12 OCTOBER 2009

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Air India fights on

AIR INDIA really does seem to be in the wars, and following a week of strikes and disruptive action it seems that some flight staff have been involved in a bit of a serious tiff.  Quoting the Delhi police, Commander Ranbeer Arora and Captain Aditya Chopra were accused of trying to "molest" a female flight attendant who resisted their advances and was then thrown out of the cockpit.  Another crew member intervened and a fight allegedly ensued.  The pilots told police it was a male cabin crew member who had begun to "misbehave" and compromised safety, prompting the fight.  The flight attendant's claims, say the pilots, were cooked up to protect her fellow cabin crew member.  The net result of all this bother is that the aircraft, an Airbus A320 from Sharjah, landed safely in Delhi and all the crew members involved have been grounded.  There were 106 passenger witnesses to the incident. www.airindia.com

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BAA September figures

BAA LTD passenger figures for September showed that the British airline market remains resilient, Heathrow in particular doing better than its near Europe competitors with a loss of just -0.3%.  Overall BAA handled 13m passengers down 2.6% on last year, but the fall was unevenly spread around the country.  Edinburgh’s numbers were up by 3.8% whilst Glasgow lost 8.9%.  Gatwick's passenger numbers were marginally down by 0.5% but this represented the airport's best performance since May 2008 as domestic and European scheduled markets showed strong growth, an encouraging sign for any new owner.  See Gatwick sale.  At Stansted the low cost brigade is managing the numbers very well with both capacity and passenger throughput down, but by much the same level, in the 11% region. www.baa.com

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British Airways and the Unions

BRITISH AIRWAYS continues to be in the news but not necessarily for the right reasons with passenger boardings down and the Unions on the warpath.  Travel numbers fell 1.7% last month but punctuality was the best since January 1994 with more than 50% of flights actually departing early.  While numbers travelling in economy class seats rose 0.7% last month, premium traffic (Business Class and First Class) was down 7.9%. 

The BA policy with the media is now not to issue a statement but to have one available on request.  This is OK during office hours but does not necessarily fit 24-hour journalism.

“The aviation industry remains in the worst downturn in its history.  IATA anticipates that the industry will make a £7bn loss this year.

British Airways is currently not profitable and we expect to record a significant loss for the second consecutive year – the first time that has happened in our history.

Revenues are down, so we must reduce costs to restore profitability.

Thousands of staff across the airline have already made contributions to the cost-reduction programme.

We have been talking to the cabin crew unions since the start of the year, but have made little progress on the contribution they might make.

We have extremely professional cabin crew.  However, we cannot ignore the fact that our Heathrow-based cabin crew costs are much higher than those of our Gatwick-based crew and of our competitors.  About 1,000 members of cabin crew would like to take voluntary redundancy and a further 3,000 would like to switch to part-time working.  To facilitate these requests (which represent 1,700 MPE positions in total), we must make changes to the way crew work.

We have consulted on these changes and are not altering anything that requires negotiation.

These changes will take place from the end of November.  They will not alter contractual terms and conditions for individual crew members, and will not reduce the number of working crew onboard.

Offering high-quality customer service will remain our focus and our most senior cabin crew will become an integral part of the service onboard.

Without changes, we will lose more money with every month that passes.  It is essential we make ourselves more efficient if we are to ensure our long-term survival.”


Unite followed with a statement alleging that it offered £140m in savings and accusing BA of management failure.  Previously it had attacked the airline concerning the image being put forward on the commercial front.  BA has retorted that it will speak to Unite but is pressing ahead with its plans. www.ba.com www.unitetheunion.com

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Gatwick sale

GATWICK AIRPORT, part of BAA Ltd owned by Spain's Grupo Ferrovial, could soon be sold according to a report by Reuters News Agency.  A consortium led by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) is said to be close to buying London's second international gateway for up to €1.8bn.  Ferrovial put the airport up for sale last year pre-empting an instruction by the Competition Commission to do so.  GIP owns London City Airport.  It is thought that an announcement is imminent and will be made prior to a commission hearing due 19 October. www.global-infra.com

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Iceland Express introduces cheap New York flights

ICELAND EXPRESS is to introduce a four times a week service from Reykjavik’s Keflavik International Airport to Newark New York next June.  The Boeing 757 operation will link up with flights out of the United Kingdom from Gatwick Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday leaving 12.05 and arriving 17.40 (locally).  The return leaves 20.30 and arrives 10.55 the next day.  Following the demise of Zoom, Iceland Express will be the only scheduled low cost operator across the North Atlantic, with the exception Air Transat to Canada. www.icelandexpress.com

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Manchester to Geneva

SWISS is to introduce a Saturday and Sunday two-class service between Manchester and Geneva from 20 December which will run until 11 April, the skiing season.  The flights will compete with the established easyJet daily operation.  The airline points out that it does not charge for the transport of snowsport equipment.  The new operation takes the weekly Swiss flights out of Manchester to 26.  Avro RJ100s are used for the services. www.swiss.com

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W arrives at Barcelona

BARCELONA has a new commanding presence on its shoreline.  The stunning 27-storey high W Hotel has opened on a site overlooking the main harbour area.  Featuring 473 guest rooms, 67 suites, two WOW suites and one Extreme WOW suite the sail shaped building is capped by the rooftop Eclipse bar offering fabulous views over one of Europe’s most dynamic cities.  The hotel also features SWEAT state-of-the-art fitness facility and various lounges and quality restaurants.  It is likely to become the sort of property that comes to life in the small hours and a major attraction for the city. www.whotels.com/barcelona

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


Forget anything you have read about the new Lotus Evora being a four seater.  Yes it is possible to sit a midget in the back, or a pair of short children provided the front seats are fully forward, but it is less of a 2+2 than the old stretched Elan of fond memories.  The Evora is a true grand touring car, a product with a quality feel about it, and the sort of high speed cross country express that Colin Chapman (ACBC), founder of the company, would have been very proud of. 

Yet it is docile, not perhaps a true town car, but fully capable of a comfortable ride down London’s Oxford Street.

The Evora is also a fine tribute to Mike Kimberly, Chief Engineer under ACBC, just retired and the man who brought the car to production.

Your Editor (who admits to being the Lotus Press Officer in years gone by) has finally got his hands on this most elusive of 2009 products courtesy Hadley Wood Garage at Barnet, more noted as Bentley and Jaguar experts but currently the only Lotus dealer north of the Thames.  A longer evaluation is required, and extra writing space, and therefore this review is no more than first impressions, but first impressions count.

And the first impression was of sheer quality, the car turned out in black, reminiscent of the JPS Formula One Lotus of old.  Leather seating too.

Getting in is in fact easy if you know the technique.  All the toys are available.  Full air conditioning, reversing camera, excellent radio by Alpine, powered folding mirrors, Bluetooth and GPS navigation.  A six speed manual gearbox is the norm although we are assured by next year the superb ZF paddle change system will be available.

The car is easy to drive, feels taught, and as one would expect with a Lotus, handles like a dream.  It is very quick.  There is room in the boot for a golf bag and plenty of space for putting soft cases in the rear accommodation.  It seems to be built to last and whilst the superficial body is reinforced fibreglass you are in fact sat within an extremely strong bonded aluminium tub.

Where Lotus do really score is the price.  With just about everything on it the Evora is yours for a shade over £62,000.  Porsche 911 prices start at that point, although of course there is the less ambitious and cheaper Boxer range.  Aston’s begin at £83k, TVR has gone out of business, and the much larger Maserati coupe comes in at around the same cash outlay as the basic Aston. 

And it looks absolutely stunning.  2,000 are expected to be built in the first year with plenty going abroad.  If the Lotus F1 car works it will do the company no harm.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

 

IN BRIEF followed by this month’s road test, the Land Rover Discovery 3

AUDI: Now on sale is an ultra-economical version of the Audi A4 based on 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine developing 134 bhp and claimed to provide a combined consumption of 61 mpg and 120 kg Co2 emissions.  Features include stop-start and energy recuperating systems.  Price is from £23,340.

FORD: Over 500,000 Ford Ka models have been sold in the UK since the funky 3-door car was launched in 1996; 90% to private buyers.  The total includes 11,000 of the Fiat 500-based second generation model, introduced in January of this year.

MICHELIN: The 2010 edition of Michelin’s Eating Out in Pubs guide is now in bookshops, priced at £14.99.

PEUGEOT: The new Peugeot 5008 compact MPV model will go on sale in January priced from £16,895.

TOYOTA: Upgrades but not price hikes have been announced to the Yaris compact hatch back range which also includes the introduction of a new TR version using the top T Spirit specification 8-spoke alloy wheels and featuring an extensive specification.  Price is from £10,280 for the 1.0 VVTi petrol 3-door version.  A £715 safety package has also been introduced for the Yaris range, includes knee and curtain air bags and Traction and Stability Control systems.

VAUXHALL: New simplified extended warranty packages have been introduced.  Cover is purchasable for cars up to ten years old and up to 100,000 miles.  Also introduced is a 25-point winter safety check and top-up service through the Vauxhall dealer network at £35.  The package includes a free Winter Car Pack valued at £12.

VOLKSWAGEN: Hard on the heels of the sales launch of the 5-door VW Polo range, comes the announcement of a 3-door version aimed at a wider customer audience with prices starting from £9,435 on the road – a saving of £600.



LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 3 - 2.8 TDV6 HSE 
“SHEER COMPETENCE AND CIVILITY”


What an eye-opener!  That’s my verdict on the latest Land Rover Discovery, currently in its third generation form since late 2004 and convincing me that its is probably the best large 4x4 Sports Utility Vehicle that money can buy.

My surprise has been a result of extensive experience with earlier Discovery models which clearly prioritised off-road capabilities but disappointed me in various aspects including comfort and on road refinement.

In the boom times I can appreciate that a lot of emphasis was on the flagship Range Rover products which remains the jewel in Land Rover’s crown though I suspect that there are not so many customers able or willing to run to the price of that particular jewel and this is where the Discovery 3 comes to the fore.

I can dismiss memories of the rather spartan and workmanlike interior of the earlier cars, the discomfort of the short cushioned and upright rear seats and the energy sapping effort it took to cruise at motorway paces.  A price a lot of customers were willing to pay to obtain one of the best off-roaders in the world regardless of whether their off-roading was little more than a bit of kerb-bashing in the quest of a city parking space!

Here is a totally different product, much more purposeful and sophisticated than its predecessors in external looks, impressively appointed inside and oh so civilised on the road!

Major contributors to this amazing machine are the super refined V6 turbo diesel that delivers a highly flexible 190 bhp in such a silent manner that it is hard to realise that it is a diesel unit, plus the immensely competent and so easy to use ZF 6-speed selectable automatic gearbox (a manual unit is also available), the fully independent smooth riding suspension and the positive yet light acting steering system.

Controllability is the word I would choose when using this Discovery on the road (yes, I have experienced some serious off-roading in Spain last year where the terrain including boulder-strewn river beds, the vehicle taking it in its stride) whether that is driving around town or cruising on the motorways.  So easy, so civilised, so comfortable.

What I think is important is the tidy way this Discovery conducts itself, the view from the ergonomically efficient driving position is more than reasonable for this type of vehicle, the main obstruction being the rear headrests. Nothing cumbersome about this 4x4!

I did not take more than a moment to appreciate the quality and functionality of the interior trim and equipment, a little longer to realise that this particular version came with the optional and very easy to operate third row of seats.  Here is a genuinely comfortable 7-seat vehicle with reasonable access to all passenger seats.

By locating the full-size spare wheel under the rear floor the designers have been able to incorporate a split tailgate that ensures easy use of the generous luggage capacity (as a 5-seater) rendering this one of the most practical and user friendly SUV’s to come my way.

Driving performance is the name of the game with this type of car and a claimed top speed of 112 mph and 60 mph reached in an acceptable 11.7 pretty good when allied to a fuel consumption around the 30 mpg mark.

When it comes to equipment and appointments this Discovery has moved from the executive class into the premium class, the excellent build quality being complemented by a high protective safety package, smart trim materials (including on the test car leather upholstery), an idiot-proof navigation system, a versatile air conditioning system that treats all occupants as equals, a powered sunroof and an audio system that should satisfy the purists.

To cap it all, my wife enjoyed reclining in the well cushioned rear seat and watching one of her favourite television programmes!

I suggest anyone seeking this sort of vehicle, who is sagely intent of a sound deal should experience the Discovery 3, it opened my eyes!


Main Rival: Audi Q7 3.0 V6 Clean diesel TDI £44,495.

STAR RATINGS

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 9
Noise 9
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 9
Accommodation 9
Styling 8
Brakes 9
Finish 9

TOTAL: 89%

 

 

 

 

Price: from £45,725

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COMMENT: Panorama v Ryanair

Tonight (Monday 12 October) Panorama, the BBC’s flagship investigative programme, offers what it calls “a flight with Ryanair”, noting that it is a little Irish airline that has grown very, very big. 

The one thing Michael O’Leary, the boss of the Dublin-based airline, loves more than anything else is publicity, preferably for free. 

AERBT has a conspiracy theory that the fuss he is now orchestrating is nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of the Panorama investigation, but is just another astonishing ploy to generate media exposure for the carrier.  His thinking is that the more people who watch Panorama the better it is for him. 

Note that as this COMMENT is written no Court action has been suggested.

The real question is whether Ryanair is the world’s most loathed airline, or as Mr O’Leary seems to think, the world’s most popular? 

In an attempt to take an objective view of Ryanair one has to say that much of its creativity and innovations have been for the good of the airline industry and its customers, but by the same token the crude way these have been fashioned has left a bad taste.  Michael O’Leary’s language at times has been disgusting although it has to be noted that now he is a father he has toned down his act. 

He has driven a coach and horses through regulations and, in the manner of Sir Alex Ferguson, is never wrong (but will Ferguson fall down this time?).  And taking the football theme a little further he follows the Arsène Wenger philosophy of being blind to comments and very, very prone to exaggeration. 

A press release from Ryanair should be considered regarding reality, “a twice daily service”.  This is an actual fact and not embroidery.  “The new route will produce 10,000 jobs” is nonsense.  Some newspapers will publish these so-called specifics.  His attacks on other airlines are not, in the main, justified.

Michael O’Leary took his model from the late Tony Ryan whose philosophy was to build Guinness Peat Aviation into such a large aircraft leasing company that when things went wrong it was too complex to be dismantled.  This seems to be the same with Ryanair.  Love it or hate it, it is probably here to stay. 

The idea of using out of the way airports desperate for custom has worked.  180-seat aircraft as against 150-seat passenger planes (easyJet) with the same basic cost structure has worked.  The refusal to use air-bridges has worked (for the airline) even if the passengers get soaked in bad weather.  The total dependence on the internet has worked (once again for the airline).

Where Ryanair has been able to score over its British rivals is the fact that while its main hub has been Stansted, it is not subject to the same regularity authority or costs.  One wonders if a UK toxic accountant were to take a close look at the finances what they would come up with?  It has never paid a penny to shareholders.

Could you imagine Richard Branson taking space in the Irish Times to criticise the Taoiseach?

Is Ryanair the world’s most hated airline, or as the passenger figures would seem to indicate Europe’s most popular carrier?
 
AERBT does not like flying on Ryanair and will only take its services if there is no alternative.  It is certainly not the cheapest carrier and boarding can be a danger and should be investigated by health and safety.  One cannot relax until one is actually seated.  Its safety standards are as good as any airline and it is not subject to the arcane staffing problems that BA continues to perpetuate (and even encourage).

Panorama has a role to play as a leading TV programme of its genre.  Nothing wrong with that.  Let it prove that Ryanair is the world’s most hated airline.  The fact that passengers vote with their feet is a nonsense.  Crowds always follow a demagogue.  History tells us so.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Airborne phones get cleverer

AEROMOBILE, the in-flight mobile communications provider, has unveiled an in-flight mobile phone portal and is pushing hard for airline contracts.  It says the kit will bring a wide range of applications and value to passengers, drive greater ancillary revenues and allow airlines to differentiate themselves.  The onboard portal is compatible with Inmarsat Classic Aero, SwiftBroadband and Ku band aircraft communication technologies.  Content such as MP3s, games, and sports and music video clips can be downloaded from the portal, which would be branded in an airline’s colours.  The portal can also be used to display specific advertisements, for networked gaming, and to provide enhanced customer relationship management services such as connecting gate information and access to frequent flyer data. www.aeromobile.net

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Bangkok Airport gets rail link

BANGKOK’S high speed light rail link from Suvarnabhumi, the new international airport, towards the city, is now expected to open 5 December.  But as they say “don’t hold your breath”.  The airport set new records for delays and even when it opened some domestic flights were relocated.  All that is behind Suvarnabhumi now and reports indicate that the airport itself is working fine.  Two lines have been completed, one 15-minute non-stop to Makkasan, which is still a taxi ride to some of the downtown hotels, and a stopping operation, taking twice as long, to Phaya Thai Station, again some distance from the commercial area.  AERBT will be reviewing the rail links once they are opened.  www.bangkokairportonline.com

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Denver gets busy

DENVER, number ten in the 2008 world ratings regarding throughput, has had its busiest August ever, just under 4.9m passengers, an increase of 2.3% over last year.  This in spite of the American economy which continues to be “sluggish”.  The airport says that overall it will finish very slightly down over last year, both July and August were positive months, countering a downward trend since December 2008.  The city of Denver, capital of Colorado, is not big by American standards with a population of just over half a million.  It is situated one mile above sea level. www.flydenver.com

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Hamburg gains new hotel

HOLIDAY INN, part of InterContinetal Hotel Group (IHG), is pressing quickly ahead with its $700m global pre-launch of the brand and has chosen a Hamburg property as the lead European Holiday Inn Express.  The 179-room Holiday Inn Express Hamburg City Centre has opened, a former tax office on Lübecker Strasse, one of the main thoroughfares.  IHG has re-engineered the Holiday Inn Express bedroom to deliver a more modern design with dark wood furniture, a larger bathroom and workspace and flat screen televisions.  On offer is a soft or hard pillow.  IHG has 40 Holiday Inn hotels and 15 Holiday Inn Express hotels in Germany as well as six InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and six Crowne Plaza hotels. www.ichotelsgroup.com

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Japan Airlines at Frankfurt

JAPAN AIRLINES may be in trouble on the financial front but that has not stopped it pushing on with an international lounge refurbishment programme.  Opening 26 October in terminal 2 at Frankfurt the revamped area is now twice the size of the original Sakura lounge.  Included are shower rooms, courtesy wired LAN connections and PC power outlets.  There is a comprehensive business centre and full lounge facilities.  The lounge is a short, 2-minute walk from the normal departure gates. www.jal.com

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Newquay gains FBO

MIDWEST EXECUTIVE AVIATION has opened a new fixed base operator (FBO) facility at Newquay Cornwall Airport (NQY), the former RAF St Mawgan.  The services provided significantly enhance the executive aviation handling operation at the airport with direct access to the secure apron area.  The facility offers crew and passenger lounge area, crew rest provision, wireless broadband, a flight planning desk and unlimited and adjacent complimentary parking.  The airport is close to completing its first year in a civilian capacity following the transfer of operational responsibility and ownership of the airport to Cornwall Council and its airport operating company, Cornwall Airport Ltd.  The successful transition from military to civilian use has created additional capacity on the airfield to specifically develop the business and general aviation markets for Cornwall and West Devon. www.midwestexec.com/newquay.html

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IN BRIEF at ERA

New players, new faces, new practices and a revival in tried and trusted aircraft programmes from the 1980s were the highlights of last week’s European Regions Airline Association (ERA) annual gathering at the pretty alpine setting of Interlaken (Switzerland). 

In the gala award ceremony, attended by some 420 industry guests, including ERA founding father Moritz Suter, new airline names topped the bill.  Riga-based Air Baltic, which evolved from a low cost point-to-point carrier to a network carrier to see its traffic grow 28% in 2008, scooped Gold; Cimber Sterling of Denmark took Silver.  The 59-year old Danish regional carrier Cimber Air purchased Sterling last year, adding 26 new destinations, including Gatwick in the process.  It duly renamed to Cimber Sterling. 

KLM CityHopper took bronze for its successful integration with sister airline KLM UK and its introduction of the Embraer 190.  Newquay Cornwall Airport gained the accolade as winner of the Airport Achievement Award 2009/2010 for its transition from a military to civil airport and a 22% passenger growth and Tom Christides, of Blue1, a hugely popular ERA figure as the airline’s head of public relations, won the Director General’s award for services to the industry, in particular the work he has fulfilled as Chairman of the ERA Industry Affairs Work Group.  Wayne Rosenkrans, Senior Editor of AeroSafety World gained the Journalism Award.  A full report follows in next week’s issue. www.eraa.org

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HAPPY TALK: Who is controlling your life?

A company I used to work for sometimes put on what they called "Lunch and Learn" seminars during the employees' lunchtime.  These seminars dealt with a variety of physical and mental health issues.  If the seminar lasted beyond the normal lunch hours, we were supposed to get approval to attend.  On one occasion, this notice came around:

LUNCH AND LEARN SEMINAR:
WHO'S CONTROLLING YOUR LIFE?
(Get your Manager's permission before attending)


From International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA)

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Accor expands in the Far East

ACCOR, which is the largest international hotel operator in Vietnam, has officially opened the Mercure Hanoi La Gare.  It has 102 rooms.  Situated in the heart of the bustling centre of the city La Gare is a modern mid-scale property which serves as the gateway to the nearby commercial precinct, foreign embassies, State companies, Government Ministries, the historic central railway station, Hanoi's historic Old Quarter and the Hanoi International Exhibition Centre.  The hotel is also within easy reach of other tourist attractions including the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu), Hoan Kiem lake, and Hanoi Opera House. www.accorhotels.com/Vietnam

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Antigua has a new hotel

ANTIGUA has a new quality property, run by an hotelier well know in the Gatwick market.  Keith Martel was Manager of the Effingham Park in its early days.  The Sugar Ridge is south of the little capital of St John’s and adjoins an 18-hole golf club and overlooks Jolly Harbour.  The 60-room deluxe operation has been designed with relaxation in mind.  With the new winter schedules Antigua is eight hours non-stop from London with offerings by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, both carriers flying on to other destinations within the Caribbean, BA to Grenada and Tobago and Virgin to Puerto Rico.  Independent, with the Queen as Head of State, it is the most easterly of the Leeward Islands. www.sugarridgeantigua.com/hotel

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bmi changes at the top

BMI is changing its management with some rapidity after its takeover by Lufthansa, now the 100% owner.  Following the departure of Peter Spencer, Managing Director of Mainline Services, the amiable Deputy Chief Executive Tim Bye is leaving at the end of October after 13 years at the airline “to take a couple of months off for the first time in a very long time and reflect on the future.”  Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, most recently Chief Executive Officer of India’s Jet Airways comes in as Chief Executive Officer with current incumbent Nigel Turner as his deputy.  All of this fully effective 1 December. www.flybmi.com

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flydubai is nearly ready

FLYDUBAI has named Doha as its first destination when the airline takes off next Sunday (18 October).  The twice daily low cost flights will compete head on with those of Emirates and Qatar Airways.  Typically all extras, including baggage, will need to be paid for.  With the new service flydubai will now offer seven destinations from Dubai, the others being Beirut (Lebanon), Amman (Jordan), Aleppo and Damascus (Syria), Alexandria (Egypt) and Djibouti (Republic of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa).  All this in just four months. www.flydubai.com

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Hilton Garden Inn to open in Samara (Russia)

HILTON is to open a Garden Inn hotel in Samara, Russia’s sixth largest city in 2012. It will be the sixth Hilton property in the country, and the second of the mid-market brand.  When it opens, Hilton Garden Inn Samara will offer 195 rooms, an always open business centre and complimentary high speed wi-fi internet access.  There will also be a 24-hour food and beverage service.  In the city centre the main train station and the port are a short walk away from the property.  Samara is 1,000 miles south of Moscow, is located on the River Volga and has a population of just over one million. www.hilton.co.uk/gardeninn

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Japanese rival for Embraer

MITSUBISHI AIRCRAFT CORPORATION has signed a Letter of Intent with Trans States Holdings (TSH) for an order of 100 next-generation Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) aircraft (50 firm, 50 options).  TSH, based in St Louis, Missouri, and is an airline holding company that owns and operates two independent carriers, Trans States Airlines and GoJet Airlines.  Both are large US regional airlines, operating feeder services for United Airlines and US Airways.  ANA is the lead carrier for the aircraft with 15 firm orders and ten options.  The 90-seat aircraft is suffering delays and is not now likely to make its maiden flight until the middle of 2012.  With 70 to 110-seat versions on the drawing board the new aircraft will be a rival to the Embraer “E” series. www.mrj-japan.com

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Thai increases international schedules

THAI AIRWAYS is stepping up international flights from Bangkok to Brisbane and Perth (Australia), Oslo (Norway), Moscow (Russia) and Los Angeles (USA) from the start of the winter season 25 October.  New is a five times per week service to Brisbane, and Perth is doubled to four times per week.  Oslo becomes daily and so does LA from 1 December, whilst Moscow increases to four times per week.  Thai operates two and three-class layouts depending on the route and aircraft. www.thaiair.com

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ON TOUR: ABTA Travel Conference

Jane Stanbury reports:

“We’re at the beginning of the end,” declared Norman Lamont, former Chancellor of the Exchequer.  He was referring to the state of the recession in his opening address at the 2009 Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) travel convention in Barcelona last week.  “The recovery will be slow and gradual, but that is better for consumer confidence, and consequently better in the long run for the travel industry,” he added.  His words were cold comfort for travel businesses suffering under this year’s economic landscape, where many have had to endure aggressive cost cutting strategies to survive.

Unsurprisingly, the recession, customer financial protection and future forecasting dominated discussions at the three-day gathering.  “Adapt or die” was the clear message from Malcolm Preston, Partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) presenting research which suggested companies should think of the recession as a ‘pit stop in a commercial race.’  “Use this time to adapt your business to the new market and make the necessary changes,” he advised. 

PWC’s research shows the recession consumer is an altered buyer who will research travel options extensively.  He is trading down in terms of spend, and will seek out the best offers.  These buying habits have changed permanently and will exist beyond the current economic climate.  With limited brand loyalty it is the companies who adapt their product range, and pricing strategy that will survive.  Preston suggested that as consumers are now ‘buying clever’ companies need to 'sell clever'.  “WOW factors are great, but make sure it’s a WOW the client values.” 

Greg Ward of von Essen

The audience heard from a number of key players about just how significant the business travel decline is.  Greg Ward, Sales and Marketing Director of luxury hotel group von Essen spoke about the sharp dip in corporate bookings, conferences and events.  Its response has been to invest in adapting its product, and training staff for servicing the leisure industry.  Discounts and deals have helped play a big part in filling von Essen rooms, he said.

Fellow panellist Richard Tams, Head of UK and Ireland Sales for British Airways, confirmed the carrier had also seen a shift in business travel.  Fixed schedule tickets were up as businesses select cheaper options.  First Class travellers are downgrading to Business, he noted and Business Class to Premium Economy.  BA has enlarged its Caribbean and Egyptian programme, and has maintained Premium Economy seats for both holiday destinations.  But whilst aircraft seem busy, the yield per aircraft is decreasing.  “British Airways is trying to find new revenue areas,” he said, commenting on the latest controversial move from the company to charge passengers for seat selection.  “We even expect the newly launched London City to New York route (32 seats in an Airbus A319 which clears customs at Shannon Airport) to be an option for the leisure traveller.  We’re not assuming it is just going to be the ‘Banker’s Express,’ as it has been dubbed, he said.

PCW research

It seems the luxury sector, however, remains untouched and in a surprisingly optimistic presentation Guy Gillon, partner at PWC, presented astonished delegates with research claiming the market had actually grown 5% in 2009.  The very wealthy are immune, it seems.  A panel of luxury travel operators questioned this, arguing this was not their experience.  Derek Jones from Kuoni commented on how they are now developing one to one CRM systems to maximise their offering, and Frances Geoghagen of Africa Travel commented it’s not enough to just be specialised, companies have to get closer to customer requirements, and offer clever product and pricing strategies.  Luxury travellers are also changing their buying habits and the industry must respond.

A 30-minute MBA course presented by Richard Reeves and John Knell of the Intelligence Agency shed years of traditional business models and leadership theory.  They claimed there are five key factors for business success: sustainability, leadership, conversation, cash and culture.  “Sustainability will become a key module of every MBA course in the next five years,” challenged Reeves.

Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA, announced the launch of an ambitious sustainability programme for the travel industry.  Tourism 2023 sets out an agenda encouraging travel professionals and companies to actively take on the “green” issue. Stating the objectives of the plan Tanzer said: “We are launching Tourism 2023 to encourage good business principals in strategic management of companies, customers and strategy to ensure longevity for a strong and profitable business and consumer travel sector”.  Founding partners, which collectively cater for over 45 million passengers annually, include British Airways, Thomas Cook, Tui, The Co-Operative Travel and Carnival UK.  All are committed to creating practical and innovative solutions to ensure a successful and profitable future for the industry.  James Goodman from Forum for the Future alarmed the audience with four ‘what if’ scenarios, suggesting that if the initiatives such as Tourism 2023 do not happen the future for tourism would be deeply challenged.  “Tourism cannot just muddle through this one.” he said.

Customer protection and safety

Customer protection was also high on the agenda with a call for a European wide Health and Safety policy for all involved in tourism to be developed.  Likewise the confusion around customer financial protection in the UK was under debate and ABTA is moving forward with government support to create an unpackaged financial protection plan.

Recognising customer needs, and making travel uncomplicated and stress free was also deemed as valuable.  Call Uma is just one company that is contributing to reducing the stress.  Designed for the regular traveller, this 24-hour advisory membership service offers users a luggage tracking facility, multilingual service aid, and advice on any destination in the world providing information as simple as recommending a good restaurant through to translation services in medical emergencies.  Currently offered by monsterUK, Expedia.co.uk and lastminute.co.uk the service will soon be rolled out to corporate booking agencies with The Co-Operative Business Travel as the first corporate customer.

Making the travel process smoother through airports

Vueling, the innovative Barcelona-based Spanish low fares airline, highlighted here that it has worked closely with Spanish airport authority AENA to introduce mobile phone check in services at Madrid and Barcelona airports, so speeding up transit.  A barcode is sent to the passenger’s mobile phone which is then scanned as if a printed boarding card.  Following on the sustainability theme, Vueling is hoping that around 40% of its passengers will use the option and anticipates this will save over 2,400 trees, or 14 million sheets of paper per year.  CEO Alex Cruz was part of a panel of Captain’s of Industry and took the opportunity to highlight how his airline was focusing a lot on the business traveller.  “We value the business customer, and recognise the importance of sustainability within the industry.  We see this product as supporting both of these areas,” he commented.

With the general agreement that the “staycation” has just not worked this year, it is certain that short to mid haul travel will be back high on travellers’ agendas in 2010 which is good news for the outbound travel industry.  If the election sees a new government, there is anticipation that the APD will be reviewed, and emerging markets are shaping up as strong economies for companies such as TUI to explore.  Peter Long, CEO of Tui Travel, pointed to some “green shoots” of optimism and Russia and CIS are some of them.

Hosted by Barcelona Turisme, delegates were treated to a display of Spanish hospitality at the various conference hotels.  My hotel was Hotel Zero, opened just six months ago.  It offers smart executive rooms with free wi-fii, mini bar, and a microwave, all carefully hidden in stylishly carved furniture.  Situated directly across from the convention centre it also offers guests a fabulous view of the Mediterranean from its roof-top executive lounge.  If the theme of this year’s convention was about savvy travellers, smart selling and singular experiences then the Hotel Zero, part of the Catalunyan SB hotel group, should do well – as it is superbly priced, well located and offers friendly staff and service.
www.abta.com www.forumforthefuture.org  www.calluma.com

JANE STANBURY  jane@emeraldmedia.co.uk 
Jane Stanbury runs Balearic Discovery offering luxury travel services to Mallorca for individuals, families and corporates looking for an authentic Balearic experience. www.balearicdiscovery.com

Next week is the monthly cruising issue and AERBT will look at this aspect of the market discussed at Barcelona

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