21 SEPTEMBER 2009

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Airbus Global Market Forecast

AIRBUS chose London last week to deliver its annual Global Market Forecast.  Headed by the redoubtable John Leahy, the American Chief Operating Officer Customers (Sales Director) said that some 25,000 new passenger and freighter aircraft valued at US$3.1 trillion will be delivered from 2009 to 2028.  Emerging economies, evolving airline networks, expansion of low cost carriers and the increasing number of mega-cities as well as traffic growth and the replacement of older less efficient aircraft with more eco-efficient airliners are factors driving demand.  According to Airbus with the replacement of some 10,000 older passenger aircraft, the world’s passenger aircraft fleet of 100 seats or more will double from some 14,000 today.  Airbus foresees demand for Very Large Aircraft seating more than 400 passengers, like the A380, at above 1,700.  This seems optimistic with sales of the aircraft dormant at the present time.  In the twin-aisle aircraft segment (seating from 250 to 400 passengers), some 6,250 new passenger and freighter aircraft will be delivered in the same period while for the single-aisle segment, Airbus suggests that 17,000 will join the airlines in the next 20 years.  John said that he had no fears regarding emerging Chinese manufactures, at least not for 20 years, noting that the confidence needed to place orders takes years to achieve, giving Airbus as an example.  Mr Leahy confirmed that Airbus will deliver around 480 aircraft this year, much the same as 2008, and expects to finish up with 300 positive orders. www.airbus.com

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American Airlines steps in

AMERICAN AIRLINES has quickly stepped in to cover the loss of the Delta route from Manchester to New York JFK with the announcement of its own daily Kennedy services as a summer only route from 16 May to 30 September 2010.  The new flight will complement American Airlines' existing year-round non-stop service from Manchester to Chicago (ORD), which operates up to seven times a week.  American will fly the new route with two-class Boeing 757-200 aircraft reconfigured for international operations.  The service will offer a total of 182 seats, including 16 lie-flat Business Class seats.  The airline merry-go-round leaves Manchester with the American transatlantic services, plus Delta to Atlanta, Continental to Newark, US Airways to Philadelphia and the limited Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) operation also to Kennedy.  American also has a large operation from Heathrow with direct services to Boston, Chicago (ORD), Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK) and Raleigh/Durham. www.aa.com

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Boston gets city centre link

PORTER AIRLINES, the Toronto City based carrier, has introduced services to Boston, its third US destination (after Chicago Midway and Newark New York).  Porter is unique in many ways, the only airline whose main base is on an island with all arriving and departing passengers needing to use a ferry.  Porter's operation at the Toronto airport was launched in October 2006 after some controversy.  A planned bridge to the airport was cancelled in 2003, leading to lawsuits between the airline and the City of Toronto.  In spite of all the aggravation the airline has prospered and now operates 13 locally built Bombardier Q400 (with seven more due).  Other destinations include Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Thunder Bay and Toronto.  A service to St Johns, Nova Scotia, begins on 5 October. www.flyporter.com

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Heathrow boss goes

MIKE BROWN, brought in last year to sort out Heathrow after his predecessor’s somewhat lack of success with T5, is to return early next year from whence he came.  Prior to his BAA appointment as Heathrow Managing Director he had spent five years as London Underground’s Chief Operating Officer.  In his new role his title is Managing Director.  Once again his brief will be to deal with problems not of his making, but ones he is clearly conversant with including the collapse of contractor Metronet, which took place during his Heathrow sojourn.  Much of the upgrading has to be completed in time for the London Olympics 2012. www.tfl.gov.uk

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London airports gain hotels

PREMIER INN, which claims to be the UK’s largest and fastest-growing hotel operator, has announced plans for four new hotels at London’s leading airports, creating a total of 1,570 rooms.  The properties will be leased from the Arora Family Trust, already a major player at Gatwick and at Heathrow, where it operates the T5 Sofitel on behalf of Accor.  The hotels will open on a phased basis from the autumn of 2011 onwards: Heathrow Terminal 5, 400 rooms; Heathrow Terminal 4, 240 rooms; Stansted, 300 rooms; Gatwick North Terminal, 630 rooms.  The new Gatwick hotel will be the first airport terminal-based budget hotel in the UK.  www.premierinn.com

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Nigerian Eagle Airlines

NIGERIAN EAGLE AIRLINES is the new name of Virgin Nigeria.  Unveiling the brand last week the carrier’s Chief Executive, Captain Dapo Olumide, said it was not just about a name change, but “a new dawn that has birthed, an aspirational airline that will rule the African skies and a representation of the future of African aviation.”  What remains open to speculation is where the 49% shareholding by Virgin Atlantic is likely to go and whether additional funds will be made available.  In January Virgin Nigeria, the Lagos-based airline, cancelled its long haul services to Gatwick and Johannesburg citing severe economic conditions.  It recently took delivery of a second Embraer 190 and has eight more on order, expected over the next two years.  A further six 190/195s on option would replace the airline’s Boeing 737 fleet when their leases expire in 2011. www.virginnigeria.com

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Ryanair to allow smoking

RYANAIR, the airline that seemingly loves to aggravate passengers, is now to allow smoking on board.  In what is clearly yet another revenue generating move the airline's new Similar Smokeless Cigarettes will be available to passengers over 18 years of age and are sold in packs of ten on board Ryanair flights for just £6.  Similar Smokeless Cigarettes contain no toxins or chemicals and are claimed to be harmless to the user and to those around them.  In a recent survey, a tiny proportion (24,000 v a claimed 60m) of Ryanair passengers said they would like to smoke during flights.  How the complaints are dealt with remains to be seen.  In March 2004 eight passengers were banned for life by Ryanair for smoking on flights. www.ryanair.com

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CRUISE NEWS SEPTEMBER 2009

PLUS A FIRST LOOK AT DISCOVERY

This issue of AERBT coincides with National Cruise Week being organised by the Passenger Shipping Association. www.discover-cruises.co.uk

Oceania Cruises is not a name that comes off the tip of one’s tongue when discussing cruises but the Miami-based company, only established in 2002, has quickly established itself in the mid-size ship market with a quality product.  It currently operates three of the former Renaissance R class ship, Insignia, Nautica and Regatta.  The 2010 programme includes Northern Europe, and both Western and Eastern Mediterranean.  A sister company is Regent Cruises.  Towards the end of 2010 Oceania will debut Marina, custom-built 65,000 tons and up to 1,250 guests. www.oceaniacruises.com

Princess Cruises is really using advanced technology to promote itself in a way that one could not even conceive ten years ago.  With the success of recent online dry dock journals for Golden Princess and Dawn Princess, the line has prompted yet another instalment for the current dockyard visit of Sea Princess.  Visitors to the website can follow along through to 25 September the ship receiving new interior furnishings and finishes, fresh hull paint and exterior refurbishment, plus the addition of the line’s adults-only Sanctuary.  The work is taking place at BAE Systems San Francisco Ship Repair at Pier 70.  Look in the “Ships” section www.princess.com

Seabourn is yet another cruise line using the wonders of the internet to promote a ship still under construction.  For those who have ever wondered how 32,000 tonnes of sheet metal, girders and fittings becomes one of the world’s most luxurious small cruise ships, the answer has arrived.  In anticipation of the 2010 launch of Seabourn Sojourn, currently under construction, The Yachts of Seabourn has released a remarkable video that charts sister ship Seabourn Odyssey’s 2½ year build, from a Genoa dockyard through to its launch in Venice this year, and all in just six minutes.  On line of course.  Seabourn Sojourn is the sister ship of Seabourn Odyssey, a six-star vessel launched earlier this year. To view the video visit the Youtube site

Thomson Cruises is to add Thomson Dream as its new flagship for the summer 2010 season.  Currently operating as Costa Europa, the ship will begin sailing under the Thomson banner in April 2010.  She will participate in a selection of Mediterranean itineraries, increasing Thomson’s highly successful Palma fly-cruise programme.  She will be adults-only during June and September, picking up where The Calypso, which leaves the fleet in October, left off.  The ship itself is bigger and more modern than anything Thomson Cruises has offered before.  Onboard features include five restaurants ranging from the 24-hour buffet to The Grill, an à la carte steakhouse.  The two-storey show lounge has a revolving stage and there are two swimming pools, one of which has a retractable roof. www.thomson.co.uk/cruises

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ five-star plus MS Europa will play host to a special UK group this October, for the first classical singing contest to be held at sea.  Organised by The Cruise People, the British party will enjoy the Stella Maris (Latin for Star of the High Seas) International Vocal Competition bringing together the world’s best up and coming young singers from eight international opera venues including the Royal Opera House in London, the Metropolitan Opera, New York and the Milan Opera House, La Scala.  It all takes place on a ten-day cruise sailing from Venice to Barcelona, 25 October – 4 November 2009. www.cruisepeople.co.uk

AMA is once again operating a series of Christmas market cruises down the Danube and finishing up at Prague (and in the other direction) from late November onwards.  It is a fine way to get in the holiday mood, but participants should be aware that whilst the river does not actually freeze, it is not warm either.  Dress up properly and you will really enjoy yourself.  Starting in Budapest (AMA includes most of the ‘off boat’ tours), historic Bratislava is followed by vibrant Vienna, bedecked for the festivities.  Salzburg is an option.  Next up is Melk, known for its famous Benedictine Abbey, and then picturesque Linz and Passau.  Disembarkation is at Nuremburg (including a fascinating city tour) and from there it is on to spectacular Prague (by coach), with its glimmering Christmas Markets. www.amawaterways.com

 

VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY


The name Roger Allard may ring a bell with more mature AERBT readers who were involved in the leisure sector of the aviation industry through the 1980s and 1990s.  As a founder partner of Owners Abroad, now as First Choice part of Tui, his great battles with David Crossland and Airtours are largely forgotten.

In 1993, by then Managing Director of Owners Abroad, Roger fell out with the board and took a sabbatical.  Various travel related ventures were tried and in 1997 he acquired the Discovery brand, turning a school ship operation into a cruise concept for those over 55.  Under the All Leisure flag he has not looked back, the company joining the AIM market in 2007 and now includes cruise brands Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic, Discover Egypt and the unique and very up-market Hebridean, which was acquired in the summer of 2009.

It’s off to Harwich

AERBT was invited to view the Discovery ship at Harwich, not a port familiar to your Editor, during a turnaround day in August.  Harwich is much the same distance from central London as Dover and Southampton but also has the advantage of a portside railway station with direct services from Liverpool Street.  Discovery also offers a coach service from central London, Birmingham and Manchester, as well as Luton and Stansted airports.  From anywhere on the M25 the run to Harwich Port is very easy, dual carriageway virtually all the way and parking on the quayside.  The small terminal (which includes a café) copes easily with the maximum 700 passengers the ship carries.

An interesting innovation, which has not been copied by other cruise lines but certainly works for Discovery, are open days.  During the UK summer season, with its fortnightly berthing at Harwich, prospective passengers are invited to come on board, view the ship, and have lunch.  The charge is £20 per person which includes parking and is redeemable if a booking is the result.  Up to 250 prospective clients can be accommodated and it certainly makes for a fine day out. 

“The Love Boat”

The Discovery silhouette may be familiar to some.  In an earlier life, as Island Princess, it featured in the successful American TV series “The Love Boat”.  That ran from 1977 until 1986 and in fact gives the game away to some extent.  Discovery is not the latest and greatest in cruise ship design but is a very pleasant throwback to an earlier age of deep sea wandering, extensively refurbished and brought up to date.  Discovery does not have balcony cabins but in most other respects it is contemporary.  It is fully air-conditioned, has both a spa and gym, and also an internet café.  

The ship has two (small) swimming pools, one protected by a sliding roof.  A 5,000 book library is provided and there is a dedicated bridge room.  While breakfast and lunch is very much casual, for the evening two sittings are offered and there is alternative dining in an area called the Yacht Club, which becomes a superior bar during the day, for which there is no supplementary charge.  A limited room service is available from 07:00 until 22:00.  Forget about tipping.  Discovery, just like with sister company Swan Hellenic, includes this embarrassing extra in the price.  The working currency is the pound sterling and bar and wine prices looked reasonable (unlike a recent trip with an American-based international operator). 

Let’s just say that children are not encouraged and there are no facilities for them, although a few cabins do have additional bunk beds.  Smoking is tolerated in certain open deck areas.

When it comes to the cabins there are essentially four grades starting with the inevitable “owners suite”, very comfortable and spacious.  The junior suite grade are all individual and in their own way reminiscent of Hebridean, without the classic drapes.  On the promenade deck the rooms are of a decent size and even as you go down deeper into the ship what is on offer is more than adequate.

The ship has a cinema on board, plus a spacious cabaret lounge and what is termed the Hideaway Bar nightclub.

What Explorer does offer is a whole series of lectures carefully tailored to fit each voyage and hosted by experts in their fields. 

After spending the summer based in Harwich the ship has now departed to the warmer Mediterranean and also the Black Sea before making its way through the Suez Canal, Mumbai, Singapore and Hong Kong, before more or less retracing its passage, with a huge diversion to Cape Town and back along Africa’s eastern coast, to arrive back in the UK at the end of May.  Cruise lengths range from 71 days Cape Town to Harwich, 65 days Barcelona to Hong Kong, and 24 days Venice to Istanbul.  Discovery very seldom goes directly anywhere.  It is small enough to get into ports and inlets impossible for bigger vessels.   The schedule generally breaks down into 14 day segments.  Air travel is by charter flight where the flight distance is less than 4.5 hours.  Otherwise scheduled services are used.

Discovery is very British and is also a leisurely operation.  Clearly it is aimed at a similar market as Saga with a ship maintained to the highest standards but dated in some ways.  AERBT was impressed on what was a short visit.  With Roger Allard as one’s guide it was always going to be entertaining.  Cruise prices are very competitive.  

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COMMENT: Air Travel and Formula One

It has been a good week and very bad week for Formula One (F1).  As noted in an AERBT news story below, besides holding the interest of many world travellers, it has also caught the imagination of the airlines with Brawn (Virgin Atlantic), Force India (Kingfisher) and now Lotus (AirAsia?) much involved.

On the positive front the fact that the once dominating team of Lotus is back can only be good news, however tinged with some words of caution.  After the premature death of its founder and inspiration Colin Chapman (1982) Lotus were never the same force in spite of engaging sometime World Champions Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Mika Häkkinen and Nelson Piquet, and winning the occasional race.  Team Lotus, by then no longer owned by the Chapman family, retired from F1 in 1994.

Parallel, as a completely separate car manufacturer and engineering company, Lotus continued, now owned by Proton of Malaysia.  A successful Lotus F1 team can only be good for Group Lotus, and for Malaysia.  Classic Team Lotus, based at the Hethel, Norfolk, home of the Chapman family, continues under the astute ownership of Clive, Colin’s son, a specialist motor racing team with a unique collection of F1 (and Indy) cars.

The big question for the Malaysians is will Lotus do a Jaguar?  That wonderful sports car racing team's resurrection in F1 under Jackie Stewart was not a success, indeed an expensive failure.  Stewart had not been able to make his own team work and even with Ford money did no better as Jaguar.  However sold on to Red Bull they are now amongst the front runners.  Starting an F1 team from scratch is not easy.  There would be embarrassment for all if Lotus failed.

That is good news.

The very bad news is the disclosure that Nelson Piquet jr crashed his Renault deliberately in last year's Singapore Grand Prix to further the cause of team mate Fernando Alonso.  The net result is that Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds have both been disgraced and it remains to be seen what the sports governing body (FIA) decides to do and whether Renault remains as a major participant in this the premier league of motor sport.

The real problem is such that all sports have their cheats and at all levels.  The path to glory is such that the make up of some people is that nothing will stand in their way.  History shows that cheating is nothing new in sport except that in this blatant case it was shown on world wide TV.  Marathon runners who took short cuts and used stimulants have been known for the 100 years that it has been a 26-mile event.  Ben Johnson is a classic case of cheating, and of course Maradona and “the hand of God”.  “Bloodgate” in rugby is still upon us.

There are cases of great sportsmanship.  Paolo Di Canio at West Ham some years back and more recently in the final test match at the Oval where an Australian signalled a four to England, which could have been the match winning runs.  He was wrong and the ball had not crossed the line.

One can argue that Michael Schumacher is not recognised as the supreme driver that he undoubtedly is because of his shenanigans against Jacques Villeneneuve and Damon Hill, in both cases stopping them from a potential World Championship win and furthering his own cause.

Let us hope that the Renault business is quickly sorted out and then largely forgotten.  And let us also hope that Lotus becomes a force once again in F1.  ACBC (Anthony Bruce Colin Chapman) will be smiling down from the great hangar in the sky.

Malcolm Ginsberg

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Airport parking costs

AIRPORT PARKING has come under scrutiny from the London Daily Express.  In a featured article last week the newspaper singled out London City Airport as the most expensive in the country, noting that it cost £186 to pre-book a car space for a week.  By just turning up it jumps to £252 or £504 for a fortnight.  To be fair to the airport the claim that it is encouraging people to use the excellent DLR from both north and south of the river is true with 63% of passengers arriving by that means, easily the highest rail/airport ratio in the country.  At Heathrow the pre-booked fee is £63.90, Gatwick is up to £62, and Luton £67.99.  The average across ten British airports is £45.  Vote seeking Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, who uncovered the figures, said: “What is the point of trawling the internet to get cheap air fares, only to get ripped off by excessive car park charges at our airports?”  See also Birmingham Airport station car park. www.londoncityairport.com

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Aviation Club

LORD ADONIS, UK Minister of Transport, gave a robust defence of the government’s position regarding the airline industry when he spoke to a very full house at London’s Aviation Club last week.  He said that Downing Street was committed to a third runway at Heathrow, and that the Cabinet would not change its mind over the APD duty rises due to be imposed twice before the end of next year.  Heathrow, he explained was crucial as a hub for railway development and he agreed that domestic air travel was an essential part of the UK’s transport infrastructure.  In a well delivered speech he defended any admission by the aviation sector to greenhouse gas emissions following last week's Committee on Climate Change warning that the industry will be the biggest contributor to global warming in the developed world by 2050.  Skilfully he dealt with a friendly grilling at the end of the speech dealing with four questionnaires at a time.  However, as was pointed out by the club's Chairman, Boeing’s Nick West, in a low key manner, he is essentially an academic, sitting in the House of Lords, and an expert in Education. www.dft.gov.uk

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Bristol Airport ownership

BRISTOL AIRPORT has a change of investors with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) acquiring a 35.5% shareholding from the Australian group Macquarie Airports (MAp).  OTPP has owned 14.5% of the airport since 2002, the other 50% being with Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund, which invests on behalf of a number of UK and international pension funds and institutions.  OTPP also owns about 48% of Birmingham Airport with a partner and 11% of Sydney Airport.  MAp has a 73% interest in Sydney Airport and 36% in Brussels Airport. www.bristolairport.co.uk

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Hotel prices drop

HOTELS.COM, in its latest hotel price index (HPI), has found that average room prices across the globe fell 17% in the six months to June compared to the same 2008 period.  Price levels are the same as 2003, as the economic crisis keeps away guests.  A large number of hotels also opened shortly before the financial doldrums, says the Dallas, Texas-based organisation, which is part of Expedia.  The HPI survey tracks real prices paid per hotel room rather than advertised rates at 78,000 hotels across 13,000 locations.  The latest index covers the period from January to June 2009.  Latin American hotels saw the steepest price fall year-on-year of 18%, as the H1N1 flu outbreak hit tourism hard, while North American hoteliers cut prices by 17%.  The average cost for a hotel room in a European hotel was 16% lower than a year before, the survey showed.  In Asia, where hotel prices had been holding up better than those in other regions, the decline in business travellers sent prices falling 17%.  Only hotels in the Caribbean appeared immune, reducing rates by just 1-2%.  Prices in Moscow dropped 50%. www.hotels.com

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Lotus, Formula One, and air travel

LOTUS is to return to Formula One after a 15-year break.  Team principal is Tony Fernandes, of the Malaysian airline AirAsia, who follows Sir Richard Branson (Brawn) and Vijay Mallya (Force India) as an airline boss deeply involved in motor sport.  Created by the charismatic Colin Chapman, Lotus produced World Champions Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochem Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti, and also won the Indianapolis 500 (Clark).  Whilst there appears to be no direct connection with the Group Lotus, which is controlled by Proton, clearly the Malaysian link is more than a coincidence.  The new Lotus Evora sports car is now reaching dealers and we hope to have a road test shortly.  AERBT's Editor in Chief Malcolm Ginsberg was Lotus Press and PR Manager during a period of both glory and tragedy. SEE THIS WEEK'S COMMENT www.fia.com

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Oman Air takes delivery

OMAN AIR has taken delivery of its first direct delivery Airbus A330-220.  The 20 Business Class seats offer fully lie-flat beds, electrically controlled backrests and legrests, buddy seats and 17-inch in-flight entertainment screens.  In economy a maximum 196 passengers have on offer adjustable headrests and footrests, individual 10-inch video screens and a generous 34-inch seat pitch.  Power is supplied by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines.  The aircraft is the first of seven to be delivered over the next two years.  The carrier will shortly instigate a Frankfurt to Oman route, followed by Paris and Munich. www.omanair.aero

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Visitor numbers decline

THE OFFICE FOR NATIONAL STATISTICS has released figures which show that the number of visits to the UK fell 9% in the last 12 months compared with a year earlier.  Arrivals by residents of Europe dropped 6% to 22.7m, while those from North America fell 21% to 3.4m.  Visits from other parts of the world fell 11% to 4.2m.  It was much the same in the reverse direction visits to Europe dropping by 12% to 49.6m, while visits to North America fell 19% to 3.9m.  The total number of overseas visits by UK residents fell by 12% to 63m in the 12 months to July, compared to the previous year.  But there are signs of a slight improvement, as during May to July 2009 the seasonally adjusted number of visits by overseas residents to the UK increased 2% to 7.7m when compared with the previous three months.  In August Heathrow had its busiest ever month. www.statistics.gov.uk

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HAPPY TALK: Or not so happy talk

This really happened last week on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Paris. 

It seems that a member of the crew accidently played a pre-recorded French speaking emergency ditching message which naturally caused alarm with those passengers who had some knowledge of the language.

Around 70 travellers from the land of the tricolour were reported to be "freaked out" on hearing the warning.

Once the cabin crew realised what had happened an apologetic further announcement was made.  In English naturally.

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ADS is a new name in aviation

SBAC (Society of British Aerospace Companies) was founded in 1916 and is a name synonymous with the British aerospace industry and the Farnborough Air Show.  It is no longer.  In fact Farnborough is now virtually an independent stand alone subsidiary.  Established formally on 1 October 2009 ADS (Advancing UK Aerospace, Defence and Security Industries) combines the SBAC, the Defence Manufacturers Association (DMA) and the Association of Police and Public Security Suppliers (APPSS).  The call is for ADS to collectively represent the United Kingdom on the world stage. www.adsgroup.org.uk

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Airport rail link scrapped

GLASGOW AIRPORT is to lose its proposed rail link after the scheme was jettisoned by the Scottish National Party government in its latest budget cut.  This has bitterly disappointed campaigners having pressed for its introduction over the past 20 years.  The 15-mile route, which would connect Central Station to the airport via Paisley, has been put on ice to save the Government an estimated £200m this year.  Already £47m has been spent on the link which was expected to be completed in time for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and was central to the bid.  Services on the route were expected to operate every 15 minutes. This leaves Prestwick as the only Scottish airport with proper rail connections.

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Birmingham Airport station car park

BIRMINGHAM INTERNATIONAL STATION CAR PARK, which is only the shortest of automated train journeys from the airport, opens today (Monday 21 September).  This expanded car park will provide an additional 835 parking spaces, making a total of 2,225 spaces available at the West Midlands station.  For the safety and security of users, the car park also has CCTV throughout with 24-hour recording.  A new charging structure is also being introduced, offering substantial discounts over the full day rate for off-peak and weekend users.  From 21 September all-day parking at Birmingham International will cost £8, and is the first increase in parking charges at the station for nearly five years.  New reduced off-peak parking charges will be available after 10:00 on weekdays and on Saturdays and Sundays costing £5 a day.  The car park has a ‘Pay on Foot’ payment system, where a ticket is issued on entry to the car park.  Payment must then be made at the machine prior to customers returning to their car to leave the car park. www.bhx.com

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Dubai gains Marriott

MARRIOTT is to be represented in an upscale manner at Dubai with the rebranding last week of the 52-storey Harbour Hotel & Residence at the entrance to Dubai Marina.  Following some modifications, primarily to its public space and reconfiguration of some rooms bringing the new accommodation count to 232 rooms, the property will be rebranded the Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites later this year and will be the first five-star Marriott-branded hotel in the city.  The agreement represents the second contract Marriott has reached with Emirates this year.  Earlier, the company signed an agreement with Emirates to operate the under-construction 1,614-room JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai. www.marriott.co.uk

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Kingfisher at Singapore

KINGFISHER AIRLINES has touched down at Changi, making its inaugural flight between Mumbai and Singapore last week.  It is the seventh new airline to commence operations to Changi Airport this year.  As previewed in AERBT the Indian carrier will operate daily Airbus A330-200 flights between the two major Asian centres.  These services will increase the number of flights on the Singapore – Mumbai sector by 25% to 70 per week, with five airlines, including Kingfisher, plying the route.  In 2008, there were 2.5m passenger movements between India and Singapore.  Eight airlines now fly between Singapore and 11 cities in India on 308 weekly scheduled flights.  India is Singapore’s fourth largest source of tourist arrivals by air. www.flykingfisher.com

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MyStay arrives

MYSTAY is the name of a new online hotel booking system introduced by Hotelscene, the corporate accommodation and meetings specialist.  Hotelscene’s current booking system, the award-winning Xtranet, has led the industry for a number of years and driven the highest levels of online adoption.  MyStay has capitalised on this know-how and now delivers a system that will raise the bar in terms of online adoption even higher – reducing client transaction fees and improving compliance levels for corporate clients.  MyStay uses advanced Web 2 technology and incorporates enhanced mapping systems, policy and profile integration and search results that are logical and intuitive.  Hotelscene says that only three clicks are required to make a booking for any number of people as a group booking.  MyStay is now being piloted with some select clients during September and a full roll-out starts in October. www.hotelscene.co.uk

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Routes a success

WORLD ROUTES, hosted in Beijing, broke all records last week.  The 15th World Route Development Forum welcomed more than 2,500 registered delegates, including over 200 airlines and up to 1,000 airport delegates.  Visitors also included the largest ever Chinese contingent with more than 800 from the host country.  After a difficult time, there were clear signals from both the Chinese airlines and the government that the regional carriers are now ready to expand again.  There were 75 tourism authorities in attendance, something of a breakthrough.  New for this year was a Route Exchange Chalet where carriers that had requested airport bids through Routesonline were able to hold pre-arranged meetings.  A “City Pair Zone” was also introduced where airports could meet with other airports to share market information and join forces to approach airlines.  Routes 2010 will take place in Vancouver 19-21 September. www.routesonline.com

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ON TOUR: Gibraltar

Since this is a cruise issue it did seem a good idea to also include an ON TOUR which highlighted a destination accessible from not only the sea, but land and air also.  And from two countries which must be pretty unique.

Gibraltar has been British since the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht when the Spanish signed it over “in perpetuity”.  Since those far off days Spain has from time to time got somewhat niggled about the tiny 2.6 square miles of land owned by another country (it is officially a British overseas territory and as such part of the European Union).  They really do not have grounds to complain as Spanish Ceuta and Melilla, physically linked to Morocco, likewise thrive as offshore enclaves.  Britain says it will hand over when the majority of its citizens vote that way.  At the last referendum 97% wanted the status quo to remain.

Problems with Spain

Over the years the Spanish have attempted to take over “Gib”, and in particular The Great Siege of 1779-1783 (more anon), but the pragmatic Fascist Franco refrained from marching on “The Rock” during WWII.

Seemingly the days of antagonism and border friction are over with work well on the way rebuilding the airport terminal incorporating a tunnel under the runway and new customs and immigration facilities. 

Gibraltar works on central European time, the same as Spain.  Portugal and UK are one hour behind.  One concession it could make without doing any damage at all is to change from right hand drive to left.  Virtually all the cars that are seen in the enclave (one suspects that the Governor’s vehicle has the chauffeur in the right hand seat) are of continental origin with the driver on the right.  It would be safer for all concerned, drivers and pedestrians alike, to change over.  And it would not cost much. 

Sterling is legal tender and is at parity with its Gibraltar namesake.


Arrivals

Arrivals by sea normally dock at the simple but effective cruise terminal which can easily take two large ships at once.  Taxis wait outside and a two-hour tour costs around £40 for four, good value with the drivers very knowledgeable and most skilled at navigating their way as high as it is possible to go up the actual Rock.  Negotiate if you want your driver to wait while you visit points of particular interest. 

Air services to Madrid were tried and failed several years back, but might work once the runway is sorted out.  BA and easyJet fly from Gatwick, while Monarch operates from Luton.  Malaga, 80 miles away, is an alternative.

From the cruise terminal and airport it is but a ten minute walk to Casement Square, the main socialising centre in the colony, with many, many cafes, restaurants and shops and the home of the local tourist board.  From the airport, once you are across the runway, the distance is much the same.


Not many hotels 


Your choice of hotels is limited.  There are five and none of them are large by international scale although the standards are excellent.  Many visitors stay in Spain and commute in. 

On Main Street is the four-star Elliot Hotel, 129 rooms, rooftop swimming pool and conference facilities.  Also four-star is the establishment offering, The Rock, close by the cable car and botanical gardens in a prominent position offering panorama views with lovely gardens and a swimming pool.  On the other side of Gib is the Caleta, 180 rooms, also four-star, more of a holiday hotel with a saltwater swimming pool and access to the beach.  The Queen's is a small purpose-built three-star establishment at the southern end of Main Street just outside the city walls.  The Continental is actually in Main Street and is a basic two-star operation with 17 simple rooms.

What to do is easy.  If you are at Gib for the day you can either shop (it is tax free and very cheap by current European standards) or, as mentioned, take a taxi tour.  Most people manage to somehow combine the two.

Your taxi trip will probably first take you to Europa Point at the southern most tip of the peninsula where there is a lighthouse and a Mosque to support the 2,000 Muslims who now live on the Rock.  The voting population is 14,000 out of 29,000 inhabitants in total.  The Jewish population is around 600 and there are four Synagogues.

From the lighthouse the next point of interest is the Moorish Castle which dates from the 13th century.


Great Siege Tunnels

From there it is along narrow and potentially dangerous roads up the Rock itself to either the Great Siege Tunnels or St Michael's Cave.  The tunnels were first excavated in around 1770 but were much extended by Canadian mining engineers during WWII and are said to extend 32 miles in length underground.  During the conflict they served as a command post, barracks and a hospital.  It is a fascinating walk and more and more are being opened up all the time.  Dress warmly. 

And the same goes for St Michael’s Cave, a natural phenomenon, which includes an auditorium and some tricky walking as you admire the numerous stalactites and stalagmites in the cave formed by an accumulation of traces of dissolved rock deposited by water dripping from the ground above.  For those with more time an introduction to caving and potholing is one of the activities organised by the tourist board. 

Just be careful with the Rock Apes.  Some of the world’s finest pickpockets!

The King’s Bastion Leisure Centre offers an array of leisure activities such as the King’s Bowl & Bar (14-lane bowling and four-lane junior bowling), the Rock Bastion Restaurant, the Amusement Arcade, an internet lounge, an ice rink with a 50-person capacity and two-screen cinema.

Nightlife in Gibraltar is limited although there are numerous bars and restaurants.  Ocean Village is a quality 24-hour casino and dining complex.

Gibraltar is probably best for a long weekend from the UK.  But if you are in Spain and anywhere near the A7/E15 costal motorway it is well worth a day’s visit. www.gibraltar.gov.uk

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