28 SEPTEMBER 2009

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Air Southwest Dash comes to the rescue

AIR SOUTHWEST “comes to the rescue” taking a leaf out of the Ryanair book after the Irish carrier abandoned its Stansted – Newquay route, blaming everyone else.  The Plymouth-based airline is pulling out all the stops to remind travellers to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that it now flies six times per day from London to both Newquay and Plymouth.  “And we don’t have any hidden extras,” says Managing Director Peter Davies who confirmed that the new London City route was performing to expectations without a big effect on the airline's long established Gatwick services.  The airline says it offers more destinations out of Newquay both in terms of destinations and flights than any other carrier. www.airsouthwest.com

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Bahrain International Air Show (BIAS)

BAHRAIN will break new ground next January with its very first international air show.  The site venue is within the immediacy of the Sakhir Airbase, the home of the F1 Grand Prix circuit.  Organised in conjunction with Farnborough International Ltd the show aims to be entirely different to anything else staged to date, a wholly new concept for the global aerospace community.  It is totally a business-to-business event catering for the civil, defence and business aviation markets.  BIAS has been masterminded to offer highly exclusive meeting opportunities with buyers and suppliers in the region as well as delegations from around the Middle East.  The show’s maximum 40 participating companies will be housed in luxury chalet units, complete with adjoining aircraft parks.  Already signed up are Bahrain Aerospace, BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter Textron Inc, Boeing, Cessna, EADS, Rolls-Royce, SELEX Sistemi Integrati (a Finmeccanica company), Sikorsky TAG Aeronautics Ltd, and recently, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation.  Gulf Air is the official air carrier. www.farnborough.com/Site/Content/bahrain

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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 room 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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JAL nears the brink

JAPAN AIRLINES (JAL) last Thursday 24 September bowed to the inevitable and asked the Japanese government for a bailout following massive losses, and the accumulation of some $15bn of debt.  The timing could not have been worse with the Democratic Party of Japan, created in 1996, recently kicking out the incumbent Liberal Democrat Party which has been in power for over 50 years.  The new Transport Minister immediately set up a task force to review the situation but also made it clear that cost cutting measures by JAL was not sufficient.  JAL shares dropped dramatically but bankruptcy seems to be ruled out.  Delta Air Lines and a rival group of carriers led by American Airlines are holding separate talks to invest in and deepen ties with JAL, eyeing growth in Japan and the rest of Asia.  There is also talk of splitting JAL into "good" and "bad" parts, similar to the restructuring of US car maker automaker General Motors. www.jal.com

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London has a new station

LONDON will have a new Overground station from Tuesday 29 September when Mayor Boris Johnson officially opens Imperial Wharf, Chelsea Harbour (Town Mead Road).  The station is part of the Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction line which also stops at Kensington Olympia and West Brompton (for Underground connections).  Currently there are three trains per hour.  The station is the first truly new station to open on London’s public transport network since Woolwich Arsenal on the DLR.  Over the next two years Mayor Boris Johnson will be kept busy with openings on the DLR and resurrected East London line. www.tfl.gov.uk

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Rail fares to drop

RAIL PASSENGERS are set to benefit from lower rail fares from January 2010 due to a drop of the Retail Price Index (RPI) to -1.4% in July this year.  On the majority of rail journeys fares are regulated by the Government.  Increases to most of those fares are capped at RPI+1% with the changes implemented in January, based on the previous July's RPI figure.  The Government has also taken away the flexibility for operators to raise individual regulated fares by up to 5% above the national fare change, protecting passengers from unduly steep rises in regulated fares next year.  Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said: “This is good news.  For the first time in a generation passengers across the country will see their fares fall.  Drops in fares should encourage more people to travel by train, which is good for the economy and the environment.” www.dft.gov.uk

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Travel sickness

TRAVEL SICKNESS is something that can affect the most seasoned traveller.  The results of a clinical trial published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that a product called Bimuno could help prevent some of the physical strains that have plagued business travellers for years, including travellers' diarrhoea.  Business travel is synonymous with tiredness, lethargy and stomach upsets.  Statistics show that business travellers, living off little sleep, early mornings; night-flights and convenience food, make up the 11m people a year who suffer with travellers’ diarrhoea that could benefit from taking the food supplement.  Current treatments only provide relief from the symptoms after they occur, but do not offer any prevention.  The supplement is sold as a stir-in powder in a sugar-size sachet. www.bimuno.com

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ON TOUR: Entry Level Jets

The entry level jets have arrived (ELJ).  Forget the term VLJ (very light jets).  This description does not go down well with banks and insurance companies, whose movers and shakers have never seen a jet of any shape or size, except perhaps an Airbus or Boeing on the way to a holiday. 

That perhaps was the most important message from a two-day conference at the recently renamed London Oxford Airport last week.  Promulgating this view was eminent aviation law firm Gates and Partners.  The lawyers, one of the sponsors of the gathering, did manage to persuade the delegates that next year's event should adapt the title Light Jets Europe.  With a brand new Embraer Phenom proudly sitting on the Oxford apron there was proof positive of the changing aviation scene, a very serious smaller jet produced by the world’s fourth largest aircraft manufacture.

The Phenom made its maiden flight in July 2007, and its first delivery in December 2008.  The 72nd aircraft leaves the factory later this week.

Times are tough

Times are tough for everyone, but particularly in the world of the business jet.  The Eclipse 500 ELJ went into service at the beginning of 2007, but by the middle of 2008 the company was bust with around 250 built.  Dayjet, its largest customer, did not last much longer and in September 2008 it too folded.

The two leading operators in the UK, London Executive Aviation (LEA) and Blink disagreed on the success of the industry’s newest genre to date.  Edwin Brenninkmeyer from Oriens Advisors, newly established specialist consultants in the VLJ market, stated that the VLJ sector was in a state of evolution, not revolution.  Eclipse is slowly coming back in the game with new investment bankers; Honda is entering it with its distinctive looking HondaJet set to start type certification flying in January 2010, but the two clear leaders in the sector are Cessna and Embraer with the Citation Mustang and Phenom 100, respectively.

Delegates heard that these small jet operators must realise they operate in a wider business aviation market which is supportive, but communication is all important.  Airports, said London Oxford’s Managing Director Steve Jones, need to know what they require; Eurocontrol needs to be able to integrate them into existing air traffic routes; training academies need to understand crew requirements, and operators, owners and purchasers must take the time to understand the complexity of the infrastructure around purchasing, operating and maintaining aircraft.

The principals of low cost airlines

While the ad hoc charter market focuses around regional operators, third party brokers and owner/manager relationships, the VLJ/air taxi model takes the principals of low cost airlines and applies this to business aviation.  Homogenous fleets, high utilisation spreading fixed costs and simple pricing, combined with strong direct relations with the client will ensure the long survival of these small business jet operators, delegates heard.  Blink’s CEO Peter Leiman said his company’s Cessna Citation Mustang jets were gaining high utilisation of up to 600 hours a year, well integrated into a network with bases now in London (Farnborough), the Channel Isles and recently Geneva. 

LEA, which combines the same type with six other larger business jets in its fleet, averages 346 hours annually with 1,854 flying hours a year in total on its Mustangs.  It has postponed and cancelled Mustang orders and does not believe everything is rosy in the garden. 

“The VLJ sector is still an unproven market.  The industry expectation several years ago that VLJs would bring low-cost business aviation has not happened,” said LEA CEO Patrick Margetson-Rushmore.  “The reality is that while operating VLJs costs less than operating larger business jets, it is by no means cheap.  In terms of price, we still have tough competition with aircraft such as the Cessna Citation CJ1 and CJ2, the Hawker Beechcraft Premier 1 and small turboprops.”  Having been a charter operator for 15 years, and a Mustang operator for two, Margetson argued that a hybrid approach for the LEA Citation Mustang, enabling a combination of owner, manager and charter usage was the way forward. 

Jetbird, a Cologne-based newcomer, (which has ordered 59 Phenom 100s) hopes to be operating this side of Christmas, pending confirmation of its Air Operating Certificate (AOC).  It has four aircraft in Brazil awaiting delivery, said Chief Executive Officer Stefan Vilner.  Vilner, one time former boss of the low cost airline Sterling, praised the attributes of the Phenom 100 as the aircraft to beat for its spacious cabin, design and its aft, enclosed lavatory.  With onerous commercial airline experiences, Jetbird anticipates an increasing number of airline passengers will move towards the air taxi model through the simple need to save time and work more efficiently. 

Cambridge Marshall Airport-based Ambeo, which received its first Cessna Citation Mustang earlier this year, announced the launch of a new partnership, the Jetworld Alliance, with Privatair of Switzerland and Sky Taxi of the Netherlands.  This innovative alliance sees Ambeo, Privatair and Sky Taxi joining forces to ensure the customer has access to all types of aviation requirements through one source and reflects the general consensus that each customer's requirements will be different.

First UK Phenom

Ambeo too is awaiting its AOC so it can commence revenue operations.  Meanwhile the UK’s FlairJet has a team of experts now preparing the manuals and pilots undergoing type rating so that after CAA inspection it can bring its first two aircraft back from Brazil.  Delegates heard that attaining this was not an easy road.  They were also warned of the tax implications and the danger of under insuring.  Operators were encouraged to seek professional advice at an early stage to avoid expensive and legal complication at a later stage. 

In an encouraging note, Joe Leader of the Air Taxi Association reported he recently met with the CEO and COO of British Airways and they were both interested and supportive of this business model.  Maybe one day British Airways will be embracing small business jets, just like Delta in the US and Lufthansa and Swiss International in Europe.  There was optimism too from Alex Hendricks, Deputy Director at Eurocontrol.  When the air transport industry starts to recover, business aviation will lead and these small jets, owing to their low costs, will be well placed to win market share.  He also highlighted, however, ahead of the Low Cost Airline Summit in Barcelona next week, that the budget airline market has seen its first fall off in traffic in 15 years. 


The 3rd annual VLJ Europe Conference was organized by MIU Events.
www.miuevents.com

Alison Chambers
Emerald Media
alison@emeraldmedia.co.uk

Photos mainly by James Bourne

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COMMENT: Air France breakthrough and British Airways gamble?

Air France (AF) last week in Paris previewed what might be the biggest breakthrough in airline passenger comfort and marketing since Virgin Atlantic introduced Upper Class back in 1986.

“Premium Voyageur” is an Economy Plus product featuring a shell seat.  In practical terms this means that the occupant in no way impinges on those in front or behind.  Overnight “Premium Voyageur” makes virtually all other premium economy products obsolescent.  The seat pitch is 38” and the width 19”.  The detail is clever too with well thought out storage space for bottles or water, a decent size table and noise reduction headphones. (see below)

It all adds up to something those in economy can aspire to, and passengers whose budgets in these difficult times will not stretch to Business Class can enjoy.

There can be no doubt that introducing a breakthrough new product at this time is something of a gamble.  With the notable exception of beleaguered Japan Airlines no other carrier has as yet introduced such an advanced Economy Plus product.  Virtually all are just more spacious lean-back economy seats with various extras added.  Is the JAL experience a bad omen?

It will take AF 15 months to complete the 76 aircraft fleet upgrade, quite quick by airline standards.  A week is needed in the hangar for each aircraft but this will in most cases be accommodated during a planned service visit.

The new class replaces 40 economy seats on the Airbus A330/340 and Boeing 777 fleets with between 21 and 28 of the new B/E Aerospace units.  The Boeing 747 is being phased out and with the Airbus A380 the first four aircraft will be retrofitted at a later date.

When the project was conceived in 2007 we were still in boom times and the plan was to convince Economy Class passengers that the 40/50% extra on the fare was attractive.  It was to be a real revenue generator for the airline.  Fate has proved otherwise and now the thinking is that it can attract the corporate flyers and SMEs who are being forced into the back of the aircraft. 

Compare the AF gamble, across the whole fleet, and the British Airways venture with its London City – New York two aircraft operation, which Willie Walsh himself will see off on Tuesday 29 September, hammering his flag to the LCY masthead. 

The BA venture competes with its own New York services out of Heathrow T5 and can be expected to dilute the Club World load factor at a time when all carriers are struggling for revenue.  No airline has yet made a 32-passenger jet profitable.  BA is relying on the Canary Wharf traffic and its contracts with the banks to ensure that the planes are filled.  There should be no problems out of Kennedy where if you miss the aircraft there are plenty of alternative flights.  At London City if you fail to arrive within 15 minutes of take-off it is either a rush over to Heathrow or you could try a Continental gateway.  Open Skies, a similar BA operation but with larger aircraft out of Orly to New York, is reputed to be losing money.

We wish both airlines success with their gambles.  One is for 1,800 seats and is very likely to be copied.  The other is just two aircraft that could be moved elsewhere if it all goes wrong.  It is unlikely to be imitated.

We will follow each with interest.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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BA to charge for seat selection

BRITISH AIRWAYS is to charge customers for seat selection.  From 7 October 2009 BA is launching a service to give customers more control over their seating options.  Passengers will now be able to select their seats when booking and secure, for instance, exit row positions for a fee.  The previous arrangement however is still in place whereby during the 24-hour window before a flight a seat can be selected.  The new arrangement is ideal for those who want a specific seat and are prepared to pay for it, for example the popular “bubble” in the 747, or a (family) group booking.  Customers wishing to secure seats from when they book their tickets and up to 24 hours in advance of travel will pay £10 per person per sector in Euro Traveller and domestics, £20 per person per sector in Club Europe, World Traveller, and World Traveller Plus and £60 in Club World.  On a long haul return flight to say Hong Kong next year the extras can come to £300 including taxes!  For four the total cost in World Traveller could be £160 on a trip to say Tel Aviv.  Executive card holders can still book their place in advance with the compliments of the airline. www.ba.com

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Business Travel Awards

BUSINESS TRAVELLER unveiled its annual awards at the London Hilton Park Lane last week.  Guest of honour was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Jo Brand provided ten minutes of comedy (Julian – please give her a little more time if she is invited back next year) and the British Airways cabin staff team and those from Virgin Atlantic shared the same table.  We wonder what the conversation was all about?  There were no big surprises.  Emirates gained the best First Class prize, clearly voters were impressed with the shower; Singapore for Business Class and British Airways at the back end.  All in all there were 48 categories including hotels, airports (Singapore yet again), car rental, and baggage (won by Samsonite).  For the full list see www.businesstraveller.com/awards2009

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easyBus at Gatwick

EASYBUS, will be the only direct public transport link from Gatwick's North Terminal to London for the next seven months, when the airport's terminal transfer transit is out of service for a major overhaul lasting well into the summer of 2010.  BAA Gatwick are quoting connecting times of 20 minutes for the replacement bus service to the South Terminal.  easyBus journeys can take less than an hour to London, though longer times can be expected during busier periods.  The London terminal is Fulham Broadway station, on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line and is close by Chelsea football ground.  The easyBus fares are substantially cheaper than those offered by the rail companies.  Services operate up to every 20 minutes from a stop which is just seconds from the arrivals hall in the North Terminal. www.easybus.co.uk

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Jet goes daily to Hong Kong

JET AIRWAYS is to launch a daily service to Hong Kong from Delhi from Wednesday 30 September.  This complements the existing service between Mumbai and Hong Kong.  The flight is just over five hours and is operated by an Airbus A330 with 30 'Première' class (Business Class) seats with 180-degree flat beds.  The aircraft is laid out in a unique herringbone configuration that ensures easy aisle access from every seat, along with a 'flying office' capability including laptop power, telephony, SMS, email and live text news.  It is effectively 1+1+1. www.jetairways.com

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Mexicana joins oneworld

 

MEXICANA, which claims to be the leading airline of Mexico and Central America, will become part of oneworld from 10 November.  Its subsidiaries MexicanaClick and MexicanaLink will join oneworld at the same time.  Russia's leading domestic carrier S7 Airlines is on track to join during in 2010.   MexicanaGO Conquer and Explore cardholders will have oneworld Emerald and Sapphire status respectively, gaining them access to some 550 airport lounges worldwide offered by the alliance's airlines.  With MexicanaClick and MexicanaLink, it serves 14 countries and 67 destinations – 37 of them in Mexico. www.mexicana.com

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Ryanair could pay a dividend

RYANAIR’S Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary hinted at last week’s Dublin Annual General Meeting that the airline might for the first time ever actually pay a dividend.  The budget airline is sitting on a cash pile of €2.5bn (£2.3bn) but has always frowned upon actually paying out to investors, shareholders relying on the market price to rise to make a return.  Over the last 24 months this has varied from €5.5 to €1.8 and currently stands at around €3.5.  Mr O’Leary predicts total carryings to be around 66m, slightly down on the previous year and is vague about profits, the band being between €200m and €300m.  He now seems to be in favour of the EU Lisbon treaty upon which the Irish are shortly to vote upon (2 October).  He remains sceptical for the future of Aer Lingus where he holds 29% of the votes. www.ryanair.com

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Virgin helps with visas

VIRGIN ATLANTIC passengers can now organise their travel documents at the same time as their flight tickets through a partnership the airline has made with CIBT, the largest global provider of visa and passport services.  For most countries in the world that Virgin fly to, including African destinations, Australia, China and India, clients only need to complete the on-line instructions to start the paper raising process.  Arrangements differ for each country and some passports will be required to be sent in, while with others, typically Australia, it can be done directly on the screen. www.virgin-atlantic.com

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HAPPY: TALK: What is a suspension?

Following last week’s COMMENT regarding Renault we now gather that the Formula One constructor is barred from motor sport, with the punishment suspended for two years.

AERBT asks that does this mean that if Renault fails with an organised crash within 24 months (ie shows good behaviour) it will then be free to have an “accident” again?

Think about it.

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Air France jumps ahead with premium economy

AIR FRANCE (AF) chose the International French Travel Market (IFTM) in Paris last week to introduce its new “Premium Voyageur” economy plus product, a quantum leap ahead of anything offered to date by its European and Middle Eastern competitors.  The main feature of the seat is that it comes as a shell unit, meaning that the back is fixed and can be used as an amenity provider for the passenger sitting behind without it impeding that person.  The seat reclines 123 degrees with the cushion, backrest and footstool all manoeuvrable and includes a folding table (with a cut out for large stomachs).  It is all very well thought out.  With “Premium Voyageur” you get a priority check-in but no access to the lounge (a payment scheme is being considered and various card holders are allowed in), and the same meals as economy.  The new seats will be launched on the New York service on 25 October quickly followed by the other major trunk routes. www.airfrance.com

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Baggage fees bring in the revenue

BAGGAGE FEES are a controversial subject in the UK but an indication of their value can be gauged by figures published by the US Department of Transportation for the second quarter.  Airlines in the United States collected $669.6m in fees for the period, nearly four times more than the amount gathered in the same period last year and up 18.2% from January to March.  The biggest revenue generator was American Airlines with $118.4m with Delta Air Lines (not including Northwest) just $86,000 behind and US Airways at $104.1m.  AirTran led the way with the low cost fraternity at $40.5m. www.dot.gov

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Clean air for BAE

BAE SYSTEMS has joined forces with Quest International UK to introduce to the world’s airlines the AirManager, a radical new active air management system, which, it is claimed, sets a new standard for exceptionally clean air on board aircraft.  The system was initially developed in the late 1990s, for use in the health sector.  Since then some 5,000 units have been supplied to hospitals, nurseries, veterinary premises, quarantine centres and many other sectors.  It uses a revolutionary development called CCFT (Close Coupled Field Technology) which is a contained and safe electrical field that eliminates smells, and breaks down and destroys airborne pathogens, contaminants and toxins. www.airmanager.com

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Etihad moves Heathrow terminals

ETIHAD is to move its flights from T3 to T4 at Heathrow on Wednesday 30 September and at the same time open a new premium lounge at the airport.  First and Business Class customers and Etihad Guest Gold and Silver card holders will have access to the new amenity, conveniently located opposite the gates most commonly used by the airline.  The facilities provided include a Six Senses Spa which will offer facials, foot and leg massages.  Customers can also enjoy five-star dining from an open kitchen.  Etihad Airways unveiled its first new premium lounge outside the UAE in July 2009 in Frankfurt.  From Heathrow Etihad currently flies three times daily to Abu Dhabi with connections to many points further east. www.etihadairways.com

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KLM reduces schedules

KLM is to reduce capacity this winter by just 2% while maintaining the number of destinations and connectivity.  All services relate to Amsterdam.  There are no big surprises.  The Liverpool operation, which commenced in the summer, will be continued three times daily, while flights to Tallinn and Riga will remain suspended.  The airline continues to focus on China, the strategic growth market, by way of 12 weekly services to Shanghai, twice weekly to Chengdu, and daily to Hong Kong.  Beijing remains as was at 12 per week including partner airline China Southern.  KLM will maintain five weekly services to Panama.  The daily service to Lima will continue but São Paulo goes down from seven to six weekly services.  Routes to African destinations and North America have been slightly changed and prospective passengers should look at the detailed schedule. www.klm.com

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Park Lane hotel rebuilds

LONDON’S FOUR SEASONS hotel in Park Lane is now in the middle of a major rebuilding programme expected to be completed before the end of next year.  This follows recent upgrades for the nearby Grosvenor House and Intercontinental hotels.  What they all have in common is the same architectural team leading the project, ReardonSmith, also London-based.  For the Four Seasons, built as Inn on the Park in 1970, the building has been entirely stripped back to its structure, heralding a major upgrading of all services, substantial internal re-planning and a two-storey extension to the north-west elevation together with a rooftop extension.  Internally the hotel will be unrecognisable.  The eight floors of guestrooms are all being re-configured to achieve a wide range of bedrooms and suites, including 53 rooms providing a large wet room rather than a bathroom with tub.  There will be 20 Conservatory Suites and Guestrooms with four of the suites overlooking Hyde Park, each with a garden terrace.  The roof of the north-west extension will provide a magnificent terrace for what will be one of the most sought after suites in London, the Four Seasons London’s new Executive Suite. www.reardonsmith.com

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South West Trains continues with catering

SOUTH WEST TRAINS has announced plans to continue to provide an at seat catering service on selected trains, following the signing of a new contract with catering supplier, Rail Gourmet.  Catering will be available seven days a week on over 1,100 train services travelling between London Waterloo and Portsmouth, Bournemouth or Exeter (via Salisbury).  The offer will consist of hot and cold drinks, alcoholic drinks, sandwiches, confectionary, and snacks with a complimentary tea and coffee service being offered to First Class customers on trains arriving into London before 10:00 Monday to Friday. www.swtrains.co.uk

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West Atlantic and Smart cargo

WEST ATLANTIC, created last year with the amalgamation of Britain’s Atlantic and Swedish operator West Air, is Europe’s largest regional cargo airline.  Russell Ladkin, Sales and Operations Director, had a problem it seems.  His new Smart Car was needed in Gothenburg quickly from Coventry and he didn't fancy a sea voyage being a total aviation man.  Problem solved.  A quick exercise with a tape measure and "yes" it fits inside one of the airline’s 41 ATP aircraft!  At 730kg the weight was no problem either.  And the 5’ 1” x 5’ 1” cross section of the car easily fitted into the hold of the aircraft which is 6’ 9” wide (minimum) and 6’ 3¾” high.  Russell tells AERBT that he is thinking of applying to the Guinness Book of Records as potentially the world’s fastest Smart Car.  That is until someone checks if it will fit into the lower hold of a VIP Boeing 747. www.westatlantic.com

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