30 NOVEMBER 2009

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Avis is smart

AVIS supplies not just cars but also uniforms to its franchises around the world.  The numbers are big.  10,000 wearers in more than 100 countries.  The uniforms in fact come from a British company, Simon Jersey of Altham, north of Manchester.  Recent updates include upgrading and improving all female and male shirting and introducing cotton Oxford fabric, which is more breathable and comfortable.  The male shirts have been tweaked to reposition buttons to enable them to be worn either with a tie or open neck without revealing too much flesh to maintain a crisp professional look.  A tie and scarf have also been developed in line with new health and safety standards and are currently being rolled out around the world. www.simonjersey.com www.avis.com

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Birmingham is busy

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT (BHX) says that the doubling of flights to Dubai by Emirates has been a great success, the airline now moving up to 1,600 passengers daily through the airport with a twice daily Boeing 777 service.  The airport is not privy to the final destination or origination point of the airline customers but clearly only a small percentage are actually for Dubai, the rest connecting onwards at the hub.  Continental now offers the only service to New York (it is daily) and the airport will not see a return of US Airways five times per week service to Philadelphia next summer.  It appears that the numbers were OK but the yield poor, or it could be argued that the airline was not charging enough.  Other long haul routes include Mahan Airlines three times weekly service to Tehran (increasing to four in February.  Pakistan International goes four times weekly to Islamabad and Turkmenistan Airlines four times weekly service to Ashkabad (onward to Amritsar/Delhi). www.birminghamairport.co.uk

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Dogs like Flybe

FLYBE has added Exeter to the growing list of UK airports at which it is approved to accept passengers needing to travel with their assistance dogs to and from mainland Europe.  The airline was the first UK low cost carrier to be accepted under the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)-approved Pet Travel Scheme earlier this year to carry assistance dogs on European flights to and from Birmingham and Southampton airports.  The number of passengers requesting this service is increasing rapidly and bookings are already being processed for travel during 2010.  Passengers needing to use this lifeline service are required to inform Flybe on booking and need to provide a certificate from the organisation from which they received their assistance dog as well as their dog’s Pet Passport. www.flybe.com

 

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Gulf Air's new strategy

GULF AIR has unveiled a future growth strategy with the intention of turning the company into a commercially sustainable business by 2012.  Whilst probably the longest established airline in the region Gulf Air has gone through difficult times of recent, mainly due to the establishment of a number of city state carriers in the region promoting their own hub.  In a strategic move the airline will expand its operations into over 20 new destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe, but at the same time suspend up to 15 other routes and close a number stations that are not profitable.  This will include Bangalore, Hyderabad and Shanghai.  The fleet composition will focus primarily on narrow-body aircraft and regional jets. www.gulfair.com

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London taxis

LONDON VISITORS should be aware that only licenced taxis (The ‘black cab’ – but they are not all black) are allowed to tout for business on the streets of the capital.  Available are certificated minicabs, normally a good deal cheaper, but these must be booked in advance.  A new hard-hitting campaign warning visitors and Londoners about the dangers of using freelance minicabs has been launched on TV and cinemas to coincide with the start of the holiday season.  A powerful message comes across that getting into any minicab without a booking is illegal, potentially dangerous and can pose the serious risk of sexual assault.  The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: "London is one of the safest big cities in the world but it is hugely important that everyone takes this message on board – minicabs that haven't been booked are illegal and a threat to your personal safety.  Don't take the risk and don't let your friends do it either." www.tfl.gov.uk

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Shanghai grand hotel opens

SHANGHAI has celebrated the opening of the Peninsula Hotel on the site of the former British Consulate.  Comprising of 235 rooms and suites it fronts the historic Bund, a feature of Shanghai, and offers stunning views of the Bund itself, the Huang Pu River and Pudong with its ultra modern buildings.  Unlike its competitors across the river the Shanghai Peninsula’s style is classical, seamlessly fitting in with its grand neighbours along one of the city’s most famous tourist destinations.  The interior is Art Deco.  The hotel features five diverse restaurants and bars offering a variety of cuisines and ambiences – The Lobby, The Chinese Restaurant, The Rooftop Restaurant, Bar and Terrace, the Nautical Bar and the Salon de Ning, each reflecting a different facet of Shanghai’s history and culture. www.peninsula.com

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Wings Air Indonesia

INDONESIA’S economy is on the way up as reported in our WTM edition (16 November).  The news is further confirmed with the announcement by Wings Air, the regional carrier, that it has increased an order for ten ATR 72-500s to 15.  The airline plans to expand local services but also replace elderly MD 80 and B-737-300/400 aircraft, and in some cases increase the flight frequency on flights currently operated on existing routes operated with B-737-900ER.  Wings Air is part of Lion Air, an all jet operator. www.wingsair.com

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COMMENT: Smoking is banned

Some of us are old enough to remember looking up in the sky and seeing the smoke trails being put out by the early jets such as the Boeing 707.  We never thought much about it except as a way of spotting aircraft.  “Emission” was a word that was not in the regular vocabulary, except perhaps when learning about life in the school laboratory.

Jump forward half a century and “emissions” are in the newspaper every day.  Not just for aircraft, but power stations too, and focussing on travel only, diesel-powered ships, railways and road transport.  In 50 years aviation has made tremendous progress in terms of emission efficiency and even the most ardent anti-airport lobbyist has to accept that figures are tiny compared with coal-fired electricity generating stations (and even cows we are told).  They much accept also that by 2070 great strides would have been made again (and even by 2050).

At Copenhagen (which starts on 6 December) the world’s leaders will meet and put out a waffle press release (probably already written by the secretariat) boldly stating a timetable for dealing with climate change.

Most of the political heads (and their entourages) would have flown in!  8,000 people representing 170 countries. 

No mention will probably be made of military aviation, a very serious polluter.  That is defence, a taboo subject.

Copenhagen is but one news headline that gives the anti-airport lobby a platform to fight any expansion of airline operations and in particular Heathrow.  BAA, whilst true it has commercial considerations, does fly the flag appreciating that its number one airport is the international commercial hub of Britain.  Willie Walsh, British Airways CEO, who has his other problems, is very strong regarding the third runway.

Next week the Government's Committee on Climate Change, headed by David Kennedy, is due to pronounce in its UK aviation report.  What he says might have an impact on the latest referral by the anti-third runway organisation due in the High Court in February.  

British Airways, Virgin, the airports group BAA, defence firm BAE Systems and manufacturers Airbus UK and Rolls-Royce are all signatories to the Sustainable Aviation Manifesto.  Essentially what it says is that it is no good Britain going alone.  What we need is a single global framework for emissions.

Yesterday (29 November) The Sunday Times found room for two anti-aviation stories.  The Times itself has been essentially against Heathrow’s third runway although it will always argue that it offers a balanced view.  It also has a policy, to its credit, of mentioning that it is part of the Murdoch organisation when stepping into dangerous waters that might be controversial.  Perhaps they should quote where the anti-airport lobbyist lives and for how long.  And when they flew last.  The Times needs to re-think its policy.

To its credit this government has stood by the third runway.  It recognises how vital Heathrow is to the British economy.  The latest continental airport figures demonstrate that it is the preferred European hub.  But for how long?  The Mayor of London pontificates regarding an estuary landing strip.  Would he have done so if he was still MP for Henley, commercially dependent on Heathrow, or is he just stopping his rival from having a platform?

Heathrow currently runs at around 97% of its allowed movement capacity, its competitors much less so with room for expansion.  Whilst it is true that the advent of the A380 is increasing the average passenger load per aircraft upwards from the present 165 what Heathrow needs is a good mix of planes, from the 70-seat Bombardier turboprop to the Airbus giant.

The climate change gathering is for the good.  It highlights the possible problems.

But the UK needs a level playing field.  And if we are to prosper it requires Heathrow to stay top of the premier league when it comes to the world’s airports.  This government has been pro-Heathrow.  The next one should stay that way too.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Belfast City expands

GEORGE BEST BELFAST CITY AIRPORT opened over the weekend (Sunday 29 November) a £6m terminal expansion.  The new facilities include a rebuilt departure lounge on the first floor capable of handling 12,000 passengers per day, new shops and restaurants.  The airport retail space has been increased by 60% and arriving tenants include World Duty Free, WH Smith, Bushmills Bar, Harvest Market restaurant and Lavazza Coffee.  The latest CAA figures show that the airport saw a 7.9% increase in passenger numbers in October compared with the same month in 2008.  Total throughput for the year is expected to top 2.5m. www.belfastcityairport.com

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bmi redundancies

BMI hardly sprung a surprise with the announcement last week of a Heathrow route cull.  What was not anticipated was the removal of two of the airline’s longest established services, to Amsterdam (AMS) (last flight 27 March) and Brussels (9 January).  Brussels is already covered by sister carrier Brussels Airline, but the dropping of AMS would seem to be an abandonment of that gateway by the Lufthansa group.  Also being dropped, or suspended in the official language, is Aleppo (9 January), Kiev (10 January) and Tel Aviv (10 January).  With easyJet now on the Tel Aviv route there was clear over capacity with Israel.  With the return to the lessor of two of its Airbus A330s bmi will be left with a single example of the type, used on services to Saudi Arabia.  bmi regional is dropping three Embraer mini-jets but the carrier has not given any details of service reduction.  There are 600 job losses as a minimum. www.flybmi.com

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Gatwick gains Royal Air Maroc

ROYAL AIR MAROC has launched a three times weekly service from Gatwick to its Casablanca hub parallel to the daily service from Heathrow.  Air Arabia too flies out of Stansted, also on a daily basis.  The new flights will be operated with Boeing 737-800 aircraft, seating 16 passengers in Business and 141 passengers in Economy.  From Heathrow Royal Air Maroc also offers five flights to Marrakech per week and two to Tangiers. www.royalairmaroc.com

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Gulfstream

GULFSTREAM has completed the maiden flight of its ultra-long-range Gulfstream G650 luxury business jet.  It remains on schedule for type certification by 2011, followed by entry-into-service in 2012.  The price is in the USD$70m range, about the same as a Boeing 737-800.  Powered by best-in-class Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, the business jet is capable of travelling 7,000-nautical miles at 0.85 Mach and has a maximum operating speed of 0.925 Mach.  Its 7,000-nautical-mile range means the G650 can fly non-stop from Luton to Singapore.  The cabin has a maximum height of 6ft 5in and whilst a number of configurations are available eight passengers is the optimum.  The G650 can climb to a maximum altitude of 51,000ft to avoid traffic and inclement weather. www.gulfstream.com

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Oman Air goes three class

OMAN AIR, the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman, has launched a brand new three-class service on its flagship Muscat – Heathrow route flown by Airbus A330 aircraft.  The First Class cabin has just six mini-suites plus a lounge area.  Made up as a bed the seats are 7ft 3in long and 25.5” wide.  The 20-seat Business Class is exceptional for space and comfort with a 6’ 10” pitch in a four-abreast, one-two-one configuration.  The Economy cabin accommodates 204 in a two-four-two configuration, each within a pitch of 34 inches.  However, the innovative slimline design by EADS Sogerma seats maximises the available space and provides a degree of legroom more often associated with a 36-inch Premium Economy pitch.  Each seat has adjustable head and leg rests, together with a 10.4-inch seatback mounted in-flight entertainment screen. www.omanair.aero

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SWISS increases to London

SWISS, thanks to the ongoing strength of its financial position and recently posted net profit of CHF113m (£66.8m) for the first nine months of 2009, the Zurich-based Lufthansa division is in a better position than most and has been able to steadily expand its services to Switzerland and beyond.  From 10 January onwards the airline will offer six new daily services between Heathrow and Geneva and will be increasing its number of seats from the UK to Switzerland by up to 30%.  The extra slots clearly come from the portfolio of sister company bmi (see above) using one of their aircraft.  Travellers will benefit of recently upgraded SWISS facilities at Geneva Airport, including new First, Business Class and Senator Lounges.  From London City, SWISS will slightly modify its daily capacity to Geneva by offering four daily frequencies from 10 January and by adding an additional frequency to Zurich on Saturdays. www.swiss.com

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ON TOUR: Rome

So you fancy a trip to Rome.  From the UK it is very easy with a variety of airports linked to the “Eternal City”.  Once you have arrived it is a simple journey by train (from Fiumicino – officially named Leonardo da Vinci Airport) and by bus from the alternative Ciampino.  Visitors by cruise ship arriving in Civitavecchia should also take the train and all the lines lead to Termini in the heart of the city.

There are just too many hotels to choose from in Rome, from the super luxury to very modest clean lodgings in elderly apartment blocks, each floor managed as a simple accommodation unit with a number of self-contained rooms.  Even these are not cheap (€60 upwards) which confirms that Rome, for the tourist, is one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Plan at least three nights in Rome.  Even a full week is not enough.  But try and keep away from the key summer months of June, July and August.  It will be very hot.  Rome vies with Paris as the world’s busiest tourist city.  Opinion can be divided but it has a lot more to offer in may ways than the French capital.

However long you are in Rome our recommendation is to take one of the open deck tour buses.  There are several routes and itineraries to chose from and each offers a 24-hour pass and you can get on and off as much as you like.  Commentaries are available in all the major languages. 

The 48-hour pass also includes the riverboat network too and is good value for money.  Other alternatives are to hire a Segway electric bike/scooter (and they are not difficult to master) and Rome offers some very good walking tours (including the loan of a headset) which is another way of learning about the city. 

Rome is in fact two cities.  Rome itself, the essential parts on one side of the Tiber, and the other The Vatican, the smallest country in the world, across a choice of bridges, historical in themselves, from Roman Rome.  Granted independence in 1929 by Mussolini, Vatican City covers less than 110 acres and has a population of just over 800.  The present Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Alois Ratzinger, was elected in 2005.

The Vatican
Tradition holds that the obelisk in the centre of the Vatican circus was the site of the crucifixion of St Peter.  What is certain is that St Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world, holding 20,000 people.  There has been a church on this site since the 4th century.  Construction of the present basilica, over the old Constantinian one, began in1506 and it was completed in 1626. 

Entrance to the basilica is free and the building is open from seven in the morning until seven in the evening during the summer months.  The dress code is very strict with no bare shoulders for women or shorts for men. 

Michelangelo’s masterpiece, La Pietà, is in its own chapel to the right as you enter.  There is a lift to the viewing gallery in the dome itself.  Michelangelo is credited with the greatest church in Christendom but he in fact, late in life, was more of a superintendent superbly managing the work of others. 

Under the building are the grottos, the last resting place of many Popes including the only English holder of that most significant of posts, Adrian, born in Bedmond, Hertfordshire in 1100 (died Rome 1159).  With the Vatican Museum and gardens you pay for the mind boggling experience.   The final gallery, or salas, is the ‘Pièce de résistance’ the Sistine Chapel.  There are works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Titian; plus many, many others. 

Rome requires a book, or several books to justify it, not just a 1,500 word review.  Amongst the suggestions for a visit one should include the Arch of Titus, Area Sacra dell'Argentina, the Aurelian Wall, the Baths of Caracalla, the Capitoline Museums,  Hadrian's Villa,  the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and Tiber Island.  But others may have different route itineraries.  

AERBT managed a view of three outstanding sites two from Roman times and another just 100 years old.

The Coliseum and Forum

If your time in Rome is limited the Coliseum and Forum is a must.  The forerunner of Wembley, or any other sports stadium, the Coliseum was said to have been funded from the spoils of the capture of Jerusalem.  It was completed under the Emperor Titus in 80 AD and sat 50,000. 

What is true is that the Coliseum hosted gladiator flights to the death, and spectacular shows, but it was certainly not the site of Christians being thrown to the Lions.  The collapse of the Roman Empire also meant the end of the Coliseum as a theatre (or circus) and by 600 AD its days as a stadia were ended.

View the Arch of Constantine and then proceed to the Forum, the centre of political, administrative and commercial life during Roman times.  There is too much to describe here.  Much of the area is still very much an archaeological dig. 

The Pantheon
The Pantheon was built in the 2nd century AD.  Even today it is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.  It is one of the best preserved of all Roman buildings and has been in continuous use throughout its history.  Since the 7th century it has been a Roman Catholic church.  You can get married in the building.  Buried within the building are the painter Raphael and Kings of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I. 

There are no words to describe the interior.  Just stand and gape at the ceiling by Giovanni Paolo Pannini.  The building is one of the most copied around the world, from its namesake in Paris, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Manchester Central Library in the aptly named St Peter’s Square.

The Victor Emmanuel II Memorial

The Victor Emmanuel II Memorial, completed in 1911 serves not only as a fine military museum but by taking the lift the top offers perhaps the best view of Rome, certainly of The Forum and Coliseum.  It is a strange place to find a café.  Sit down, take it all in, and remember that Rome has been the centre of civilisation for 2,000 years.

It is worth noting that for many of the official tourist sites EU citizens over 65 are granted free admission and the same goes for those under 18.  However you MUST have your passport with you and since Vatican City is not technically part of the EU for the museum, gardens and other highlights there is a fee to pay. 

Also available gratis are a fine series of Ipod/MP3 lectures.  www.italyguides.it

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Air Berlin expands

AIR BERLIN is in an expansion mood having taken over the TUIfly's city routes and with it 15 aircraft.  The airline is currently recruiting 700 flight attendants and 120 co-pilots.  Last week it published its third quarter earnings which more than doubled to €95.2m beating analysts forecasts and triggering a jump of more than 8% in its shares.  Whilst best known for its European regional routes the airline has a fleet of 13 Airbus A330s which operate as far east as Bangkok and as far west as Vancouver.  From the UK the airline flies four times daily from Stansted to its main hub at Dusseldorf, and twice daily to Hanover, Munster, and Nuremburg.  Paderborn is three times daily from Manchester and daily from Stansted. www.airberlin.com

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Berlin gains Hampton

BERLIN will see its first Hampton by Hilton hotel next year following a franchise agreement.  The property, the first of the economy brand in Germany, is close by the Kaiser Wilhem Church and will offer 214 rooms, meeting facilities and a fitness area.  The hotel will provide a courtesy wi-fi service and the nightstop package includes breakfast.  The first Hampton by Hilton in Europe opened in Corby (UK) earlier this year followed by the Liverpool Airport property in October.  In 2011 Hilton will go very upmarket in Berlin with the opening of the Waldorf Astoria. www.hilton.co.uk/berlin

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Business jet sales

BUSINESS JET sales will total over 11,000 in the next ten years according to a study by Forecast International, the market intelligence organisation.  This figure should also be compared with the same organisations regional jet prognosis published by AERBT last week.  During the 2009-2018 time period, the projections indicate that the top three manufacturers in terms of unit production will be Cessna, Embraer and Bombardier.  When the market is measured in monetary value of production, Gulfstream takes the top spot, followed by Bombardier and Dassault.  New models in the pipeline include Cessna CJ4, Bombardier Learjet 85, Dassault Falcon 900LX, Embraer Legacy 450 and 500, Hawker Beechcraft Premier II, and Gulfstream G250 and G650 (see below). www.forecastinternational.com

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Geneva prestige hotel refurbished

GENEVA’S Hotel President Wilson has completed a two-year €26m renovation of its lobby, public areas and guest rooms.  The hotel has a magnificent setting on the banks of the lake.  Each of the properties 230 deluxe guest rooms and suites have been renovated to provide luxurious accommodation with all the state-of-the art technology.  Geneva Airport is just over two miles away and the city’s main shopping and commercial area a short walk. www.hotelpwilson.com

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Isle of Man gets new route

FLYBE is to introduce a three times weekly service from Bristol to the Isle of Man from the start of the summer programme 28 March.  It will operate Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, with the addition of a Saturday service during the May through September peak season.  The service will be operated by Bombardier Q400 turboprops with a flight time of just 55 minutes. www.flybe.com

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Seattle Airport gains rail link

SEATTLE travellers will be delighted to learn that from 19 December 2009 the final link of the light railway between Sea-Tac International Airport and Tukwila Station, will open.  Whilst only 1.7m long, it has been frustrating for passengers since July to take the new light railway to Tukwila and then change onto a free shuttle service.  With the opening of this short link travel between downtown Seattle and the airport will be made significantly easier.  The rail link goes right into the airport terminal.  Further development of the light railway system is expected over the coming years. www.portseattle.org/seatac/ground

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Virgin Atlantic re-opens Gatwick Clubhouse

VIRGIN ATLANTIC, whose Heathrow Clubhouse set a new standard for airport hospitality when it originally opened in 1993, has now completed the complete remodelling of its Gatwick home (which dates from 1998).  The Clubhouse covers 750 sq ft and has seating for 130 people.  You can watch the aircraft, have a meal, or make the use of the Cowshed spa.  There is a working area, a section for young people and the whole of the club is wi-fi friendly.  Entrance is now through a new private corridor leading to the reception and concierge area.  Access is complimentary for Upper Class travellers and Virgin Holidays passengers can use the facility at a cost of £35. www.virgin-atlantic.com

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HAPPY TALK: A non-travel story

A non aviation story (but with thanks to the IFALPA (International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations) daily newsletter.

The woman applying for a job in a Florida lemon grove seemed way too qualified for the job.

"Look Miss," said the Manager, "have you any actual experience in picking lemons?"  "Well... as a matter of fact, yes!" she replied.  "I've been divorced three times."

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