20 JULY 2009

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Boeing 737-300 operators concern

BOEING 737-300 operators are keeping a careful watch after an aircraft flown by Southwest Airlines lost a 1ft x 1ft roof panel near the tailfin when in flight last week.  Oxygen masks were dropped and the plane made a safe emergency landing in West Virginia.  No other problems were found in the airline’s similar -300s.  The US National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are looking into the incident.  No passengers or crew were injured.  The -300 was delivered at the end of 1996. www.boeing.com/commercial

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easyJet to expand

EASYJET is to introduce a total of 15 new European routes this winter not withstanding the present economic outlook.  Gaining maximum publicity is Luton – Tel Aviv, the airline’s longest route to date, a 4hr 30mins flight.  The six days per week service begins 2 November.  The airline’s new schedule includes flights between Edinburgh and Lyon (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays), starting on 17 December; Gatwick to Porto (daily) on 2 November; and Hamburg on 2 February next year (twice daily, daily on Saturdays).  Liverpool will also gain, with new services to Fuerteventura beginning 2 November, Lanzarote the day after, while on 4 November the airline will introduce Stansted – Fuerteventura and Luton – Paphos.  The airline recently announced that a further A320 would be based at Manchester serving new routes. www.easyjet.com

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Gatwick ownership concern

BAA, and its Spanish owner Ferrovial, will have an Appeal Court hearing on 19 October firmly in its sight as potential buyers of Gatwick seemingly fall by the wayside.  Earlier this year Ferrovial pre-empted a Competition Commission report that it should sell three of its airports by putting the South London operation on the market.  However according to intelligence Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the last bidder in active discussions, has pulled out citing price disagreements.  Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), the London City Airport owner was also a bidder and remains on the sidelines.  A potential German group withdrew some months ago and is thought to be monitoring the position. www.baa.com

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Melbourne to get new hotel

MELBOURNE’S new spectacular skyscraper hotel, now under construction, has been named as the Crown Metropol and will open early in 2010.  Located opposite the brand new Melbourne Exhibition Centre, the 658-room property features a wave-like shape in a striking futuristic design.  The stunning podium entry will prominently show a bluestone, diamond shaped pattern in the floor of the lobby, while all hotel rooms will have a Manhattan, boutique style feel.  The hotel will also feature a 27th level day spa and relaxation area, whilst on the top floor the 28 Sky Bar is expected to become a favourite city oasis.  The Crown Metropol will also have its own exclusive dining facility offering a Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant, the chef’s first venture in Australia. www.crownmetropol.com.au

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New York visitors beware

 

NEW YORK visitors be warned, and for that matter airlines too, next summer the usual delays in departing from Kennedy Airport are likely to be even greater than before.  Officials say the busiest runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport will be closed for about four months next year as part of a USD204 million makeover.  William DeCota, who is the director of aviation for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, says airlines have been asked to revise their schedules.  The Port Authority also operates New York’s other major airports, La Guardia and Newark.  JFK already ranks near the top nationwide in flight delays particularly in the early evening period popular not only for domestic flights but those to Europe too.  The pavement handled more than 143,000 takeoffs and landings last year, all of which will need to be transferred to the airport’s three runways.  Preparatory work has begun and is expected to continue until November 2011.  DeCota says that the runway is scheduled to be completely closed from 1 March through 29 June. www.panynj.com

 

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United Kingdom visitors fall

UNITED KINGDOM inbound visitors were down by 14% in May according to figures released by the Office of National Statistics.  Spending was reduced by 11%.  For the first five months of the year there were 12% fewer arrivals, which would indicate that things are getting worse although one month’s figures are not substantive. Spending was only down 3% suggesting it is the budget tourist who is missing.  Sterling was (on average) 11% weaker against the Euro and 21% weaker against the US Dollar in May 2009 compared to May 2008, meaning that most visitors’ currencies are going further this year, with each spending more on average.  Visits in the first five months of 2009 from EU countries (that is those nations’ members of the European Union before the 2004 expansion) are down 5% compared to the same period of 2008.  From North America the figure is 19%. www.statistics.gov.uk

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Westin opens fifth hotel in Germany

MUNICH’S Arabella Sheraton has become the Westin Grand Munich Arabellapark following an extensive renovation in all areas of the hotel.  The rebranding includes a new 160sq m Presidential Suite on the 21st floor and the Westin Executive Lounge duplex on the 23rd floor.  All the property’s 627 rooms have been refurbished including modern in-room technology and a 32-inch flat-screen television set.  The hotel offers an indoor swimming pool, spa and steam room.  The ZEN Restaurant has an open show kitchen and does not close until midnight. www.westin.com/munich

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CRUISE NEWS JULY 2009

Plus a review of Royal Princess

AMA WATERWAYS, which claims to be the fastest growing river cruise line in Europe, is launching a new seven-night itinerary on the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia aboard the luxurious, newly launched 92-passenger MS La Marguerite.  Also offered is a 15-night trip including three days in Hanoi, overnight in Ha Long Bay, then travel to Siem Reap for a 3-night stay before embarking on the Mekong River.  The journey is completed with an overnight stay in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). www.amawaterways.co.uk

CELEBRITY CRUISES has taken delivery of Equinox, a 2,850-passenger five-star liner from German shipbuilder Meyer Werft.  Over the next week or so Celebrity will host a series of events at Southampton, the ship being formally named in a ceremony on 29 July.  It will enter service 31 July on an 8-night Norwegian Fjords cruise.  Rome will be its base for the rest of the summer before making a transatlantic crossing to Fort Lauderdale. www.celebritycruises.co.uk

COPENHAGEN will be used as a turnaround port by more than 160 cruise ships this season, a record number.  This has brought a great deal more business to Copenhagen Airport which is now offering special facilities to operators.  A special cruise area has been dedicated in Terminal 2 and at times when the airport is particularly busy Hangar 145 comes into play, specially equipped.  Up to five ships can be dealt with at one time. www.cruisecopenhagen.com

DUBAI itself is fuelling rumours that the former Cunarder QE2 may be relocating from its present berth to Cape Town due to the current financial woes of the city state.  A decision is expected shortly.  The subject of a highly publicised retirement home as the centre piece of a waterside extravaganza it would seem that the ship is following a similar route to the first Queen Mary in having a number of owners before settling into a role as a hotel and convention centre.  A permanent berth could be found at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town according to a spokesman for South Africa’s department of tourism who said that officials were talking with local hotels and other tourism-related businesses. www.southafrica.net

MSC SPLENDIDA, the second in MSC Cruises ‘Fantasia’ class was christened in Barcelona last week.  Jose Carreras showed once again why he is the world’s greatest tenor, accompanied by the 60 musicians of the Orquestra Simfonica del Valles.  The celebration was complete with a traditional ribbon cutting by the godmother of the MSC Cruises fleet, Italian icon Sophia Loren.  Splendida comes in at 137,936 gross registered tons and has 1,637 staterooms.  The ship features the company's new private area concept, MSC Yacht Club designed for a discriminating cruiser who wants all the amenities of a large ship, but also somewhere for quiet relaxation. www.msccruises.co.uk

NORWEIGAN EPIC, at 153,000 tonnes, is now afloat and preparing for fitting out.  A ceremony was held last week at the same Saint-Nazaire shipyard where the very slightly smaller QM2 was built back in 2003.  Epic has a capacity of 4,200 passengers and no less then 17 dining choices.  It is due into service next May operating in the Caribbean. www.ncl.co.uk

THOMPSON DREAM is the new name of the former Costa Europa which will be rebranded and refurbished in time to be based out of Palma on seven-day cruises from April 2010.  A feature of the ship is the two swimming pools, one of which has a retractable roof allowing for year-round swimming whatever the weather. www.thomson.co.uk/cruise

 

CRUISING IN ROYAL PRINCESS



Princess is in its own nice way rather an odd ball as far as cruising is concerned.  It could be argued that it is British, as for many years it was owned by the P & O Group, albeit as a US-based operation.  It very successfully combined the best of the UK’s ship owning skills with American hospitality plus European hotel management.

Today, like P & O itself, and Cunard, it is part of the mighty Carnival empire, and whilst it does have a well organised Southampton-based marketing operation it is very much run from California.  The Princess ships however have hardly changed offering a good quality product for a sensible price. 

Princess is not engaged in the shipbuilding war that some of its competitors probably would wish they were not exposed to.  Last year the company said that it was very happy with its present fleet and that new orders were not for them.  There are some giants now being prepared for the 2010 season.  Will cruise companies be able to fill them with profit generating customers?



Three distinct classes of ships

Operating in much the same market as P & O, that is four-star plus, Princess essentially offers three distinct classes of ships.  On most cruises 80% of customers will come from North America with a smattering of Brits and Colonial types.

Largest, and top of the range are the Grand Princess and her sister ships, some with pool deck screens offering ‘movies under the stars’, for the latest cinema presentations.  Blankets and popcorn are provided.  The largest in the class Caribbean Princess accommodates up to 3,000 passengers and has a gross displacement of 113,000 tons.  It has an extra deck.

Next up are the Sun class ships, which are for all intents and purposes smaller versions of the ‘Grand’ series but able to go through the Panama Canal.  At around 2,000 passengers and 80,000 tons they are big ships by any standards.  Some also feature ‘movies under the stars’.


Royal Princess

The third class, the subject of this review, are Pacific Princess, Royal Princess and Tahitian Princess, called the R class.  These are very much smaller, originally built for Renaissance Cruises, a victim of the post 9/11 financial crisis.  Our comments refer to Royal Princess but all three are much the same.

At 30,000 tons and just under 700 passengers they offer nearly everything that the big ships do, but on a smaller scale.  For instance Princess very British afternoon tea, complete with strawberries and cream, is available in the ship’s main restaurant, as is the courtesy ice cream service late in the afternoon.  At other times one has to pay for the courtesy.  Clients will probably never notice but the kitchens on the R class ships are below the main restaurant level connected by an escalator.  The food is served hot.  However for the most part it is fixed dining times, either early sitting, much favoured by Americans, or late meals (meaning a start at 20:30) which is the way that Europeans like it.  Five-course meals if you like, to a very good standard, and varied.  If you have a special diet they will try and help.  No extra charge. 

The ship has the two popular Princess specialist restaurants, Sabatini’s, an up-market Italian trattoria, and the Sterling Steakhouse.  Both add a service charge, USD20 and USD15 respectively.  With an aperitif and a bottle of (well chosen) wine the bill can quickly mount up.

For late night meals, or more relaxed dining the Panorama buffet serves essentially the same food as the main restaurant and daytime there is also a grill for excellent quality fast food.  It is just too easy to stop by for a quick snack.  The pizza station is a little too tempting and at breakfast time it serves up a whole variety of individually produced omelettes plus waffles.  This is a good time to point out that the ship has a fine fitness programme.

Unlike the big ships the shows and the facilities are pretty limited, the main entertainment area really a cabaret lounge.  It does have its compensations.  With the megaliths the entertainments team usually keep themselves away from the guests.  On Royal Princess this is impossible, making for much more of a family atmosphere.  Everyone mucks in, with the lead singer occasionally in charge of the daily fun quiz, and even the dancers getting involved with water sports around the pool.  For whatever reasons Aussies usually provide the staff and providing your talk is cricket and not soccer they are happy.


Standard size cabins

The vast majority of cabins are the same size, most with balconies except for deck four, which is nearest to the waterline.  They offer good size essential accommodation but nothing more.  All have showers.  There are eight superior suits, much bigger and offering tubs but no butler service or other privileges.  A limited 24-hour complimentary room service menu is provided.  It is very much of a one class ship.

For those who can remember when Princess sailed as Minerva II one of its features was a delightful library right at the top of the ship, a quiet and cool room to sit and relax in.  It has been retained and a casino added.  The spa facilities and gym arrangements are much improved.

With less than one-third the number of passengers than most it is easy getting on and off the ship at the various ports and typically at St Petersburg, due to its size, it can get much closer to the city centre than its larger sister ships.  No coach ride from the container port but an easy walk into town.  Likewise at Livorno and when it comes to using the ships’ tenders there are hardly any queues and with a reduced draft you moor nearer to the quayside.  It all makes for a delightful and friendly ship.

Royal Princess is based in the Mediterranean for the rest of the summer before a transatlantic crossing at the end of November from Rome to the amazing city of Manaus, one thousand miles from the sea on the mighty Amazon.  From there it is to Ft Lauderdale, Florida, and a series of return trips up the world’s longest waterway.  As a small ship it is ideal for such voyages. www.princess.com

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COMMENT: British Airways - Where Now?

British Airways and its fate concerns all of us who support what is still the national flag carrier.  In this we must include its staff and its shareholders.

Once ‘the World’s Favourite Airline’ BA’s AGM was held Tuesday of last week in the knowledge that its pilots had voted overwhelmingly to accept a 2.6% pay cut in exchange for other considerations including a share offer. 

Chairman Martin Broughton emphasised that BA was not isolated in its cash-flow difficulties: “The world’s major airlines are now facing up to the need to add more liquidity to their balance sheets to give them sufficient lift to weather the current storm.  We do not believe the timing is right to approach the financial markets for a rights issue, as there are a number of key issues that need to be resolved over the next 12 months,” he said.  Mr Broughton used  the opportunity to attack Sir Richard Branson noting that “he knows quite a lot about subsidies - because he's been welcoming them into his train operations for years”.

Later the same day CEO Willie Walsh said that any merger with Iberia would necessitate BA owning at least 53% of the combined airline.

Last Friday BA officially announced it planned to increase cash resources by UKP600m.  Why was this not stated at the AGM?  It had been well flagged, presumably from within.

It does seem that the once proud carrier is in a nose dive which could prove fatal unless the pilot does something drastic. 

When a ‘plane does get into trouble three things can happen.  Either the captain gets it right, the co-pilot takes over, or the thing crashes.  With BA there does not appear to be a co-pilot and the future looks worrying.

The present British Airways was created from what was essentially a civil service scenario and much of that still lives on.  The massive pension fund deficit is part of that account.  BA has around 145 staff per aircraft, Ryanair 35.  Its efficiency is questioned both inside and outside.

Concorde, heavily subsidised, kept BA on an even keel, Bob Ayling proved out of his depth, and at best Rod Eddington steadied a very rocky ship.  A new manager was required.  In soccer parlance the airline took the Tottenham approach going for someone from abroad and not part of the (football) establishment.  Someone with no top division experience.  With Spurs the appointment finished up getting sacked, replaced by a more adroit and media savvy individual from the UK Premier League. Is there a parallel?  The present Chairman is distinctly low key unlike his predecessor Lord Marshall, a real salesman for the airline.

Let’s face it, the current watch has hardly set the world on fire.  One crisis after the other with the blame always directed elsewhere.  The Virgin Atlantic price fixing case.  BA Connect sold at a loss. Swissair abandoned and now a success (as Swiss) with Lufthansa.  The Terminal 5 fiasco.  The never ending story of Qantas.  BA/KLM failing to materialise followed by a love-in with Iberia that may not be consummated.  UKP50m spend with the 2012 Olympics – is anyone aware? – the planes will be full regardless.  And now another French fiasco with Open Skies, something that never should have happened, the failure predicted by many.  Sir Michael Bishop took one look at the bilateral he had fought so hard for and walked away.

Yes times are very difficult and the problems are with the industry not the airline but it can be argued BA should be doing better.  Whilst the City has been charmed the vital commercial function of the airline seems to be inept.  Time after time an opportunity is lost to hear the voice of BA telling the world of the many good things it is doing.  OK Ryanair may overstep the mark when it comes to common courtesy and taste but the figures prove they are getting it right in their aggression news-wise.  Do the departments of BA talk to each other?

Times are tough. The American airlines are not for the most part generating profits and even Lufthansa, adroitly managed, is making a loss and cutting administrative jobs.  Air France is doing no better, but neither is in a crisis.

BA says that one of the reasons for the performance problems is that premium class passengers are either not flying or down grading.  But by the same token the marginal London City – New York operation is moving ahead competing head-on with BA’s own Heathrow services.  Also making serious progress is ‘First’ believed to be the brand name for the new front cabin.  No doubt a design agency will pick up a large fee for that one.  The Concorde lounge is being retained. Why not 'Concorde Class'.  It has a certain ring about it.  Individual suites one assumes will be part of the upgrade.  At present the only news to leak out is that there will be a new washbag.

Yes it is easy to criticise but where does the airline go?  Unless you are Virgin Atlantic most would want BA to succeed.  Boarding a British Airways plane at some airport around the globe always brings a sense of relief.  And not just with UK nationals.  The airline has a certain ring about it for quality and service.

British Airways was created in March 1974 from essentially BEA (British European Airways) and BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation).  Rather like the earlier amalgamation of the railways one company dominated and this time around it was BEA. 

Times have changed dramatically over the last 35 years.  BA no longer competes with the other state airlines in Europe.  Its rivals are a new generation of lean carriers created without the baggage of history.  It is not a level playing field.

With long haul there is a dissimilar scenario.  The complexity and difficulty of running an operation is vastly different.  No intercontinental budget carrier has really yet succeeded. 

Perhaps now is the time to vacate the European theatre?  There will be buyers.  It will be complicated but nobody wants to see British Airways going the way of Pan Am and TWA.  Remember them?


Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Caspian Airlines tragedy

CASPIAN AIRLINES (Iran) last week lost a Russian-built Tu-154M shortly after takeoff from Tehran.  All 156 passengers and 12 crew on board died in what was the fourth major fatal commercial accident this year and the third in just a little over six weeks.  According to press reports the deputy head of Armenia's General Department of Civil Aviation was quoted as saying that "a fire broke out in one engine and the pilot attempted an emergency landing."  The Tu-154 is a Boeing 727 lookalike, this one 22 years old.  The type has a poor safety record with no less than 36 hull losses over the years, some due to terrorist incidents.  Just over 900 were built. www.caspian.aero

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Eurostar achieves record punctuality

EUROSTAR has achieved a record punctuality of 95.7% (within 15 minutes and way above BA 83% which at Heathrow is 10 minutes for arrival and 20 minutes departures) since the Channel Tunnel re-opened following last year’s disastrous fire.  Whilst record numbers travelled on the trains in revenue terms sales were down by 7%.  The new London terminal St Pancras (opened November 2007) clearly was also a big success, with about a third of UK sales generated from outside London.  The rail operator reports that a 4% rise in leisure sales against the same period in 2008, following a surge in inbound travel to the UK and a drive to encourage UK travellers to take full advantage of the increased availability of the lead-in UKP59 return fare.  Just like the airlines business travellers are downgrading but are, seemingly still travelling.  The effectiveness of Eurostar was demonstrated to AERBT with an easy day return visit for the Paris Air Show. www.eurostar.com

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Kingfisher plans for eight new routes

KINGFISHER AIRLINES, part of the Indian beer producing group, is to launch Mumbai to Singapore and Mumbai in September.  Both will be daily direct return services and will be operated using the brand new Airbus A330-200 aircraft.  Bookings for travel on these sectors are expected to be opened shortly.  The airline has applied to the Indian authorities to fly from Delhi to Bangkok, Dubai and Heathrow.  There are also plans to commence flights from Mumbai to Bangkok and Colombo.  The airline will suspend Bangalore – Heathrow from 15 September. www.flykingfisher.com

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Milwaukee Airport hotel nearly ready

CROWNE PLAZA’S Milwaukee Airport will open within a month.  Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), owner of the brand, has confirmed virtual completion of a USD14m complete interior and exterior renovation from the Ramada Inn and Conference Centre.  Located just two miles from General Mitchell International Airport, the hotel is only eight miles from downtown Milwaukee.  The five-storey Crowne Plaza offers 194 guest rooms and a variety of amenities, including fitness centre with swimming pool, business facility, and courtesy airport shuttle.  On the fifth floor is an Executive Club.  The hotel features three ballrooms with more than 4,000sq ft each, two additional ballrooms with more than 2,000sq ft each and a 150-seat amphitheatre. www.ichotelsgroup.com

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Swiss airport expansion

BUSINESS AIRPORT ST GALLEN-ALTENRHEIN (ACH), which is the most easterly of Switzerland’s eight airports, is building a new terminal with the target opening date 24 months away.  The airport is at 1,300ft, has a single 1500m runway and is served four times weekdaily by a 75-minute Austrian Airlines Dash 8 Q400 service to Vienna.  It is in effect the airport for Liechtenstein.  The new terminal will take the present and future security regulations into account, as well the changed customer handling procedures resulting from Switzerland becoming part of the Schengen Treaty.  The airport expects a rise in both scheduled and executive traffic with the opening of the terminal. www.airport-stgallen.com

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United States visitors increase

VISITORS TO AMERICA increased by 3% during April according to figures released last week by the US Department of Commerce.  However numbers for the first four months were down 10% compared to the same period 2008.  Somehow the statisticians were able to show that these visitors spent USD 9.8bn during the month, 15% less than a year ago.  For the month and year-to-date, visitors from the United Kingdom accounted for 36% of all Western European arrivals which themselves represent just over half of foreign visitors.  At 379,000 visitors for April the drop was 13% on April 2008. Year-to-date, visitation from the UK declined 22%.  France, Germany, Italy and Spain all showed increases. www.trade.gov

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www.routesonline.com

 

Beijing 13-15 September 2009

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HAPPY TALK: Tales of European railways

A young English woman, whose Services boyfriend was stationed in Germany, decided to visit him by train.

A ticket inspector arrived in the carriage, punched her ticket, and then chatted cordially for a bit, making gestures like a windmill. The young lady simply nodded from time to time to show him that she was interested.

Then he shrugged his shoulders and carried on to the next carriage.

When he had gone a gentlemen in the compartment leaned forward and asked if the young lady spoke German.

"No," she confessed.

"Ah, that explains it," he said.

"Explains what?" asked the young thing.

"Why you didn't bat an eyelid when he told you that you were on the wrong train."

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Black listed airlines

GARUDA INDONESIA is amongst a group of airlines which has been removed from an EU black list of banned carriers.  Also now approved, and all from Indonesia, are Airfast, Mandala Airlines and Premair, the authority citing infrastructure improvements.  Added to the black list are carriers from Zambia and Kazakhstan amid concerns about safety deficiencies in their national aviation systems.  An exception has been made with respect of Kazakhstan's Air Astana, which offers non-stop flights from Heathrow to Astana, but it will face severe restrictions.  The airline has a modern fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft and Fokker 50s for regional services. http://ec.europa.eu/transport/air-ban

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China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines

CHINA EASTERN, which besides a major regional network also flies to Europe and North America, has acquired Shanghai Airlines.  Shanghai has an extensive domestic hub and had aspirations to go international.  China Eastern has been the worst performer of the country’s struggling airline industry and earlier this year suspended its London services.  Shanghai Airlines is currently a member of Star Alliance whilst China Eastern is not aligned.  The airline currently operates one Airbus A321, delivered last week, 55 various Boeing, and five Bombardier regional jets.  China Eastern has 242 aircraft, a mixture of Airbus and Boeing. www.flychinaeastern.com

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Firefly arrives in Singapore

FIREFLY, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, has introduced flights between Singapore and the old Kuala Lumpur city centre airport, the first carrier to do so in recent times.  Established in 2007 the airline operates a fleet of ATR and Fokker turboprops to domestic and nearby overseas points.  Initially the airline will serve Changi six times daily.  A rapid expansion of the Singapore operation is planned with flights now also started to Ipoh and Kuala Terengganu.  Kuantan begins on 22 July and Malacca 1 September.  The airline also expects to launch flights to Alor Setar and Kota Bahru later this year.  With the airline’s new services, Changi will be linked to nine cities in Malaysia via 110 daily flights, making it the international airport with the most connections to Malaysia. www.fireflyz.com.my

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London Overground begins to get new trains

LONDON OVERGROUND has begun to receive the first of 54 new units that will be rolled out across the whole of its network in time for the Olympics.  Built by Bombardier at Derby the walkthrough trains offer additional space for passengers, improved CCTV and air conditioning.  The fleet will be similar to Tube trains, with more flip-down seats, giving extra standing room to allow for hop-on, hop-off journeys, reflecting the type of short trips most passengers make on the network.  The first 24 will be for North London, West London and Watford – Euston lines of the Overground network, then a further 20 for the East London line extension which will be part of the Overground network when completed next year.  The final ten will be delivered to run throughout the network by 2011.  There will also be eight new diesel trains for the Gospel Oak to Barking line by 2010. www.lorol.co.uk

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Monarch adds to schedules

MONARCH is strengthening its network to the Canary Islands with the launch of new year-round scheduled services to Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester airports.  From 19 October 2009 one flight a week will operate to Gran Canaria from Birmingham and up to two flights from Gatwick and Manchester.  In addition, from 21 October 2009, one flight a week will operate to Fuerteventura from Birmingham, Gatwick and Luton and up to two flights a week from Manchester.  The airline says that in spite of the economic downturn numbers to the islands are actually increasing with 59% more customers to Lanzarote this June as opposed to the same month last year, and likewise Tenerife up 16%.  The airline is also offering an on-line check-in service when abroad but only to customers who have paid the UKP7.50 seat reservation fee. www. www.flymonarch.com

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Times Square gains new hotel

NEW YORK’S Times Square now has a Four Points by Sheraton.  The newly constructed, 244-room property opened its doors on 25 June and is the brand’s third opening in New York City joining Four Points by Sheraton Manhattan SoHo Village and Four Points by Sheraton Manhattan Chelsea.  The new hotel is actually at the junction of 40th Street and Sixth Avenue but, in typical marketing parlance, is officially Four Points by Sheraton Midtown – Times Square.  All rooms are non-smoking, have internet, an iron and board, coffee maker and refrigerator. www.fourpoints.com/midtowntimessquare

 

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Virgin goes to Court

VIRGIN ATLANTIC (VS) Chief Executive Steve Ridgeway could find himself in the London High Court in January when proceedings come to a head regarding alleged collusion between the airline and British Airways over fuel price fixing.  Mr Ridgeway is immune from prosecution because VS brought the involvement to the authorities' attention.  On trial will be BA current Head of Sales Andrew (Drew) Crawley and former executives, ex-Commercial Director Martin George, ex-Head of Communications Iain Burns and ex-Head of Sales Alan Burnett.  Also mentioned in the preliminary hearing were Paul Moore, the former Communications Director who is now at First Group, and Willy Boulter, the former Virgin Operations Director. www.virginatlantic.com www.ba.com

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ON TOUR Jordan

Marcelle Nethersole and Alan Peaford from the new Arabian Aerospace magazine (www.arabianaerospace.aero) visited Jordan last week and found it had much more to offer than just deserts.


It could be said that Jordan is one of the world’s earliest tourist destinations when Moses brought a party out of Egypt in search of a better spot.

He was followed by thousands of visitors from southern Italy and the Romans built their own entertainment hotspots and leisure facilities.

During then and now there have been a lot of difficulties in the region with battles, occupation and bloody disputes.  But now Jordan is stable and open for business.

The perception of risk in the Hashemite Kingdom is still high among Europeans and our American cousins, but the British educated King Abdullah II – the son of the globally popular late King Hussein – is following in his father’s footsteps and reaching out to bridge the gap between East and West.  Ironically, although the majority of the population are Palestinian, Jordan is the only country in the Middle East (with the exception of Egypt) to have direct access to Israel. with Royal Jordanian running frequent flights between Tel Aviv and the Jordanian capital Amman.  Business jet operators like Raya Jet are able to take charter customers from the Israeli capital to places like Abu Dhabi provided they touch down in Amman first.

The security around the airport (identities and vehicles are checked before you can get within a mile of the international airport) and at the hotels is efficient and visible.  “This is very different from the subtle security measures you would see in Heathrow or Frankfurt,” says Curtis Grad, CEO of Queen Alia International Airport.  “In this part of the world it is essential to demonstrate the levels of security.  That’s why it is safe and that is why the country is stable.”

The stability and the potential for the country’s tourism was reinforced earlier this year when another visitor from Rome made an historic visit.  Pope Benedict XVI came to Jordan in May and visited the reputed site of the baptism of Jesus Christ at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan and looked over the Holy Land toward Jerusalem from the top of Mount Nebo which is a permanent memorial to Moses who is believed to have ended his days in one of the valleys below the mount.

The Papal blessing and confirmation of the validity of the key historic sites has boosted the religious tourism but there is much more to the country for leisure and business visitors.

“Tourism is one of the main pillars of the Jordanian economy,” says Nayef H. Al-Fayez, Managing Director of the Jordan Tourism Board.  “It is the second largest contributor to our GDP and we were almost at three billion dollars of tourism receipts from the tourism industry last year.  It is a sector which is growing and has been growing in the last ten years.”
 
“The majority of visitors are from the Arab region, I would say more than 50% of tourists are from the region, the rest are mainly from Europe and North America.  But Jordan is starting to see an influx of all nationalities though and of all ages too as we have a very diverse product.”
 
The Tourism Board is proving to be a successful Public-Private partnership and involving airlines, hotels, tour operators and private investors in their planning and promotion of the country including its historic past – typified by the World Heritage site at Petra, three hours drive from Amman – and its present-day modern luxuries such as the delightful health spas among the five-star hotels on the beaches of the Dead Sea – Just 45 minutes taxi ride from the International Airport.

Al Fayez says: “Petra for us is just a gateway, a gateway to one of the many treasures Jordan has.  Jordan is an open air museum, a country that wherever you go you will find history and culture, from north to south to east to west, in the desert, in the mountains, in the sea, in the capital, Amman, itself.  There is the ancient city of Jerash, a close second tourist hotspot after Petra, which is the best preserved Roman city outside of Rome, the Dead Sea which is the largest natural spa on earth, the Red Sea which offers stunning beaches and is wonderful for diving and the amazing marine life and beautiful coral, Ma’an has a new sixth senses hotel and Spa and is one of the world’s best as it is known for its thermal waters.  And remember Jordan is also a Holy land, so we have many people coming here on pilgrimages.  Sights include, Mount Nebo where Moses saw the Holy Land.”

One Jordanian that shares the passion of his King for breaking down the barriers and increasing the potential of the country’s tourism is Samer Majali, the son of the twice Prime Minister Abdulsalem al-Majali and for the next few weeks at least, the CEO of the national flag carrier Royal Jordanian.

“We can’t really get going with these really large projects until the region has peace.  There is great potential for us and for the Israelis.  Imagine when you can visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem and then cross over to visit the Jordanian sites, Egypt and Iraq.  You would be able to get them for three weeks.  And it is not just Christian tourism.  There are a lot of historic Moslem sites for the Shi’ites in particular here and in Syria. There are crusader castles and areas of great beauty.  There is so much potential.”

The people in Jordan are welcoming (that is once you have gone through the ordeal of queuing for an entry visa at the airport).  Although the average salary for a Jordanian may be in the region of UKP600 a month, the costs for tourists match most European capitals with a taxi from the airport costing around UKP25 for the 40-minute ride to the city.  The five-star hotels in the city, around the resort areas such as the Dead Sea or Aqaba, are well equipped with broadband access, restaurants and bars.

We stayed at Marriott hotels at the Dead Sea and Amman where the room rates are good value at less than UKP100 a night but everything else is hammered by local taxes and a service charge on top of that which adds almost 20% to anything you buy.

But it is worth it.  Jordan is there to explore.  It is easy to get a driver if you don’t want to drive yourself (particularly through the maze of Amman’s downtown streets).  There are surprises wherever you go – a chance to visit one of Jordan’s vineyards where wine has been made for more than 2,000 years was unexpected and most interesting.

Wine in a Moslem country?  That’s Jordan and that sense of liberal opportunity is why it is a place we shall visit again. www.visitjordan.com

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