31 AUGUST 2009

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Aer Lingus future

AER LINGUS future as an independent airline is in question following a disastrous half year and seemingly negative attitudes by the senior management.  At the moment the airline does not have a Chief Executive, Dermot Mannion resigning in April saying the airline needed fresh ideas, and controversial new appointment Christopher Mueller not yet officially arrived until next week.  The carrier has reported a €73.9m loss for the period and is haemorrhaging cash.  The airline is reviewing its Airbus A330 operation and delaying A350 XWB deliveries although they are a long way off.  A staff cull is anticipated.  In the shadows Ryanair hovers with a near 30% stake while the government and Aer Lingus staff, past and present, own 25% and 14% respectively.  The EU has banned a possible O’Leary takeover until 2010 and his offer price reduces every time it is mentioned. www.aerlingus.com

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British Airways celebrates

BRITISH AIRWAYS has celebrated what it calls its 90th anniversary using TV personality Kirsty Gallacher to model a bright 1974 BOAC ensemble together with other models wearing the rather dull looking current uniform and a paper dress vintage BEA 1967.  BA used the opportunity to assemble ‘90 facts from 90 years’ of British Airways, worthy in a misleading way as anything put out by a well known Dublin-based air carrier.  What cannot be denied was that the very first scheduled international flight departed from London (Hounslow Aerodrome) to Paris (Le Bourget) on 25 August 1919.  The fare was 42 guineas (£44.10 – or £1,706 in today’s money).  In 1936 an operator called British Airways was created flying to the low countries and this became part of Imperial Airways in 1939.  British Airways as an entity was formed in 1974 by merging BEA (British European Airways) and BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) and privatised ten years later. http://www.ba.com

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Eurostar reaches landmark

EUROSTAR last Friday (28 August) welcomed its 100m traveller, David Kemp (aged 35) from Highgate in London.  He was accompanied by his French wife Stéphanie and daughter, Mia (aged 2).  The family were met at St Pancras International by Eurostar's Chief Executive, Richard Brown.  There was a celebratory ceremony at the station before they boarded the 09:00 to Paris with over 700 other travellers leaving the UK for the August Bank Holiday weekend.  The Kemps were travelling to Paris, then by TGV to Lyon where they are attending a family wedding.  Introduced in November 1994 Eurostar has achieved a 71% market share for London – Paris and 65% for London – Brussels routes and this year is expected to carry a record nearly 10m passengers. www.eurostar.com

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Indian wet times

DELHI AIRPORT has suffered from part of the new terminal 1D’s roof blowing off during a storm, according to reports in the Indian newspapers.  Rain water poured in and many essential services came to a halt.  There was almost knee-deep water in the departures level and many parts of the ground floor were also inaccessible.  The arrivals area was completely flooded as were many roads around the area.  An airport spokesperson said that over 20 flights were delayed and ten flights diverted. The airport, Indira Gandhi International, is now back to normal.  The introductory problems at Heathrow T5 are well documented but teething difficulties are part of the recent history of airports including Denver (baggage handling), Paris (roof collapse) and Bangkok (total chaos). www.newdelhiairport.in

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Mobile suitcases

LIVE LUGGAGE is a new and truly innovative piece of kit that could revolutionise journeys through an airport or railway station.  In simple terms it is a motorised travel bag designed to make life easier for the regular traveller who does not want to get involved with porters and just needs to move quickly through the terminal as easily and effortlessly as possible.  The Hybrid PA Bag promises to transform travel into a far less tortuous ordeal.  The bag has ‘pancake motors’ powered by rechargeable batteries, and combines an intelligent torque control system with sensors in the anti-gravity handle to make luggage feel as light as a feather.  It comes with separate laptop and weekend bags that zip together and can be used as single hand luggage or separately from the main bag and there is even an umbrella included in the bag handle.  It has flat motor technology which kicks in whenever it senses you need a little extra muscle.  AERBT was so taken with the gadget that we will be featuring the Hybrid PA in a special deal for our readers from next week. www.liveluggage.com

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Stansted

STANSTED’S problems, including the railway line and its unsettled future, as mentioned in a recent  COMMENT, is highlighted in some statistics which AERBT has uncovered.  For 2007, 44% of passengers used bus, coach and rail services for their surface access journeys to the airport.  Rail accounts for 24% of traffic but this seems to have stagnated and is less than the 28% four years back.  The Spring 2009 National Passenger Survey gave the Stansted Express a 66% passenger satisfaction, extremely poor compared with others. The big success story is coach travel, up by 250%.  Consequently the proportion of air passengers using private or hire cars to access the airport continues to reduce and is now just 47% (it was 56% in 2003).  Life at Stansted will have been much easier for passengers this summer with a £50m extension fully opened and a dramatic 12% drop in throughput, the annual numbers now running at just over 20m per annum, well down from the 24m 2007 peak. www.passengerfocus.org.uk

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Wi-Fi for Southwest Airlines

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, the world’s largest airline in terms of passengers carried, says it plans to begin a fleet-wide rollout of Wi-Fi internet in the 2010 first quarter.  The budget carrier, whose concept has been much copied around the globe, says it "has received fantastic customer feedback" from passengers who have used an experimental system on four 737s on which it has been tested since February. "We have concluded our testing for in-flight Wi-Fi and are very happy with both the technical performance of the system and the response of customers who have used it," Senior VP-Marketing and Revenue Management Dave Ridley said.  During the testing phase, passengers with their own laptops or other Wi-Fi enabled devices used the service to send and read e-mails as well as surf the internet. Pricing has yet to be confirmed. www.southwest.com

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COMMENT: Pan Am 103

There are certain events in one’s life that are remembered well.  For yours truly it was the night that John F. Kennedy died, but there is also another tragic date that is not far from one’s memory.

On Wednesday 21 December 1988, a Pam Am Boeing 747-100 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie by a bomb deliberately planted on the aircraft. 

That evening there was a news flash on the TV, probably at eight thirty when the programmes changed over, followed shortley  by the shrill ringing of the telephone.  It was Chris Wain, the then BBC Defence and Transport Correspondent, a former army officer.

Chris was brief.  In those days the main news was at nine and he had little time to prepare what would be the headline item for that evening.

“You’ve heard the news Malcolm, any ideas?  Pan Am are refusing to comment and all Boeing will give is the serial number of the aircraft.” 

I take no pride in suggesting that it could have been a bomb and Wain confirmed that others were thinking that way too. 

He made a fine presentation less than 30 minutes later, without actually committing himself to the actual cause of the crash.

Move on 21 years and the man found guilty in the Scottish Court (which sat in Camp Zeist, Netherlands (for political reasons) is released on humanitarian grounds.  It is said he is dying of cancer. 

Outrage in America.  Jubilation in Libya.  And a cautious statement by Westminster. 

Colonel Gaddafi got it entirely wrong.  Most even minded people would have been disgusted with the homecoming celebrations. 

If Abdel Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi is guilty then in the view of AERBT he should have stayed in jail.  He would have murdered 270 people.  The question is was the verdict safe?

We have renamed ON TOUR “REFLECTIONS” this week and it is written by the distinguished aviation lawyer Humphrey Dawson, who has taken a great interest in the tragedy and argues that there may have been a miscarriage of justice. 

Readers must come to their own conclusions regarding Lockerbie.  Is Al Megrahi guilty?  He could never have done the deed by himself.  If it was him who were his accomplices?  And if not who masterminded the whole plot?  Will we ever know the truth? 

Lockerbie is a nasty reminder that we must be ever vigilant in the war against terrorism.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Airbus British flyover

AIRBUS is to showcase the A380 in a spectacular overfly of British airports and production factories next Saturday (5 September).  Coming out of Toulouse the aircraft, MSN001 (F-WWOW), the original Rolls-Royce powered prototype, is scheduled to first perform an approach and flythrough at Edinburgh (13:40) and Prestwick (14:00); followed by a flying display at the Northern Ireland International Airshow at Portrush (14:20), and an overfly at Belfast City Airport (14:40).  It will also be seen over the Airbus facility in Broughton, North Wales (15:08), where Airbus employees will be celebrating the company’s founding 40 years ago.  The final appearance of the day will be over Birmingham International Airport (15:40) where another A380 is due to land for the first time the following Wednesday week (9 September).  Eighteen A380s have been delivered to three airlines, Emirates, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. The in-service fleet has flown more than 6,450 commercial flights carrying more than 2.5m passengers. www.airbus.com

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Canadian low cost

WESTJET, the Calgary (Canada) based non-union budget carrier, has revealed changes to its fleet plan which will include rescheduled deliveries and the purchase of additional aircraft.  The airline, which was founded in 1996, is totally a Boeing “Next Generation” 737 operator.  The rescheduled deliveries concern 16 aircraft which are either being bought or leased and the additional purchases of 14 Boeing 737s.  In the past ten years WestJet has made significant gains in domestic market share against Air Canada.  In 2000 it held only 7% to Air Canada's 77%, though by 2009 WestJet has risen to 36%, against Air Canada's 57%. www.westjet.com

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Gulf Air review

GULF AIR’S new CEO Samer Majali, who very successfully held a similar position at Royal Jordanian, has been quick to announce privately a "comprehensive review" of the Bahrain flag carrier.  According to reports from the Kingdom he has spoken to employees pointing out that the airline was not currently sustainable and was receiving subsidies, which could otherwise be invested in other parts of the national economy.  He noted the challenges facing the airline industry at the present time and said that his plan was to develop a strategy that would fulfil the airline's ambitions.  The review has already begun and Majali hopes to be able to report "a series of clear recommendations" by the end of this year. www.gulfair.com

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Korean Air sees upturn

KOREAN AIR has been brave and is forecasting an increase in international passenger traffic in September.  The airline said the average number of reserved seats on international routes for the month is up 21% from the same period last year whereas overall supply of seats has increased 9%.  Japan has seen the biggest increase in demand for seats at 59%, followed by Americas at 12%, Europe 10%, Southeast Asia 7% and Oceania 6%.  Demand for seats to China in the month of September is flat from last year.  The airline says the numbers of both business and leisure travellers have been increasing since July as the world economy began to stabilise.  Overall international passenger traffic rose 5% and 9% in July and August, respectively, from that of last year.  An easing in concerns surrounding the H1N1 influenza virus also helped rekindle demand for air travel. www.koreanair.com

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Plymouth City Airport

PLYMOUTH CITY AIRPORT has finally closed its alternative short runway 06/24 and now will rely totally on 13/31 which is 1160m long, fine for Air Southwest Dash 8 services but fractionally too short for the ATR 72, Bombardier Q400 and Avro 146 operations.  As reported in AERBT the land made available by the closure will be partially used for housing, and also improving facilities at the airport.  Air Southwest Managing Director Peter Davies notes that the majority of UK airports have a single runway stating the closure will not impinge on the airline’s operations.  He confirmed that the Air Southwest’s winter programme will be basically the same as the summer operation “with a few trimmings”.  The new twice daily service to and from London City was, as predicted, having a marginal effect on the airline’s Gatwick operation, which is four times daily.  With tickets sold single sector, passengers are often finding it more convenient to fly one way into one London airport and back from the other.  He pointed out that the air fares were more than competitive with that charged by the railway. “Even parking is cheaper”. www.plymouthairport.com

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Train bike hire

SOUTH WEST TRAINS is to extend the UK rail network’s first green cycle hire initiative following a successful pilot scheme.  The train operator, part of Stagecoach Group, joined forces with Brompton Bicycle earlier this year in a bid to encourage passengers to cycle as part of a fully integrated low carbon journey combining bike and train.  The company invited some of its season ticket holders to take part in a free trial of the scheme, using Brompton’s iconic folding bikes.  It is now making 50 bikes available for hire to season ticket holders and the general public.  These bikes have no travel restrictions and can be carried on all South West Trains services.  For season ticket holders, a South West Trains Brompton bike can be hired for up to a year for less than £2 a week.  A selection of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual bike hire options are also available for non-season-ticket holders. www.southwesttrains.co.uk

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REFLECTIONS: Lockerbie

Lockerbie burst back on to the headlines once again on the evening of Wednesday 12 August as the BBC broke an exclusive story of the imminent release from a Scottish prison of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi (Al Megrahi) on compassionate grounds having regard to his terminal prostate cancer.  This was done in such a way so as not to prejudice his then on-going appeal against conviction.

Since then the story has hardly been off the front pages with the “will he / won’t he be released” stories vying for space with “compassion versus vengeance” commentary.  Stories were published alleging “release for oil trade deals” dating back to Tony Blair’s negotiations with Colonel Gadaffi five years ago and the more recent meeting between Gordon Brown and the Libyan leader at the G8 Summit in Italy in July, plus the involvement of Lord Mandelson, particularly with Colonel Gadaffi’s son.

That any meetings could have taken place with the Libyans without reference to Lockerbie is as difficult to believe as it is that Al Megrahi would have simply withdrawn his appeal against conviction on Tuesday 18 August without there having been an agreement for his release the following Thursday!

However, whatever has gone on in the background in recent weeks and months simply conceals and obfuscates what should be of real concern: was the conviction of Al Megrahi sound, and how much of the posturing by politicians is designed to cover up that basic question and avoid the crisis of the possibility of the conviction being set aside and thus no one having been found guilty?

So let us return to the basics.

19:03 – 21 December 1988: Who in the aviation industry does not remember where they were on that evening, nearly 21 years ago, or their reaction to the news?

Those involved in the industry will, perhaps with a little shame, no doubt remember a palpable sense of relief as it became clear that the cause was a terrorist bomb and that it was not “just” the case of an 18-year-old Boeing 747-100 (the 15th to be built) falling from the sky as the result of the corrosive effect of old age.  The 259 passengers and crew on board, including 188 Americans, and 11 residents of Lockerbie, all died.

Libya is the country now for ever linked in the public mind for its alleged responsibility and has been for the last 19 years, not 21?  Libya was not the original suspect.

Initially everyone “knew” that Iran, possibly aided by the Syrians and Palestinians, was responsible for the outrage, most likely in retaliation for the shooting down in July 1988 of the Iran Air A300 by the USS Vincennes.  That flight was a regular scheduled service, on its proper flight-path; all 290 passengers and crew were killed.

But that was before the other events of 1990: Iraq invaded Kuwait in May; Iran and its ally Syria supported America against Iraq; Syria was removed from the USA’s list of countries harbouring terrorists and joined Desert Storm.

Not until November 1990 was Libya first named in the British media as being responsible for Lockerbie – almost two years after the event – when it was clearly no longer politically acceptable to blame Iran or Syria.

On 13 August 1991,Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper “identified” Al Megrahi from photographs shown to him in a Maltese police station as the person who had bought certain items of clothing from his shop on 7 December 1988.  Some might think that to recognise a face beyond any doubt from a photograph nearly three years after a casual visit to a shop was quite remarkable; that scepticism might increase when one remembers that Mr Gauci had also previously identified two known Palestinian terrorists, Mohammed Salem on 14 September 1989, nine months after the incident [Para 58 of the Judgment], and Abu Talb on 10 September 1990, 21 months after the incident [Para 61].

We don’t know what went on in the police station when Mr Gauci was interviewed, but it is accepted that he had seen photographs of Al Megrahi published in the Maltese press beforehand.  One cannot but wonder what a Magistrate would have thought of such identification evidence had Al Megrahi merely been charged with shoplifting!

Identification was not the only reason for there being serious doubt about Mr Gauci’s evidence; the date on which the alleged purchase was made and the weather at the material time were also issues in contention, and there was doubt about the evidence given by other witnesses, including in relation to forensic evidence about the bomb.

However such weaknesses have not stopped the “Libya Two” becoming notorious as the people responsible for this appalling crime.  Sanctions were imposed by the United Nations against Libya in January 1992 until Libya surrendered the Two for trial.

Whilst it is true that Libya has a record of involvement in certain terrorist activity, including positive support of the IRA, and not forgetting the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher, was it responsible for Lockerbie?

The deeds which it was alleged the Libya Two had undertaken are largely forgotten, but highly relevant. Al Megrahi was accused of buying the clothes that were in the suitcase that contained the bomb; Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, Al Megrahi’s co-accused (who was acquitted at trial, not even ‘not-proven’, which is a possible verdict under Scottish Law), the Station Manager of Libyan Arab Airlines at Malta Airport, was accused of putting the suitcase on to Air Malta fight KM183 to Frankfurt.  But there was no evidence that he was even at the airport on the day in question, and indeed the evidence pointed to the improbability of his being able to have done so even had he been there.  In this regard too it must be remembered that Granada TV paid substantial damages to settle a libel action brought by Air Malta, when faced with evidence that there was no “unaccompanied baggage” on the flight.

Had the Two done what was alleged, there is no doubt that they were guilty of murder on a massive scale.  However, they would have been minor foot soldiers in the bigger scheme of things – and who has cared about that, as long as the Libya Two were convicted?

Yes, Al Megrahi was convicted and his first Appeal was rejected.  Should that be the end of the matter?  Sadly not.

Remember, Dr Hans Kochler, the independent United Nations Trial Observer, reported in February 2001 that:

“A general pattern of the trial consisted in the fact that virtually all people presented by the prosecution as key witnesses were proven to lack credibility to a very high extent….there were so many inconsistencies in their statements and open contradictions to statements of other witnesses that the resulting confusion was much greater than any clarification that may have been obtained from parts of their statements.  Their credibility was shaken.

The guilty verdict in the case of [Al Megrahi] is particularly incomprehensible in view of the admission by the judges themselves that the identification of [Al Megrahi] by the Maltese shop owner was “not absolute” … and that there was a “mass of conflicting evidence”…

The opinion of the Court is exclusively based on circumstantial evidence and on a series of highly problematical inferences…there is no one single piece of material evidence linking the two accused to the crime.

The undersigned – to his great dismay – reached the conclusion that the trial seen in its entirety was not fair and was not conducted in an objective manner.”


Further, in June 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) accepted that:

“a miscarriage of justice may have occurred” and that there was “no reasonable basis for the conclusion that the items were bought…” as suggested.

The Commission was so persuaded of serious doubts on six specific grounds as to the verdict that the matter was referred back to the Court of Appeal.

To amplify the view of the UN Observer, it is perhaps appropriate to quote from the Judgment in respect of the evidence against Al Megrahi which says that there were three important witnesses of which it is concluded:

“All three …were shown to be unreliable witnesses.  Earlier statements which they made to the police and judicial authorities were at times in conflict with each other and with the evidence they gave in Court. On some occasions…their evidence was self-contradictory.”

It is the second of these reports that permitted the second appeal, which started in April 2009.  It had been categorically stated that the appeal would not be prejudiced by the release of Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds but it was, nonetheless, withdrawn from the Scottish courts last week without explanation, and with Al Megrahi still proclaiming his innocence.

It will be said that Libya admitted responsibility: in August 2003 Libya “admits responsibility for the actions of its officials” (but never for the incident), and conditionally agreed to pay $2.16bn compensation.  The conditions? – 40% to be paid when United Nations sanctions were lifted; 40% when US trade sanctions were lifted; and the final 20% when the USA removed Libya from the list of states allegedly sponsoring terrorism.

Just a year ago, the USA and Libya signed a Compensation Agreement under which Libya was to pay $1.5bn in respect of Lockerbie and three other events, and the USA agreed to lift sanctions.  It was later claimed that Libya signed the Agreement “simply to get trade sanctions lifted”, and the amount was relatively insignificant in relation to Libya’s potential oil earnings.  The final payment was made on 21 November 2008.

If the Libya Two were not responsible, who was?  And even if they were guilty of planting the bomb, given their allegedly lowly roles in the operation, who was ultimately responsible?  Does anyone care?  Some of the bereaved British families, led by Dr Jim Swire, do care; they believe that the conviction of Al Megrahi was a miscarriage of justice and have called for a proper inquiry.

If the bomb in its suitcase did not start its travels in Malta, where did it begin its fateful journey as unaccompanied baggage?  Perhaps in Frankfurt, where Pan Am flight PA103A started (despite a change of aircraft at Heathrow), but more likely at Heathrow where there was not only evidence that the brown hard-shell Samsonite suitcase was seen loose around where the baggage for Pan Am PA103 was waiting to be loaded, but also that there was a break through airside security in the Pan Am baggage area that night.

The evidence of the Heathrow break-in was not given at the original trial, but it was introduced as “additional evidence” at the first appeal where it was considered at some length by the Appeal Court – some 22 pages out of the total Judgment of 200 pages.  Notwithstanding that all the evidence by which Al Megrahi was found guilty was circumstantial, the Appeal Court [Para 252 of the Judgment] held that the verdict could not be said “to be regarded as a miscarriage of justice on account of having been reached in ignorance of the additional evidence”.

How totally unsatisfactory!  Unsatisfactory for the American families of those on board who have reacted with great bitterness to the release of Al Megrahi; unsatisfactory for the British families who have, on the whole, taken a more balanced view with some recognising the injustice of the original verdict; unsatisfactory for those who seek the truth.  And a potential sad blot on Scottish justice, if injustice it was.

Many theories abound and, according to media reports, yet more would have been revealed had the second appeal continued.  Originally, as mentioned above, people were convinced that the Iranians were responsible; there were rumours that a four-man CIA counterterrorist team (returning to the US to report a rogue CIA unit they had uncovered in Beirut) was on board; there are stories that warnings had been posted in a number of US embassies not to fly Pan Am 103 (stories that increase the bitterness of some families who believe their relatives only obtained seats following cancellation by passengers who had been “warned off”); there are stories of drug trafficking, and of substantial payments to witnesses.

Whatever the truth, even if, however unlikely, Al Megrahi was guilty, he was the most minor of players in a long chain.  Surely the memory of the innocent victims deserves better?

Humphrey Dawson

humphrey.dawson@asb-law.com

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787 latest

BOEING has officially confirmed that the maiden flight of the much delayed 787 Dreamliner is expected by the end of 2009 and the initial customer delivery is planned for the fourth quarter of 2010.  This comes after rumour and counter rumour emanating from Seattle and also component suppliers from around the world.  What is firm is that ANA were supposed to have taken first delivery in May 2008 prior to the Beijing Olympics and that Boeing had run into trouble concerning the bonding of the wing joints.  Whether this was known prior to the spectacular roll out in July 2008 is surrounded by controversy but it is likely that heads will roll at Boeing with Programme Director Mike Blair already moved sideways and replaced in a slightly different role by the genial Scott Carson.  Firm orders for the 787 stand at 850. www.boeing.com

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Boeing paint scheme

KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES has taken delivery of a Boeing 777-300ER painted in a special SkyTeam livery in celebration of the alliance's tenth anniversary.  The aircraft also marks the start of an in-service evaluation using chrome-free decorative paint and primer.  As part of the company’s lifecycle approach to reducing environmental impact and in response to KLM's and other customers’ requests, Boeing has introduced a chrome-free primer and chrome-free exterior decorative paint scheme.  In addition, to simplify health and safety monitoring requirements, the primer reduces the environmental impact of the paint and stripping process. Removing chrome from the paint and primer eliminates the need for special handling of paint waste and clean-up and designated offsite disposal areas.  The experiment will be evaluated on other new deliveries with the intention of making it an option in the future. http://www.boeing.com/commercial

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City airport boom

PORTER AIRLINES, based on the waterfront at Toronto City Airport, is bolstering its Ottawa services to an astonishing 17 return trips from 4 October.  Flight time is one hour, the same as Toronto International, but without the hassle of the journey to the airport, nor the problems in finding one's way around the massive terminal building.  At the same time the increase will be complemented by the opening of a dedicated Porter passenger lounge in Ottawa.  Porter exclusively operates Bombardier's 70-seat Q400 aircraft and will have 18 in service by the year end. www.flyporter.com

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Iberia in big loss

IBERIA, British Airways would-be partner, is itself suffering from the economic slump that has affected virtually every airline, worldwide.  Last Friday (28 August) it published its second quarter results which followed the previous day's announcement of a management structure reorganisation designed to generate new income and reduce costs and including a fleet reduction of ten aircraft.  Operating losses were €72m but the overall load factor reached 81.3%, claimed to be the highest among Europe's large network airlines.  Staff cuts reached 4.7%.  The airline remains market leader on routes between Europe and Latin America. www.iberia.com

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London chaos

LONDON visitors, and residents, beware.  When Mayor Boris Johnson says he has "grave doubts" that the upgrade to the capital’s Jubilee line, promised for the end of the year, might not be completed on time, it must be taken seriously.  Tube Lines, which is led by US engineering group Bechtel, has gained permission to close the service for five-day periods in an effort to catch up, the first of which occurred from last Thursday (27 August).  Further shutdowns are planned and anyone using that line across central London should consult the Transport for London website.  In the meantime the refurbishment of the whole system in time for the Olympics staggers on, the collapse of Metronet not helping.  London Underground has had to cancel refurbishment programmes at 51 Tube stations in the wake of the bankruptcy. www.tfl.gov.uk

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Skybus celebrates

SKYBUS, said to be Britain’s smallest airline, certainly in terms of aircraft operated, has celebrated its 25th anniversary.  The carrier took to the air with a BN Islander operation from Land's End Airport, Cornwall to St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly on Wednesday 22 August 1984.  Today it operates three Twin Otters and three Islander aircraft linking the Scillies to five mainland airports and St Brieuc in Northern France.  The airline was originally set up by the Isles of Scillies Steamship Company, still the owner, to combat competition from the helicopter service out of Penzance and the Brymon flights from Plymouth and Newquay.  Nearly one million passengers have been carried in the intervening years and the airline, an all the year around service, also flies the Royal Mail to and from the Islands. www.skybus25.co.uk

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Virgin and Eurostar

VIRGIN ATLANTIC (VS) is to partner Eurostar in a joint e-ticketing programme claimed to be the world’s first.  Virgin Atlantic passengers can simply make a booking on Eurostar at the same time as they book their air ticket via the VS contact centre, which has access to live availability on each high speed train, or through their local travel agent.  Eurostar is the only rail operator in the world to be registered on GDS in its own right.  Following the move to paperless ticketing Eurostar has pioneered this solution to enable travel agents, and passengers, to book Virgin Atlantic and Eurostar tickets in one transaction.  Eurostar tickets to Brussels are also valid for journeys to any Belgian station, including Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent.  Bookings made in the UK can be made up to 120 days in advance of travel and up to 270 days for bookings made from Virgin Atlantic’s international destinations. www.virginatlantic.com

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HAPPY TALK: Modern times

A policeman arrives at the scene of an accident, in which a car smashed
into a tree. The officer rushes over to the vehicle and asks the driver,
"Are you seriously hurt?" "How do I know?" he responds. "I'm not
a lawyer!"

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