19 OCTOBER 2009

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Air Asia X into Europe

AIR ASIA X, a low cost operator, has won traffic rights between Kuala Lumpur and Paris.  Currently the airline’s only destination in Europe is Stansted to which it flies daily.  No date has been published for the introduction of services but these are expected to be flown by two-class Airbus A340 aircraft.  The airline has ambitious plans to serve other European destinations, and also New York, with Stansted the favourite for this operation.  It has on order ten Airbus A350s, but the first aircraft is not due until 2016. www.AirAsia.com

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Baboo is a Swiss airline

BABOO may sound a strange name for English speakers but it is a Swiss airline that will shortly be flying out of two UK airports.  Baboo was founded in Geneva in 2003 and currently operates two Bombardier Q400s and three Embraer 190s.  From Geneva it serves 19 destinations.  On 26 October the airline will introduce a twice daily service to London City Airport, using a Q400, in direct competition with British Airways and Lufthansa.  However it will code-share with Air France/Cityjet. Saturday 19 December sees it introduce the first ever international operation out of Oxford Airport, a weekly ski flight that is already attracting considerable interest. Also see ERA below  www.flybaboo.com

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bmibaby partners with Germanwings

BMIBABY and GERMANWINGS, both now owned 100% by Lufthansa, have announced a partnership which will enable customers to book on either carrier.  Eighteen of bmibaby’s destinations will be available to book via the Germanwings website and 25 of Germanwings’ destinations will be bookable via the bmibaby website.  To book, passengers can simply select the relevant destination and travel dates and they will be automatically transferred to the corresponding booking page of the partner airline.  bmibaby currently offers 30 destinations from Birmingham, Cardiff, East Midlands and Manchester airports.  Germanwings this summer served more than 66 destinations across Europe from its five bases – Berlin-Schönefeld, Cologne/Bonn, Dortmund, Hamburg and Stuttgart. www.bmibaby.com www.germanwings.com

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Israel adds UK carrier

ISRAEL will gain another UK carrier when easyJet introduces a daily service (except Friday) from Luton to Tel Aviv on 2 November.  The airline, probably for the first time by a so-called low cost carrier, is offering what might be termed ethnic meals, kosher snacks supplied by easily the largest supplier of its kind for Heathrow, Hermolis, based in west London.  The kosher food will be priced the same as easyJet's standard menu, with sandwiches from £3.50, including egg mayonnaise with tomato and cress bloomer, smoked Salmon and cream cheese bagel, mozzarella & tomato Panini and muffin/chocolate orange mini cake.  To help introduce the service easyJet painted a London bus, the promotion launched by Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor and easyJet UK General Manager Paul Simmons.  El Al also flies from Luton, BA and El Al from Heathrow and Jet2 from Manchester. www.easyJet.com

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Qatar flies on natural gas

QATAR AIRWAYS made history last week by completing the world's first commercial passenger flight powered by a fuel made from natural gas.  The historic flight from Gatwick to Doha took over six hours and was operated with an Airbus A340-600 aircraft using Rolls-Royce Trent 556 engines.  Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker was onboard the busy flight and passengers were pre-warned, with no cancellations.  Shell developed and produced the 50-50 blend of synthetic Gas to Liquids (GTL) kerosene and conventional oil-based kerosene fuel.  The State of Qatar is set to become the world's leading producer of GTL kerosene when it is put into commercial production from 2012.  The fuel, as an alternative to conventional oil-based kerosene, will contribute to diversification of aviation fuel supply.  It also burns with lower sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions than pure conventional oil-based kerosene, making it attractive for improving local air quality at busy airports. www.qatarairways.com

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Southampton linked to Durham

SOUTHAMPTON will gain a brand new scheduled air service to Durham Tees Valley from 2 November 2009 by Eastern Airways.  The twice daily Monday to Friday flights will be operated by BAe J41 turboprops via Leeds-Bradford.  Businesses in and around Hampshire with links in the Tees Valley, include those in the chemical, pharmaceutical, energy, manufacturing, marine and offshore industry sectors.  Durham Tees Valley Airport (formerly Teesside) is located close to Darlington, Middlesbrough, Stockton on Tees, Hartlepool and Durham. www.easternairways.com

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World Travel Market travel

WORLD TRAVEL MARKET (WTM) has learnt from the transport difficulties experienced at last year’s show by introducing what it calls The Travel Hub at the nearby Canning Town station.  Hopefully staff will be able to co-ordinate dealing with any problems that may arrive, particularly during the very heavy early and mid-morning periods.  With the re-opening of the DLR Tower Gateway station it will offer a much quicker connection to the Circle and District lines and the trains themselves will operate every three minutes during the peak periods.  The double deck buses used last year will be replaced by the ‘Bendy’ variety, doubling capacity.  On the river, Thames Clippers is also increasing the frequency of its catamarans to a ten-minute service to various piers on both banks of the Thames.  Finally WTM is introducing a clearly signposted walking route from Canning Town Station to give visitors an alternative route to and from the event should all else fail.  The show runs Monday 9 November to Thursday 12 November. www.wtmlondon.com

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HAPPY TALK: Not a bright student

According to the Cyprus Mail a Sri I Lankan student was on Saturday (17 October) arrested at Larnaca Airport after trying to fly to Paris with a stolen passport.  The “student” presented German paperwork to the duty officer who noticed straight away that the passport photo was of a blond German.

When the officer asked the student where he would like to go, he answered simply "Auf Wiedersehen" (“Goodbye” in German).

Larnaca CID arrested the student for forgery and unlawful impersonation.  According to a Larnaca News Agency report, he had paid €5,000 for the passport.

A spokesperson for Larnaca CID said that the student was remanded in custody for four days, before going to Larnaca District Court on Monday. "If he is found guilty, then he will be sentenced to between four and eight months in prison.  After that he will go back to his country."  It seems that these “bright” students are a regular feature at the airport.  The spokesperson said that passport infringements such as this were a weekly occurrence.  What AERBT would like to know is just what the fellow is a student of?

 

Disguise.

 

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COMMENT: British Airways - What Now ?

There is cause for concern that British Airways may be forced to stop flying in the weeks leading up to Christmas due to the cabin crew going on strike.

Two points have to be made.  Firstly that it needs staff members to vote by a majority (some would say a large majority) to take industrial action, and secondly for the most part striking has never been successful, often both parties losing out. 

Take a look at the Unite web site and read some of the press releases.  Depressing.  How is the country to march forward with such utterings!

Some of us can remember “Red Robbo” and the turmoil he caused at British Leyland in the 1970s.  Other factors came into play but the net result was the collapse of the United Kingdom’s home car industry.  The UK still makes motor cars, and even more than in those times, but today production is controlled by foreign owners whose first priority is to satisfy shareholders, not the British workforce.

Could British Airways fall to some foreign predator?  It is an interesting question.  Just like buying cars, people will still fly.

Today’s British Airways is the product of a state airline privatised, but not properly, throwing off the baggage of years of a civil service mentality.  Its pension fund crisis is a the outcome of more than generous pay schemes in the past, early retirement in the case of pilots, and, as with everyone else, people living longer.

Willie Walsh, a former pilot, arrived at British Airways in May 2005 with the reputation as the tough boss of a small airline, Aer Lingus.  He took over from Rod Eddington who had steadied a rocky ship inherited from Rob Ayling, previously a Department of Trade and Industry lawyer.  In those days BA was the self appointed “World’s Favourite Airline”, keen to say so and aggressive in its marketing. 

Whilst Walsh had some initial success in throwing off the yoke of history sadly his efforts have been overtaken firstly with the oil price getting out of control and secondly by the world economic downturn. 

He has stated that it is the worst crisis for the world’s airlines ever although stalwarts of the industry can recall many a very serious problem over the years, 9/11 for instance.  The continued expansion of the so-called “low lost” airlines has not helped, particularly in short haul.  The fact that he lost his experienced commercial director Martin George due to industrial politics was another negative factor and some would say that Walsh not being part of “The Establishment” has been detrimental.

In PR terms BA has hardly won accolades, firstly with the T5 fiasco and now badly explained cost cutting.

BA wants to save £140m from its cabin crew costs and introduce changes to staff practices.  It is pointed out that whilst the average BA cabin crew pay is said to be £29,000 pa with a liberal attitude to allowances, typically Virgin Atlantic is £14,000.  BA has done much in recent years in reducing outdated employment customs but plenty still remain.  Some are still being added.  One could argue that Walsh was weak in allowing flight deck operations for the new London City - New York services to be based at Waterside rather than LCY.  Marketing at that airport is now two-pronged, Manchester for BA Connect, and London for New York.  Bizarre.

According to reports Mr Walsh will meet Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, the joint heads of the Unite union today (Monday 19 October) to try and make progress . 

Let us hope that the Christmas spirit comes early.  A shutdown will not stop business travellers flying, nor for the most part leisure ones either.  Foreign airlines would of course rub their hands together.  A strike is no good for anyone.

MALCOLM GINSBERG

Editor in Chief

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Airborne internet developments

AIRLINE BUSINESS magazine and SITA have published a study that indicates that some 68% of airlines plan to invest in IP broadband connectivity both to and from aircraft over the next three years.  In fact, new wi-fi services are now being tested and rolled out by many leading airlines including Air Canada, AirTran, Alaska, American, Delta/Northwest, Southwest, Virgin and others.  The World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) gathering in Las Vegas, as briefly covered in last week’s AERBT, highlighted this, typically AP Avionx's new Cab-n-ConnectTM, on display, taking advantage of the recently adopted IEEE 802.11n specification, which increases maximum throughput to wireless clients from 54mbps to over 300mbps.  It is small and powerful, ideal for commercial aircraft. www.apavionx.com

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Beirut gains five-star hotel

BEIRUT is once again establishing itself as one of the most vibrant cities in the Middle East after a war torn decade.  As if to typify this new beginning the Four Seasons is set to re-open in December, a five-star 230-room property situated above Beirut's Corniche.  Atop the 26th floor is a glass-enclosed pool and bar area open to all.  Fully-appointed meeting and event spaces include a grand ballroom with pre-function space and outdoor terrace.  A curving grand staircase from the main lobby to second floor ballroom will provide an appropriate entrance for social events and bookings are being taken for 2010. www.fourseasons.com/beirut

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ERA says yield are dangerously low

ERA, which represents 66 European airlines operating 1.7m flights a year, recorded a drop in passenger traffic of -7.2% for the first half of 2009.  While demand improved in the second quarter, ERA says costs are rising and yields are dangerously low.   Airline data for the first quarter of 2009 shows that average revenue per passenger was 12% lower than Q1 2008, while average fuel costs are 6% higher.  Fuel now represents 10% of total costs in this sector.  A trend noted is that airlines are hanging on to older aircraft and that six out of 10 of the total fleet is turbofan powered. See also ON TOUR www.eraa.org

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Lufthansa gets airborne with A380

LUFTHANSA’S first Airbus A380 has made its maiden flight from Toulouse and has flown to Hamburg for completion.  Whilst the fifth carrier to put the A380 into service (after SIA, Emirates, Qantas and Air France) Lufthansa supplied the cabin crew for the airline’s first ever certificated operation, a one hour trip for the press back in 2007.  The airline plans to put the A380 into service in March.  Lufthansa has 15 A380s on order and Airbus will deliver five of them next year.  The airline will offer 550 seats, the largest number to date, the top deck exclusive for First and Business Class with Economy taking up the whole of the lower area. www.airbus.com www.lufthansa.com

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Royal Aeronautical Society appointment

THE ROYAL AERONAUTICAL SOCIETY has announced the appointment of Simon Luxmoore as Chief Executive, replacing Keith Mans, a former MP who has held the position since 1998.  Simon joined the Dowty Group in 1989 and held a number of positions within the company, starting as a project manager for Dowty Aerospace Gloucester.  In 2004 he was promoted to the role of Senior Vice President/Deputy CEO of Messier-Dowty International.  Prior to this Simon was Group Vice President of Messier-Dowty's Boeing and Military Business Unit and Managing Director of Messier-Dowty Ltd. www.raes.org.uk

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Tbilisi gains new hotel

TBILISI, the capital of Georgia, has a new hotel, the Radisson SAS Iveria Hotel, operated by the Rezidor Hotel Group.  The contemporary 249-room property is housed in a 20-storey tower originally built in the 1970s and is located right at the heart of the capital’s Rose Revolution Square with stunning views over the city and the River Mtkvari.  All 249 rooms (including 15 junior suites, 44 business class rooms and one executive suite) offer signature Radisson Blu amenities such as free high-speed internet access and bathroom products from the famous French brand, Anne Semonin.  A wellness and fitness centre is spread over the two top floors, covers 1,600 square metres and includes an indoor pool.  The Iveria Ballroom can accommodate up to 450 people. http://hotels.radissonsas.com

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ON TOUR: ERA

There was a blend of the old (tried and trusted) and the new at the recent European Regions Airline Association’s annual meeting in Interlaken (Switzerland).  

Checking in at the pretty alpine resort’s cluster of hotels, ERA guests received an invitation to drop by the RUAG stand at the Casino Kursaal and pick up a model of the New Generation Dornier 228 – now relaunched into production featuring a new five-bladed composite prop and glass cockpit.  The 228, along with the Twin Otter, was the original Stolport aircraft back in the early 1980s and technology group RUAG is driving its comeback.  It will be on the market again in 2010.



Bombardier, marking 25 years of the Dash 8-100 this year, announced an extension in the service life of the aircraft from 80,000 to 120,000 flight cycles with its new Dash 8-100ESP.  Tyrolean of Austria, long time Dash 8 operator, was first to sign up for the programme.  And BAE Systems Asset Management’s Steve Doughty highlighted to media and airline CEOs in the opening press breakfast that now was the time for airlines to be prudent, streamline and re-organise their businesses.  They should hold off on new aircraft acquisitions now.  Renew that existing lease, wait until the economy picks up, he advised.  They should, he suggested, “leapfrog the competition,” and wait for the game-change in technology that aircraft like the C Series will deliver.  This was, observers remarked, perhaps a veiled reference to BAE’s closest rival, the Embraer 170, now earning revenue at London City Airport – where the BAe 146/Avro RJ successfully soldiers on.  The larger 190 is due to get its LCY ticket in December.

Nonetheless, BAE remains a credible player in the market and is poised to announce three new contracts, which were not quite ready during ERA week.  BAE’s investment in the corporate/VIP market is paying off and it will be taking an Avro RJ to the Dubai Show next month.  The company has also turned its attention to a military role for the aircraft.  For 10% of the cost of the C130 Hercules, its 146M can perform cheap airlifting and deployment tasks and carry passengers in the back.  The group has expanded its asset management capabilities to sell third party types too, including Airbus and Boeing jets, Doughty highlighted.

The ‘new’ was exemplified best in the strong showing of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp, which came to ERA hard on the heels of securing a milestone order from Trans States of the USA for 100 of its new regional jet, the MR 90.  While North America is still its biggest market, its goal is to break into Europe.  Yugo Fukuhara, MJET’s VP Marketing, talked about a further stretch of the aircraft to 100 seats in a single class with 31 inch seat pitch.  The stretch version would complement the 88-seat MRJ 90 and 76-seat MRJ 70, he said.  List price of the MRJ 90, which will be the first version to fly (in 2012), is US$40m.  The MRJ 70 will be US$34m, available one year later.  


New airlines and Olympic Air’s debut at ERA


There were new airline faces at ERA this year.  Air Southwest, represented by CEO Peter Davis; VIP charter operator Titan Airways, low cost operator Belle Air of Tirana, Albania and Jetcom, headed by the former head of Crossair in Lugano, Marco Ostini.  This new venture airline is planning operations around the new Sukhoi SSJ Superjet.  The former Scot Airways, now part of the Air France/CityJet group was represented by Jerry Froggett.  Jorgen Nielsen, a long time ERA member, returned as CEO of newly named Cimber Sterling, following Cimber Air’s acquisition of the low cost carrier earlier this year.  Family-owned Cimber will mark its 60th birthday next year – a strong achievement.  

Jacques Bankir, one of the industry’s leading regional airline figures, previously with Regional and CityJet and now head of Baboo in Switzerland, was one of a few airline CEOs that is bucking the trend and expanding with new routes and codeshare agreements (see above).  Baboo also enjoys a codeshare agreement with the new Olympic Air and the latter’s debut at ERA, as the successor to the once ailing government-owned carrier, was a talking point in Interlaken.  Not least because its new CEO is a familiar and hugely popular face.  ERA’s President, Antonis Simigdalas, former boss of rival Aegean Airlines is now the president of the Marfin Investment Group-backed private carrier, which resumed flying on 29 September 2009, after the old Olympic ceased operations.  

Simigdalas said that in order for the airline to restart it had to give up to 35% of its flying activity, as dictated by the European Union and concentrate primarily on domestic flights and select European destinations that do not include Paris CDG or Amsterdam Schiphol.  It does not have any long haul services, rather it relies on codeshare agreements with the likes of Delta and Ethiad.  Just last week it signed a codeshare agreement with bmi.  It would like to resume long haul service, he said, but its principal objective right now is to work on the image of the carrier – to be punctual, customer friendly.  A big marketing campaign is being launched to support this objective, he noted.  Olympic Air currently operates 12 A319s/A320s, eight Bombardier Q400s (four of its own, four from Flybe), for which the company has been working with for support since the summer, two ATR 42s and five Dash 8-100s.  It plans to add four more A320s and six more Q400s next year.

The fun will start this week when Aegean, which up until now has been flying twice daily services to Stansted, will switch the route to Heathrow alongside Olympic on 25 October.  A price war is expected.  Carpatair of Romania, whose CEO Nicolae Petrov was elected on to the ERA Board, has not given up plans to get rights to fly into London.  The airline originally planned Stansted flights two years ago, but LHR is the goal, Petrov said.


2009 – aviation’s economic Tsunami, says ERA DG

Delegate numbers may have been down this year – Interlaken not being the easiest of venues to get to, but the mood was cautiously optimistic, considering the tough year members have endured.  In his Director’s Report, ERA’s Mike Ambrose described 2009 as “the year of aviation’s economic Tsunami – one which has been watched in Europe by many states, politicians and regulators with dispassionate and self-interested indifference.”  ERA has reviewed, evaluated and given representation on a total of 696 policy papers this year, he stated.  Last year it had 670.  

“2010 will remain a hard year for air transport, opined Antonis Simigdalas noting that all the stakeholders in the supply chain must bear a share in this hardship – OEMs, airports and suppliers.  

Some states are showing signs of slow recovery, Ambrose said and pointed to the progress being made in new and/or improved aircraft, such as the Bombardier C-Series, the Sukhoi Superjet’s ongoing flight programme and the launch of the enhanced ATR72-600 series. Recent aircraft orders from Sukhoi and the Mitsubishi MRJ are encouraging signs that industry recovery is beginning, he noted.

Further progress has also been made on SESAR and the Single European Sky Package II, which will help to improve costs and reduce environmental impact.  However, Ambrose stressed, “it is vital that we continue to invest in the development of new capacity to be ready when traffic inevitably returns, but investment requirements are in conflict with airlines’ current ability to fund investment.”

“The European Commission and the European Parliament have pressed on with their regulatory and legislative programmes concerning air transport regardless of the state of the industry. We must now try to influence the new Parliament and any new appointees in the Commission that what the industry needs is certainty and stability,” Ambrose concluded. 
www.eraa.org

ALISON CHAMBERS

Emerald Media

alison@emeraldmedia.co.uk

Eryl Crump supplied the pictures

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Accor launches All Seasons brand in the UK

ACCOR has opened a hotel in London which they say promises to “reinvent hotel service and value”.  This ambitious undertaking comes from All Seasons – an international budget hotel brand not seen in the UK to date.  The All Seasons London Southwark Rose hotel near London Bridge originally opened in 2003 as an independent property and is currently trading with 84 guestrooms.  An additional 21-bedroom extension is planned as part of the All Seasons rebrand.  There are already 73 All Seasons hotels around the world in six countries: France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Indonesia.  They are medium sized properties in central locations, the rate including breakfast and wi-fi, with all rooms offering a flat screen TV. www.all-seasons-hotels.com

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BA adds American route

BRITISH AIRWAYS is to introduce a daily Las Vegas flight from Heathrow on 25 October in direct competition with Virgin Atlantic.  This probably is the first time that the UK’s flag carrier has gone head to head on a route pioneered by the Crawley-based airline.  The service will be operated by a three-class Boeing 777 offering 36 new Club World fully flat beds, 24 World Traveller Plus and 212 World Traveller seats.  Virgin first started the route in 2001 and has gradually built it up to a seven times per week service.  bmi’s operation from Manchester has been withdrawn and low cost Business Class contender Maxjet flew from Stansted before the airline folded in December 2007.  Observant readers will note that the photograph issued by the BA communications department is of a Boeing 747 and the pilot is probably a First Officer as he has three stripes. www.ba.com

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Belfast City gains airline

EASYJET is to switch its Belfast – Luton operation from the Province’s International Airport (BFS) to the downtown George Best city centre operation (BHD) with effect 7 January 2010.  Flights remain twice daily.  The airline points out that it is principal carrier in Northern Ireland and currently operates a base at Belfast International Airport, with five aircraft offering a choice of 19 destinations, carrying over 3m passengers a year and employing 173 staff.  The decision to move the route to Belfast City is a result of the airline’s plans to assess if easyJet passengers find a benefit in flying to an airport closer to the City of Belfast when travelling on shorter routes.  However the airline says its commitment to maintaining market leading air services for the Northern Ireland market overall remains unaltered and the bulk of flights will remain at Belfast International.  If successful easyJet plans to provide greater frequencies on the Belfast City route and will consider additional routes from Belfast City Airport over time. www.easyjet.com

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Hotel Indigo expands in UK and New York

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP (IHG) has signed two new Hotel Indigo properties in Glasgow and Liverpool.  Hotel Indigo is IHG's newest boutique hotel brand with the first UK property opened at Paddington London in January 2009.  There are now 27 Indigo properties open in North America and 59 more are planned around the world.  Hotel Indigo Glasgow is a converted bank building in Waterloo Street, Central Station, and has 96 rooms.  Scheduled to open in spring 2011, the Liverpool hotel will have 151 rooms.  IHG has also signed agreements for three further Indigo hotels in London, in Cannon Street, Philpot Lane and Kensington Church Street.  In New York the first Indigo has opened in the Chelsea district, a 122-room, 20-storey, new build property. www.hotelindigo.com

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Olympic Air Inauguration

OLYMPIC AIR held an inauguration ceremony In Athens last Thursday (15 October), inviting some 9,000 people to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in Greek aviation.  Olympic Air is a new privately owned airline in Greece after Olympic Airlines ceased operations in late September.  The new carrier is 45% owned by the Marfin Investment Group (MIG), one of the largest investment companies in South-East Europe, has investments in healthcare and banking as well as aviation in the region.  Olympic Air has Antonis Simigdalas as Chief Executive Officer and Thanos Pascalis is Chief Operating Officer, both ex-Aegean senior executives. The airline operates Airbus and Bombardier DHC-8 aircraft on European and domestic routes. Also see ERA below www.olympicair.com

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South American merger

AVIANCA (Columbia) and TACA (El Salvador-based), two of South America’s longest established airlines have agreed on a merger which will create an airline group with a fleet of 129 aircraft and serve 100 destinations.  Avianca goes back to 1940, and its current ownership, under a joint Brazilian/Columbian enterprise called the Synergy Group, dates from 2004.  TACA, which can trace its history even further back, is essentially a consortium of Central American airlines with local services and scheduled flights to major US cities. www.taca.com www.avianca.com

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Tokyo airport move

TOKYO’S NARITA AIRPORT, 35 miles from the city, controversial when it was opened with “green” protesters severely delaying the whole project, could be under further pressure under plans revealed by the new Japanese government.  Essentially the leadership wants to expand Haneda, now mainly domestic, as an international gateway.  It sits on Tokyo Bay less than ten miles from the city centre and has good rail links.  It currently moves about the same number of passengers as Heathrow.  The government plan includes 24-hour operations, which has not gone down too well locally.  Any opening up of slots could be extremely contentious with airlines crying foul if rival carriers gain any favours. www.narita-airport.jp/en www.tokyo-airport-bldg.co.jp/en

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CRUISE NEWS OCTOBER 2009

We review the Berlitz Guide 2010 and take a look at the market in general.  For the December cruise news we will be reporting on Queen Mary 2 and its transatlantic programme for next year.  If you are new to cruising read An Introduction to Cruising in the AERBT archive 20 April 2009.

2010 BERLITZ CRUISE GUIDE

If some of the cruising deals promoted over the past year seemed too good to be true, they probably were, according to Douglas Ward, cruise guru and author of the annual Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships.  Just published, the 25th edition, remains the only source of independent star-rating of virtually all ocean going cruise ships worldwide.

Within the 2010 Guide, he suggests that although it is a buyer’s market, an effect of the credit crunch, it is crucial to study the small print.  As cruise lines have taken their cue from outfits like Ryanair which charge supplements for almost everything, the range of add-ons in cruising can take the glow off an apparent give-away price.  A highly discounted fare may apply only to certain dates and itineraries, while passengers preferred cabin grades and location may not be available or they may be limited to first seating at dinner.  Nevertheless the Guide is packed with tips on how to get the best deals which we learn aren’t necessarily available on the internet.

It is a very thick and heavy book, 692 pages as against 686 last time around, but don’t’ be completely fooled.  Some of the 271 ships are virtually identical and so are the reviews.  For Sapphire Princess read Diamond Princess.  Don’t’ bother to study both.  And they gain matching survey points.  Highlighted are 12 new ships set to debut in 2010.  Douglas examines the unstoppable growth of cruising over the past 25 years, what has gone in 25 years (only the Russians and Cunard have sail-aways these days), and what’s new but not necessarily an improvement.  There is a fresh new look at Green Cruising, with plenty of advice for those concerned about travelling responsibly.

Whilst it claims to be warts and all Ward could be harsher with some of the old ships now past their sell by date.  “A lovingly maintained classic” should be compared with the rating score.  Any ship with just 1,000 points or less is probably one to miss.  However at the other end of the scale Mr Ward clearly likes trying out the top suites, something we all aspire to but seldom attain.

The Guide also offers a comprehensive account of the industry today for the more experienced cruiser.  At a glance charts compare the major cruise lines for cabin facilities, food and service – their strengths and weaknesses.  Check out the tables and charts for 10 Great Shipboard Spas, the Best Choice for Children, the 10 Top Expeditions, the 20 Largest Suites Afloat or the 100 Most Popular Shore Excursions.

Ward confirms the various trends in cruising, including more two-class vessels and those banning the under 21-year-olds, an increase in the number of small ships offered, better and more varied themed restaurants, and a serious clamp down on smoking.  River cruise vessels are for the most part not listed. 

Priced at a very reasonable £16.99 it will make for an interesting read on ‘no ports’ sea cruises.  For further information visit www.berlitzpublishing.com


AND OUR TEN NEWS HEADLINES

Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) Director William Gibbons has confirmed that the UK cruise industry is bucking the trend and continues to grow despite 2009 being one of the most challenging years on record for the wider holiday market.  Figures released at ABTA (see AERBT 12 October) show an impressive 5% increase in the number of British holidaymakers taking a cruise this year compared to 2008.  2010 will see the launch of 16 new cruise ships according to PSA, with the gigantic 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger, RCCL Allure of the Sea, setting new standards in terms of size and what is on offer.  Will the three Queens come together at some point – Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria?  At the other end of the scale Sea Cloud Hussar is a 5,000-ton, 136-passenger luxury sailing schooner, a new ship from a bygone age. www.the-psa.co.uk

AMA, which used to be called Amadeus, and is a joint Australian/US initiative, is pushing hard regarding its up market European river cruise programme involving no flights, no Channel sea crossing, and the use of Eurostar.  There is a wide choice of trips available, many on the Rhine from Amsterdam, and also on the Danube.  Moscow and the waterways of Russia can also be reached via Warsaw in a fascinating cross country rail journey.  Each AMA river cruise includes all meals on board (breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner), unlimited wine with dinner, a daily sightseeing programme, on board folklore and musical performances, bicycles for use in port and free internet access.  First Class rail travel is included wherever possible, as well as four- or five-star hotels en route and the services of a friendly and professional Tour Manager. www.amawaterways.com

Compagnie du Ponant, the French cruise line, extremely up market, will add Le Boreal next year to its small fleet of very high class boutique ships including the somewhat unique three masted Le Ponant.  At 10,000 tons and 132 cabins, Le Boreal will be more like a super yacht, and can moor (and dock) in bays and ports not available for even mid-size cruise ships.  The summer programme for 2010 is essentially Mediterranean-based, although in July it will venture into the Baltic and even visit Reykjavik.  All the staff on board a Compagnie du Ponant cruise are totally fluent in both French and English. www.ponant.com

Crystal Cruises has announced details of what it calls its “Experiences of Discovery” theme cruises for 2010 (not to be confused with the British ship Discovery  and its not dissimilar voyages – albeit aimed at a different part of the market).  These are cruises designed to enrich those that want to involve themselves.  There are more than two dozen trips, each designed with a special-interest focus.  A new Science & Technology theme joins classic favourites such as Crystal’s Wine & Food Festival (set for seven cruises, with two back-to-back options), Mind, Body & Spirit, Jazz, Golf, Film & Theatre Festival and Big Band.  For next year the annual President’s Cruise adds special programming and events in celebration of the line’s 20th anniversary of luxury cruising.  www.crystalcruises.com

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises MS Hanseatic has left the Bredo shipyard in Bremerhaven (Germany) after a two-week stay.  Thoroughly overhauled and smartened up in many areas, the world’s only five-star expedition ship (according to the Berlitz Cruise Guide 2010) has been much upgraded, both behind the scenes and in the public areas.  The Hanseatic combines the adventure of global expedition and study cruises with first class comfort.  It offers the maximum of 184 passengers the opportunity to travel to remote destinations in polar waters or in the South Seas.  Its shallow draft means it can also sail on rivers like the Amazon.  Trips with the ship’s own Zodiac inflatables, talks and recaps about the destinations by lecturers are among the highlights of the programme.  Those top-flight experts accompany the cruises to deliver spellbinding background information.  The 2010 programme will be in English and German. www.hapag-lloyd.com

Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) is pushing ahead with promotions for Norwegian Epic currently under construction at Saint-Nazaire in France.  At 153,000 gross tons, the ship is Norwegian's largest with 19 decks, spanning 1,068 ft in length and 133 ft in width with a 28.5 ft draft, staffed with approximately 1,730 crew members.  Following delivery in mid-June 2010, Epic will sail to Rotterdam for a two-night maiden cruise departing on 19 June, followed by an overnighter to Southampton on 21 June.  What is called an inaugural cruise will take place from the port covering two nights, which will probably turn out to be something of a party.  Following her transatlantic crossing to New York on 24 June, the ship will be christened on 2 July and will continue with a three-night inaugural cruise over the 4 July weekend (another party?).  The ship's first seven-day Eastern Caribbean ex-Miami voyage is scheduled for 10 July and is currently on sale, along with the ship's alternating Western Caribbean sailings. www.ncl.com

P & O, by far the world’s oldest cruise line, is very aware than dining plays a vital part in the enjoyment of a cruise.  This is probably due for the most part that it appears to be free.  We are all taken (happily) in by the fact that the fare is inclusive.  With this in mind, and the fact that there are many out there who want to learn more about kitchen skills, the Southampton-based operation, part of the mighty Carnival Corporation, has engaged three Michelin starred chefs, Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar on its ships during 2010.  The celebrated chefs will take part in cooking demonstrations, lessons and Q&A.  You will need to choose your dates, ship, destination and whether you want a child-free voyage.  And of course select your chef.  www.pocruises.co.uk

Princess Cruises has added a fun new cruise tour option designed especially with family groups in mind for its Alaska programme.  America’s 49th State is a wonderful travel destination for children, a real eye-opener for youngsters.  The 12-night cruise-tour offers the best of Alaska by land and sea and includes a variety of special features not usually included in this sort of package.  Families will have the opportunity to travel on a jetboat, pan for gold, take an interactive tour of Denali National Park, and experience what Alaska is like in the winter when it is many degrees below zero.  It includes a seven-night Voyage of the Glaciers cruise plus a five-night land tour featuring one night at Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, two nights at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and two nights at Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. www.princess.com

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has made further recommendations designed to enhance marine safety on vessels operated by its members following the loss of Explorer of the South Shetlands in November 2007.  Clearly the public has to be put at ease.  The additional directives were the outcome of a mid-September meeting in London of the IAATO Marine Committee, and follow recommendations approved earlier this year by the association’s membership.  The initial set of recommendations to enhance marine safety, which included changes in standard operating procedures by IAATO vessel operators and modifications to the Association’s bylaws to strengthen the requirements for experience for bridge officers, can be found on the IAATO website.www.iaato.org/press.html

The Yachts of Seabourn has announced that the company will not operate a planned series of voyages in the Indian Ocean aboard Seabourn Legend in late 2010 and early 2011.  The vessel will instead be repositioned back to the Americas at the end of its Mediterranean season to cruise in the Caribbean over the winter.  Readers are reminded that Yachts of Seaborn are the top brand of Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise ship operator, and traditionally has maintained three 10,000-ton 200-passenger ships with nearly as many crew as passengers.  This year Seabourn Odyssey arrived, 32,000 tons, 400 passengers and the last word in luxury. www.seabourn.com

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