, 11.0m turning circle. Dimensions: Length: 4,178 mm, width 1,842 mm (excluding mirrors). Height: 1,352 mm. Weight: approx 1370 kg, Fuel tank capacity 60 litres/13.1 gallons. Range approx: 450 miles. Insurance Group 16. Price from UKP27,995.

 

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Air France continues to expand at London City Airport

AIR FRANCE is to introduce daily London City Airport flights to Nantes, the largest city in Brittany, next Monday (27 April).  A VLM Fokker 50 aircraft will be used for the service, the Dutch airline now part of Dublin-based CityJet, itself 100% owned by AF.  Flight time in the two-class 50-seat turboprop is 1hr 45min.  The AF Group airlines currently offer flights from LCY to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Dublin, Dundee, Edinburgh, Eindhoven, the Isle of Man, Geneva, Jersey, Luxembourg, Manchester, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Rotterdam and Strasbourg. www.londoncityairport.com

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Boeing delivers 6,000th aircraft

BOEING has delivered its 6,000th 737, a Next-Generation dash 800 aircraft, to International Lease Finance Corp (ILFC) whose customer is Norwegian Air Shuttle.  The aeroplane's tail features a special decal denoting this milestone.  The 737 first flew in April 1967 with Lufthansa the launch airline.  Now called the “Classic” some 4,131 were built.  In 1998 Southwest Airlines took delivery of the initial Next-Generation model.  To date, unfilled orders for the Next-Generation 737 exceed 2,200 units, approximately USD163bn at list price.  The latest 737-900 can accommodate up to 215 passengers more than twice as many as Lufthansa’s launch aircraft. www.boeing.com/commercial/737family

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Canadian market set for expansion with new agreement

CANADA is expected to sign a deal with the European Union at a Summit with the EU on 6 May in Prague.  It will be similar to last year’s USA “Open Skies” treaty offering unlimited city pairs and frequencies.  The one big difference is the raising of a foreign ownership limit to 49% of an airline's voting stock from 25% -- a move welcomed by the country's main carriers, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines, which want more inward investment.  The new agreement could also open up the US market to investors this side of the Atlantic under a ‘back door’ arrangement.  Canadian carriers have traffic via the United States, often with Mexico and Europe the final destination. www.transportcanada.com

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Holiday Inn major revamp takes off

HOLIDAY INN has confirmed that its central London-Bloomsbury property at Russell Square, close by King's Cross, Euston and St Pancras stations, has completed its major public area renovations, making it compatible to the high standard recently unveiled by owner IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group).  Around the globe Holiday Inn is upgrading and re-branding.  Most noticeable is the dramatic changes to signage – evolving the iconic script logo, energising the signature colour green and eliminating the current shield shape.  The brand replaces more than 11,000 signs around the world to reflect this refreshed and contemporary look.  To put it in its true perspective the undertaking includes the revamp of more than 3,100 hotel lobbies and 400,000 guest rooms.  www.holidayinn.co.uk

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Kiev flights now have competition

KIEV in the Ukraine is now served by two airlines from Heathrow.  British Airways has been joined by bmi offering daily services.  One World v Star Alliance.  The new service is timed to offer connections each way to Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester  and Dublin.  Bmi’s new Chauffeur Drive service is available on the route for fully flexible Business Class travellers.  Kiev, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is one of Europe’s lesser known and explored capital cities.  It is also home to key cultural attractions including the St Sophia Cathedral, a Byzantium landmark, the architecture and grandeur of which was celebrated in a recent exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.  Little known details about Kiev include the fact that it is listed as one of the greenest cities in the world by the United Nations and boasts over 60 parks and green spaces.  In recent years, the Ukrainian spelling Kyiv has been internationally recognised and in 2008 the city competed for a spot on the international version of the board game Monopoly.  www.flybmi.com

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Plymouth gets back direct central London air services after 21 years

PLYMOUTH has gained direct air services to central London for the first since Brymon Airways short-lived route in 1987.  On Monday (20 April) Air Southwest introduced twice daily flights from Devon’s largest city non-stop to London City Airport, the aircraft originating from Newquay.  According to the airline forward bookings looked strong.  The route will provide a speedy alternative for central London to the airline’s four times daily Gatwick operation via Newquay, that service now competing with Flybe flying three times per day, each with Bombardier turboprops.  Flybe replaced a British Airways 737 service. www.airsouthwest.com

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Toronto downtown airport gets a further boost

TORONTO CITY CENTRE AIRPORT, on an island sitting literally yards from the Lake Ontario riverside, is to be further boosted with extra flights to Montreal and Ottawa.  The controversial airport, originally opened in 1939, and after several short-lived attempts at scheduled services, became the home of the then new Porter Airlines in October 2006.  Operating the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 the airline now serves 17 destinations including Newark New York and Chicago’s Midway.  This summer the airline will operate up to 18 daily return flights to Montreal and 14 to Ottawa.  The Porter package includes lounge snacks, beverages, wi-fi and computer workstations, all at no additional cost.  This is replicated on board with complimentary premium snacks, wine and beer. www.flyporter.com

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CRUISING - An introduction

Your editor in chief Malcolm Ginsberg claims to have been cruising since the age of eight when his parents took him (and his little brother) on a trip from Southampton to Sydney, six weeks via the RMS Asturias.  They were on the UKP10 package scheme in the harsh post-war years to attract immigrants to Australia .  The Ginsberg’s did not last long ‘down under’, returning the following year on Orion (also a Royal Mail Ship), considered the first modern long-haul passenger liner.  Since those far distant days Malcolm has travelled on over 30 cruise ships, all over the world. 

In this new  series Malcolm will review from time to time a whole series
of vessels ranging from the extremely well kitted out river cruisers to the top luxury liners.  However, first of all, an introduction, followed by a cruise news update.

Cruising is a Complex Business


In the United Kingdom 1.4m individual cruise packages were sold in 2008.  When you think that these actually average out at UKP1,150 each you will realise that cruising is immensely popular and generates vast sums.  Even this year the numbers will rise.

We’ve all been to a dinner party, sat down with friends and chatted about future (and past) holidays.  Inevitably the subject of cruising comes up.  The question raised is “I would like to go cruising, what would you recommend Malcolm?”

In fact there are more permutations than on a Ford. Tick off the boxes.

And there is one thing about cruising that is not even thought about in terms of questions.  It is probably the best way to make friends for life.  From all over the world.

•    How much do you want to spend?

•    Deep sea or river cruising?  Some of the boats on the Rhine and Danube are enormous, even with swimming pools.

•    Are you happy to fly to your start/finish port or would you prefer a Dover, Southampton or Harwich rendezvous? Or maybe fly one way?  The warmer weather is usually two days from these shores.

•    The ship choice is large.  Big liners, 2,500+ passengers, medium size vessels 1,250 upwards, or something in the boutique class, which can mean from 50 other guests, to 600. Whatever size of ship you choose boarding and departure is usually no problem (and really show up the airports).  Modern ships are generally very well thought out and designed.

•    Do you want to dine at a fixed time with the same company and waiting staff each meal time, or to suit you?  Some ships offer both.

•    You can cruise across the North Atlantic, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, North and South America, the Far East, Antipodes and the Pacific.  New areas are being discovered for sea holidays all the time.  And of course world cruises (and parts of) are proving more and more popular.

•    Do you want a cruise that takes in a new port every day, or one that has a day at sea and a day in port. Or more time at sea?

•    Is your requirement to make it a holiday with children, or completely without?  The cruise markets provides for both.

•    Are you really into the budget cruise business, or do you want six-star luxury?  The requirements of both are very well catered for, as are all categories in-between.

•    Inside or outside cabin?  A balcony can easily double the cost of the trip.

•    Specialised cruises.  As part of their marketing efforts many companies offer unique cruise packages including cooking, wine tasting, music, the American theatre, jazz, and sporting interests.  You can learn all about computers, how to play the electric keyboard and indulge in card games.  One company often has a golf professional on board who will plan ahead to visit major courses at each port of call.  Edinburgh is not that far from St Andrews.

Don’t worry if you have a disability.  The cruise companies were amongst the first members of the holiday trade to realise there was a big market for people with limited, or no, walking ability.  The same goes for those who have specialised eating requirements.  Within reason the chefs really want to help and the latest ships have some spectacular kitchens.  And don’t worry about being ill at sea.  You must be covered by adequate insurance but the medical facilities on board are exceptional, better than in many UK regional hospitals in terms of equipment provided and that is not demeaning the value of the UK’s National Health Service.  Virtually every ship, of any size, has at least one full time doctor on board and helicopter evacuation is not unknown in emergency cases.  The big ships are organised for it.

There are currently about 272 cruise ships operating with nine new ones due in 2010.  QE2 was pensioned off last year to be replaced by a new Queen Elizabeth (QE3?) next year. 

In a survey carried out for the Passenger Shipping Association the question was put “which is of greater importance to you, the quality of the facilities or the choice of destination?”  The ship and its facilities topped the poll easily beating destinations!

Finally a word of warning.  The current economic downturn, coupled to the ever increasing cruise capacity, has meant some significant discounting, particularly with the bigger cruise operators.  This in turn has broadened the market with some large ships attracting a more rowdy crowd than hitherto.

For a guide to cruise ships there is nothing better than the Berlitz “Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” by Douglas Ward, now in its 24th edition.  www.berlitzcruising.com

 

CRUISE NEWS APRIL 2009

CELEBRITY has added a pre-inaugural cruise prior to Equinox maiden voyage from Southampton to Civitavecchia on 8 August.  Friday 31 July sees the ship, the second in the Solstice class, featuring the Norwegian fjords on an eight-day trip visiting Stavanger, Flam, Geiranger, and the delightful city of Oslo.  Introducing what may become an interesting trend in ship design Equinox features Aqua Class, top quality balcony staterooms on the main resort deck, and but a short walk to the Spa complex. www.celebritycruises.com www.celebritycruises.com

CRYSTAL has always been noted for the quality of its cuisine.  The American run but Japanese owned cruise line has now gone somewhat further.  Take two Michelin Star chefs, one Bocuse d’Or winner and one French Laundry sous chef.  Add a Nobu executive chef.  Stir in two James Beard Award-winning wine experts, a couple of Masters of Wine and blend well with leading mixologists.  These are the key ingredients for Crystal Cruises 13th annual Wine & Food Experiences of Discovery, served onboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity.  Seven culinary themed itineraries between May and December 2009 host a fabulous selection of the world’s leading chefs, wine experts and mixologists to showcase their creativity and craftsmanship in cooking demonstrations, hands-on classes, tasting sessions and specially designed menus. www.crystalcruises.com

CUNARD says that the new Queen Elizabeth's maiden voyage sold out in 29 minutes 14 seconds.  The ship even outdid its distinguished predecessor, QE2, whose final trip was available for booking for just 36 minutes in June 2007.  The ship, part of Carnival, is due to set sail from Southampton on 12 October 2010 for a 13-day voyage to the Canary Islands. There is virtually no capacity left for the balance of next year.  The 2010 / 2011 brochure has just been released.www.cunard.co.uk

P & O might just have the package for you.  If you are in to cooking and thinking of perhaps a busman’s holiday Hell’s Kitchen star Marco Pierre White is a guest on a number of Ventura trips this summer and will be offering the chance for passengers to participate in private cookery sessions to groups of up to eight adults.  The interactive sessions will involve participants joining Marco as he creates a three-course feast.  Passengers will pay UKP75 for the sessions.  If it’s just the food you want Marco has his first restaurant at sea on board Ventura. The White Room provides passengers with panoramic views and the option of dining under the stars in the evening.  The cost is UKP20 per passenger, very inexpensive by gourmet meal standards. www.pocruises.co.uk

STAR CLIPPERS, which operates three of the world’s tallest and most beautiful sailing ships, is offering free European flights for UK-based passengers to join selected sailings for summer 2009 Mediterranean cruises on board the 360’, four-masted Star Clipper and the 400’ five-masted Royal Clipper.  Summer 2009 voyages on board these fully crewed, beautifully appointed ships include itineraries around the Greek islands, Croatia and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and from Rome (Civitavecchia) to a variety of islands and mainland destinations in the Western Mediterranean. www.starclippers.com

 

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