22 JUNE 2009

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Airports gather in Manchester

ACI, Airport Council International – Europe, gathered at Manchester Central last week for its 19th annual assembly and congress.  The keynote opening speaker was supposed to be the affable Jim Fitzpatrick MP, UK Aviation Minister, but he had moved on from the time that the show programme was published.  No replacement could be found.  What a way to treat a customer (AERBT’s way of describing an industry which pays the government many billions of pounds per year).  What we did get was a discourse from Brian Simpson MEP, the socialist group spokesman at Brussels (and Strasbourg) on transport and tourism.  Mr Simpson, who represents north east England, speaks the aviation language and is knowledgeable on the subject.  Attendees heard from Raymond Benjamin, incoming General Secretary of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), a man steeped in civil aviation and a very distinguished panel discussed the lasting impact of the recession.  Stefan Schulte, of Frankfurt Airport, investment expert Hamish Mackenzie, analyst Andrew Lobbenberg and Barry Humphreys, Virgin Atlantic’s former Director of External Affairs and now Chairman of BATA (British Air Transport Association) all agreed that the industry was at the bottom and would improve.  Nobody could predict a time scale. www.aci-europe.org

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Continental flies biofuel

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES has announced the results of a biofuel demonstration flight which took place in January.  Conducted in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM International and Honeywell the 50/50 blend performed as well as, or better than, traditional jet fuel, displaying an approximate 1.1% increase in fuel efficiency over traditional jet fuel in different stages of the demonstration flight.  However overall life cycle greenhouse gas emissions related to using a biofuel of the nature used on the Continental demonstration flight are estimated to be reduced by 60% to 80% as compared to traditional jet fuel.  No modifications were necessary to the aircraft or engine.  After inspections the aircraft returned to regular revenue service the next day. www.continental.com

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Heathrow terminal moves

STAR ALLIANCE member carriers – Austrian, Croatia Airlines, Lufthansa, SWISS and TAP have moved from Heathrow Terminal 2 to the refurbished Terminal 1.  They join Air New Zealand, Asiana, bmi, LOT Polish Airlines, South African Airways, United and US Airways.  As part of this move, a common Star Alliance branded check-in area used by only Austrian, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa and TAP has opened.  This area features dedicated check-in counters for First, Business and Economy Class passengers.  Self-service check-in kiosks and a bag-drop is available.  Passengers pass through a separate security line, which also features Fast Track.  Air New Zealand, Asiana, South African Airways, SWISS, United and US Airways each have their own counters whilst bmi, the largest operator in the terminal has its own check-in zone.  Once airside, eligible customers have a choice of three different lounge facilities.  bmi also offers two lounges, one mainly for UK and Ireland departures and the newly opened international lounge. www.staralliance.com

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Kent gains high-speed rail link

KENT commuters are in for some kind of disbelief from Monday 29 June when a high-speed London rail link is introduced from the new Ebbsfleet station near Bluewater.  The train journey will be a mere 17 minutes.  The biggest shock however will be arriving at St Pancras, north of the Thames, an unknown territory for many from the far south east.  Trains will initially run every half hour weekdays with additional services from Ashford.  The new routing has been brought about by the integration of the High-Speed One rail line, which links London to the Channel Tunnel, and the purchase of 140mph Javelin units from Japan.  Later on the trains will stop at Stratford International, the Olympic Park station, and provide a seven-minute service from there to and from St Pancras. www.southeasternrailway.co.uk

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Marriott at St Pancras

JW MARRIOTT jr, the efflorescent Chairman and CEO of Marriott International has been in London to appraise work on the prestigious Renaissance St Pancras Hotel, due to open in 2010.  During his visit Mr Marriott was shown some of the painstaking restoration work that is going on at the landmark 323,000sq ft Grade I English Heritage listed Victorian building.  Plans for the 245 guestroom hotel include a restaurant, two bars, a health and leisure centre, a business centre, a ballroom, a function room and eight meeting rooms.  During the restoration programme, the external appearance of the original building is being retained and a sympathetically designed hotel extension is being added at the rear.  All the internal rooms of historic significance are being restored to their former glory.  The original main building will house 52 guestrooms.  The balance will be located in the new wing. www.marriott.com

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Oban's first birthday

OBAN AIRPORT, probably Britain’s most remote airfield just over 100 difficult miles north of Glasgow, has celebrated its first year of operation as a proper scheduled operation.  Officially introduced on 16 June 2008 the Argyll Air Service is operated by Highland Airways using a nine-passenger BN2 Islander aircraft.  The flights link the communities of Coll, Colonsay and Tiree with the mainland town of Oban.  This complements the existing ferry service.  Over 2,000 passengers have used the flights in the first year, above estimates.  Whilst probably best known for its services to the Western Isles from Inverness, Highland also operates on behalf of the Welsh Assembly a twice daily link between Cardiff and Anglesey. www.highlandairways.co.uk

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TAP arrives in Moscow

TAP, the Portuguese airline, and a member of Star Alliance, has introduced direct non-stop flights between Lisbon and Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport.  In the Lisbon – Moscow direction flights run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and there are also two flights on Saturdays.  On the Moscow – Lisbon return leg services run on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  All flights are operated by 156-seat Airbus A320 aircraft.  The airline is emphasizing Brazil connecting to eight cities and totalling 67 flights a week. www.flytap.com

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ON TOUR: The Paris Air Show

Alison Chambers and Malcolm Ginsberg struggled through the rain and wind to bring you this report.  The Monday was particularly gloomy in all respects but by Wednesday both the weather and the outlook had improved.  It is impossible to know visitor levels at this time but the show organizers claim the number of exhibitors, from 48 countries, topped the 2,000 mark, setting a new record.  Australia, Lithuania, Libya, Mexico and Tunisia were present for the first time.  During the opening day’s storms the exhibition halls were busy and the aircraft standing areas less so!  Photographs courtesy Jane Stanbury.

Let us start by saying that there were no new sales for the Airbus A380 announced, the first time for many an air show that Airbus has been unable to come up with a new firm commitment for the super jumbo.  Production for next year will be 14 units, somewhat less than the 20 originally predicted.  The week previously, in Malaysia Steven Udvar-Hazy, head of the world’s largest aircraft leasing organization, ILFC (International Lease Corporation), itself part of IAG, had told Reuters that its order for ten aircraft did have some flexibility in it.  “We have the right to cancel or defer any of the orders for the A380 between January 1 and June 30 next year, but that no decision on cancellations or delays had been taken yet.”  Airbus to date has delivered 15 aircraft out of a total 200 orders.


Not much from Boeing

The Boeing Dreamliner 787 did not arrive at Paris unannounced, nor did it get airborne for its maiden flight.  What we do know is that it should fly by Tuesday 30 June, something that Scot Carson, President of Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company, confirmed during a well-attended but somehow lacklustre media Paris briefing.  As far as big aircraft were concerned the 747-8 freighter was in assembly mode for the lead aircraft and Lufthansa were still contracted for 20 passenger versions.  He said for the future a stretched 787 called the dash ten was a possibility, a re-winged 777 was also being considered, as was an all-new wide-bodied design.  “All are potentially competing alternatives" to meet future customer needs.  A replacement for the 737 was a long way off.  The new “Boeing Sky Interior” is the standard kit on all deliveries from the end of next year.  In terms of orders Boeing had little to say, only announcing a single order, and that for two 737-800 for a Tokyo-based leasing company, the aircraft destined for Skymark Airlines, also of Japan. 


A little more from Airbus

Initially Airbus had not programmed any press conferences, but as the week unfurled orders did materialize, 24 A320 series for Qatar Airways, Air Asia X with a commitment for ten of the new A350 XWB.  Vietnam Airlines signed a USD1.4bn firm order for 16 A321s.  In addition, Air Asia X expressed confidence in Airbus' newest aircraft product with a firm order for ten A350-900s valued at USD2.4bn.  There were MoU (memorandum of understanding) commitments for a further 69 aircraft.  These MoUs comprised: 50 A320s for Wizz Air worth USD3.8bn; ten A321s for Indian-based Paramount Airways worth USD900m; two A330-200s plus five A330-300s for Turkish Airlines together worth USD1.4bn; and two A350-900s for Vietnam Airlines worth USD480m.

Other firm airliner orders made during the show include: Cebu Pacific, which ordered five A320s; Aigle Azur for one A319; and Zest Air of the Philippines which became a new Airbus customer with an order for one A320.  It is also worth mentioning an order for one Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ) A320 Prestige from a private customer.


Mitsubishi and Sukhoi

Two new and serious regional jet contenders are edging their way onto the regional airliner scene – Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MJET) of Japan with its MRJ90 and Sukhoi of Russia/Italy with its Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SS100) and both used the opportunity of Le Bourget last week as their debut international showcase.

The Superjet 100, powered by new SaM146 engines from Powerjet (a new company from Snecma (SAFRAN Group) and NPO Saturn) was one of the flying highlights of the show.  The aircraft, which is due to enter service by year end with Armenia’s Armavia, also attracted attention out on the static, where several US airline executives allegedly came to view it.  While both the MRJ and Superjet are up against stiff competition in the shape of the slightly larger C Series from Bombardier, which will arrive onto the market in 2013, the industry view is that it is good to see more competition in the sub 100-seat market.  (In the mid-1980s the regional airline sector embraced no less than 17 aircraft types in the 19 to100-seat sector.)

MJET President Hideo Egawa led a delegation to Paris, declaring interest had been “better than he hoped for” for the all composite 86 to 96-seat jet.  To date the programme has logged just 15 orders and ten options, from All Nippon of Japan, but it is progressing on confidently through its initial design phase.  The goal is to achieve certification by 2013.  Partners include Pratt & Whitney (PW127G fuel efficient geared turbofan engines), Rockwell Collins avionics and Hamilton Sundstrand for electrical power.  Three versions of the aircraft are planned, the standard with an 870 to 1,200nm range; an ER flying 1,400 to 1,730nm and a long range version, capable of 2,100nm.  MJET has put together an Airline Advisory Group comprised of well known, but undisclosed, airlines.

By the close of the show the Sukhoi/Alenia Aeronautica Superjet 100’s order book had been bolstered to 122 firm orders, new deals signed with Malév Hungarian Airlines for 15 firm aircraft plus 15 options and 24 from Russian lessor Avialeasing.  It also secured a Letter of Intent for two firm orders and two options from Gadair of Spain.  Sales for the SJ100 are now on course to meet the 150 strong target by year end, says Sukhoi Holding Company President, Mikhail Pogosyan.


ATR wins Air Nostrum


Spain’s leading regional and Iberia affiliate Air Nostrum announced the purchase of ten ATR 72-600s, plus options on another ten additional aircraft, switching too to a new turboprop supplier.  (Air Nostrum has been a long term Dash 8-300 customer but it opted for ATR, rather than move up to the Q400).  Deliveries start in 2011.  ATR also announced a sale for the sale of four ATR-42-600s to Royal Air Maroc for its new regional subsidiary Royal Air Maroc Express.  The two ATR 42-600s and ATR 72-600s will be configured for 48 and 70 seats respectively.

Air Nostrum kept loyal to Bombardier for turbofan aircraft, however, announcing an order on the opening day of the show for 15 more CRJ1000s to take the total number to 35.  The Valencia-based airline is the launch customer for this aircraft and deliveries will commence from 2014 through to 2016.


Bombardier gains the ‘new’ Olympic

Bombardier picked up a new order for eight 70-seat Q400s from MIG Aviation Ltd, part of Greece’s Marfin Investment Group.  The aircraft will be operated by Pantheon Airways under the Olympic banner.  Pantheon acquired the assets of Olympic Airlines and Olympic Airways from the government of Greece last year.  “The acquisition is an important part of Olympic's fleet replacement programme intended to introduce state-of-the-art air transport technology in Greece's regions,” says Pantheon CEO Antonios Simigdalas, who poignantly, is also co-founder and COO of Aegean Airways.  Low Fare and Regional Airline Magazine reports that Pantheon has drafted in Flybe, leading operators of the Q400 in Europe, to assist in the introduction of the type. 


No rush to go for Q400 stretch

Commenting on the now established Q400 programme at Paris, Gary Scott, President of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, said that the proposed stretch of the aircraft is not high on the agenda, largely because of the strong backlog of existing aircraft.  (To date 355 aircraft, of which 245 had been delivered as of 30 April.)  Known as the Q400-X, the stretch of the aircraft (which can currently be configured for up to 78 seats) is still part of a feasibility study, Scott acknowledged.  However, we don’t feel any great urgency to launch the aircraft, particularly as the current aircraft is still so much in demand.  “Some customers would take the aircraft today if we had it, but we’ll wait for a groundswell in the demand to push us into a launch”. 

C Series on track.  17 suppliers determined

Bombardier Aerospace said it is on schedule to deliver its first C Series single-aisle airliner in 2013.  Bombardier Commercial Aircraft VP Programmes, Ben Boehm, stressed that the company is progressing toward “a realistic 63-month development timeline,” compared with the announced 48 months for the 787.  “As many of our suppliers have been on the 787 and A380 programmes, we've factored in much of what’s been learnt on those programmes.”  Commercial Aircraft President, Gary Scott, highlighted positive comments from the market and that the company has hit a “sweet spot with this aircraft” – for example, its flexibility to serve London City Airport or all the way across Australia.  The five-abreast C Series family is specifically designed to meet the growing needs of the 100 to 149-seat market where Bombardier forecasts demand for 6,300 aircraft in this category, valued at approximately USD360bn over the next 20 years (2009-2028).  So far it has attracted 50 firm orders and 50 options from Lufthansa/SWISS and ILFC.


Helicopters

One of the star attractions in the halls was a mock-up of Eurocopter’s brand new multi-mission twin-engine EC175 helicopter.  Jointly developed with China’s Harbin Aviation, first flight of the heavy 7-tonne helicopter is on schedule before the end of the 2009, with certification in 2011 and service entry in 2012.  The aircraft will sell in the Asian market as the Z15.  The 16-passenger EC175 is powered by Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67AE engines, featuring a three-blade tail rotor, four-axis duplex autopilot and five flat-panel cockpit displays and is primarily targeted at the oil and gas search and research markets in France and China.


Asian Aerospace

Asian Aerospace 09 is next on the commercial air show calendar – taking place from 8-10 September 2009 at Hong Kong Asia World Centre.  Organisers Reed Exhibitions report registrations are 100% up on pre-registered visitors compared from this time two years ago.  Asian Aerospace will feature five exhibitions in one – including a dedicated business aviation event, in partnership with Asian Business Aviation Association; an aircraft interiors exhibition; Air Freight Asia and Asia Pacific Aviation training.  Some 10,000 visitors are expected, 3,000 of them from China.  Rolls-Royce is the latest to confirm its participation, as sponsor of the media centre joining other blue chip aerospace companies such as Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, COMAC, CFM and Eurocopter. www.asianaerospace.com

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COMMENT: British Airways transatlantic gamble

LONDON CITY and GATWICK

At a time when CEO Willie Walsh is calling for staff to work for free British Airways is gambling on a new transatlantic route that at best could be marginally profitable, and will, without question, dilute revenues at Heathrow.  BA is expected to announce imminently fare and schedule details on its innovative twice daily London City – Kennedy New York service, westbound via Shannon.  The route will be flown by 32-seat Airbus A318 aircraft, kitted out in the latest version of the airline’s successful Club World business class featuring a flat bed.

Why do we describe it as a gamble?

Let us start by quickly telling the history of London City Airport (LCY).

When LCY was originally opened by the Queen in November 1987 its principal protagonist, Brymon Airways, was 40% owned by BA, by then privatised.  The airline turned down any deeper involvement but did allow the Plymouth-based carrier to seek a partnership with Air France.  AF remains at the airport to this day acquiring KLM, VLM and CityJet along the way and now accounts for 50% of the airport’s traffic. 

AF has in the past claimed that LCY is very profitable.

In any event, with the upgrading of the airport for full jet operations in 1993 Brymon pulled out, BA itself returning ten years later and has steadily expanded its operation.  The arrival later this year of the exciting Embraer ’e’ series aircraft in BA colours ought to be icing on the cake.  BA now has 25% of the airport traffic, Lufthansa /SWISS taking most of the balance. 

BA did not pursue an interest in purchasing KLM, was rumoured to have been outbid by AF over VLM and clearly, and quite righty, sees LCY as a flagship operation.  AF is of the same ilk regarding the airport and with the A318 already in service was whispered to be putting together a London City – New York operation, although sceptical over costs.  Trial flights in October 2006 proved the concept of the aircraft’s operation and a much needed expansion of the airport’s apron provided urgently needed extra aircraft parking space.

BA jumped in very quickly with the announcement of a New York route and the acquisition of what is a new aircraft designation for the carrier, two Airbus A318s, much to the chagrin of AF.  Now, having burnt its figures with an abortive Heathrow – Los Angeles service, Air France's thinking has probably changed.

For London City Airport a Kennedy route is only a matter of prestige, the numbers very small, the loss of the Manchester service, 50 passengers per rotation and at one time eight flights per day, much more serious.  Yes the airport will sell a little more Duty Free.


The operational scenario


Eastbound the case for London City is easy.  With prevailing winds the A318 can fly non-stop.  Whilst the aircraft is slower than the Boeing 777 the chances of it being put in the holding pattern at LCY are much less than Heathrow and passengers, even with hold luggage, should be on their way within ten minutes of the aircraft actually touching down.  New York to The City could not be quicker.

Only time will tell but westbound, even with the Shannon stopover, it is likely that a passenger originating say in Whitehall would make Wall Street faster via LCY than LHR.  Heathrow T5 is twice as far by road as London City (20 miles v 10 miles).  With strong nerves, and a fully flexible ticket, it is possible to allow less than three hours from your scheduled departure time from Westminster.  By the same token one hour is possible to LCY.  The east London airport offers a 15-minute check-in as against 35 at T5.  But if you miss the aircraft, that’s it.  The alternative is back to Heathrow.

The Shannon fuel stop remains the biggest hindrance to the whole operation.  The airport authorities say that passengers will have to deplane, a completely unnecessary exercise which BA needs to lobby against at the highest US level.  With all the data regarding those on board already to hand it should not take a pair of US immigration officials more than ten minutes to quickly walk through the aircraft and appreciate that the customers are as per the manifest.  Even the seat numbers will be shown.  BA has also failed in its choice of airports at New York.  La Guardia would have made for a far better destination, minutes from Manhattan and already the recipient of cleared flights from Canada.


The commercial case

Who is the biggest competitor for BA at LCY?  And who is the biggest loser?  For both answers it is BA at Heathrow.  The BA fares out of London City need to be very carefully assessed against the full Club World level and could be 20% more.  However prices have dropped dramatically and even BA sells a next day return ticket for UKP2,565.  Even at that level BA at London City will not attract C Class travellers from competing airlines who are charging less than half that price.  The service might interest BA First Class passengers, the loser, again BA.  Without doubt there is a call from Canary Wharf types for the service regardless of the cost.  But how many will that be and once the novelty wears off will they stay committed?  When BA originally did its sums the fares were substantially higher.  Readers might note that Virgin Atlantic is still quoting UKP5,211 for its competing Upper Class and whilst it published a debatable profit for last year the airline has confirmed it will make a loss in the current 12 months.

According to OAG, BA currently has 38% of 6,700 daily seats between London and New York and 57% if you include its oneworld partner American Airlines.  Whatever happens at LCY will make little difference to these figures.


So where now?

The question is does a one class high quality airline work?  Attempts in the US coast to coast have failed and even before the current credit crunch Maxjet (December 2007), Eos (April 2008) and Silverjet (May 2009) have gone to the great hangar in the sky.  It can be argued that L’Avion (now Open Skies) in France was saved by “guess who”, British Airways.  Lufthansa has experimented with various business class only operations in recent years but all that remains is Munich to New York and Frankfurt to Dubai and to Pune (India).

KLM still flies a daily service (every evening – except Wednesday) between Amsterdam and Houston using a chartered Boeing 737 (Privatair) but even here the aircraft offers 44 seats.  SWISS, part of Lufthansa, has a similar operation from Zurich to Newark New York.

It has been proven time and time again that small jet aircraft are not viable, certainly when flown as part of a large mainstream operation.  Lose a group of four in a fully booked 32-seat aircraft and you are talking big money.  Lose the same group with 28 passengers confirmed and you are in serious trouble.  There will be no standby passengers ready to jump on board.  Would you go to London City without a firm seat?  At Heathrow you can miss a flight and very quickly find a substitute service.

BA had a choice.  Let Air France steal a few passengers, win some prestige, and lose money.  Or dive in and attempt to achieve something.  At the time our opinion was that it took the wrong decision and the financial woes of the last six months have not helped matters.

The marketing effort and management time that has gone into the London City operation could have been used far better promoting one of the new Boeing 777 routes, with far more income and much more chance of profitability.  In these difficult times BA needs to be proactive in every sphere.  The airline has quietly dropped its Gatwick – Kennedy flight for the winter leaving that airport bereft of any New York services.

In the latest edition of British Airways News Willie Walsh writes that its (similar) Open Skies operation is not profitable “Whilst Open Skies losses are said to be small we expect that its negative margins are probably not small at all and we would be surprised to see this operation endure as its strategic relevance will evaporate if BA gains anti-immunity trust with American Airlines.”  Last weekend he was busy ‘flying the flag’ talking to his customers at an open London event.  It’s also good to be seen for staff moral.

At the end of the day London City is hardly a speck on the British Airways horizon and the success will make little difference to the bottom line.  Failure will be expensive and not only in financial terms.  Writing in the Sunday Times last week, Irwin Stelzer, the newspaper’s American-based business correspondent paraphrased Gordon Bethune, responsible for the highly successful turnaround at Continental Airlines in the 1990s.  “Take too much cheese off the pizza and you won’t have any customers left.”  BA is working very hard in many areas to ensure its survival.  Gordon Bethune was right. 

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

PS: One remedy.  Throw out the expensive flat seats and go for 80 superior premium economy, Atlantic Special Class.  More flexibility and more income, no heavy passenger tax/duty.  The high yield travellers can still use the Heathrow red eye.  Outbound it does not matter and on the way back it is only a six-hour flight.  Or take the bold decision and delay the service due to the unique economic conditions.  The seats can be used elsewhere and an arrangement come to with Airbus regarding two aircraft which do not fit into BA’s fleet flexibility.

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Barcelona move for Star Alliance

STAR ALLIANCE Barcelona operators, all 14 of them, have moved to the new Terminal 1 at ‘El Prat’ Airport:  Adria Airways, Austrian, Blue1, Croatia Airlines, Egyptair, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Spanair, SWISS, TAP, Turkish Airlines and US Airways made the change last week becoming the first carriers to use the facility.  Future member airlines Aegean Airlines and Brussels Airlines have also made the change.  Provisions have been put in hand to accommodate Continental Airlines in the same area at a later stage.  Until September First and Business Class passengers as well as Star Alliance Gold Card holders will enjoy quality and comfort at the VIP lounge operated by AENA (Spanish National Airports Company).  Then Spanair will open the doors of their new 800 square metre VIP lounge, the largest at Barcelona Airport, providing eligible passengers with a wide range of superior services and facilities.  A presentation on the facilities at Barcelona is available from www.staralliance.com

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Corporate travel is downgraded

ACTE (Association of Corporate Travel Executives) chose last week’s introductory Business Travel Market to publish a survey confirming the obvious regarding cutbacks but putting clear markers down.  According to the organisation, which serves more than 6,000 executives in over 80 countries, 79.2% of executives are making greater use of conference call and various electronic communications; 67.9% of the buyers have cut back in the number of approved trips; 66% reported that they now book further in advance for lower cost options and 49.1% said class of travel had been downgraded.  Only 7.5% reported a total travel ban, although 26.4% reported a travel ban for non-revenue generating trips.  Other cutbacks mentioned included holding same day meetings to avoid overnight stays, shorter stays, multiple meetings in the same trip, greater use of low cost airlines and public transport and a reduction in the use of limos and taxis. www.acte.org

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Iraqi Airways to London?

IRAQI AIRWAYS, which claims to be the oldest airline in the Middle East, has posted on its website a brief note that it intends shortly to introduce flights to London.  It has reportedly struck a deal with the aviation authorities in Britain over the resumption of direct flights between Baghdad and the United Kingdom.  The national carrier's fleet was grounded during the first Gulf War in 1990, but it was able to resume flights to Arab countries after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  A new fleet of Boeing aircraft has been ordered and currently the carrier operates a mixed collection of various Boeing 737 aircraft.  The airline has offices in London’s Piccadilly. www.iraqiairways.co.uk

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Leeds offers Gatwick

FLYBE passengers on the airline’s new daily Leeds Bradford (LBA) to Gatwick (LGW) service (which starts on Monday 29 June) are in for a nice surprise.  As a gesture to the airline all travellers during the balance of June, plus July and August will be able to take advantage of the airport’s Fast Track service.  In these summer months LBA is particularly popular with low cost travel whose passengers tend to clutter up the security lanes.  As Gatwick is a mixture of business and leisure traffic this move should be well appreciated, with pressure for it to be extended ad infinitum. www.flybe.co.uk

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Melbourne gets another UK link

QATAR AIRWAYS is to introduce its first long expected ‘down under’ destination on Sunday 6 December, a date clearly targeted to make the most of what will be the forthcoming holiday season.  The capital of Victoria is very popular from the UK with BA and Qantas well established, Etihad on the route, Emirates adding a third daily flight in February and Air Asia X also linking through.  Virgin is rumoured to be adding the city to its existing Sydney operation.  From its three UK departure points (Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester) Qatar is emphasizing the quick one hour stop-over in Doha (Perhaps a bit too quick.  The airline has the only dedicated Premier Class terminal in the Middle East – Editor).  Initially three times per week the service will be flown from Doha by a Boeing 777 in a two-class configuration, the airline keen to emphasise the quality of its economy class, 3+3+3 and a 34inch seat pitch.  Asked about the possibility of a premium economy product Paul Johannes, Senior Manager Europe, said: “We think our basic product is better than our competitors’ upgraded service.  We don’t have the need!” www.qatarairways.com

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Ryanair shuts website

RYANAIR, the airline which essentially only sells its services to people who have access to the internet, is to close this vital function for a ten-hour period from 19:00 Wednesday 24 June 2009 until 05:00 Thursday 25 June due to an essential upgrade maintenance.  The airline says that in order to avoid any inconvenience, web check-in passengers travelling on Thursday 25 must ensure that they have done the necessary online before 18:00 Wednesday 24 June.  The website will not be available for any passenger bookings or other services due to these upgrade works. www.ryanair.com

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JIM FRENCH CBE

Jim French, the ever chirpy Chairman and Chief Executive of Flybe, has become a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.  Jim comes from Duns, Scotland (home of Jim Clark, probably Britain’s finest motor racing champion), and can be descried as a “total aviation person” having initially joined British Caledonian back in 1970, moving to Air UK ten years later and joining the then Jersey European Airways in 1990.  Today Flybe is without doubt Europe’s largest and most successful regional airline, employs 3,000 staff and operates a fleet of 70+ aircraft on 170 routes through 55 airports.

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CRUISING: A six-star ship

In July 1990 a cruise line was introduced that set completely new standards concerning water-borne holidays.  Up until that time if you wanted the ultimate in luxury on a sea going trip you either booked a suite on a multi-class liner such as the now taken out of service QE II, or went for a small exclusive vessel that lacked the facilities of a big ship.

Crystal Cruises was the new kid on the block and has been winning awards ever since.  Like a fine wine it has matured over the years.  It is different and continues that way.  Crystal Cruises is part of NYK, Japanese, and one of the world’s largest shipping companies.  However it is run as an entirely American operation, based in Los Angeles and only offers two ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. 

Symphony and Serenity are big liners by any stretch of the imagination, 50,000 tons (plus) each, around 1,000 passengers and 650 crew.  Even those in the cheapest cabins live the life of six-star extravagance with virtually every possible luxury available.  The nightly shows in the theatre are at least the equal of London’s West End with regular appearances by international stars in that venue and also in the equally comfortable nightclub.  The cuisine in one of four restaurants is superb and nothing seems too much for the willing staff to accommodate.  In August Symphony visits Dover prior to circumnavigating the UK calling at Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool, Dublin, Waterford and Guernsey.  Have a word with your travel agent.  He may well be able to arrange a short visit.  Crystal Serenity is based in the Mediterranean this summer prior to a southern transatlantic transit to the Caribbean in November.

Serenity is the slightly larger of the two.  It has recently undertaken a multi-million dollar re-modelling including a redesigned atrium area in the centre of the ship and a revised casino.

While most cruise lines have been increasing the size of their cruise ships, Crystal has actually decreased Serenity’s guest capacity by converting 12 deluxe staterooms with verandas to eight Penthouse staterooms.  Crystal Serenity’s 72 richly appointed 403sq ft penthouses boast a personal butler service, large private veranda, sizeable living area, bar stocked with complimentary wine and choice of spirits, Jacuzzi® bath and separate shower, walk-in closet, flat screen television, DVD and CD player, Riedel glassware, and complimentary clothes pressing service.

There are 32 even larger penthouse suites and four extremely lavish 1,345sq ft master suites.  All standard cabins have a bath and offer 226sq ft of luxury accommodation.

What do you get on a cruise with Crystal?  Firstly no big unexpected bills to settle at the end of the cruise, all those niggling little items that some companies now add, copying perhaps Ryanair, well known for its hidden extras.  Even the bus ride from the ship to town at each port is charged by some.  True you have to pay for wines and spirits but soft drinks come courtesy of Crystal to all passengers, as does ice cream and a proper 24-hour room service.  There is a champagne reception at the start and finish of every cruise.  Yes you are billed for services in the magnificent spa but the computer, bridge, golf, electric organ and other courses on sea days are for the most part gratis and included in the package.  The lecture courses are most compelling and the purpose-built cinema offers the latest releases.  The gym is one of the best at sea on any size of ship.

Both ships feature a sliding roof over one of the two swimming pools which in practice stays shut the whole time.  This means that the ship offers an air conditioned aquatic area for lunchtime poolside buffets which in the evening becomes available for al fresco dining.  Or you can go outside!

Even the two specialist eateries (one Italian and one Far Eastern) only add a very nominal USD7 per person gratuity for some of the finest meals possible at sea (or land).  Crystal is not cheap, and refuses going for a policy of major discounts for the less than popular voyages.  It is more discrete.  This means that the ships are never crowded and the very high standards can be maintained.

Towards the year’s end Symphony visits amongst many unique places in South America The Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Port Stanley and Ushuaia.  Prior to that it will be based in New York taking in Bar Harbor, St Johns, Quebec and Montreal.  At the same time Serenity will make several passages of the Panama Canal, fascinating in itself, passengers joining in either Miami or Costa Rica.

Crystal, at least in Europe and the Caribbean, tries to aim for one day at sea and one day in port.  That way you benefit from restful days on the ocean and an opportunity to visit out of the way places which might not have normally been on your agenda.  The land packages are reasonably priced.  There is no service charge for UK originating passengers. www.crystalcruises.com

Cruising is a complicated business.  For an introduction visit www.aerbt/crusing intro


CRUISE NEWS JUNE 2009

CHINESE FOOD addicts, those with reasonable pockets, might like to join Crystal Serenity in Venice from 28 July where for 12 days Master Chef Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa will be creating a series of unique menus.  The famed restaurateur is demonstrating his culinary techniques and providing a glimpse into the genius and warmth behind his dishes.  The 12-night voyage starts with an overnight in Venice on 28 July and visits Ravenna, Corfu, Rhodes, Bodrum, Mykonos and Istanbul (overnight) before finishing in Athens on 9 August.  Prices start from UKP4,285 per person including return scheduled flights, transfers, and UKD1,000 per person shipboard credit. www.crystalcruises.com

MEIN SCHIFF (My Ship), the first ship in the new TUI Cruises fleet, has been named in Hamburg in a celebration that marked a significant step for the joint venture between Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and TUI AG.  The new brand is designed to serve the German cruise market, where some 906,000 Germans took cruises in 2008, and where that number is forecast to increase by 11% in 2009.  The 1,914-guest Mein Schiff was formerly Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Galaxy. www.tuicruises.com

STAR CLIPPERS has added 40 maiden calls to its 2010 and 2011 sailing itineraries, including some of the world’s most remote islands, an ecologically preserved archipelago and lesser known ports and islands in Europe and Central America.  The new sailing itineraries are on board the four-mast Star Clipper, its twin ship Star Flyer and on Royal Clipper, the tallest full sail ship in the world.  New Star Clippers destinations include the Marquesas Islands in the open Pacific, (the furthest islands from any land mass in the world), the ecologically preserved islands of the Mergui Archipelago (Burma) and a number of lesser known European ports, including Sanary-sur-Mer (Provence, France). www.starclippers.co.uk

VIKING has completed a major remodelling of Kirov, one of the four ships used on its St Petersburg to Moscow programme.  Reputed to cost USD6m the work was handled by a Russian shipyard unlike the previous year when sister ship Surkov was upgraded in Finland.  Essentially the 35-year old vessel, originally build in East Germany was gutted.  Although looking somewhat severe externally once inside it is as modern as can be with full air conditioning, a comprehensive video and film presentation unit and very nicely presented bars and dining room.  All the cabins have internet facilities, flat screen TVs, fridge and safe. There is an elevator too.  For the 2009 season English speaking Filipinos have been recruited for the resturant service. www.vikingrivercruises.com

BE WARNED ABOUT THE SERVICE, but it is bound to be terrific as it is Silversea.  The fly in the ointment is that John Cleese, him of ‘Fawlty Towers’ fame, Monty Python and the voice over in Spamalot, is joining Silver Spirit on its inaugural voyage at Buenos Aires for the Santiago portion, starting 20 February 2010.  As long as he sticks to entertaining and does not try to organise the Cruise Director all will be OK. www.silversea.com

 

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Afghanistan route opens

KABUL now has international scheduled air links to Europe.  Last week local carrier Safi Airways (IATA code 4Q) launched twice weekly flights to Frankfurt.  The privately-owned airline is using Boeing 767-200 ER jets with a two-class configuration – 18 business and 196 economy seats – on the route and actively promoting its 10 metric tonnes of cargo capacity.  Safi says that in the coming weeks it will link to Amadeus and other global reservation systems.  The airline already flies to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Kuwait and Sharjah plus domestic points using a pair of Boeing 737-300s.  Safi is based in Dubai. www.safiairways.aero

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Boston gets Toronto city centre service

PORTER AIRLINES, the pioneering carrier operating out of Toronto City airport, is to introduce non-stop services to Boston (which in itself is a city centre airport).  Bombardier Q400 aircraft will be used on the route with a flight time of 1hr45min.  Up to three round trips will be offered daily starting Monday 14 September.  Boston Logan International Airport is the airline's third US destination after Newark New York and Chicago Midway.  From Toronto the airline also flies to Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City and Thunder Bay (Lake Superior).  It is rumoured to be in discussions with Bombardier for a stretched Q400 and could become the lead operator. www.flyporter.com

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Eurostar goes Dutch

EUROSTAR says that it is seeing large increases in travellers from Germany and The Netherlands.  Traveller numbers from Dutch cities such as Amsterdam have increased by a third compared with last year, changing at Brussels.  Eurostar says increases seem to be part of the continuing Europe-wide trend from plane to train for short haul journeys, reflecting the continuing expansion of the European high-speed rail network.  The rail operator notes that overall time between London and Cologne is as little as 4hr40min, comparable with the door-to-door journey time by air, and with a new high-speed line between Belgium and Germany this is set to come down even further towards the end of 2009. www.eurostar.com

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Jet Airways goes no-frill

JET AIRWAYS, best known in Europe as a top quality international airline, has introduced a new all economy service.  Called Jet Airways Konnect, it complements Jet Airways full service product, by providing a facility that is better suited to cater to a market that desires an economically priced low fare product.  Jet Airways Konnect offers a no-frills, economy class service where guests will be offered attractive and competitive low fares on specific routes.  The on-ground and in-flight service will be delivered by Jet Airways staff, the only difference will be that travellers will have to buy their meals on board.  Jet Airways Konnect will have dedicated aircraft and flight numbers. http://www.jetairways.com/EN/IN/ProductAndServices/JetAirwaysKonnect.aspx

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Lord Lamont attacks APD

LORD LAMONT, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was the keynote speaker on the first day of last week’s inaugural Business Travel Market at Excel.  Lamont was straightforward with his views "The state should not give aid to airlines.  I’d like to see the market work properly for the benefit of consumers."  Asked by AERBT for his views on the ever increasing APD (Airport Passenger Duty) he was very specific.  “I am not in favour of increasing APD.”  The show, which attracted travel buyers from all over the UK and Europe, demonstrated the strength of business travel in difficult times.  It was an undoubted success and had a certain buzz about it.  Dale Moss, the American Managing Director of BA’s Paris-based Open Skies airline emphasized its European appeal.  His address was delivered as “a visionary speaker” in the main forum and said that his airline was nine months behind schedule in terms of profitability.  In April all traffic between New York and Paris was down by an astonishing 45%, and to Amsterdam 39%.  The two-day event was sponsored by founding partners BA, Eurostar and Accor.  Other supporters included Qatar Airways, Thames Clippers, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and London City Airport. www.businesstravelmarket.co.uk

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Ministerial update

LORD ADONIS has been appointed as the Secretary of State for Transport following the resignation of Geoff Hoon.  Andrew Adonis was Minister of State for Transport and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (PUSS) for Schools and Learners at the Department for Children, Schools and Families.  Prior to this he worked as adviser to the previous Prime Minister on education and public services and as Head of the No 10 Policy Unit.  Between 1988 and 1998 he was successively Fellow (in history and politics) of Nuffield College, Oxford; education correspondent and then Public Policy Editor at the Financial Times; and political columnist and leader writer at the Observer.  He is represented in the Commons by Sadiq Khan as Minister of State for Transport whose portfolio includes London, Crossrail, the environment and climate change.  There does not appear to be a minster responsible for air transport. www.dft.gov.uk 

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Starwood gains Tulip

STARWOOD CAPITAL, which includes Le Meridian, Sheraton and Westin, has entered into exclusive talks to buy the Swiss hospitality group Golden Tulip creating one of the world’s largest hotel companies.  The US-based private equity real estate business said in a statement it was planning to merge its budget hotel company, Louvre Hotels, with Golden Tulip, once the deal was closed on 26 June.  In a statement, Starwood Managing Director Rich Gomel noted that the alliance would create a hospitality company with 1,070 hotels in more than 40 countries and comprising around 82,000 rooms.  He added that the combined Louvre/Golden Tulip group would target corporate accounts and grow the brand. www.starwoodcapital.com

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SPECIAL PREVIEW: Glorious Goodwood

Friday 4th July, Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th sees the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed.  Goodwood is as much a social event as a not too serious motor sport.  At the end of the day it is a hill climb, which had their day during the 1930s.  The whole point about Goodwood is the glorious venue and the chance to mix with the stars, ancient and modern, both metallic and human.  The real action is on the Sunday but if you want a slightly more relaxed day out, in terms of access and meandering around the spacious grounds and the paddock, the Friday and Saturday can be just as enjoyable.  Sir Stirling Moss, the greatest non-champion of them all, will be sure to turn out.  Likely to be around too are John Surtees, the only man to make it on both two wheels and four, current World Champion Lewis Hamilton; GP points leader Jenson Button and Damon Hill, whose father was also a favourite at Goodwood.  Fifty years of the Mini will be celebrated with the attendance of the Flying Finn Rauno Aaltonen, a former World Rally Champion.  It’s also got one of the best web sites of them all. www.goodwood.co.uk/site/content/festivalofspeed

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HAPPY TALK: A "crap" airline

Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al Baker was in an ebullient mood at the Paris Air Show.  Asked at a press conference whether he felt challenged by the introduction of low cost carriers in the Middle East he said that none, so far, had come on his patch. “However if any of these crap airlines do arrive we have a plan to introduce our own competitor in this sector.  It will be a superior crap airline!”

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