18 JANUARY 2010

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Air Southwest and SkyPartners

AIR SOUTHWEST, based in Plymouth and serving both London City and Gatwick airports, has a new in-flight catering contractor, SkyPartners Airport and Airline Services.  The new contract will see the introduction of more South West produce and famous local brands, plus a new range of gifts available to buy in-flight, many from well-known local manufacturers.  The menu and gift catalogue will be introduced from 1 February, Air Southwest’s route network covering the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands.  As a result of the contract, SkyPartners is teaming up with South Devon College in Paignton in Devon to introduce a new student catering apprenticeship scheme.  It will be centred on Newquay and Plymouth airports, and is believed to be the first of its kind. www.skypartners.co.uk www.airsouthwest.com

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BAA publishes year end figures

BAA has published its figures for 2009 which show an overall decline of passengers by 4.2% to 106.9m.  Heathrow proved the most robust, the decline just 1.5% on 2008 to 65.9m, Edinburgh up marginally to 9m, with fellow Scottish airport’s Aberdeen and Glasgow  both down by 10% on average.  Stansted lost 10% of its traffic which is now at the 20m-passenger mark per year.  BAA says that if it was not for the December poor weather it would have shown positive numbers overall in December.  Cargo tonnage was up 20%. www.baa.com

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Cityjet at London City

CITYJET, an Air France-KLM subsidiary, now the largest operator out of London City Airport has expanded capacity on its Amsterdam, Dublin, Edinburgh and Paris Orly routes and now operates 60 flights per day from the East London facility.  Amsterdam was CityJet’s busiest route last year, with just under 250,000 passengers.  Edinburgh and Dundee performed well, particularly in the fourth quarter of 2009, and helped to lift annual traffic on the airline’s Scottish services by 23% year-on-year.  The airline operates 24 various de Havilland 146 derivatives and 18 Fokker F50s acquired following the Air France takeover of VLM.  Also in the fleet are four Dornier 328 propjets left over from the Scot Airways operation. www.cityjet.com

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Flybe and an IPO

FLYBE says that in spite of recent newspaper reports it has no intention of an IPO (initial public offering) at the present time.  A very senior company source said that whilst it was in the pending tray no date has been set for a stock market listing but that was clearly a future intention.  The airline is owned by Rosedale Aviation Holdings – essentially the Jack Walker trust (69%), Flybe staff (16%) and British Airways (15%) as a consequence of the acquisition of  BA Connect.  It currently operates around 70 aircraft including 14 Embraer 195s, the balance Bombardier Q400s with more to arrive this year.  In Scotland it has signed a franchise agreement with Loganair, that airline’s fleet now in Flybe colours. www.flybe.com

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Pegasus from the UK

PEGASUS AIRLINES, a major investor in Air Berlin, has confirmed (see AERBT 16 November) new flights from the UK to the Turkish destinations of Antalya, Bodrum and Dalaman, flying variously from Birmingham, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted.  Bookings have now opened.  The airline has daily services from Stansted to Istanbul S.Gokcen (SAW) on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, which connect to 18 destinations across Turkey.  Pegasus operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet. www.flypgs.com

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Sydney on the cheap

AERBT has been accused in the past of being only interested in upmarket, or chain hotels.  Just to show this is not the case we publicise the news that there is a new Youth Hostel Association (YHA) hostel in The Rocks area of Sydney, a wonderful waterside location by Circular Quay.  With overnight accommodation priced from just A$42.00 (£24) per night for a room shared by six (A$37.50 for YHA members), budget travellers can finally stay in the heart of Sydney’s premier tourist precinct and enjoy its many attractions and stunning Sydney Harbour views.  The property offers twin, double, family and shared 4-6 people rooms, all with an en-suite bathroom.  Facilities include a self-catering kitchen and dining area, laundry facilities, state-of-the-art internet cafe, coffee bar, lockers, bicycle storage, lounge, tour booking desk and convenience store plus a rooftop terrace. www.yha.com.au

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Wizz Air in dramatic growth

2009 proved to be an interesting year in terms of airline performance with some notable exceptions to the general scenario of falling numbers.  In Central and Eastern Europe Wizz Air, Hungarian-based but US-funded, stemmed the tide by carrying 7.8m passengers representing a 33% growth on the previous 12 months.  In the course of 2009 the Company opened a new base in Prague adding up to a total of 11 bases in Central and Eastern Europe; took delivery of 7 additional brand new aircraft bringing the fleet to 27 Airbus A320s; and launched 40 new routes, resulting in a network of 147 destinations.‪ www.wizzair.com

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HAPPY TALK: A job for Maigret (and a true story)

French police are investigating whether a pickpocket stole thousands of euros from passengers as they slept on an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris.

"There is an investigation under way," a spokesman for the border police at Charles de Gaulle Airport when asked to confirm a report on the website of Le Figaro.

The paper said around E4,000 appeared to have been stolen from five business class passengers as they slept on the overnight flight.

"On this flight, which takes off from Tokyo Narita at 10 pm, passengers often sleep deeply before waking up shortly before arriving in Paris at around 4 am," Le Figaro quoted one of the alleged victims as saying.

A woman alerted the cabin crew when she woke to find a large sum missing. 

A spokeswoman for Air France said the pilot had alerted police who were waiting when the flight touched down.  It is not known if the French police spoke Japanese.

"I would say that it is really extremely rare to have several passengers at once reporting thefts on board," she said. 

She said that while the company was responsible for baggage carried in the hold, passengers had responsibility for possessions they had with them in the cabin. 

Maigret, played by the late Rupert Davis, was created by  Belgian novelist George Simenon.  The  Parisian detective came to life on black and white British television screens in the early 1960’s and soon became a firm TV favourite

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COMMENT: Gatwick and its Express

 

Our first issue of 2010 dealt with BAA and its six airports.  CEO Colin Matthews was kind enough to allude to Gatwick and wished the south London operation well under its new owners.

Gatwick’s new owners, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), has a great many problems to deal with at the airport, many of course known, and no doubt some discovered over the last few weeks.  That is not to say that the previous management were trying to cover up anything, but things do get overlooked when the real task is to run a day to day airport operation.

Clearly GIP’s first task is to define what is to be done and how it is to be done.  We are talking about the fabric of the airport.  Secondly it needs to retain its airline customers, and attract new ones, either those who have gone away, or those whose aircraft have never operated at the world’s busiest international single runway airport.

Third, but hopefully jumping the queue, is the effort required in actually attracting passengers to Crawley North.

London Gatwick has a railway station, perhaps the worst major rail gateway anywhere in the globe.  It is badly laid out, the amenities are poor, escalators are not fitted to all the platforms, and some of the trains themselves actually have to cross the tracks when entering, slowing down the whole operation.  Frankly it needs rebuilding, a major investment. 

By 2015 hopefully the Thameslink upgrade programme should be complete, giving a far better service to St Pancras and the north, and adding through routes to Stevenage and beyond.  It should add passengers by the drove.

In the meantime there is a severe problem.  It is called the Gatwick Express, still an Express, but a serious case of a doubtful future.

The Gatwick Express was introduced in 1984 as a non-stop service between the airport and London Victoria.  For an airport operation it was very successful and after originally using reconditioned rolling stock very modern dedicated units were introduced, the service marketed jointly with the Heathrow Express to Paddington and for a period with the unsatisfactory Stansted – Liverpool Street service.

In September 2009 the franchise was transferred to Southern, for them just another service.  What happens now is anyone’s guess but the airlines, with BAR-UK in the lead, are very concerned.  So should GIP. 

What we do know is that Southern Trains plan to discontinue use of the fine dedicated stock and use ten-coach commuter-type carriages. 

Presently there is a 30-minute non-stop service.  In off-peak hours plans have been suggested to split trains in two, and use five-car units. 

The idea of stopping the trains at Croydon was raised in the past, hotly contested by the airlines, and dropped.  BAA foolishly failed to challenge the title Stansted Express when the “Stansted Slow” was introduced.  Yes it was in their interest to acquiesce in the misrepresentation but this must never be allowed to happen again.  The Trade Descriptions Act was introduced to stop fraudulent sales campaigns.  Even in the beginning the Stansted Express was not non-stop, although the stop at Tottenham Hale does have advantages.  It now stops at least twice.

If Gatwick is to revert as a major UK and European gateway under its new owners it needs proper railway services and a fast dedicated operation to Central London with appropriate baggage storage facilities, multi-lingual announcements, onboard ticket sales, and friendly sympathetic staff.  Not a sparse commuter operation.

It is over to you GIP.  The airlines want to get behind you.  The Gatwick Express is your flagship route into London.  It must remain just that.  A proper airport express.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Airbus and Virgin Atlantic

VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS has quietly cancelled an order for six Airbus A340-600s, whilst more or less at the same time signing contracts to bring in ten A330s, the first twin-engined aircraft ever operated by the company.  The airline plans what it calls “revolutionary onboard cabin innovations” including USB ports and in-flight internet.  Five of the aircraft will arrive in 2011 and five in 2012.  Beijing, Cancun and Vancouver could be new destinations for the aircraft.  With the last Boeing 747-400 delivered it looks like the end of the line for the A340 too with 371 ordered and just seven to be delivered.  However both aircraft live on in developed form, Airbus with the A330 and Boeing with the 747-8. www.airbus.com  www.virgin-atlantic.com

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Blue Wings gone

BLUE WINGS (QW), a Dusseldorf-based charter airline, has ceased operations after the German authorities had revoked its licence.  Established operationally in 2003 it had a fleet of eight Airbus A320 series with Russian former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev holding 48% via a Zurich-based company.  Blue Wings other shareholders are Cyprus-based Nondwell Investment Ltd and the carrier's Chief Executive Joern Hellwig with a stake of 26% each.  Funding problems led to the demise of the grounding of the carrier. www.bluewings.com

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Copenhagen and London City

LONDON CITY AIRPORT is expected to have a new arrival for the start of the summer season, Cimber Sterling.  With SAS closing its route between Copenhagen and the East London airport at that time Cimber has chosen to redirect its London route from Gatwick to City.  It will operate twice daily using a  46-seat ATR 42.  The airline will continue to fly between Billund and Gatwick, twice daily, Monday to Friday. www.cimber.com

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Gibraltar airline changes

GIBRALTAR is again being served by air from Madrid after both British Airways and Iberia pulled out, their very short interest in the route said to be somewhat premature with the new joint administration terminal not yet compete and the tunnel under the runway essentially still in the planning stages.  Andalus Líneas Aéreas has filled that gap with limited services and last summer a three times weekly route to Barcelona.  Created in early 2009 the carrier currently operates five Embraer 145 50-seat jets from hubs at Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga.  With British Airways recently moving its operation from Gatwick to Heathrow the British Overseas Territory is now served from Heathrow T3 (BA), Gatwick North (easyJet) and Luton (Monarch) plus Monarch three times per week from Manchester. www.andalus.es

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Rezidor expands in Madrid (and Rotherham)

REZIDOR, one of the fastest growing hotel companies worldwide, has opened its very first hotel in the Spanish capital Madrid.  Occupying one of the city’s finest sites it is just across the road from the Prado Museum and adjacent to the new Caixa-Forum cultural centre.  Many more of Madrid’s top attractions are within walking distance, including the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum.  Luxury shopping is nearby in the Gran Via.  The brand new property offers 54 guest rooms.  Not quite on the same level as regards location, the Park Inn Rotherham is located near the new waterfront development at Manvers, Wath-upon-Dearne.  The hotel offers 130 bedrooms, meeting facilities, a leisure club and a signature RBG restaurant.  It is just ten minutes from Junction 36 off the M1, close to Barnsley, Sheffield and Doncaster. www.rezidor.com

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Taiwan from London

CHINA AIRLINES of Taiwan, which should not to be confused with Air China (of mainland China), will introduce a three times a week non-stop service between London and Taipei with an Airbus A340-300 in a three-class layout from the beginning of the summer season 28 March.  With the relationship between the two Chinas thawing the British government has seen fit to license the operation, the first ever direct services.  Flight time is likely to be around 14hrs 30mins from Heathrow T4.  Eva Air is established on the route, but presently operates via Bangkok. www.china-airlines.com

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ON TOUR: A short break in Israel

2009 was a record year for travel between Israel and the United Kingdom.  Whether this high record of tourism will continue in 2010 depends on two factors.  Firstly the continuing peace between the Jewish state and its close Arab states.  Secondly whether the loss of bmi, with its twice daily services out of Heathrow, can be compensated by easyJet from Luton, who only operate six days a week, and with a smaller aircraft in short haul tight European configuration, rather than a proper international Economy Class.  

Close on one million passengers flew between the UK and Israel in 2009, the official figures likely to show a 10% increase, a 15% rise on 2007.  However outbound traffic from Israel probably made up half this number with possibly 30% connecting.  Israelis are great travellers, worldwide.

Refugees of all kinds
Israel was created in 1948 by the United Nations, partially due to international embarrassment for the Holocaust.  Even the Russians voted for the establishment of the state, formerly a British protectorate, and previously for many, many centuries part of the Turkish Empire.  Whilst for the most part Jews were dispersed in Roman times, a core population have always remained, essentially in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Safed.  

Up to 500,000 Palestinians were displaced in 1948, but at least the same number of Jews, probably more, were exiled from their homes in Arab states, in many cases essential business people, medical experts and professionals.  Some Arabs chose to stay and today the community is represented in the Knesset (parliament).

The new State quickly integrated the arrivals from overseas into Israeli society.  For the most part the displaced  Arabs went into refugee camps and were left to fester, neighbouring states refusing to help.  They have multiplied.  This is the core of today’s Middle East problem.

In Israel one felt completely relaxed, the same as if in London, the security surprisingly discreet.

Ben Gurion Tel Aviv (TLV) is the only international airport in Israel, the extremely modern Terminal 3 completed at the back end of 2004.  There is an integrated railway station with services to Tel Aviv and a link to Jerusalem set for 2012.  Whilst the Israeli security is highly rated the whole operation runs smoothly and is a credit to the country.  Most international airlines operate to T3, the old terminal, now known as T1, is home for easyJet and domestic flights to Eilat.  You can also fly to Israel’s southern gateway from Sde Dove, located on the coast, just to the north of Tel Aviv’s city centre.

Most of the multi-national car hire companies are represented at the airport, our tour operator Issta Direct making the arrangements with Budget (and organising everything else).  A Fiat Punto may not be the ideal car for use at home, but for two people it proved to be an economical runabout in Israel, easy to park, a reasonable ride, and fast enough to cause no embarrassment.

Dealt with quickly at the airport at a ridiculously early hour we were quickly on our way, our destination Tiberius a two-hour mainly dual-carriageway drive to the north.  The road signs are in English and Hebrew and providing you keep your wits about you not too daunting.

This trip to Israel was but four nights, very much a mid-winter break, but with an overnight four-hour-plus flight out and an evening return in fact six days of remarkably warm weather was thoroughly enjoyed.  

The ancient town of Tiberias
Your Editor in Chief had never been to Tiberias previously, the town as old as written history and sitting on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  For Christians in particular it has strong connotations. Also known as Lake Kinneret, it is a fresh water lake, and part of the River Jordan complex.  You can easily drive around the lake in a couple of hours, the Israeli controlled Golan Heights on the eastern shore dominating the whole area.  It is easy to see why the Jewish state wants to remain in control of this important strategic area.  

To the north is Safed, and more anon, whilst the Jordan departs at the southern extremity near the little resort village of Kinneret.

We stayed at the renamed Leonardo Plaza, once a Sheraton, and right in the centre of what is now a popular tourist town.  It is a fine four-star holiday property, air conditioned, with a large open air swimming pool.  You can dine in the hotel in the evening, or in one of the many nearby restaurants.  Nothing too sophisticated, that you will find for the most part in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Tiberias is named after the Roman Emperor of the same name and has been an important centre since those times, with more than its fair share of prosperity, learning and the occasional massacre.  Walking around you can see the remains of  occupation from overseas including the Crusaders, the Ottomans and in more recent times, the British.  One hundred years ago a census noted that the population had reached 6,500.  This included 4,500 Jews, 1,600 Muslims and the rest Christians.  

Safed
One hour north of Tiberias via a very twisty road, and 800m above sea level, is the city of Safed, a serious seat of Jewish learning since the beginning of the last millennium, and today very much dominated by tourism.  It is a fascinating ancient town mainly built on the hillside.  It is the spiritual home of Kabbalah.

Park with care and explore with your feet.  Safed has a thriving artist colony and is a living museum of paintings, tiny galleries, all on the internet and happy to take dollars, euros, Russian roubles and the pound sterling.  Or a credit card.  

Safed is also the home of the largest Crusader castle in the Middle East, and at the opposite end of the spectrum the Jewish quarter with its narrow cobble-stoned streets and ancient synagogues.

For the tourist the Galilee has an enormous amount to offer.  You can go kayaking at Kfar Blum, near the Lebanese border, sample some superb wines at Kibbutz Yiron, or take in one of the National Parks.  At Rosh Hanikra you can ride in what is claimed to be the steepest cable car in the world.  The kibbutz movement is in decline but here in the northern extremities of Israel they still seem to thrive with some offering hotel accommodation to a high standard including indoor swimming pools.

Tel Aviv “The city that never sleeps”

Tiberias to Tel Aviv is an easy run, making sure that one does not take the road to Haifa.  Our accommodation was again by LeonardoPlaza (previously Moriah), this particular hotel one of a gaggle of internationally branded properties along what must equate with Rio’s Copacabana as one of the finest city centre beaches anywhere in the world.  

If not offering the world’s greatest cuisine the Israeli breakfasts are at least something else.  No need to bother about lunch.  At the very top of the Moriah an executive lounge offered a courtesy early evening buffet and quality wines.  Wireless and internet facilities were also provided.

The city was one hundred years old in 2009, and celebrated wildly.  Jaffa, which forms the southern extremity, is vastly older having claimed amongst its visitors Jonah, with or without his whale, St Peter, Richard the Lionheart and Napoleon.  An organized walking tour is well worthwhile taking, descending from Kedumim Square and its interesting museum, through many narrow passageways, to the actual port itself.

Tel Aviv promotes itself to be “the city that never sleeps” with a vibrant nightlife.  Once in the city a car is not a requirement, taxis are cheap, there is a good bus service and Israel is steadily catching up when it comes to railway services.  

You have to know your history.  Unlike certain other places the old names are retained.  There is Allenby, King George and Balfour streets right in the centre, and Dizengoff, the main thoroughfare and named after the first mayor of the city.  There is a fine zoo in Tel Aviv and Israel is noted for the quality of its serious music.

The city is full of museums perhaps one of the most interesting (and near the Moriah) is dedicated to, and the former home of, Israel’s leader during the War of Independence, David ben Gurion.  There are some wonderful letters of support from the great people of those times including Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt and John Kennedy.  A prodigious reader, his library contains 20,000 volumes.  

 “The Old Port”, but in fact only built in 1936 and closed in 1965, (with the opening of the modern terminal at Ashdod) is now a thriving leisure and nightlife area.  With the promenade stretching all the way from Jaffa, it is extremely accessible, designer shops open during the daytime and into the evening and  an abundance of restaurants and nightlife once it gets dark.  

One thing to bear in mind when visiting Israel by air.  Make sure you get back to the airport in plenty of time.  Israel sells it security all around the world and the authorities are slow and thorough at Ben Gurion.

British Airways and El Al fly from Heathrow and easyJet and El Al from Luton.  Jet2 has services from Manchester.

MALCOLM GINSBERG
Editor in Chief

http://www.leonardo-hotels.com/Leonardo_Plaza_Hotel_Tiberias
http://www.leonardo-hotels.com/Leonardo_Plaza_Hotel_Tel_Aviv

 www.goisrael.com    www.issata-direct

 

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787 update

BOEING has completed initial airworthiness testing on the 787 Dreamliner.  This milestone will enable further crew members to take part in flights and will allow more aircraft to join the flight test programme.  Since the first flight in mid-December, the programme has conducted 15 flights, achieving several key accomplishments. Pilots have taken the prototype to an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144m) and a speed of Mach 0.65.  Nearly 60 hours of flying have been completed.  Initial stall tests and other dynamic manoeuvres have been run, as well as an extensive check-out of the plane's systems.  Six different pilots have been behind the controls of the 787.  First delivery is planned for the fourth quarter of this year. www.boeing.com/commercial

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American Airlines says no to money

AMERICAN AIRLINES is to go cashless for all flights following the experimental introduction of a ‘plastic’ system on continental United States services and sectors to and from Alaska, Canada and Hawaii in June 2009.  Flight attendants utilize a hand-held Onboard Sales Recorder, devices American has used since May 2006, to charge credit and debit cards, eliminating the need to search for small bills or change.  Receipts are provided to passengers upon request.  American Eagle and AmericanConnection flights will continue to accept only cash for onboard purchases.  The cut-off day for the mighty dollar is 1 February. www.aa.com

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British Airways v Virgin Atlantic. Round by round commentary

SIR RICHARD BRANSON, Virgin Atlantic’s President, has used the opportunity afforded by the current Japan Airlines problems to attack the proposed BA/AA tie-up.  He says that the airlines are demonstrating double standards on anti-trust issues.  Branson quotes oneworld with a statement saying that a JAL/Delta alliance “would raise intractable competition issues and face severe regulatory opposition in the US because of the stranglehold this combination would hold on Japan-USA travel.”  American Airline’s CEO Gerard Arpey has also said “the whole design of open skies and immunity is not to allow the dominant carriers to partner and drive the less dominant carriers out of the market.”  Branson’s retorts that “oneworld’s approach to the potential JAL/Delta transpacific alliance is hypocritical in the extreme.  BA and AA’s arguments against the JAL/Delta transpacific alliance read like a carbon copy of our longstanding objections to a BA/AA transatlantic alliance”. www.atlantic-airlines.com

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ESTA, the US visa system, becomes mandatory

ESTA (United States Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) first introduced in September 2008 is to become mandatory from 20 January.  In a strongly worded statement British Airways has advised all customers travelling to or transferring through the US from this date to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours in advance of their journey.  Under the new regulations, airlines will be unable to accept US-bound customers for their flight if they have not received ESTA approval or if they do not hold a valid visa or Green Card.  If you are travelling to say New Zealand on Air New Zealand via Los Angeles you will need an ESTA.  It is free and once completed is valid for two years and allows multiple visits without the need to reapply.  AERBT recommends that readers who do not have a visa and might have a need to travel in the future to USA without notice should update every two years to save waiting 72 hours to complete the paperwork before being able to make the journey. https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov

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London gains new rail link

MARYLEBONE STATION, something of a poor relation in terms of London’s railway terminals (and nearly axed by Beeching – but still part of the Monopoly game), has celebrated the announcement of the first major rail link from the capital to a major British city for 100 years.  Chiltern Railways has confirmed a £250m investment to create a new main line from London Marylebone station to Oxfordshire and the Midlands.  Designed explicitly to take cars off the roads, the centerpiece of the route link will be Water Eaton Parkway in North Oxford, a high quality integrated transport hub, linked to the A34, A40 and Oxford city centre. The West Midlands will get a new main line connection to London to rival the West Coast route to Euston, with the average trains from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone taking just 100 minutes against the current 128.  Another beneficiary will be users of Wembley Stadium, a station on the route. www.chilternrailways.co.uk

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RwandAir adds jets

RWANDAIR has placed two newly acquired Bombardier CRJ-200 jets on routes from Kigali to Nairobi, Entebbe and Johannesburg.  These former Lufthansa aircraft (and still maintained by Lufthansa Technik) are directly operated by the airline rather than “wet leased”, that is with a contract crew.  The airline has come to an arrangement with the Eastern and Southern African Trade & Development Bank (PTA Bank) for finance to be raised to enable larger aircraft introductions in 2010. www.rwandair.com

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Wall Street gets hotel

ANDAZ WALL STREET is the name of a new property which has just opened on Wall Street, New York, the only hotel actually on the world’s most famous financial road. Andaz, Hyatt’s newest brand, is a simplified property, but with quality service and indulgent amenities for its guests. Following the successful debuts of Andaz Liverpool Street (the former Great Eastern) in London and Andaz West Hollywood in California the Andaz Wall Street is the first step in the brand’s expansion into New York. A second New York hotel, Andaz 5th Avenue, is slated to open later this year and Andaz San Diego will open on 1 February in the hotel currently known as the Ivy Hotel. www.newyork.wallstreet.andaz.hyatt.com/hyatt

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 TB Veloce

Alfa’s Baby Cuts a Dash

For the full road test index click here

I always find a special aura about any Alfa Romeo car and the latest Mito model is no exception.  Some may compartmentalise this car as a hatch back, perhaps an alternative to any similar sized offering from the mainstream car makers but I think they would be wrong.

Viewed from the front, the styling of the three-door body is certainly racy, almost aggressive, from the side more a coupe than a hatch and from the rear I would suggest a sport wagon.  I therefore declare the Alfa Romeo Mito a coupe pitched price wise to compete in many respects with much less exciting competitors.

In creating the Mito (the name a combination of Milan and Turin) Alfa Romeo has, in my mind, drawn on its experience of the impressive performing Alfasud and 133 designs of more than a decade ago and also cribbed some of the current family styling of larger bodied models.  Naturally, they have also prioritised driver satisfaction and overall performance.

The current 13-car range, priced from £10,745 to £14,745 and employing three trim levels, is based on a 1.4-litre petrol engine in various stages of power output plus 1.3 and 1.4 litre turbo diesel units.  As I expected most of units have been proven by use in some guise in the Fiat family range and all produce power characteristics that combine good refinement levels with competitive power outputs.  What else would one expect from Alfa Romeo?

I have been driving the flagship model, the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol fuelled 155 bhp model in top Veloce trim and using a 6-speed manual gearbox.  A 5-speed gearbox offered on the less potent models but so far no news of an automatic option.

This car’s aggressive/exciting looks invite occupation of the driving seat which proved to me to be quite an experience.

The seating position is low in true sports car tradition, the driver comfort is good though the seat contouring is not that figure hugging and the adjustable steering column is good for reach but limited on tilt adjust.

Pedal positioning proved to be a bit tight for my average sized shoes and the foot rest positioning can be a bit challenging according to the individual driver’s physical dimensions.  Without doubt a traditional Alfa Romeo experience heightened by the business-like fascia with its instrument dials retaining Italian script – I think, acqua, giro and benzina are ‘cooler’ than the English – temperature, rpm and fuel!

The term ‘cool’ can also be applied to the car’s overall interior styling which includes a racy leather covered steering wheel with metal spokes and more metal or metal effect materials distributed around the cockpit area in a sensible rather than trendy manner.

To me, the effect is being in a car that is a bit more than a run of the mill hatch back and this fact is driven home once the ignition is turned on and a graphic on the fascia depicts an image of a Mito coming at you (turn off and the image reverts to an example driving away) and with the next turn of the key the turbocharged engine wakes up with a distinctive engine note as is required by any self-respecting Alfa Romeo driver.

Before even selecting first gear from the positive but rather loose changing gearbox you can have the choice of determine what degree of driver excitement you require.  Situated close to the gear lever is an innocuous looking slide type spring loaded switch known as the DNA system which selects Dynamic, Normal or All-weather driving modes.  This acts on engine performance, power steering, traction control throttle response and the boost pressure of the turbo.

In Dynamic mode the driver benefits from sharper response but at the expense of a harder ride and I would suggest that most of the time the Mito would travel in the Normal mode though I also query whether this system is really necessary when I know the Mito has the CV of an excellent driving car.

the Mitio can shift WITH top speed aclaimed 134 mph with 62 mph (100 kph) reached in a very competitive 8 seconds.  A combined fuel consumption of 43.5 mpg reminds me that the engine’s pedigree is based on some of the most efficient power units in the business.

What is more, the performance character manages to combine a good deal of refinement for such a small but potent power unit with the essential charisma that is present in virtually every Alfa product I sampled, even the very old ones.

Once I accommodated the softness of the gear change action I realised that the response through the steering and all disc braking system enabled the good road grip to be fully exploited with generous safety margins that did not necessarily draw on too much driver effort.  Here is a versatile compact four seat (just) car that can easily cope with either a city commute or a day long mile-eating journey in a manner that soon gets taken for granted.

Is the Mito practical?  That depends on the individual.  For example the rear space is not generous though the boot space is probably just above average for the class, and the rear seat fold as one unless you pay the extra and have split fold facility.

You get four smart alloy wheels but have to make do with a puncture repair kit in place of a spare.

The safety note has been played strongly, both front seats have anti-whip-lash active head rests and the car has gained a 5-Star NCAP rating for passenger protection though I suspect the bold frontal styling contributes to a mere 2-star pedestrian rating.

Without doubt the Mito is a typical example of the increasingly high standards of product quality that is being achieved by the Fiat Group and without doubt it competes on all the important requirements for those wanting a bit more than a mainstream hatch back.  My test car was black but for me there is ever only one colour for any Alfa and that is red!

Main Rivals: Honda Civic 1.4 Type S £14,250,
Renault Megane Coupe 21.6 VVT £15,635, VW Scirocco 1.4 TSI £19,110,
MINI Cooper 1.6 £15,995.

STAR RATINGS

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 8
Noise 8
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 8
Accommodation 8
Styling 9
Brakes 9
Finish 9
TOTAL: 86%

Price: From £14,745 on the road.

NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON‘S MOTORING DIARY


USEFUL: For those stuck in a snow drift Laser Tools (www.lasertools.co.uk) is offering a neat and strong metal folding snow shovel that comes in a neat bag and measures just 28 x 32 cm x 1.5 m when packed and unfolds to 66 cm. Price around £19.99. For those who really get stuck in their car or out in the elements Kamasa (www.kamasa.co.uk) is offering an emergency light weight heat retaining blanket that is packed to easily fit into a car’s glove compartment or an anorak pocket for £1.99.

LAND ROVER: A sports-style Land Rover Freelander 2 is due to launch.  Features will include 19” diamond turned alloy wheels, two-tone Ebony & Storm interior and a rear spoiler.

MAZDA: An extensively revised Mazda 5 compact MPV model range is just arriving in UK showrooms. Six variants are offered using a choice of four engines and three specification levels. On road prices start at £17,150 and a £4,000 scrappage discount is available.

SEAT: The Spanish SEAT car range has been named the most improved used car brand of the decade. The award is only offered every ten years.

SSANGYONG: A South Korean court has approved SsangYong Motor Company’s revival plans, clearing the way for a three-year new model plan.

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