25 JANUARY 2010

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ATR results for 2009

ATR, the Franco/Italian turboprop manufacturer based in Toulouse, delivered 54 aircraft last year, unveiled orders for 40 new aircraft plus 17 options (2008: 42 new aircraft plus 14 options).  It also confirmed the ATR ‘-600 series’ development programme is on track, with the first flight successfully achieved in 2009.  Since the beginning of the programme in 1984, ATR has now sold one thousand aircraft (418 ATR 42s and 582 ATR 72s).  In the last five years, ATR has booked net orders for 316 new aircraft, which represents almost a third of the total orders registered by the company. www.atraircraft.com

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easyBus for everyone

EASYBUS is making a bit of a push for its road connections to Gatwick, Luton and Stansted airports.  Founded by Stelios Haji-Ioannou in 2004, and having carried over two million passengers, one thing is very clear.  You can be a customer of any airline, even the Irish one, and the services run day and night to Luton and Stansted from opposite Victoria Coach Station, and from Fulham Broadway Underground for Gatwick.  The Luton bus stops at Brent Cross and Finchley Road Underground (as well as Marble Arch and Baker Street) whilst the Stansted one picks up/drops off at the two inner London points.  The frequency is between 15 and 30 minutes.  It is all now available on line from prices starting at £2. www.easyBus.co.uk

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Flairjet flies Embraer

FLAIRJET has taken delivery of a second Embraer Phenom 100 and will receive two of the larger dash 300 six seat derivatives in April and May.  Flairjet is the first commercial operator of the light jet in Europe. The Oxford Airport based company say they are delighted with the aircraft which are already gaining repeat business.  Routing was Sao Jose dos Campos was Brasilia, Belem, French Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Maarten, Turks and Caicos, Orlando (NBAA), Richmond, Quebec, Goose Bay, Narsarsuaq, Keflavik, and Wick.  Total ‘delivery’ flying mileage was 7,730 nm.  AERBT has flown in the first aircraft and a review will follow shortly. www.flair-jet.com

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Japan Airlines flies on

JAPAN AIRLINES filed for bankruptcy protection, but oneworld says “business as usual”.  The airline is to keep on flying due to support from a state-backed fund.  The current Board has resigned and there is likely to be major management changes under a new CEO.  The biggest losers are shareholders who will finish up with nothing.  Some 15,000 jobs will go and thin routes are expected to be dropped under a vigorous regeneration programme.  The new JAL will quickly need to make a decision about whether it wants to stay with the oneworld alliance and its Pacific partner American Airlines or take up an offer from Delta and the Skyteam group. www.jal.co.jp/en

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Manchester to Bagdad

VIKING HELLAS AIRLINES, the Greek airline associated with Viking Airlines AB of Sweden, is to introduce a new three-times weekly scheduled service from Manchester to Athens from 1 February with onward connections to Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaymanyiah, three Iraqi cities.  These will be the only flights from the north west of England to Greece.  Viking Hellas has established agreements with Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines to provide convenient connections to their Athens flight networks.  This provides passengers with the opportunity to connect in Athens to and from other Greek cities, the Greek Islands, the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.  Viking says that with the large regional expatriate Iraqi community the Athens connection should prove ideal.  Viking Sweden has been flying to Iraq for a number of years. www.vikinghellas.com

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Qantas and the A380

QANTAS commenced Melbourne to London A380 services ahead of schedule (see AERBT 11 January), with the inaugural Melbourne to London via Singapore service departing yesterday evening.  From now onwards Qantas will operate one to two services a week between Melbourne and London via Singapore (QF9 on Mondays/Sundays and the return QF10 on Fridays/Saturdays).  Regular twice-weekly flights will commence on 29 March 2010.  Qantas has 14 services each week between Melbourne and London.  With a six-strong fleet, the Qantas A380 schedule: Sydney – Los Angeles (daily), Sydney – Singapore – London (five per week), Melbourne – Los Angeles (three), and the Melbourne – London route (twice weekly). www.qantas.com

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Yemenia orders from Airbus

YEMENIA, the official carrier of the state of Yemen, and in spite of problems associated with the UK route (see above) has signed a firm contract for ten Airbus A320 Family aircraft from Airbus.  Together with ten Airbus A350 XWBs on order the aircraft will replace Yemenia’s existing fleet of single aisle and wide-body aircraft, and allows the carrier to expand its regional services to the Gulf States, Middle East, Africa, India and southern European destinations, and help to stimulate economic growth in Yemen.  The A320s will seat 12 passengers in Business and 138 in Economy Class. www.yemenia.com

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HAPPY TALK: Confucius once said

Confucius – or was Wilbur Wright – once said.

“There are four forces that are involved in an aircraft’ design.

Lift, drag, gravity and thrust”.

Wrong.

The list should read.  “Lift, drag, gravity and thrust + politics!”

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COMMENT: The Bow Group

Last week saw some fascinating political wranglings that left the Conservative party out on a limb regarding Heathrow Terminal 6, and the Mayor of London, making his point regarding an international airport in the Thames, but at the end of the day probably having to tow the party line.

Let us start with Boris Johnson and his keenness regarding a huge new offshore airport. Would he have supported such a project if he was still MP for Henley?  Since the constituency relies on Heathrow for jobs and infrastructure the answer is no.

Had he not supported the Thames project who would have?

One specific individual.  His rival and former Mayor Ken Livingstone, a man who vigorously fought for the concept of holding the 2012 Olympics in London and fully expected to play host to the world in three years’ time.  And still wants to.

Johnson holds the cards.  If he would not have been in favour of the airport Livingstone most certainly would have trumped it as his scheme to save London and the airline industry.  Johnston can now say that it is official party policy not to support the estuary project whilst at the same time offering a personal view that the airport is the way forward.  Livingstone is stumped.

The Bow Group report, published last week, is something else. 

Quoting its own web site:

“The Bow Group is the oldest – and one of the most influential – centre-right Think-Tanks in Britain.

The Group exists to develop policy, publish research and stimulate debate within the Conservative Party.  It has no corporate view, but represents all strands of Conservative opinion”.

In spite of those powerful words it is not as influential as it was in the past when its membership included Norman Lamont, Michael Howard and (a still active) Michael Heseltine.

Last week the Bow Group published what it called ‘The Right Track’ Delivering the Conservatives Vision for High Speed Rail.  Whilst High Speed 2 (HS2), the express rail route to Birmingham, is dealt with in some detail, by implication it supported Heathrow T6. 

“HS2 should initially be directly linked to Heathrow Airport through the construction of a Heathrow hub interchange station combining HS2, the Great Western Main Line, Chiltern Line, Crossrail and Airtrack services.  (A) Successful HS2 connection through Heathrow will mean more flights from the airport in the long term as more people choose to use the airport.”

David Cameron used the opportunity to veto once again, very emphatically, the Thames Airport project. 

What, once again, he failed to do was come up with a viable plan for the future of London as the world’s hub for the air transport industry.  The idea of Birmingham, or even Manchester, thriving as long haul gateways, does not pass muster.  We have mentioned in the past the Tokyo fracas over its two airports (and doomed JAL was a great supporter of Narita) but must also point out Sydney (Australia) where a proposed out of town gateway has been abandoned.

Mr Cameroon has a real problem.  One suspects that he may recognise the requirement for the third Heathrow runway.  Business certainly does and probably a vast proportion of the Heathrow conurbation who are dependent on it.  But how does he change course without being seen politically weak with an election due.  His unimpressive Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Theresa Villiers may have to be ditched, or moved.  Will potential Conservative voters abstain, or even worse vote Labour?

The next few months will be very interesting from an air transport perspective.  Decisions made in 2010 will affect the whole country, not just for this decade, but for the next 50 years.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

 

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BA strike situation

UNITE, the trade union, is to open a strike ballot today (25 January) for BA cabin crew after its initial call to stand down was banned by the High Court.  If the strike does take place, and by all accounts the action call is very vague, the walkout could begin from the beginning of March but according to the union not involve the Easter holiday.  The potential action will definitely have a profound consequence on British Airways bookings for that period.  In a statement, BA said it was "saddened but not surprised" that the union had called another ballot and asked for ground staff to volunteer to be trained as cabin crew. www.ba.com www.unitetheunion.com

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EVA Air goes non-stop

EVA AIR is to introduce the first ever non-stop flights between Taipei and Toronto from Monday 29 March.  Initially the service will be operated by a two-class Boeing 777ER three times per week.  Flight time is around 15 hours.  Due to prevailing head winds the return service will refuel at Anchorage.  EVA says that its flights to Vancouver, which have been operating for ten years, have proved a success and is confident that the new route will attract passengers who in the past have had to transit on their way to and from eastern Canada.  EVA Air is probably unique in offering a large pre-booked meal selection to customers in Business Class. www.evaair.com

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Flybe and Virgin Atlantic

FLYBE, 15% owned by British Airways, reports that its new through check-in service tie-up with Virgin Atlantic at Gatwick and Manchester late last year is proving very popular with passengers who, travelling with a through ticket for Flybe and Virgin Atlantic sectors, can now have their boarding cards issued for both flights at the very start of their journey.  This concept works with a single airline travel, or alliance, but the Flybe – Virgin tie up is probably a first for two independent carriers.  The service allows passengers to remain airside throughout their journey, removing the stress of having to check-in for a second time at connecting airports. www.flybe.com

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London to Edinburgh in less than four hours

EAST COAST MAIN LINE users are set to benefit from faster and more frequent journeys as well as better stations and catering.  Presently government-owned, and for sale, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has announced an improved timetable alongside what he expects of prospective bidders.  He has asked Network Rail and the train operator to introduce within two years a new extra-fast service from Edinburgh to London and back in less than four hours.  Along with other improvements the time is shortly to come down to four hours 20 minutes.  Bidders looking to run the line have been told that they will need to set out how they will manage on-train catering – which must include a full meal service – and improved cycle and car parking provision and station facilities such as waiting rooms, shelters, toilets, ticket machines and booking offices.  Ticket pricing will need to be simpler too. www.eastcoast.co.uk

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Oxford Airport gets first daily scheduled flight

VARSITY EXPRESS, a new name in UK air travel, is to launch the first ever domestic air services from Oxford Airport, Kidlington, with twice daily weekday flights to Edinburgh from 1 March.  The service will be operated by a BAe J31 18-seat pressurised turboprop with a flight time of 90 minutes.  Using the executive terminal at Oxford Airport passengers joining the flight will get full security checks, the small number making for a very easy process.  Parking is virtually outside the terminal and the airport itself is on the A44 trunk road and very close to the M40. www.flyvarsity.com

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Southend gets go-ahead?

SOUTHEND AIRPORT, owned by the Stobart Group, has won approval from the local council for a runway extension and other improvements.  John Denham, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, can either approve the project or call for a public enquiry.  During the 2012 Olympic period it will become a major executive jet and charter destination. Stobart is essentially in for the long term with a new railway station is due to open in July, taking passengers from the airport to Liverpool Street Station in 49 minutes and to Stratford Regional in 42 minutes. www.southendairport.net

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ON TOUR: Florence

Florence is one of those places that ought to be a requirement to visit at least once in a lifetime.  Many go back numerous times.  It is one of the great cities of the Renaissance, easily the most complete, with a history that dates back to pre-Roman times.  It is not large and you can walk just about everywhere, with one notable exception.  The best overall views are obtained at the Piazza Michelangelo high up on the other side of the River Arno.  Naturally there is a copy of the great man’s statue of David.  It is probably the most copied statue in history.

From the UK direct flights are limited to Meridiana from Gatwick to the small city airport, and there are regular bus services from Pisa Airport which is much better connected.  Another way is via Milan.

By road Florence is in on Italy’s A1, from Milan to Rome, which bypasses the city.  The main railway station is a rather odd 1930s design that somehow blends in with the Gothic surroundings.  It has high-speed services to Rome, and very recently to Bologna with connections to Milan and the European rail network.  Cruise passengers sailing in for the day at Livorno can easily make Florence by road, 75 miles through the Tuscany countryside.  The train is an alternative

With one or two exceptions Florence is without any multi-national branded hotels, and most of properties are relatively small in the Italian tradition.  Typical is the Palazzo Magnani Feroni, just 12 elegant and spacious suites, decorated with antique Florentine furnishing but also equipped with all the latest comforts and services.  The building was a palace in the 15th century.  At the other end of the scale the Grand Hotel Mediterraneo has 331 rooms within a modern building that blends into the history that surrounds it.

Florence has been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982.  Tradition has it that it was established by Julius Caesar in 59 BC but it is probably far, far older.  In 774 the city and Tuscany was conquered by Charlemagne.  From about the start of the second millennium its golden age began to emerge.  For a time it was one of the richest and wealthiest of European cities.  The Medici family emerged as patrons of the arts commissioning works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. 

What you see today is the result of competition between various families and hierarchy’s in trying to build the biggest and best.  For a short time (1865-1870) it was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.  The magnificent synagogue (1875) is a demonstration of the commercial wealth of the city 500 years after Michelangelo was born. 

The famous medieval stone built Ponte Vecchio bridge on the Arno was not destroyed by the Germans at the end of WWII and today is full of jewellery shops, art dealers and other tourist attractions.  In its heyday it mainly housed butchers.  You can guess where the unused carcasses went.

At this point it is probably best to briefly describe some of the things to see and do in Florence. 

The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence.  This massive, gothic fortress-palace is impressive overlooking the Piazza della Signoria with its one hundred year old copy of Michelangelo’s famous David statue as well as the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi.  It is one of the most significant public places in Italy.

The actual David itself is housed in the Accademia dell'Arte del Disegno, founded in 1561 with patronage of the Medici by Giorgio Vasari, Agnolo Bronzino and Bartolommeo Ammannati, three of the central artists of Mannerism.

Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564 aged 89 and whilst that city wished to offer itself as his final resting place his wishes were fulfilled and he is buried in the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), the principal Franciscan church of Florence.  It lies to the east of the central area close by the National Library, another magnificent building but dating only from 1935.

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world.  In 1560, Giorgio Vasari built the palace for Cosimo I de' Medici as the offices for the Florentine magistrates.

The massive cathedral church, called the Duomo, was begun in 1296 but its elaborate neo-Gothic façade was not added until towards the end of the 19th century.  The adjoining bell tower offers an unique view of the city and the surroundings.  But be warned, there is usually a long queue and it has 414 steps.

In a short review it is impossible to mention everything regarding this iconic city, suffice to say that all the following either lived within its environs or were closely involved.  Boccaccio, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Roberto Cavalli, Dante, Donatello, Galileoi, Guccio Gucci, Machiavelli, Catherine de' Medici, Michelangelo and Emilio Pucci.  And many others too.  Building after building has its connections.

If you have not been add Florence to your “to do” list.  You will not regret it.

www.italiantouristboard.co.uk  www.firenzeturismo.it

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Air France to introduce new economy seats

AIR FRANCE (AF) is to begin to introduce a new Recaro designed short haul economy seat from the end of the month following the announcement of “Premium Voyageur” last year.  AF says that the seat will give 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) extra legroom, an enhanced seatback with a natural 15° recline and has been created to give more depth and density to the actual product.  Amongst the innovation the seat’s accessories have been simplified with removable armrests which blend into the seatback.  This makes boarding and disembarkation easier for reduced-mobility passengers.  The separate tables and cup holders can now be used simultaneously.  The seat is also 40% lighter giving gains both from an economic and environmental point of view. http://www.airfrance.com

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Bmi changes course

BMI, taking its first major step forward under Lufthansa ownership, is to go one class on all its UK and Ireland flights to and from Heathrow, with an enhanced service for customers travelling on Flexible Economy fares.  Customers on these fares will benefit from no change fees, use of business lounges at both ends of the route, guaranteed seating at the front of the aircraft and complimentary food and drink onboard.  An in-flight offering will include locally sourced, fresh British produce and a hot breakfast in the morning.  Flexible Economy customers will not suffer from Business Class higher Air Passenger Duty (APD).  bmi is also launching a new route from Heathrow to Vienna from the start of the summer season.  This will be in partnership with Austrian Airlines, and brings the frequency between the two cities to five daily services, more than any competitor on the route. www.flybmi.com

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Fat passengers singled out

AIR FRANCE has confirmed that it charges obese passengers a further 75% if they are deemed too large for a single seat belt to be secured (no additional taxes to pay).  Taking up a second seat allows for a pair of straps to be clicked together.  In a policy move passengers would be fully reimbursed for the second seat if the plane is not full.  In 2008 Air France was ordered to pay £5,000 damages for “humiliation” of a passenger weighing 27-stone who had his stomach measured at an airport check-in desk, and was then told he had to buy two seats.  British Airways has no weight limits for passengers, but advises overweight people to buy a second seat for their own comfort and safety. www.airfrance.com

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IATA host United States security chief

IATA hosted an historic aviation security summit with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last week.  Some 25 major airlines were represented at senior level.  Spearheaded by IATA’s Giovanni Bisignani and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano the final statement noted that a one-size-fits-all regulations with numerical targets would not work in a complex global industry.  It was made very clear that governments must harmonise with industry to define practical implementation measures for their security targets.  IATA urged the DHS to sort out internal US policy and single data collection.  It should implement a sharing programme that could serve as a model for other governments.  Another problem noted was that one country’s requirements do not conflict with another country’s laws. www.iata.org/pressroom/speeches/2010-01-22-01.htm

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Lufthansa to Iraq

LUFTHANSA has confirmed that it is examining the possibility of launching several new services to Iraq and is currently planning to serve the capital, Baghdad, and the city of Erbil in Northern Iraq via Frankfurt and Munich.  Lufthansa aims to launch the new services in the summer of 2010, once it has obtained the necessary traffic rights.  Further infrastructure requirements are also being examined.  Lufthansa operated flights to Baghdad from 1956 until the start of the Gulf War in 1990.  Erbil is already served from Vienna by Austrian Airlines, which is part of the Lufthansa Group.  Also see Viking to Iraq in this issue. www.lufthansa.com

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PrivatAir flies for Lufthansa

MUNICH is to be boosted by three new long haul routes from the introduction of the summer season at the end of March with Miami, Tashkent and Teheran and added to Lufthansa’s route network  In addition, services to Cairo, which were launched just for a short season, will be extended until 30 May 2010.  Tashkent will be served three times a week (on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays).  The Teheran flights will be on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  Both services feature a PrivatAir Boeing 737-800 with 24 seats in Business Class and 84 in Economy Class to a high quality long haul standard.  The resurrected Miami service is three times weekly flown by an two-class Airbus A330. www.lufthansa.com

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UK security update

YEMEN no longer has direct flights to London following a statement by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Parliament.  Khalid Al Kainayee, a spokesman for Yemen's national carrier, said that the UK asked for Yemenia to schedule the flight to London's Heathrow airport to stop in Paris or Cairo to undergo security checks, which would render the route 'unviable'.  The carrier operates two flights a week on the route.  Direct flights will be resumed once airport security in Yemen is enhanced.  At the same time he announced enhanced precautions at British airports.  This follows the Christmas Day Detroit bomb attempt and intelligence supplied by the security services. Also see IATA in this week's issue. www.yemenia.com

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CRUISE NEWS JANUARY 2010 (Murray Princess)

One of our regular contributors Sheila Randall has been down to South Australia and taken a river trip with a difference.  On her cruise she spotted kangaroos, wombats, murray long-necked tortoises, pelicans and many other species.


Murray Princess is not the normal type of river cruise ship found in Europe or South East Asia.  It is a stern wheeler, familiar on the Mississippi, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.  At 220 ft long it seems big at first, but in fact is about half the size of the American Queen, pride of St Louis (but sadly laid up at the time of writing).  Maximum accommodation is for 120 in 60 cabins, each one air conditioned, with the usual facilities and private bathroom en-suite.  Average space is about 12m sq.

The ship looks like it dates from the 19th century but in fact was built in 1985.  The lounges and dining saloon are spacious with a character and charm of yesteryear.  There are two spas, two saunas, a sun deck; a couple of bars, twin lounges, a single-sitting dining saloon; speed boat; gift shop, library and video; elevator; guest laundry and 24-hour tea and coffee facilities.

The dining saloon is designed to accommodate all passengers at a single sitting.  Breakfasts and luncheons are buffet meals with free seating.  There is assigned seating for dinner and the menu changes nightly including table d’hôte and smorgasbord dining plus a campfire barbecue on the Heritage Cruise. 

Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, two hours flight time from Sydney.  About an hour and a half’s drive is the pretty little riverside town of Mannum from which the Murray Princess departs.  The road went through some very interesting scenery with curious rock formations which have been painted by 'local artists'.  It is not graffiti but the Aussies have interesting senses of humour.

The ship departed mid-afternoon.

Floating down the Murray on the Murray Princess is a very tranquil experience as the boat sails by intriguing looking houseboats large and small.  The river is Australia's longest, just under 1,500 miles in length. 

This is a unique, historic, nature-based experience.  Through some of the driest areas of the driest continent, looking up at towering cliffs and gorges.  The colours are wonderful, ochre and reds.

Each night the Murray Princess moors at the riverside, sometimes tied up to a large tree and we sat and watched for the animals and reminisced about African safaris.  The early morning is a photographer’s delight.  It is the time for keen photographers to ‘catch the moment’  The light is perfect.

There was an opportunity to visit a vineyard and sample some of the product.  South Australia wines are world famous. 
A most interesting stop was Swan Reach, a small town settle in the 1850s, which was part of five large sheep and cattle stations and boasts an interesting museum which is the culmination of a fun guided walking tour.

On board the Murray Princess the crew work very hard to keep everyone entertained with a variety of different activities which includes a great barbecue ashore one evening, a sheep-shearing demonstration and a trivia night.  All the passengers threw themselves wholeheartedly into all the activities.

The scenery is spectacular with the sulphur-crested cockatoos flying noisily around the ochre coloured cliffs and white pelicans floating on the river. 

A visit to the Ngaut Ngaut aboriginal reserve is a must.  Listen to an explanation of the ancient tribal rock carvings which tell the Aboriginal history of the people from that area.

This is a wonderful way to end a hectic holiday to Australia.  It is so tranquil and relaxing.  It is an experience you will never forget.

Three, four and seven day cruises are available.

Sheila Randall
sheila@sarandall.com     www.captaincook.com.au


NEWS ROUNDUP

We mention the new Queen Elizabeth below but in fact it is only one of 12 cruise ships debuting this year.  It is true that in 2006 and 2007, when most of these vessels were ordered, the world was in a boom, but nobody has cancelled and 2009 was a record 12 months for the cruise industry.

In some kind of order we start of with Silversea Silver Spirit which left Lisbon on its maiden Atlantic crossing in the first week of this year (having what was an inaugural voyage over the Christmas period) .  See below.  Next up is the 92,000 ton Costa Deliziosa.  At the end of February MSC Magnifica debuts at Southampton and soon afterwards in the luxury small ships category, French line Compagnie du Ponant will reveal the 264-passenger yacht Le Boreal followed by Seabourn’s 450-passenger Sojourn. 

In June NCL will unveil the 153,000 ton 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic.  Special features include an Aqua Park with three waterslides, an ice bar, extra-large rock-climbing wall, rappelling wall, 14 restaurants and the largest private villa complex at sea.  Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, with 6,000 passengers and due in December is bigger still. 

Other new ships for 2010 include Holland America Line’s latest Nieuw Amsterdam, Sea Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud Hussar, German cruise line AIDA’s AIDAblu, Celebrity Cruises’ Southampton-based Celebrity Eclipse and, also in the UK, P&O Cruises’ Azura.


ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT is a title that is unlikely to be seen on a British cruise ship but that is what the latest acquisition by the All Leisure Group is called.  According to Chairman Roger Allard no decision has been made on what to name  the 15,000 tonne 500-passenger vessel which is currently on charter and will be extensively remodelled before entering service in 2011.  Built in 1990 it has also been called Jules Verne, Walrus and Crown Monarch.  Mr Allard will certainly come up with a more attractive designation appropriate for the UK market. www.allleisuregroup.com

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES' newest ship, the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic, will debut with a schedule of seven, nine and 12-day Mediterranean cruises operating from Barcelona from May to October 2011.  This marks Carnival's first full season of Mediterranean cruises in three years, as well as the first time the line has made Barcelona its home port.  Carnival Magic offers a host of on-board amenities and facilities, including Ocean Plaza, an indoor/outdoor café and live entertainment venue with full bar service, a patisserie and a dance floor; Serenity, an exclusive adults-only retreat offering magnificent sea views; and The Lanai, a wrap-around promenade encircling the ship with cantilevered whirlpools that will extend over the ship's sides. www.carnival.com

HAPAG-LLOYD and its flagship MS Europa is to be connected at sea on the internet by OnAir, a company owned by SITA, whose technology dominates the world’s airlines.  The OnAir system is quickly establishing itself with over 20 air carriers already signed up.  Regular cruisers will know that once at sea the internet can be intermittent.  OnAir says that with Europa visiting typically Iceland, Polynesia and New Zealand, fast and reliable communications should still be the norm.  The first Mobile OnAir-equipped cruise will launch during the first quarter of 2010.  www.hl-cruises.com

MARCO PIERRE WHITE will be travelling on board P&O Ventura at various dates throughout the year and will be offering the chance for passengers to get up close and personal.  Marco, who has a fine dining restaurant, The White Room, on Ventura, will be hosting cookery sessions for groups of up to eight adults and children in the theatre kitchen on board.  The interactive sessions will involve participants joining Marco as he creates a series of Mediterranean dishes, including several fish dishes and sauces.  Marco will also answer questions about the recipes, techniques and ingredients as well as giving away some tips of the trade from the man dubbed "the godfather of modern cooking". www.pocruises.com

ORION EXPEDITION CRUISES has announced the expansion of the line, with the addition of a second specialist expedition cruise ship to join the existing 106-passenger Orion.  The vessel is currently operating as Clelia II and had capacity for 100 passengers in all-suite accommodation.  It will be renamed Orion II and is scheduled to commence operations with the company in May 2011.  It will be based in South East Asia, offering a wide range of expeditions that will include Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Indonesian archipelago, Japan and Borneo. www.orionexpeditions.com

PRINCESS has become the first cruise line to go fully digital with passenger ticketing and information.  In Britain 70% of households are on the internet.  The change from printed information to fully digital documents applies from 1 March 2010 to all UK passengers on cruises departing on or after 22 May 2010.  The digital documents include a series of emails filled with personalised pre-cruise information, personalised online luggage tags, customised shore excursion eBooks and a downloadable Princess Countdown Connection widget that delivers fun information to a passenger's computer.  The information will be customised to the itinerary and the ship the passenger is sailing on, and greetings are featured from some of the senior officers who will be sailing on their cruise. An array of links is also provided to such things as ship videos and virtual tours, bridge cams, dining options, entertainment choices, shipboard features and amenities, travel logistics, weather information, packing tips, frequently asked questions, Princess Captain's Circle benefits, important notices and reminders and how to stay connected to family and friends while onboard. www.princess.com

QUEEN ELIZABETH is nearly complete, a sister ship to Queen Victoria.  In the first week of January Cunard’s latest and greatest was floated out at the Fincantieri's Monfalcone shipyard near Trieste.  Over the coming months it will be fitted out with its service introduction due in October of this year.  At just over 90,000 tons and 2,000 passengers it is larger than the previous QE2 (70,000 tons) and also bigger than the original 1940 launched ship (83,000 tons). www.cunard.co.uk

SILVERSEA CRUISES' brand new flagship Silver Spirit, has arrived at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, having completed her maiden crossing of the Atlantic.  She is now on a 91-day Grand Inaugural Voyage, followed by the summer in the Mediterranean and will then reposition to the Caribbean for autumn and winter cruises.  At 36,000 tons, and accommodating 540 guests Silver Spirit is easily the largest ship in the now five-strong Silversea fleet.  A private veranda is featured in 95% of the suites.  It is Art Deco once on board, the amenities including an indoor/outdoor spa measuring over 8,300 square feet (770 square metres), a resort-style pool, four whirlpools, and a choice of six dining venues including Seishin, showcasing Asian-fusion cuisine, and the innovative Stars Supper Club, offering trendsetting menus and all-night entertainment. www.silversea.com

VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY have published their new Latin America and the Caribbean brochure from November 2010 – April 2011.  Discovery will follow in the wake of famous explorers, travelling to some fascinating places not possible for the larger cruise ships.  Included is a 79-day complete circumnavigation of South America including the Amazon, the Orinoco, Falkland Islands and the opportunity to visit the extraordinary Galapagos Islands.  Discovery will also be sailing to historic Cuba, where walking around is like a step back in time.  Cuba is on the threshold of great change and is a must-see destination in the Caribbean. www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk

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