This review was revised 18 October
* items include readers letters
4 MAY 2009
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AIR NAMIBIA, the national carrier of the Republic of Namibia, is to suspend its twice weekly service between Windhoek and Gatwick. The airline says that due to the current global economic recession it needs to minimize its losses and optimize the opportunities. The last departure outbound from Windhoek will be 28 May returning out of Gatwick 29 May. The airline stresses that the London direct route has only been suspended, until further notice. It will continue to operate five flights per week from its well-established primary European gateway at Frankfurt, offering good connections from the UK. From Namibia it serves other Southern Africa destinations including Cape Town and Johannesburg. The airline will maintain its current presence in the UK via its local office and sales team for the future development of the British market. www.airnamibia.com
BACAU (Romania) is to gain twice weekly flights to Luton courtesy Blue Air. The flights will operate on a Monday and Friday. The airline already serves Stansted three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Boeing 737 aircraft will be used with a flight time of 3h15m. Established in 2004 Blue Air has a fleet of eight Boeing 737 aircraft. Bacau is known as one of the most beautiful cities in Romania, situated at the heart of the historical region of Moldavia, at the foothills of the Carpathians, and on the Bistrita River. www.blueair-web.com
CONTINENTAL AIRLINES introduced a daily Heathrow – Cleveland summer only service yesterday (Sunday 3 May). Previously Cleveland had only been connected to London via Gatwick. Flights will be by a two-class Boeing 757. Also back this weekend is a daily Newark – Athens operation which will run until 8 September (westbound). The flights will be operated by Boeing 767-200ER aircraft, seating 25 passengers in the award-winning BusinessFirst cabin and 149 in Coach Class. The airline now serves 26 cities in Europe plus Tel Aviv (Israel) and Delhi and Mumbai (India) for a total of 29 in its transatlantic network. www.continental.com
JOHANNESBURG has seen the opening of Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton. Situated in the heart of Sandton's business and financial district the hotel is within walking distance of Nelson Mandela Square, the Sandton shopping centre and Johannesburg’s Stock Exchange. The 15-storey hotel has 290 guest rooms including 33 suites. Radisson is focusing on South Africa prior to the World Cup. Also newly opened is the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, Cape Town, a 177-room oceanfront hotel. Upcoming developments include properties in Port Elizabeth (2009), Blaauwberg, Cape Town (2010), and another Johannesburg development, the Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton Central (2010). www.johannesburg.radissonsas.com
RYANAIR has climbed down with its resistance to fare comparison sites by issuing a statement that it will authorise such offerings providing the site operator gives a charity donation of E100. The press release contains the Irish carrier’s usual whining about fuel surcharges, which have now for the most part disappeared, and claims that what it calls “ticket-tout” screenscrapers are ripping travellers off. What it fails to say is that virtually all its routes fail to compete head-on with other carriers, for the most part using small local airports, often subsidised, from where passengers often have considerable journeys to their final destinations. The customer of course has the choice. www.ryanair.com
SWISS, part of the Lufthansa Group, is to become the lead airline for Bombardier’s C Series regional jet. The parent company earlier this year announced an order of 30, plus 30 options, for the new aircraft. The aircraft will replace all 20 of SWISS Avro RJ100s from 2014 onward. It can be assumed that the short runway at London City Airport is expected to be useable for the new ‘plane. The C Series is claimed to be twice as quiet as the Avro, which in its time had set new levels of reduced noise. www.bombardier.com
VIRGIN TRAINS has smartly refurbished and significantly extended its First Class lounge at Euston Station. Open seven days a week the facility can be used by anyone with a valid First Class ticket from Virgin or First ScotRail. With capacity for 140, the first floor lounge offers an environment catering for both business and leisure travellers. Complimentary hot and cold drinks are available. The lounge is wi-fi enabled. A pre-bookable room is available for private meetings. Shower facilities are provided for inbound passengers on the Scottish sleeper. www.virgintrains.co.uk
PET AIRWAYS of Delray Beach, Florida, is soon to fly. Life may be tough for us humans but it is getting better for our canine friends. Offering services from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, the airline is claiming to be the first to operate for the safe and comfortable transportation of pets. The animals will travel in the main cabin and be looked after by 'pet attendants'. The airline’s website also quotes the most dog friendly cities in the US. Perhaps these are the ones to keep away from! The top three are all on the West Coast – Portland, San Francisco and Seattle, which must say something! New York came 10th. www.petairways.com
Now it can be argued that we have seen it all before, but it is also pretty obvious that the air transport industry is going through its biggest crisis since the airlines, as we know them today, began to develop with safe and sophisticated machinery after World War II.
The Comet disasters of the 1950s were a challenge; nobody knew why the aircraft kept crashing at the time; something along the same lines happened to the early Douglas DC10s with a series of losses. Collisions in the air and on the ground at various times killed many. With each disaster the safety of flying was questioned for a short period and clearly the travelling public were scared. The bookings went down.
Everything stopped as a result of 9/11, followed by the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak a couple of years later. The regular fuel crisis has caused severe headaches in boardrooms.
What is different this time around is that two extremely serious and different problems are hitting, both at the same time. This has never happened before, not at this scale. The consequences could be very serious!
Firstly the economic situation and the figures published by IATA for March. April is bound to be far far worse with dramatic cuts in carryings and capacity.
During March 2009 passenger demand fell to 11.1% below March 2008 levels. Airlines cut international passenger capacity by 4.4% resulting in an average load factor of 72.1%. This is 5.4 percentage points below the load factor recorded a year ago.
Among the major regions, carriers in Asia Pacific continued to lead the decline with a 14.5% fall in passenger demand, outstripping a 9.3% downward adjustment in capacity. The region is particularly impacted by the fall-off in long haul travel, which is contracting faster than short haul. North America was not much better with a decline in international passenger demand of 13.4% as travel was further discouraged by US unemployment reaching 8.5% in March.
European carriers saw their international demand fall by 11.6% where confidence has been dented by unemployment in key markets such as Germany and Spain increasing to 8.6% and 17.4% respectively. African airlines fared even worse with a fall of 15.6%. But they did the best job at matching capacity to demand with an aggressive cut of 15.1%. While cross-border travel within Africa grew during February, African carriers continued to lose market share.
Middle Eastern airlines were the only ones to experience growth in March (4.7%). This is an improvement from the 0.4% growth in February, and represented an expansion of market share. But this was out of balance with the 13.1% increase in capacity.
All in all a pretty gloomy picture with some of the world’s finest carriers forecasting an operating loss for 2009.
Now add to that picture the effect of swine flu, now called by the World Health Organisation “influenza A(H1N1)” to help pig farmers who are having a bad time of it although the illness has little to do with pigs.
In itself the numbers are very very small at present. During the SARS epidemic this flu-like disease resulted in fewer than 9,000 people contracting the illness of whom 870 died. This figure is minor compared to Malaria which continues to kill over one million per annum or AIDS, which takes out many more.
Yet these terrible figures do not seem to affect the air travel industry as such. However, continued rolling news regarding a small number of deaths and government health warnings around the world on BBC, Sky, Bloomberg, and in the written media over this flu causes panic! One hears of nearly empty flights, vacant lounges, and workers being laid off.
It is the combination of the two that has brought us to this state of affairs.
Unfortunately there is little that can be done with the media. It has a power that it itself does not understand. But governments can help.
Now is the time to do away with, or at least reduce, APD (Air Passenger Duty), something that AERBT discussed in detail last week. See AERBT 27 April 2009.
The opportunity is there to show that this is no climb-down but a very realistic way of actually developing business and demonstrating a pro-active way out of what could be an impending disaster.
The airlines, for the most part, can take on the chin serious problems. What will be beyond them is a double whammy! Unless something is done quickly some a very big players will go. Every encouragement should be made to an industry that will recover but is very ill.
The chain reaction to the closure of a large airline at this time will be horrendous. Usually others pick up the bits and pieces including passengers and a workforce. This time around there are no passengers and no need for the workforce.
And look out for the knock-on effect in the support industries including aircraft engineering, terminal staff, outsourced catering, hotels and even the taxis and trains that take workers and customers to and from the airports. Pilots, once retired seldom come back. And it takes at least two years for new recruits to reach an airline’s flight deck.
This COMMENT column makes grim reading. Times are very grim. We’ve seen it happen before, but not this serious. Firm action is needed.
Editor in Chief
AIRBUS AND BOEING have both had a very difficult first three months of 2009. The European aircraft manufacturer sold 22 aircraft in the first quarter but lost orders for 14. Boeing did even worse with 28 commitments and 32 cancellations. These published figures do not take into account delayed deliveries and other “special arrangements”. However at the end of the day Airbus has a backlog of just under 2,500 A320 series whilst Boeing’s 787 order book stands at 878, not bad for an aircraft still to make its maiden flight. www.boeing.com/commercial www.airbus.com
BMI has increased capacity on its now twice daily Heathrow – Tel Aviv service by swopping the Airbus A321s previously used on the route for more spacious, three-class, Airbus A330s recently on its withdrawn North Atlantic services out of Manchester. The airline’s complimentary Chauffeur Drive service is available on fully flexible Business Class tickets, customers in the premium area also enjoying the benefits of a 30-minute check-in when just travelling with carry-on luggage. This facility has been withdrawn at T5. Israel is enjoying a boom from the UK with El Al recently introducing a daily (except Saturday) service from Luton and Jet2 about the start from Manchester. www.flybmi.com
EMBRAER’S Phenom 100 entry-level jet has received certification from the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). The first UK example is expected to be delivered to Oxford Airport’s Hangar 8 in July. New entry FlairJet, also to be based at Oxford, has two on order with delivery pencilled in for the end of the year. Whilst designed for single pilot operations most will be flown two-crew, the cabin offering space for four plus a private rest room. The Phenom is one of a number of new VLJs (very light jets) now on the market including the Cessna Citation Mustang, Honda HA-420 HondaJet and Eclipse 500. www.embraerexecutivejets.com
LONDON will gain another new luxury establishment when Corinthia opens its flagship hotel and residences project towards the end of 2010. The iconic Metropole Building on Northumberland Avenue and the adjoining 10 Whitehall Place was acquired last year from The Crown Estates. The Maltese-based company has since secured full funding and commenced works for the refurbishment of both buildings into a high grade hotel and private accommodation. Corinthia Hotels says it is now set to transform the property into one of the capital's most exceptional luxury properties, having 300 bedrooms with room sizes averaging 45m², including multi-level penthouse suites and terraces affording spectacular views of the River Thames, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. www.corinthiahotels.com
SLOVAKIA’S first five-star luxury property, the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras, has had a soft opening. A formal occasion is planned for September 2009. Beautifully located on the shores of an alpine lake, 1,351 metres above sea level in the spectacular High Tatras Mountains in Strbske Pleso, the lovingly restored heritage building consists of three interlinking parts. The hotel can easily be reached by road, rail or air. The nearest international airport, Poprad-Tatry, is 28km from the hotel; Kosice Airport 150km; and Krakow Airport 170km. www.kempinski-hightatras.com
LONDON UNDERGROUND has taken the “Metro” award as Europe’s finest metropolitan rail system beating off stiff competition from Berlin, Copenhagen Madrid and Paris. The statistics are overwhelming as it positively combats years of underinvestment. In 2008/9 the system carried 1,089m passengers, the highest in its 146-year history. Passenger satisfaction ratings also hit a new high with average scores reaching 79 out of 100. First called “The Tube” back in 1890 when a deep-level electric railway line was opened, it presently covers a network of 249 miles with 270 stations. www.tfl.gov.uk
ALAN BRISTOW the helicopter pioneer passed away last week. There is no better tribute to his influence in this specialised part of the aviation industry in that after a number of owners, and now controlled from the USA, his multinational company, one of the largest in its field, is still called The Bristow Group. Alan Bristow had an outstanding war record. During a colourful career he was involved in Westland Helicopters and British United Airlines amongst aviation interests, as well as a on/off relationship with the Conservative Party.
AER LINGUS has had yet another management shakeup as the airline reported a quarterly revenue fall of 16% and passengers down by 6.5% on a year-on-year basis. Shares one day last week crashed 20%. The loss-making airline, whose Chief Executive resigned earlier this month, said it was reviewing a range of options, including its long haul capacity to reduce operating costs. At the same time, as ever mischief-making, Ryanair changed tack and said it was not interested in acquiring the carrier, something that in any event had been ruled out by the Irish government. However, Ryanair has a 30% shareholding in the company and currently says it will sell at the right price. www.aerlingus.com
AMERICAN AIRLINES is to fit 300 of its US domestic aircraft with in-flight wi-fi over the next two years. Following trials on board 15 of its Boeing 767-200s since August, it is now to install the Gogo equipment on all 150 of its MD80s and then its entire Boeing 737-800 fleet. Surfing the web, checking email and sending messages facilities will be available but not mobile phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. Once the aircraft has reached 10,000ft, users can simply turn on their wi-fi-enabled devices – such as laptops, smartphones and handheld PDAs – then open their browsers and be directed to the Gogo portal page where they sign up and begin. Called Aircell, prices for the service range from USD7.95 to USD12.95 per sector. www.aa.com
BOEING’S 787, the much delayed Dreamliner, is nearing its first flight, officially said by the company to be before the end of June. There is an outside possibility it could make a sensational debut at the Paris – Le Bourget Air Show which starts Monday 15 June but this would mean a disruption to the certification programme, something Boeing might consider overall worthwhile. Latest reports from Seattle confirm that the first prototype (designated ZA001) has completed a rigorous series of tests including build verification trails, structures and systems integration checks and landing gear swings. With Chief Pilot Mike Carriker at the controls, all flying controls, hardware and software were tested. A simulation included take-off plus manual and automatic landings. During a video conference 787 VP and Chief Project Engineer Mike Delaney said Boeing has "a couple of key things left to do before gaining an experimental flight certificate from FAA to begin flight testing.” www.boeing.com/commercial
HOLIDAY INN CHICAGO O’HARE AREA, that’s the official title, has become the 600th hotel to be completed under Holiday Inn’s massive re-modelling scheme. Clients can now clearly see the brand’s new signage as they approach the property, set out in massive letters high up on the exterior. The upgrade of the global estate of more than 3,200 Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express properties is expected to be completed in 2010. The lobby areas and public rooms have been completely re-vamped whilst refreshed guest rooms include new bedding and enhanced bathroom features. Holiday Inn, part of InterContinental Hotels Group claims that its newly launched "Stay Real" service commitment is a breakthrough. www.holidayinn.co.uk
MEXICO is rapidly becoming off limits for both leisure and business customers. At the time of publication British Airways continues with its four times a week non-stop flights from Heathrow as does Mexicana with its new four times per week service from Gatwick. First Choice, Thomas Cook and ThomsonFly have all cancelled their services to Cancun and are bringing back customers already in Mexico. Kuoni has suspended its programme and cruise companies are re-routing their ships to keep away from Mexican ports. Our recommendation is check your operators’ web site and the UK Foreign Office travel advice board. www.fco.gov.uk
STANSTED AIRPORT, which has suffered particularly badly during the downturn, last week introduced two new routes. Making a popular return is Jersey which has been added as a ‘same plane’ service to the daily Guernsey flight by Aurigny. The return leg is direct. Also new is Bodrum, on Turkey’s Aegean coastline, with a Monday only service flight operated by Pegasus Airlines. On Wednesday (6 May) Air Arabia Moroc arrives with the new airline’s first ever scheduled flight inbound from Casablanca. The carrier is part of the Air Arabia Group. Airbus A320s will be used for the services, claimed to be low cost but at the same time offering a 31in seat pitch. www.stanstedairport.com
UNITED AIRLINES has introduced its very successful international lie-flat first and business class on the increasingly competitive routes between Australia and its Californian hubs at Los Angeles and San Francisco. Operating, with its code-shares out of six points in the Commonwealth the airline says it offers more US destinations from Australia than any other carrier. The Boeing 767s used on the routes have four cabins including an upgraded Economy Plus, available as a complimentary offering to members of its Mileage Plus programme who hold Premier status or above. www.united.com
Oxford Airport was established in 1935 at a time when enlightened municipalities were realising that the aeroplane was here to stay. In the nineteen-sixties and seventies it thrived as the UK’s leading general (light) aviation centre under the benevolent ownership of the Guinness Foundation. CSE and the Oxford Air Training School were synonymous with Piper Aircraft, Bell Helicopters, Learjet and the beginnings of Embraer in this country.
Training pilots from all over the world, Kidlington (using its wartime RAF name) was for a period the UK’s busiest airport in terms of movements.
Students included Aer Lingus Willie Walsh, now BA CEO, and, for a short period, Osama bin Laden. Idi Admin’s, sometime President of Uganda, lady helicopter pilot attempted to fly on a grass part of the field.
In 1981, the airport freehold was sold by the council and later owned by BBA Aviation plc. In July 2007 it was acquired by the property entrepreneurs David and Simon Reuben who since that time have invested heavily in the operation. The main runway has been resurfaced, strengthened and widened. New airfield ground lighting and a CAT 1 ILS (Instrument Landing System) has been installed.
In 2008 an impressive UKP2.5m business aviation terminal was completed and is operated by a dedicated business aviation terminal and FBO (fixed base operator) Oxfordjet. Runway 01/19 has a declared length of 1319m (4327ft) and is in total 1552m (5092ft) long and 30m (100ft) wide. It is easily capable of taking an Airbus A318, BBJ or Embraer Legacy/Lineage. Virtually complete is hangar 11, specifically designed for aircraft of this size.
Whilst hosting at any one time up to 350 pilots, with most of its basic flying now done in Florida, Oxford Aviation Academy represents only 35% of the airport’s less than 50,000 movements per year. This is a huge reduction in the 150,000+ of a decade ago and 230,000 at its peak.
Business aviation flights at Oxford have increased 33% year-on-year – though slowing in the past six months – half-year results show a 10% increase year-on-year.
Oxford Airport is a seven-day per week operation and claims to be the only specialised business airport in the vicinity of London open from 06:30 to 22:30. This can be stretched for organ transport and medical emergency services to 24 hours, some 60 staff from the nearby and world famous John Radcliffe hospital ‘on call’ for specific duties.
The airport is five minutes drive from the M40, much less used than the M1 and M4, with connections both south and north.
For the executive aircraft operator, the airport is situated around one hour’s drive time from the West End of London. A helicopter to the London Heliport at Battersea takes less than 20 minutes.
A new Saturday only scheduled summer service to Jersey was announced in December 2008. It is being launched by Channel Islands Travel Service and will be operated by Air Southwest from 11 July through to 12 September 2009, marketed through www.discoverjersey.com.
BUSINESS AIRCRAFT PRESENTATION
The business aviation tenants of Oxford Airport represent the whole diversity of this important aspect of the air transport business. Coinciding with the inauguration of PremiAir’s new 20,000sq ft fixed wing maintenance centre for the Hawker Beechcraft aircraft family a media briefing was held last week at the airport. Most of the tenants participated.
Eurocopter, as the world’s leading helicopter manufacturer, led off the event with UK Managing Director Markus Steinke giving an overall discourse on the market. The company, part of EADS, purchased Oxford-based McAlpine helicopters in November 2007, and now specialises in helicopter sales, bespoke completions, maintenance and spares support. He confirmed Home Office funding for the purchase of six new police Eurocopter EC135 helicopters, the Police Air Support Units in Suffolk, Cheshire, North Wales, Cleveland, Midlands and Chilterns all benefiting. By year end 2008 Eurocopter increased their personnel by 20% to a total of 200 and its turnover 60% to UKP78m.
Capital Air Services used to be known as Oxford Air Services, but, as long standing Managing Director Michael Hampton put it “We are by helicopter just 20 minutes from central London. The new name is more synonymous with what we offer.” Such is the way that aviation operates Capital Air Services also handles the AOC (Air Operators Certificate) for Harrods Aviation, the two long-established helicopter companies working closely together and offering a range of aircraft. Capitalair has recently gained approval from the CAA to offer flights to and from a site by the River Thames and near Canary Wharf called the Vanguard helipad. Later this year Harrods will take on an S92 16-seat VIP helicopter.
Icejet is now basing one 14-seat VIP Dornier 328 Jet and one 19-seat corporate shuttle version at the airport. This recent move has come about since the state of the economy in Iceland has encouraged Icejet to look for new bases for its aircraft in Europe. Managing Director Jon Ingi, a very experienced executive jet pilot himself, said that he was pleased with the decision to use Oxford. Icejet has aircraft based at Le Bourget and Riga.
Air Med has acquired its first jet aircraft – a Learjet 35A. Managing Director Rupert Dent confirmed that it will arrive in late summer 2009 and that the specialist operator would consider a second. Oxford Airport has proved to be a perfect location for the service, founded nearly 25 years ago, and now operating an eight-aircraft fleet including Piper Cheyenne, Chieftain and Seneca. Passenger charter accounts for 25% of its workload, the rest is medevac repatriations.
Hangar 8, the largest operator actually based on the airport, now has a fleet of 19 aircraft, all managed for private owners. By the end of the financial year this will be up to 30. In July it expects to take delivery of the first UK-registered Embraer Phenom, which can fly from Oxford to Cannes non-stop in 1h40m. It offers a proper private facility, a simple but important advantage over competitors. Managing Director Dustin Dryden said that there has been little negative media interest on private jets and just because a billionaire sees his net worth drop by half this does not mean he is going to start jumping on a budget airline.
Oasis Flight is a new Oxford resident operating at the lower end of the corporate market. Oasis offer the Cessna 303 Crusader five-seater twin with a normal cruise speed of 170 knots (195mph) at 10,000ft. It is an ideal aircraft for European travel equipped with advanced avionics, including GPS mapping systems and digital weather radar, making it a versatile and comfortable aeroplane in almost any weather situation. Oasis Flight are also reviewing other aircraft to add to the fleet including the Beechcraft Baron 58, for many years the backbone of the small aircraft charter market with six seats in total.
PremiAir used the opportunity to officially open its new operation with a lunch and open house for some 90 industry guests and senior representatives from Hawker Beechcraft. Perhaps better known as a helicopter operator (they took over the charter operations of McAlpine when it was purchased by Eurocopter – see above), it is owned by the luxury hotel group Von Essen. The 20,000sq ft hangar (formerly operated by CSE Aviation) has been the benefactor of a UKP1m investment including new apron areas and a total re-fit including bespoke electrics, lighting, heating and modern insulation. The facility now includes workshops, customer reception areas, office space and dedicated car parking. It is approved for EASA Part 145 for base maintenance and is a new centre of excellence for Beechcraft MRO (Maintenance and Repair Organization).
Oxford Airport provides for an impressive alternative to Biggin, Farnborough, Luton, Southend and Stansted as London’s main business jet airport. London City and Northolt could also be considered. Kidlington's geographical location means that it stretches into Birmingham and Coventry territory. With the Reuben brothers behind it and a host of first rate tenants it looks like returning to a position of pre-eminence in British general aviation. www.oxfordairport.co.uk