27 JULY 2009

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Airbus briefing

AIRBUS VP Training and Flight Operations Capt Jean-Michel Roy delivered the Ray Jones Memorial Lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society last week, his topic the A350XWB.  He said it was on schedule with a target first flight in 2012 and a 15-month flight test programme was envisaged.  Airbus has 493 orders to date from 31 customers.  From a passenger point of view besides the very latest in interiors it will have noticeably larger windows than existing aircraft (as will the Boeing 787), very large overhead bins, and LED lighting.  The aircraft is 53% composite and it will fly at Mach .85, quicker than most current jets.  In a very well presented lecture Capt Roy emphasised Airbus commonality strategy pointing out that conversion training from an A380 was just five days, from the A330, ten days, and the A320 series a day longer. www.airbus.com

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Australian version of Open Akies

AIRASIA, the Kuala Lumpur based budget airline, has introduced a daily service between Perth and Bali making the most of Australia’s liberal air route rules, although the carrier is officially AirAsia Indonesia.  The 3hr 30mins flights are operated by two-class Airbus A321 aircraft.  They will be doubled from 19 August.  Garuda, Jetstar and Ozjet compete on the route.  AirAsia currently operates 84 aircraft to 66 destinations.  Originally founded in the mid-1990s the airline was purchased by a financial group headed by former Virgin Atlantic employee Tony Fernandes.  Perth is its fourth international route out of Bali after Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. www.airasia.com

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Central London hotel failure

LONDON’S five-star Silken Hotel is not likely to happen.  Situated on a prestigious site at the junction of The Strand and Aldwych, work stopped last year.  The development, by Spanish hotel chain Grupo Hotelero Uravasco has now been put up for sale by administrators Price Waterhouse Coopers.  The 11-storey structure is on the site of the former Marconi Building, the location of the first-ever radio broadcast.  The scheme included 170 bedrooms, 90 apartments, several restaurants and bars and a rooftop terrace. www.hoteles-silken.com

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Continental changes captain

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES (CO) Chairman and CEO Larry Kellner will depart the carrier at the end of 2009 after five years at the helm and 14 with the Houston-based airline.  He will be replaced by current president and COO Jeff Smisek.  Mr Kellner himself succeeded another stalwart of the industry Gordon Bethune.  Smisek, 54, joined CO in early 1995 as Senior VP and General Counsel.  He became President in December 2004 and added the COO title last September. www.continental.com

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Iberia in upgrade

IBERIA, not withstanding difficult trading conditions, is mounting a marketing assault aimed at both tourist and business class passengers.  On long haul flights the carrier will now offer its economy clients an enhanced meal service, with new dishes, larger portions and higher-quality ingredients.  Lunch and dinner offerings are more elaborate, and beverages, nuts, sweets and sandwiches are available between meals.  There is also a newly designed breakfast and brunch format – a box containing a sandwich or croissant, rolls, fresh fruit and a chocolate sweet.  For those in the premium classes the fine lounge in T4 has been further improved and now includes à la carte meal service designed by Spanish master chef Sergi Arola. www.iberia.com

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Mobile use on aircraft

MOBILE PHONE USERS are being reminded by the UK CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) that it is still forbidden to use the handsets on nearly all flights.  Passengers who find themselves on board an aircraft modified to allow mobile phone use will be informed by the cabin crew and given instructions on how and where their phone can be used.  Any who disobeys a cabin crew instruction to turn off a mobile phone is committing an offence, which could result in prosecution.  Research carried out by the CAA found that the use of mobile telephones can adversely affect navigation and communication functions, producing significant errors on instrument displays and background noise on pilot radios.  The research endorses evidence from pilots, who have complained that interference from mobiles has caused problems.  Air France, BMI, British Airways, Emirates, Qantas, Ryanair and TAP Portugal, are among the airlines currently using or planning to trial on-board mobile phone systems on some aircraft. www.caa.co.uk

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Southend Airport develops

SOUTHEND AIRPORT is beginning to make progress under its new owners since December 2008, the Stobart Group.  Talking to AERBT Managing Director Alistair Welch made it perfectly clear that the acquisition of the airport was another step forward in the development of the Plc not involving its road haulage division.  “It is in line with our multi-modal strategy, air becoming the final component alongside road, rail and sea.”  Besides its highly visible freight business Stobart, a FT250 company, is also much involved with railways engineering, ports and property development.  Mr Welch confirmed that the CAA had approved a 200m runway extension in principal, now the subject of a planning application, the local Council known to be sympathetic.  Already under construction is a railway station with direct services to London Liverpool Street and work will begin “within weeks” on a Ramada Hotel linked to the station and for the future to a new terminal building. www.southendairport.net

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COMMENT: Potholes are the bane of the motorist

Did you know that there is one pothole for every 120 yards of British road, that just under one million potholes were filled by local councils last year, and that it costs on average £65 to deal with each one?

This and other most interesting facts are revealed in the very comprehensive 14th Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey backed by the Asphalt Industry Alliance. www.asphaltuk.org/alarm.asp

The survey, which collects information from local authority highways departments across England and Wales, also reports that the number of potholes in England has increased by 32% over the previous year, without accounting for the effects of the extreme weather conditions in February.  On top of this, highways departments have to cope with the intrusion of nearly two million deep trenches into roads for utility and other service provision works, which reduce the lifespan of the road.

Add to that the speed restriction humps that have proliferated over recent years and you just wonder how the modern car holds together.  You don’t see many Ford Anglia’s around these days.  They must have rattled to pieces.  And have you tried to follow a cautious driver over the bumps?  How many accidents are caused by a lack of patience?

I digress.  Such are the frustrations of motoring.  Canada has much more severe weather than the UK and any visitor will tell you that for the most part the road surfaces are excellent.  One problem we do have this side of the Atlantic is that in any typical winter there might be three, even four spells of under zero conditions.  It is water getting into cracks, freezing and then expanding that causes the surface to break.  In Canada it is just one long spell of really cold weather.

Last week the Highways Agency announced a scheme to add an extra lane to the M25 around north London from junction 16 (M40) to junction 30 (QE2 bridge approach) in time for the 2012 Olympics, except (for some strange reason) J23 (A1M) to the M11, which effectively connects Stansted to Stratford.  For this stretch the hard shoulder is to be reinforced and brought into use when necessary.  The hard shoulder experiment in the Birmingham area has proved a success it seems, and the concept will be extended.

Money has been found for what is a vital road, one of the most important in the whole country.  No doubt the minister of the day will cut a ribbon and try to gain praise for a project that was nothing to do with him.  But that is politics.

Filling in potholes does not carry any glory but is just as vital.  And it is not just a question of filling in potholes, hotchpotch.  Roads need to be re-surfaced properly.

According to the website www.potholes.co.uk (yes there is one) 462 people claimed for pothole damage against Buckinghamshire County Council, the authority paying out just on seven, totalling £1,150.

Times are tight but money is being found for vital missions.  The shortfall is put at around £750m for the councils of England and Wales to put things right, not a huge sum by modern standards.

The roads and byways of the United Kingdom are the country’s basic infrastructure.  If things are not taken in hand we will finish up as a country linked by farm tracks, not 21st century highways.  The consequences of not finding the money are severe.  Or is this lack of interest a secret government plan to assist Land Rover?  If things deteriorate much further, and we have a really bad winter, they might well become the only vehicles to get around.  That would be the wrong route to take.


Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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AirTran goes wireless

AIRTRAN AIRWAYS, the American low cost carrier based in Orlando, has made the claim that it is the first significant airline to equip its whole fleet with Wi-Fi.  AirTran operates 86 Boeing 717s (aka MD95) and 50 Boeing 737-700.  The airline's major hub its at Atlanta.  The Gogo inflight internet works in a similar fashion to other systems with the cost starting at US$5.95 for flights of up to 1hr 30mins.  The aircraft are two-class and all passengers gain free use of a 100-channel digital radio system.  Complimentary cocktails are offered to those in the premier section and free soft drinks are available to all. www.airtran.com

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BA abandons business class only route

BRITISH AIRWAYS is to abandon the Amsterdam – New York business class only route flown by its subsidiary called Open Skies after just nine months.  Flights stop 16 August.  BA is known to be considering the whole future of the venture which also operates twice daily from Paris Orly to JFK.  The problems of “Open Skies” were highlighted when, at the recent Business Travel Market, a senior travel buyer based in London but responsible for Europe said she knew nothing about the operation.  Launched in January 2007, the airline purchased just over 12 months ago the French airline L'Avion for £54m, doubling its size. www.flyopenskies.com

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Changi makes life easier

SINGAPORE CHANGI AIRPORT passengers can now enjoy a more hassle-free and user-friendly travel experience with two new innovative features – the Common Use Self-Service kiosks and the Passenger Reconciliation System (PRS).  Five participating airlines have committed to use the common use kiosks to date – Air France, Cathay Pacific, KLM, Northwest and United Airlines.  There are currently eight units in operation at Terminal 1 and the airport will introduce more if there is a demand.  The PRS system enables airlines to connect their own reservation system with that of the airport, allowing checked in passengers without baggage to proceed straight to the immigration access point where their passes will be verified automatically by security. www.changiairport.com

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Coventry Airport investment

COVENTRY AIRPORT, currently up for sale, is nevertheless developing its infrastructure and last week opened a new executive aviation centre.  The facility is impressive with direct access to the apron, full facilities and plentiful car parking.  Aircraft of up to about 30-passenger capacity can be easily handled, larger numbers offered the adjoining, and currently redundant, scheduled airline departures area.  Coventry Airport is presently open 06:00 until 23:59 in the summer with restricted hours at the weekend and during the winter.  It has a 2008m single runway and sits by the A45 dual carriageway with easy access to the both the M6 and M40. www.coventryairport.co.uk

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Las Vegas opening

MANDARIN ORIENTAL is to open its first Las Vegas hotel in December.  Situated within the brand new CityCenter development the 47-storey property features 392 rooms and suites and 227 residences.  Three lavish presidential suites are featured on the hotel’s top floors, each measuring over 3,200sq ft.  The hotel’s impressive ‘Sky Lobby’ is located on the 23rd floor, to provide a stunning arrival experience with glittering views over the Las Vegas skyline.  Ballroom and conference facilities are provided.  British Airways on 25 October will introduce a daily flight to the gaming capital of the world with a daily four-class Boeing 777 operation.  Virgin Atlantic has flown non-stop from Gatwick since 2001. www.mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas

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MyAir in trouble

MYAIR, an Italian budget carrier based at Venice, has had its licence suspended by the national authority last Friday.  Launched in December 2004 the airline operated three Airbus A320s and four Bombardier CRJ-900s.  Significantly it had committed to 15 of the larger 1000 variant, an order likely to be lost.  It operated scheduled services linking a dozen Italian cities and international flights to Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Morocco, Netherlands, Romania, Spain and Turkey.  Its main base was Bergamo Airport near Milan. www.myair.com

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ON TOUR: Moscow

Moscow has been the capital of Russia on and off for one thousand years.  For the last three centuries it has competed for the title with St Petersburg and certainly during Vladimir Putin’s Presidential reign the real power sometimes seemed to be with the city of that man’s birth.  Moscow is the political, economic, cultural, religious, financial, educational and transportation centre of Russia, a global city and always has been.

Visiting Moscow is a pleasure, particularly in the spring and autumn.  It can be very hot in August and as both Napoleon and Hitler discovered winter is extremely fierce.  Getting a visa is not cheap and means losing your passport for up to ten days!

Domodedovo is now Moscow’s major airport, and is served by British Airways, bmi and Transaero.  Sheremetyevo, the former major gateway now being rapidly modernised, is still the hub for Aeroflot.  Both airports have direct train services to the Moscow Metro system.

Say Moscow and the first reaction is the Kremlin and Red Square.  Sited by the Moscow river they dominate the city.  One must also mention what now forms as some kind of memorial to the Stalinist era, the Seven Sisters skyscrapers, built in an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles using (stolen) American technology.  They are massive.

The seven are: Hotel Ukraina (soon to be the Radisson Royal, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Apartments, the Kudrinskaya Square Building (apartments), the (Hilton) Leningradskaya Hotel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow State University (high on a hill overlooking the Olympic Stadium and the city, and the Red Gates Administrative Building.

The Kremlin (which means castle – other Russian cities also have Kremlins) is a combination of 18th century towers, churches and palaces, with plenty of Soviet 20th century additions.  It is steeped in history.  Visit the Armoury, much more than a museum of weapons,  a very visible exhibition of the wealth of the Tsars including their wedding gowns, thrones, vestments and jewels.  The state coaches are on display, some made in England.  It is all mind-boggling.

Moscow is full of museums, galleries and exhibition halls catering for all tastes.  The Pushkin State Museum and adjoining Museum of Fine Art are close by the Kremlin.  There is a museum of modern history.  Of the churches that survived the Bolsheviks many are museums including the remarkable St Basil’s Cathedral at one end of Red Square.  Stalin ordered it to be pulled down and then changed his mind.  It is one of the great symbolic features of Russia.

There are a number of military museums including one dedicated to the Great Patriotic War (WWII).  The Armed Forces Museum is housed in a fine Soviet style building but the outside exhibition is very disappointing unless you are into tanks.  The aircraft collection is incomplete and poor compared with say Duxford or Cosford.  However Moscow shares with the Shropshire former RAF base a Museum of the Cold War.

Booming just a couple of years ago, but still busy, is the GUM department store in Red Square, now open to all, if you can afford it, the embodiment of the communist style of socialism.  At the very top they lived like the royalty of old.  The building itself dates from 1890 and comprises of three galleries linked together and covered.  It is a cross between London’s Burlington Arcade and Harrods and featuring the ‘top end’ brands.  Taking tea in one of the coffee shops can be very expensive.

The Bolshoi Theatre has been off limits since 2003, corruption in the building industry rampant.  When it will be finished nobody seems to know and the same goes for the massive Four Seasons Hotel.  However don’t be put off in terms of music and ballet, there is still always a fine selection of offerings.  Moscow also has the world’s largest puppet theatre and a traditional circus.

Most of the major hotel brands are represented in the city but don’t expect a bargain.  Some new budget properties are on their way.  However the small owner/occupier refurbished town house that London, Paris and most European cities abound in for the most part does not exist.  Most of the 1950s concrete monsters built for visiting workers have been upgraded.  However the idea of “service” has not really got through but this could be due to a language problem, a yes could mean a no, or a don’t know. 

If you have a requirement for regular use of a mobile phone you will find it vastly cheaper to purchase a local sim card.  Using, typically, Orange can be hideously expensive.

In Moscow there are two types of taxi.  The official ones, which are not cheap, and the “gipsy” operators, usually normal citizens just trying to exist in a costly world, having a requirement for going from a to b and happy to collect extra funds.  You can bargain, and it is the norm.  However, whilst Moscow is safe it is advised that women do not use these ‘cabs’ by themselves.

Easily the best way to get around in Moscow is the splendid Metro.  Opened in 1935, it is well known for the ornate design of many of its stations which contain outstanding examples of socialist realist art.  On a normal weekday the system can carry up to 7m passengers.  Whilst the signs are in Cyrillic getting around should prove no problem.

Eating in Moscow is a delight as befits an international city.  It is reputed to host 6,000 restaurants.  Count Stroganoff came from St Petersburg but his dish is available everywhere.  Russian food is hale and hearty.  It really is a requirement for the cold winters.

Moscow should be on everyone’s list of places to visit.  Three days would be a minimum.

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787 saga latest

BOEING 787 DREAMLINER number five has been revealed in a modified colour scheme which saves time and expense compared to the full paintwork.  In the meantime the prototype aircraft has still not flown two years after the roll-out (7 July 2007).  Painted white with blue accents, the new livery incorporates visual and colour elements from the distinctive livery seen on the first 787 flight test aeroplane and other new commercial models.  The simplified paint scheme will be applied to the three remaining unpainted flight test aircraft (Nos. 3, 4 and 6).  Number two has been painted in the colours of launch customer ANA of Japan.  Number five will eventually be repainted and delivered to a customer. www.boeing.com/commercial

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American airlines suffer badly

ATA (Air Transport Association of America), the industry trade organization for the leading US airlines, has reported that passenger revenue fell 26% in June versus the same month in 2008 – the eighth consecutive month in which passenger revenue has declined from the previous year.  The number of passengers travelling on US airlines in June fell 6.5% while the price to fly one mile dropped 20.7%, a sharp decline surpassing even those witnessed during the 2001 recession and post-9/11 terrorist attacks.  The latest results continue to reflect the weak global economy and the lingering impact of the swine flu outbreak.  “Despite extreme price discounting, June data reflects ongoing weakness in demand for air travel.  The airline industry remains fragile as this country continues to suffer from the worst recession since the 1930s,” said ATA President and CEO James C. May. www.airlines.org

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Blue Islands expands

BLUE ISLANDS, once known as Rockhopper, and nominally based in Alderney, has added an ex-Air Atlantique 50-seat ATR 42 to its fleet.  The airline, which competes with the State of Guernsey-owned Aurigny, now has an operational  fleet of the ATR, a single Dornier 328 (30 passengers), four Jetstream J32s (19), two Trislanders (17) and an Islander (9).  The airline says it will carry 150,000 passengers this year and has 60% of the Guernsey – Jersey market.  It also flies to Southampton, the Isle of Man and to both Geneva and Zurich. www.blueislands.com

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China - Taiwan traffic grows

CHINA’S CAAC (General Administration of Civil Aviation) is to allow nine home airlines to operate 135 return passenger flights and 14 cargo flights to Taiwan each week.  China Eastern Airlines is the biggest winner with 29 services from eight mainland destinations.  Air China and China Southern Airlines will each operate 27 passenger flights a week.  Xiamen Airlines gets 11, Hainan Airlines ten, and Sichuan Airlines, Shandong Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines each will run seven flights.  In addition Shanghai Airlines was offered ten services but this was before the China Eastern takeover.  China Airlines launched the first cross-straits cargo charter flight between Taiwan and the mainland late last year.  This was the first direct traffic between the two since 1949.  Previously, flights had to be routed via Hong Kong or Macau. www.caac.gov.cn/English

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Holiday Inn Express Times Square

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP (IHG) has reached a milestone in its campaign to upgrade its Holiday Inn brand.  IHG's $1bn (£608m) overhaul of its Holiday Inn brand is thought to be the largest campaign of its kind ever conducted in the hospitality industry.  The Holiday Inn Express New York City in Times Square is the 1,000th property to be updated and reopened under the initiative.  Actually on 39th Street and just past 8th Avenue, the hotel has 210 rooms spread over 31 floors.  Andy Cosslett, Chief Executive of IHG, said: "Despite the tough economic climate, we've relaunched, on average, four hotels a day for the past six months and we're committed to completing the global relaunch by the end of 2010." www.ihg.com

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London Bloomsbury hotel

THE KINGSLEY is the new name of the former Thistle Bloomsbury which has just completed an impressive £10m upgrade.  Situated in the heart of London’s literary area and just by the British Museum, the property is named after the author Charles Kingsley.  The hotel now offers 129 standard accommodation plus Executive Rooms and Junior Suites, complete with dining and lounge areas.  It has seven meeting rooms, and six well appointed syndicate rooms, each benefiting from an extensive recent refurbishment.  The largest suite, the Albion Room, seats up to 100 theatre style.  The transformation of the hotel is part of Thistle Group’s overhaul of all its properties, seeing a combined investment of over £100m. http://www.thistle.com

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Ryanair steals the headlines

RYANAIR once again stole the headlines last week with plans to cut services for the winter at Stansted and Dublin, its two largest bases.  CEO Michael O’Leary’s figure of 40% was challenged by the airport authority who said that on a like for like basis it would be just 14%.  Mr O’Leary blamed the reduction in flights on both BAA and the government citing the airport pricing increase and what he called Mr Brown’s tourist tax, universally hated.  The airline also published its so-called vote on the standing room only idea.  There is no way of verifying the figures which have been described as “fanciful”.  Sadly some media take any Ryanair pronouncement on face value.  AERBT does not. www.ryanair.com

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HAPPY TALK: Politically Correct

It seems obligatory these days that whenever a press release is put out it must include a quote by the Chief Executive, or some such, however inane and non-contributory.

Whoever “NDS” is, and we believe it might be a government department or qango, they were last week responsible for what must be one of the most politically correct press releases of all time.  Nine quotes plus Terry Wogan.  With the exception of the good man from Limerick were any necessary?

The facts of the release were that 4.4m young people and senior citizens have benefited from a £140m government free swimming initiative.

Here is the full list in what we suppose is the pecking order.  Go to the web site(s) if you really want to read these words of wisdom.  www.culture.gov.uk

Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Andy Burnham, Health Secretary

Delyth Morgan, Children’s Minister at the Department for Children, Schools and Families

Yvette Cooper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Richard Lewis, Sport England’s Chair

John Denham, Communities Secretary

Tessa Jowell, Minister for the Olympics

David Sparkes ASA Chief Executive

Richard Lewis, Sport England’s Chair

Did we miss anyone out?

Sir Terry Wogan, a keen swimmer, had the final word  “Free swimming is great, ” he was allegedly to have commented.  Wogan of course was spot on.

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