18 MAY 2009

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Boeing unveils 737 improvements

BOEING has unveiled a whole series of performance and comfort changes to the Next-Generation 737.  Due to be introduced on aircraft delivered from towards the end of next year, and using lessons learnt with the 787 Dreamliner, passengers will quickly notice what the airline calls “the Boeing Sky Interior”.  Amongst many small detail improvements Boeing has redesigned reading-light switches so passengers can find them more easily and avoid accidentally pressing the flight-attendant call button.  A new design offers larger, pivoting overhead stowage bins that add to the openness of the cabin.  The bins give more passengers room to store a carry-on item near their own seat, adding both extra convenience and legroom.  Various technical improvements will add 2% to fuel economy. www.boeing.com/commercial

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British Airways new premier lounge

BRITISH AIRWAYS has opened a luxurious new lounge for premium passengers and top tier oneworld members at Heathrow T3.  The 300-seat Galleries Club Lounge is for eligible customers travelling to Barcelona, Helsinki, Lisbon, Madrid, Malaga and Vienna.  I can also be used for passengers with the appropiate clearance and flying with fellow oneword members  Finnair, Iberia and Qantas.  Work and entertainment zones are available with free wi-fi.  There is also a dedicated ‘Kidzone’ room for younger passengers with interactive furnishings, a magnetic wall and toys.  A second dedicated 250-seat lounge for customers travelling in First will open later in the year when, at the same time, long haul flights to Bangkok, Singapore and Sydney transfer from Terminal 4.  All flights to and from China, including Hong Kong, are in T5. www.britishairways.com

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Delta adds more wi-fi

DELTA AIR LINES says that it has installed wi-fi on nearly half of its domestic aircraft.  All the carrier’s MD-88s have been completed and the MD-90s should be finished by the end of May with the balance of domestic fleet scheduled for completion by September.  In addition to the McDonnell Douglas aircraft wi-fi is available on some Boeing 757-200s.  The service is offered in both First and Economy classes on a pay-per-flight basis and ranges from USD7.95 to USD12.95 depending on the length of the flight.  On the ground, Delta has expanded free wi-fi access to include all visitors to Delta Sky Club lounges within the United States.  Delta prices are the same as American Airlines. (see AERBT 4 May 2009) www.delta.com

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Liverpool to link with Aberdeen & Southampton

EASTERN AIRWAYS, the UK’s largest domestic air carrier in terms of routes, is to introduce two new Liverpool services on Monday 6 July with three flights every weekday to both Aberdeen and Southampton.  Depending on the time of day the sectors will be flown by either Saab 2000 or BAe J41.  All passengers can use the ‘Fast Track’ services at the airports and Eastern offers complimentary drinks and snacks.  The flights are timed to allow business people a same day return service.  At the same time the airline will be increasing the number of flights from Aberdeen to Southampton from two to five each way week daily. www.easternairways.com

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Luton backs down on airport charges?

LUTON AIRPORT seems to have backed down on its threat to charge ‘drop off’ passengers (see AERBT 22 April 2009).  The official line is that a previous announcement has not been implemented, a clear response to media outrage regarding not only this issue but also the hidden charges being employed by many airlines and airports.  On a more positive front El Al has now arrived at the airport with daily flights (except Saturday) to Tel Aviv, the first national carrier to offer long haul services from Luton.  Over the next few weeks easyJet is to introduce flights to Mahon (6 July – Mondau, Wednesday, Friday), Milan Malpensa (also 6 July – every day except Saturday) and Montpellier (7 July – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday). www.london-luton.co.uk

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Ryanair bans children and charges for check-in

RYANAIR, which is possibly the world’s most socially unaware airline, is to charge all new bookings a UKP10 return journey per person on-line check-in fee (other than promotional fares such as “Free”, “E1” and “E5”).  This has been suggested as rather like getting on a bus and being told you pay to board, and on top of that there is the fare.  The airline plans to phase out check-in desks and will also impose a UKP40 per person boarding card re-issue fee if for some reason you arrive at the airport without paperwork.  This could work out very expensive for a family of four, UKP360 for the return journey.  The carrier will no longer accept bookings for unaccompanied minors.  This is a major gamble for the airline that carried 58m passengers last year.  Ryanair charges UKP10 for the first item of hold baggage under 15kl (an average case weighs 5kl), UKP20 for babies in arms, and a UKP1 wheelchair fee regardless of any disability.  The airline has never paid investors a dividend. www.ryanair.com

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Tel Aviv gets more direct flights

TEL AVIV seems to be the flavour of the month with bmi upping services and Jet2 introducing Manchester.  Now comes the re-launch of Munich, Lufthansa saying there was ample demand despite the slowing economy.  It will operate the flights four times a week with Airbus A340-300 ‘planes, adding to the two services a day it already offers between Tel Aviv and Frankfurt.  Partner SWISS flies twice daily from Zurich but not from Geneva, which is served by El Al. www.lufthansa.com

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HAPPY TALK: Love is in the air

Air New Zealand has announced the world’s first matchmaking flight. 

The target audience is  American singles looking to find a date amongst soft spoken Kiwis. 

On 13 October 2009, a 'plane load of the non-attached will be invited to come on down from Los Angeles and get amongst it with single New Zealanders.  Flight passengers will enjoy a pre-flight gate party at LAX and then themed food, drink, entertainment and games throughout the trip.  Waiting for them at the other end will be a fabulous, singles-only party and accommodation at the five-star Skycity Grand Hotel right in the centre of Auckland.

The mind boggles.  Virgin must be kicking themselves that they did not come up with the idea first.  To Australia of course!

 

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ON THE SOAPBOX: Sir Richard Branson

Each month AERBT will bring you the leaders of the travel industry to give their views as they see it.

Richard Branson was 33 when he launched Virgin Atlantic in June 1984. Now a quarter of a century later he believes that international conniving is out to destroy his airline.

"When Virgin Atlantic was first conceived 25 years ago the choice for British travellers across the North Atlantic was pretty dire.  There wasn't much of it.  Sadly, Laker Airways had folded, Sir Freddie unable to withstand the commercial bullying exerted by British Airways.  B'Cal was not fairing much better even with the assistance of 'Caledonian Girls'.  Within three years it would be gobbled up by BA.

For Americans the situation was pretty bleak.  True, the US carriers still dominated the skies across ‘The Pond’ but Pan Am and TWA were already in a decline which would eventually mean their ruin.

Look at the situation today.  Heathrow is the centre of the airline industry.  Of the top ten routes across the Atlantic, eight are to London Heathrow.  Every airline is trying to introduce a premium economy product.  Flat beds in business class are the norm.  Business lounges are getting better (but we keep one step ahead) and our British competitor is again considering a black cab ‘chauffeur’ service.  In all of these breakthroughs we, Virgin Atlantic, were first.

Why?

The Answer is very, very easy.

Competition.

We had to be innovative and ground breaking.  We kept everyone on their toes.  We survived a dirty tricks campaign and a limit of just 3% available slots.

And we kept the fares down.  We still do.

Today we have 38 wide-bodied aircraft flying to 30 destinations around the world.  We employ 9,000 staff and have more aircraft on order – including the innovative and highly fuel-efficient Boeing 787-9.

BA is seemingly in freefall.  Qantas does not want them.  Iberia is worried about its proposed tie up.  Continental didn't want to join BA.  Air France has grabbed KLM and Lufthansa has already taken SWISS and Austrian, with Brussels Airlines and bmi likely joining the stable.

In desperation British Airways solicits American Airlines with a proposed merger in all but name.  The result for passengers, employees, communities and for fair and healthy competition, would be disastrous.  The only possible winners are the disgruntled shareholders of the two carriers.

Should this unification go ahead BA and AA, together with their oneworld partners, would hold nearly half of all take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, and even more importantly have the flexibility to use them to their best advantage.  Against our paltry allocation BA/AA would also control most of the capacity on key routes.  These are the figures as stated by OAG:

Heathrow – Boston (80%); Heathrow – Miami (73%); Heathrow – Chicago O'Hare (64%) and Heathrow – New York JFK (64%).  On Heathrow – Dallas Fort Worth it would be 100%.

BA argues that it needs to link up with American because SkyTeam and Star Alliance are dominant at their hubs.  But the fact is that even BA on its own is already bigger between Heathrow and the US, the busiest air corridor out of Europe, than Star is from Frankfurt or SkyTeam is from Paris – and that's even before it gets together with American.  Heathrow accounts for nearly a quarter of all passengers travelling between Europe and the US.

The first attempt to merge BA and AA was led by Robert Crandall, the former Chairman and CEO of American Airlines.  Even he has now seen the light.  He said in a Daily Telegraph newspaper article recently:

"Any objective observer would have to look very hard to find a way in which alliances have benefited consumers."

And he repeated the same views to a conference in California last week.  Even AA's former friends are turning against it.

What a change of stance from the days when Crandall was actually running American Airlines in 1996 when he said "the BA/AA alliance will benefit travellers on both sides of the Atlantic."

Bob Crandall knows in reality that BA/AA is a step too far.  His former airline has long agreed that immunised alliances aren't a pure blessing, particularly when the Air France-Delta link-up cut off AA's connecting traffic at Paris.  Yet AA is now trying to argue that alliances are great for consumers, ironically employing The Brattle Group to help it.  Brattle has found, conveniently, that alliances are good – a complete u-turn from when it concluded alliances were bad, the last time it worked for AA!

Of course there is an element of self-interest in Virgin Atlantic's opposition to BA/AA – the proposed alliance would impact on our ability to compete fairly on some of our most important routes – but there is a much wider consequence.  At Heathrow, competitors cannot challenge BA's dominance and where there is less competition, BA and American will be able to increase fares on the most important air corridors in the world.  In fact, if granted, immunity will ensure that the two largest transatlantic players will be pretty well joined at the hip. So, the regulators need to show more than ever that they are guarding consumers' interests.

Protecting monopolies is not acceptable to passengers who end up paying higher prices.  And it shouldn't be acceptable to regulators.  Nothing has changed since 2001 when they last looked at these plans, and demanded BA give up hundreds of slots at Heathrow.  How can they require anything less if nothing has changed?

What is before the regulators today is the future of a competitive international aviation industry.  The latest BA/AA application isn't about what consumers really need, it is about two increasingly lonesome management teams.  Virgin Atlantic may not be the first choice for everyone, but at least it offers true and important competition.

The application by BA/AA should not be decided on emotion or past letters of support.  It should be decided on the true facts.  When this recession is over, we need an industry we can be proud of.  An industry that promotes competition, creates jobs and brings real benefits to consumers."

Sir Richard Branson

Virgin Atlantic is still red hot in its 25th birthday year. Winner of Best Scheduled Airline to the USA, and Best Airline Business Lounge, find out more at www.virginatlantic.com/stillredhot

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Bristol and Cardiff gain new hotels

RADISSON BLU, the first class, full-service hotel brand operated by The Rezidor Hotel Group, will open two new hotels in the UK this summer:  The Radisson Blu Hotel, Bristol (176 rooms), set to be unveiled in July and Radisson Blu Hotel, Cardiff (215 rooms), will welcome clients in June.  The Bristol property is located on Broad Quay in the centre of the city.  In Cardiff the 21-storey contemporary glass and metal building is again in the centre of all activities with breathtaking views over the city, Cardiff Bay and the surrounding countryside. www.radissonblu.com

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Crowne Plaza expands in Philadelphia

CROWN PLAZA, part of IHG, the world’s largest hotel chain, has opened a fifth property in Philadelphia.  The six-storey 214 guest room Crowne Plaza Philadelphia-Bucks County, a former Holiday Inn hotel, is conveniently located just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Interstate 95 and State Route 1.  It features free wi-fi, a fitness centre, 24-hour business facility, a large indoor swimming pool and complimentary shuttle to businesses within a five-mile radius. www.ichotelsgroup.com

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Gatwick Express

THE GATWICK EXPRESS is 25 years old, the service introduced on 14 May 1984.  At that time British Caledonian Airways was still the premier airline at the airport and Virgin Atlantic was just about to burst on the scene.  Laker had gone two years earlier.  Originally part of the old British Rail, the service is currently operated by Southern Railway (part of the Go Ahead Group).  Scheduled time for the service is 30 minutes with trains leaving at 00 and 30 minutes past the hour from London Victoria and 20 and 50 minutes from Gatwick.  The trains are two-class and carry up to 14,000 passengers per day, or around 5m per annum. www.gatwickexpress.com

 

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London City loses route

LONDON CITY AIRPORT is to lose one of its longest operating routes with the withdrawal of VLM’S flights to Manchester at the end of the month.  Once one of the most popular services out of the airport, with up to eight return flights daily it has been hard hit by the resurgence of the Euston – Manchester Piccadilly rail service.  VLM had previously departed from its parallel operation to Liverpool.  The airline claims that the rail network is subsidised and that passengers travelling by train do not have to pay security charges or a fee for using the station.  The airline, part of Air France/ KLM group, also flies to both Antwerp and Rotterdam from Manchester, but those services have not been affected. www.vlm.com

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OAG publishes airline figures for May

OAG (Official Airline Guide) executive summary for May reports that that airlines worldwide will operate 5% less flights as compared to May 2008 with seat capacity reduced by 3% for the same period.  Yet again, the biggest contributor to this decline in frequency is within North America amounting to 9% drop as compared to last year.  Seat capacity is down by 8%.  To and from the US and Canada the figure is 6% for both.  Within Europe, as compared to May 2008 the frequency and capacity declined by 8% and 6% respectively.  The Middle East region continues to grow and reflects a big upward trend again this month with a rise of  27% and 24% respectively.  However in true perspective it only represents 10% of the North America total.  The number of passengers passing through European airports fell 12.4% in the first quarter of 2009 and freight traffic was down 23.1% ACI Europe reported.  It is only at the end of the month, when the actual load factors are published by the airlines,  will it be possible to see whether they have been able to match frequency against capacity, the real telling figure. www.oag.com

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Spring Bank Holiday in the UK next weekend


BRITAIN’S Spring Bank Holiday takes place next weekend Saturday 23, Sunday 24 and Monday 25 May.  TfL (Transport for London) is urging all Tube, London Overground, London Tramlink and DLR passengers to "check before you travel" not only this weekend, but always for the time being whilst the whole system is undergoing a massive upgrade.  Heathrow users should note that the Piccadilly line trains will not be stopping at Hatton Cross and Wood Green stations over the holiday.  The DLR is undergoing major work in the Canning Town area during the Bank Holiday break which will affect London City Airport. www.tfl.gov.uk

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ON TOUR: EBACE (European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition)

Alison Chambers reports

The perception of business aviation as a luxury form of transport must be quashed.  That was the message that rang out from the ninth European Business Aviation Convention in Geneva last week as EBAA Chief Executive Brian Humphries called on OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and operators to promote business jets as a business tool.

“We fly to task,” he said.  “Flutes of champagne, lobster and luxurious cabin interiors are not what we want to be portraying right now.”  He continued: “Rather, magazine advertisements should show business people getting ready for the meeting they are travelling to, hunched over their laptops, drinking coffee and working inflight.  We really are our own worst enemy when we portray business jets as luxury.  This is not the core of our business.”  

The flurry of aircraft order announcements that usually dominates EBACE was missing this year, but event organisers claimed the show was the third-largest ever, 10,917 visitors attending the three-day event.  A total of 411 exhibitors, occupying approximately 1,900 booth spaces, were at Palexpo and 65 business aircraft showcased in the static park, up from 60 the previous year.  And far from being downbeat, there was a sense of optimism in the halls and out on the static, despite the rain clouds that marred the opening day.

While the business aviation fraternity has suffered in this current global economic crisis – an estimated 20,000 jobs lost at OEMs and second tier suppliers – and business aviation traffic down an average 20% in Europe since January – EBAA sees this as a temporary retrenchment.

“We still have huge potential,” said Brian Humphries.

Fresh business models in the form of emerging private air taxi operators are ushering in a new dimension of business transport.  This will bolster the industry, introducing cheaper access to business aviation,” he said.  ”However, the prediction two years ago at EBACE that the skies would be black with Very Light Jets has not happened yet.  Today, they are not even grey,” he said.

Amid this passion for growth Europe’s business aviation industry has regulatory obstacles to overcome – in the shape of EU-ETS (European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading System), security and the rewriting of operational manuals to comply with the latest EU directives.  There is pressure for the sector to impose more airline-type security at airports, even at secondary airports which EBAA (The European Business Aviation Association) wants to make more use of as business aviation continues to get squeezed from the major hubs – owing to high prices and competition from LCC (low cost carrier) traffic.  Rather than see its business aircraft operators having to be involved in the expense of direct carbon trading, EBAA is advocating Eurocontrol’s simplified carbon calculation model – known as the Pagoda system.  It has the support from the Directorate for Energy and Transport.  Now it needs endorsement from the Directorate for Environment, which is responsible for the rule-making.

“Under Pagoda, operators would pay a combined monthly bill that would include their Eurocontrol fees and carbon emissions.  As for the requirement to rewrite the current EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) Ops rulemaking the industry isn’t in the right state to put a lot of effort into rewriting these rules while its struggling for its survival,”  Humphries challenged.

During EBACE, EBAA highlighted the essential role business aviation plays in supporting jobs, mobility and economic opportunity around the world with the publication of recent research commissioned by PWC (PriceWaterhouse Coopers).  This sector now embraces 3,000 business aircraft (1,000 more since 2001) and it is the second largest air transport sector to the LCC fraternity in Europe, accounting for 8% of IFR traffic (but less than 1% of emissions).  Private individual aircraft owners account for about a mere 3% of flying activity, compared with corporations and governments at 80%.

The sector is responsible, according to PWC, for 164,000 jobs and E19.7bn (equivalent to approximately 0.2% of combined GDP of the EU, Norway and Switzerland.)  The UK is home to 30% of these business aviation employees, followed by France (24%), Germany (21%) and Italy (7%).

Embraer, marking its 40th anniversary this year, was particularly strong, showing off its new Phenom 100 and 300 family for the first time in Europe, along with the new Lineage 1000, a derivative of the Embraer 190 and the largest in its expanded executive jet family.  It has amassed 800 orders for the Phenoms and starts delivery of the 100 into the UK in July.  From September, new operator JetBird of Ireland – which has ordered a 50-plus fleet, will commence air taxi operations.

Aerion, the US company that plans to bring the world’s first supersonic business jet to market in 2014 said here that is it edging close to securing a deal with an OEM to build the aircraft.  Aerion’s owner US entrepreneur Robert Bass came to EBACE to emphasise the programme is very much on track – with still 40 orders logged (down from the previous 50 milestone of last year).

Franco/Italian consortium ATR announced its intention to tap the VIP conversion market with its popular ATR42/72.  It sees a market for VIP, corporate shuttles seating 20/25 passengers and even a QC variant.  It pledges to unveil more details at the Paris Show next month.  The ATR family will join the Dornier 328 jet and Bombardier CRJ, established mainstay regional airliners that are already enjoying sales success with VIP versions.  328 Support Services GmbH announced the placement of two 328 Jets into Dubai for VIP use at EBACE – one of just a handful of order announcements (another was Jordan-based Rayajet signing for a Hawker Beechcraft Premier II).  Later this month, airliner conversion specialist Dubai-based Project Phoenix will deliver its first 12-seat Phoenix CRJ to Jet Asia in Macau.

Contrasting the new with the old BAE Regional Aircraft made its debut in the static park to show off a recently configured VIP Avro RJ now flying for the owners of Bulgaria Air.  This example, the work of Inflite Engineering and DesignQ of the UK, featured Club 4 seating, a dining area and divan, large plasma screen and 12 business class seats for support staff.  These newly converted jets are selling for about USD10m, a price point that is impressing potential clients, BAE says.

And illustrating the complementary role that airlines and business aviation can play, a new dedicated business aviation subsidiary of Swiss International Air Lines, SPA (Swiss PrivateAviation) was launched by Lufthansa PrivateJet.  SPA will manage business aircraft for private owners and provide operational support to Lufthansa PrivateJet whose Cessna Citation fleet of jets (including the first XLSs to fly inEurope) will fly first class passengers from German and Swiss hub airports for a fixed fee.

Will Curtis, CEO of expanding Middle East private jet company Rizon, which will establish a brand new charter, FBO and MRO operation at London Biggin Hill Airport this autumn concludes that business aviation is the barometer for the economy’s growth.  “Lawyers, accountants and consultants will start chartering private aircraft as they need to move to broker mergers and acquisitions.  The private jet will get them to the negotiating table first.”

The view from EBACE is that the market has started to pick up.  Charter is improving.  Some companies, such as VistaJet, even giving it a boost with the announcement of a 25% price reduction on return trips for all its programme members.  ExecuJet, which manages a fleet of 150 aircraft all over the world, reports charter interest has improved significantly since March, but notes that clients are leaving it much closer to the travel time when they book.  While new deliveries are deferred or delayed, the leading airframers report that the much increased pre-owned aircraft inventory has started to stabilise.  Luis Carlos Affonso, Executive VP Executive Jets at Embraer, speaks for his industry colleagues when he suggests that recovery will come in 2010; aircraft sales will recover in 2011 and deliveries will recover in 2012. www.ebace.aero

Alison Chambers

Alison is a regular contributor to AERBT and is Principal of Emerald Media, a specialist aviation agency.  All the photographs of EBACE are by Jane Stanbury, Emerald Media, Spain. www.emeraldmedia.co.uk

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Aer Lingus cuts back

AER LINGUS, following the resignation of Chief Executive Dermot Mannion in April, is cutting back on flights out of both Belfast and Dublin for next winter.  One of the three aircraft based in Belfast will be withdrawn as well as flights to Barcelona, Faro, Milan, Paris and Rome.  This will leave services to Heathrow, Malaga, Munich, Lanzarote and Tenerife.  An aircraft will also be withdrawn at Dublin but which route has not been confirmed.  Aer Lingus said revenues in January to March slumped 16% from the previous year.  On a positive front the load factor on Belfast routes was 81% in April, the highest yet. www.aerlingus.com

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Bristol Lulsgate up for sale?

AUSTRALIAN Macquarie Bank has fuelled speculation by saying nothing about the possible sale of Bristol Lulsgate Airport.  The Australian bank declared net profits down 52% in the year up to 31 March 2009, the first fall in net profits in 17 years.  Soon after the  announcement, North Somerset Council members put forward a plan to try and purchase the airport from the bank but after a vote the whole council rejected the proposal.  The airport carried just over one million passengers in the first three months of 2009, down around 30% over the first quarter of 2008.  Plans call to double the size of the terminal and passenger numbers to 16m by 2016.  The airport scheme is not surprisingly opposed by local residents who point out that the A38 that passes by is essentially the same single carriageway road that existed 30 years ago. www.bristolairport.co.uk

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De Havilland flies again

VINTAGE AIRCRAFT ENTHUSIASTS might like to know that Air Atlantique Classic Flight is organising a UK tour for its de Havilland Rapides to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the prototype’s maiden flight.  The programme kicks off at Oxford (Kidlington) over the weekend 30/31 May.  Every year Air Atlantique’s owner Mike Collett says that this might be the last opportunity for the public to ride in one of the great aircraft of all time, citing the cost and increasingly awkward legislation.  Flights are priced at UKP65 and half price for Classic Flight Club members.  The full programme is on the Air Atlantique web site. www.airatlantique.co.uk

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Hertz lets in young drivers

HERTZ EUROPE has lowered the minimum age for students renting a vehicle to 19 years.  Young people will also enjoy a discount for both car and van rentals.  Hertz claims to be the first hire company to make available what it calls “a clear and consistent vehicle rental offer across multiple countries in Europe”.  The company says the policy opens up a whole new market segment of leisure customers.  It points out that the timing will help students coming to the end of their course and requiring to transport both themselves and their property home.  Cars available for rental include the Ford Fiesta and Focus and vans include the Vauxhall Combo van and the Ford Transit Connect. www.hertz.co.uk

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Lufthansa nears Austrian Airlines decision

LUFTHANSA has confirmed that it has been offered more than 85% of Austrian Airlines' shares, meeting one of the conditions it set for its takeover of the Austrian state carrier.  The European Commission is expected to rule on the purchase by 17 June, an objection being made by Air France-KLM.  The success of the bid would leave the German airline controlling Air Dolomiti, Eurowings (49%), Germanwings, Lufthansa CityLine and Lufthansa Italia and SWISS, plus a 30% interest in bmi.  The takeover would make Lufthansa Europe’s largest airline with a combined fleet of over 500 aircraft.  The airline's bid for Brussels Airlines is with the EU and its takeover of bmi has been cleared by the Commission but has not been confirmed by the two carriers. www.lufthansa.com

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Park Inn to open flagship hotel in Manchester

PARK INN, the four-star brand operated by the Rezidor Hotel Group, will open its new flagship hotel in Manchester on Wednesday 10 June.  It is located adjacent to the MEN Arena in Manchester’s city centre.  The new property has 252 guest rooms, including Business Friendly rooms, suites and accessible rooms for disabled guests.  The rooms, designed to be functional and easy to use, have laptop-size safes and wi-fi.  The hotel offers five modern and flexible meeting rooms, each with natural daylight and individual climate control, plus a large conference space which is divisible by three and will accommodate over 200 delegates theatre style or 180 guests for a private dinner.  The extensive health and leisure facilities include a large swimming pool, gym, sauna and steam facility and two treatment rooms. www.rezidorparkinn.com

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Stratford changes name due to the Olympics

STRATFORD REGIONAL STATION is the new name of what was Stratford Station in East London.  All this to save confusion with Stratford International, not far away, that station, the hub of the 2012 Olympic complex.  The ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) has released new photos of work racing ahead at Stratford Regional as the DLR line from London City Airport via Canning Town pushes on with completion due in 2010.  Eurostar trains will stop at Stratford International after the Docklands Light Railway extension is open.  The station will also serve the high speed Javelin service from St Pancras. www.london2012.com

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CRUISING: National Ferry Fortnight

On the third Monday of every month AERBT carries news of cruising and ferries.  In April we featured “Cruising – an introduction”.  Likewise with ferries it seemed obvious to introduce this subject with a preface.  In this respect we are most fortunate that the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA), the umbrella organisation covering virtually every ferry company (and cruise line), has introduced National Ferry Fortnight with the following discourse on ferries and their background.

The MAY cruising update follows below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifteen facts you should know about ferries

 1.  Over 70 destinations can be reached by ferries departing from UK ports as far reaching as Santander and Bilbao in Spain, Lerwick on the Shetland Islands and Esbjerg in Denmark.

 2.  People have been using ferries as a mode of transport for hundreds of years, the first recorded Isle of Wight ferry service dates back to 1420.

 3.  Ferries let you take unlimited luggage at no extra charge, and it won't get lost.  A recent survey conducted by the PSA showed that over three quarters of respondents (76%) saw ferries as the preferred choice of transport, over planes and trains when questioned on baggage restrictions.

 4.  Ferry travel is glamorous!  Robbie Williams charted a Wightlink ferry to shoot his video Road to Mandalay, playing golf on the car deck, whilst travelling on board P&O Ferries from Hull to Rotterdam inspired The Beautiful South’s hit single Rotterdam back in 1996.

 5.  At the turn of the last century ferries were also transporting performers.  Both Wightlink and Stena Line have transported circuses, including elephants from England to the Isle of Wight and Ireland respectively.

 6.  P&O Ferries launched the government’s Pet Passport scheme after it carried the first pet into the UK in 2000.  Thanks to this scheme you can now take your pet dog, cat or ferret on holiday by ferry.  But some ferries have carried some more unusual wildlife.  SeaFrance recently carried a King Vulture, Tatin, who was en route to Arnhem Zoo via Calais, in the hope that she’ll produce lots of baby vultures.  Condor Ferries came to the aid of the Born Free Foundation transporting lion cubs from Guernsey to the UK (en route to South Africa).

 7.  Ferry travel is not just for holiday makers.  Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferries offer a lifeline service to the islands off Scotland’s west coast, where for many islands the only way to get there is by sea.  The services supply islanders with everything from delivering their post and milk to transporting the children to school and essential medicines to the hospitals.

 8.  Ferry travel also means seeing nature in the wild.  The routes across the Channel, Bay of Biscay and the Irish Sea are an ideal place to spot whales, dolphins and other marine life.  DFDS Seaways runs wildlife watching mini cruise with wildlife officers from whale and dolphin charity ORCA.
 
9.  You can also have a cultural fix on board a ferry.  Brittany Ferries is behind a programme commissioning contemporary art and there are over 200 works of art on board their flagship, Pont Aven.  The operator even provides an audio commentary to help passengers understand the background to each piece.

10. Dining on board ferries has improved dramatically over the last decade.  There is fine dining at Langan’s Brassiere on board P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways offers the finest North American beef at their Explorers Steakhouse.  It comes from a breed of cattle that are descended from the work oxen shipped to the Americas by Christopher Columbus!

11. Due to the large numbers of ferry passengers (over 40 million of us travelled by ferry last year), ferry companies have to produce meals on a major scale.  Condor Ferries who travel to France and the Channel Islands used over 320,000 slices of bacon a year.  That’s more than enough to provide the entire population of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark with a bacon buttie.

12. Longer routes mean you can overnight on board and in much more comfort than in an airline seat.  Stena Line’s overnight cabins have DUX beds, which are hand-crafted by a generations old Swedish family firm and are also used in luxury hotels such as the Burj al Arab in Dubai, and the Setai in Miami.  They use the strongest Swedish pine and fine luxurious cotton.

 13. Ferries can be chartered just like cruise ships.  Last November DFDS Seaways took more than 900 rave fans on a 2-night dance weekender event to Amsterdam from Newcastle.  With top Rave DJs and MCs including Breeze, Ramos and Rude, time in Amsterdam and dinner and breakfast on board included for all passengers.

14. The world’s largest car ferry is Irish Ferries Ulysses which weighs in at over 50,000 tonnes and is 167 feet from the bottom of the keel to the top of the mast.  And whilst the distance between Southampton and East Cowes (Isle of Wight) is only 9.9 miles a Red Funnel vehicle ferry can travel up to 137,039 nautical miles per annum, making an average of 13,842 crossings per year.  (In cruising terms that is the size of Crystal Symphony. ED)

15. Ferry travel is cutting edge!  LD Lines is soon to introduce a high speed wave piercing catamaran to cross-Channel routes, which will be the world’s largest diesel powered catamaran, operating at a speed of 40 knots.  This means the journey from Dover to Boulogne is just one hour.

 

For more details visit www.sailanddrive.com, the home of PSA ferry members operating between the UK, Europe and islands around Britain.

 

CRUISE NEWS

Celebrity Millennium, nicknamed ‘Millie’, a breakthrough in its time with a gas turbine ‘pod’ propulsion system, is of this week in the middle of a USD10m upgrade programme in Victoria, British Columbia.  Delivered at the very beginning of the decade, the 2,000-passenger, 90,000-ton liner Millennium will emerge from the refresh with new carpeting, upholstery, drapes, bed skirts and bed throw throughout the entire ship.  The Celebrity Theatre gets a makeover as does the main dining room.  Bolidt synthetic flooring is being installed across the pool deck, outdoor stage, dance floor and jogging track.  It is said to be better than traditional teak.

Cystal received an unannounced visit last week when officers from Health Canada descended on Crystal Serenity when it docked at Victoria at the end of the world cruise.  Maybe the Captain and officers were a little concerned but they did not show it.  The ship received a "perfect" score of 100 from the authorities.  A ship's level of sanitation is satisfactory if its inspection score is 86% or higher.  Health Canada’s inspection was very thorough.  Crystal was the first cruise line to introduce sanitary controls as you boarded, many years back. Most ships limit this inspection to the dining rooms where it is sometimes not well policed.

Europe still seems to be in the ascendency as far as cruising is concerned.  Last year a record 4.4m took to the water for their holidays, up 22% on 2007.  In all, a record-breaking 4.4m Europeans cruised in 2008 and 8m cruise passengers visited north European ports.  European shipyards are busy with new builds – 17 cruise ships are on order for the European market between now and 2012 – as well as refurbishments and makeovers.  Germany leads the way in the super yacht building sector, with four of the top five biggest privately-owned yachts coming from German yards, including the world’s largest to be delivered later this year.

Golden Princess, the ship that set the standard for Princess Cruises’ large liners, has emerged from a three-week makeover.  In comes a piazza-style atrium, an adults-only Sanctuary, a Movies Under the Stars poolside movie screen, and a new Crown Grill steak and seafood restaurant.  The ship also now features a relocated casino on deck 7, a new sports court, an internet café and library, and a refurbished fitness centre.

London Zoo may seem an odd place to launch cruise packages but All Leisure Holidays, ultimate owner of Voyages of Discovery, Minerva and now Hebridean, chose the Komodo Dragon House to introduce their programmes for 2010.  In fact it was quite appropriate with Discovery off to Indonesia, home of the Komodo, Minerva going deep south to Antarctica, and Hebridean offering the wild life of the north of Scotland.  Star of the evening however were the penguins who entertained one and all.

MSC is getting excited with the launch in July of Splendida, second in the Fantasia class of super liners.  Whilst a massive ship (135,000 tons and 3,000+ passengers) the Italian company is putting much emphasis on its 99 Yacht Club Suites.  These come with butler service, 24-hour concierge, and are mainly grouped around a private club area which has its own pool and spa.  For everyone on board, both Fantasia and Splendida feature a sliding sun roof, a first for MSC and ideal for the ship’s year around operations in the Mediterranean out of Genoa.

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