8 FEBRUARY 2010

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Amphibian to London City?

LONDON CITY AIRPORT could be the beneficiary of an ambitious experiment being unveiled on the Clyde today (Monday 8 February) by the Stagecoach Group.  Being demonstrated is an “amfibus” which by making use of existing slipways could help to link the riverside communities.  The Dutch-built £700,000 amphibian can carry 50 passengers and cruises at 8 knots.  When London City Airport opened in 1987, due to poor transport links, the airport subsidised a river service from Embankment which was popular but impractical as passengers had to get off at a local wharf and then be transported by road to the airport.  The “amfibus” would drive straight out of the Thames itself (not the dock) and quickly arrive at the airport door.  Initial check-in facilities could also be provided. www.stagecoachgroup.com

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British Airways quarterly results

BRITISH AIRWAYS has reported a small operating profit of £25m (US$39m) for the last quarter to the end of 2009 but for April-December, the airline's pre-tax losses rose to £342m against the negative £70m of a year ago.  Analysts are predicting full year losses between £500m/£750m but a great deal depends on current cabin union negotiations and with it public perception regarding forward bookings.  Announcing the figures Chief Executive Willie Walsh said: "These results highlight the impact of permanent changes across the company on our costs.  Those changes, combined with capacity reductions and external spending cuts, mean operating costs are down by 10.5% and show that we've adapted quickly to the new business realities created by the global recession."  The airline said it carried 7% fewer passengers in January year-on-year.  The number of its premium, or Business Class, passengers fell 2.1% year-on-year, while non-premium traffic fell 7.9% on the same month last year. www.ba.com

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easyJet opens up leisure routes

EASYJET is to introduce four new leisure routes from Gatwick starting 21 May, and bringing the size of the operation up to 41 aircraft and 83 destinations.  It is easily Gatwick’s largest airline and also easyJet’s biggest base.  New are Antalya in Turkey, and the Greek Islands of Crete (Chania), Kos and Zakynthos.  All the services will be operated by Airbus A320 aircraft.  These four routes are in addition to three previously announced Gatwick services to Bordeaux, Dusseldorf and Hamburg, due to commence in February. www.easyJet.com

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India beckons says Birmingham Airport

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT is mounting what is probably a unique campaign to try and persuade an airline to offer direct flights to India.  There are more than half a million people from an Asian background living within a one hour drive of Birmingham Airport, with 350,000 of these of Indian origin according to research, yet travellers have to go via London to get to the sub-Continent.  The “Fly India” campaign aims to gather evidence of the strong support and demand in the region, to reinstate direct services.  Air India originally operated from Birmingham in the 1970s and then started flights between Delhi – Amritsar – Birmingham – Toronto in May 2005.  Sadly it moved its operation to Heathrow in 2008 to secure slots.  The airport says it promised to return saying that the route was a success with more than 100,000 people carried in its last 12 months and with load factors often over 85%.  There is a petition to fill in and representations are being made to Air India, Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways as well as the High Commission regarding any bilateral problems. http://flyindia.birminghamairport.co.uk

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MEAC raises its profile

MIDDLE EAST AEROSPACE CONSORTIUM (MEAC) has been established to develop and maximise opportunities for the industry in this region through networking, collaboration and mutual trade.  Announced at the Dubai Airshow late last year the Dubai-based organisation already has over 50 members.  Essentially a trade organisation MEAC sees its role as a conduit in bringing together the many facets of the aerospace business, and as a supporting agency in dealing with regulatory authorities.  MEAC is headed by John Ellis, an aviation specialist with over 25 years experience in the sector.  Previously he was Business Development Director for the Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC), the UK’s leading regional aerospace trade association, supporting over 900 South East England aviation related businesses.  On 3 March MEAC is hosting a one day symposium in Abu Dhabi at Al Ain International Aviation Academy, supported by a range of major industry companies, essentially to discuss the interaction required as the Middle East pushes forward in aerospace manufacturing terms.  Sponsors include Aeroform, Kuka, MAG Americas and Siemans. www.middleeastaerospace.com

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Qatar still expanding

QATAR AIRWAYS has confirmed the launch dates of four recently-announced routes for 2010 as part of the airline’s expansion strategy.  The statement comes prior to the already publicised introduction of a daily non-stop service between Doha and Bengaluru (Bangalore) on 22 February, the airline’s 11th Indian destination.  Beginning 30 March Qatar adds Copenhagen to its network with four flights a week non-stop from Doha.  After Stockholm, the Danish capital becomes Qatar’s second Scandinavian destination, the only Gulf carrier serving the region.  A week later, 5 April, Ankara comes ‘on-line’ four times per week, supporting its existing scheduled services to Istanbul.  And from 26 April, Qatar Airways expands its operations in the Land of the Rising Sun with daily flights to the Japanese capital, Tokyo.  The flights will be operated from Doha via Osaka, representing a significant increase in capacity for the Japanese market.  Seoul, which is currently served via Osaka, will become a daily non-stop service from Doha, beginning 28 March.  Barcelona begins 7 June. www.qatarairways.com

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Star1 to arrive in Edinburgh

STAR1 AIRLINES, the Lithuanian low cost carrier, will now fly five routes from Vilnius, capital of the former Russian satellite state, during the 2010 summer season.  The airline has for the first time introduced Edinburgh as a destination whilst continuing direct flights to London (Stansted – daily except Saturday) and Milan plus restoring the seasonal flights to Dublin and Girona (Barcelona).  Star1 will launch its flights from Vilnius to Edinburgh from 28 March flying twice weekly on Thursdays and Sundays and as of 7 May switching days to Fridays and Sundays).  Flights from Vilnius to Girona will operate from 23 May on Thursdays and Sundays and regular flights to Milan will continue to fly on Mondays and Fridays.  Star1 does not charge for luggage – one suitcase not exceeding 20 kg will be carried free of charge. www.star1.aero

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HAPPY TALK: No word for it

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word meaning gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, sheer guts plus arrogance.  Yiddish itself was the language of eastern European Jewry which still struggles on and has found its way into the idiom via North America. 

This little tale sums up chutzpah better than one thousand words.


THE ESSENCE OF CHUTZPAH...

A little old lady sold pretzels on a street corner for 25 cents each.

Every day a young man would leave his office building at lunch time, and as he passed the pretzel stand, he would leave her a quarter, but never take a  pretzel.

This went on for more than three years.  The two of them never spoke.  One day, as the young man passed the old  lady's stand and left his quarter as usual, the pretzel lady spoke to him.  Without blinking an eye she said:

"They're 35 cents now!"

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COMMENT: British Airways - What Now ?

British Airways quarterly results until the end of December, reported elsewhere in AERBT, were not as bad as many had predicted.  However January is likely to be poor, a combination of bad weather and customer anxiety regarding trade union guerrilla tactics not helping the situation.  Analysts are predicting a total loss of between £500m and £750m for the 12 months up to the end of March.

2010 is likely to be a momentous year for British Airways.  Will the proposed merger with Iberia go ahead?  The airline was talking about it happening by June but now it seems that a December target is more likely.  Will the pension fund deficit be sorted out?  Who wins the battle with the Unions?  There are signs of a softening of attitude by Unite, the union beginning to realise that its lack of diplomacy is having an effect on passenger numbers, and therefore job security for its members. 

At the end of the day British Airways is a business operation and without passengers it will cease to exist.

Although he has the title of Chief Executive, Willie Walsh tends to act a Chief Operating Officer with less emphasis on sales and marketing.  Since Martin George fell on his sword over alleged dealings with Virgin Atlantic in October 2006 his post, that of Commercial Director, has remained vacant with no new blood.  Non-Executive Chairman Martin Broughton is less visible than his predecessor. 

News from British Airways is very limited and often reactionary rather than pro-active.  A classic example is the (12 months late) introduction later this week of the new First Class, said to be “low key” and hidden away in the quarterly results published last week.  AERBT welcomes any contributions from readers who might travel in the new cabin, or get a peep through the curtain.  The Business Travel Show in London (see below) would be a marvellous opportunity to unveil the new product to travel buyers and for BA to take centre stage. 

British Airways is accepted as the national airline whatever the people based in Crawley might say.  It “flies the flag” (well a bigger flag than Virgin) and was self-acclaimed as the “world’s favourite airline”, which it justified by noting that it carried more international passengers than any other IATA airline.  Its success, or otherwise, reflects on the United Kingdom.  Arriving at some foreign airport there is nothing better than to see the Chatham pennant on a tailplane.

There is no doubt BA faces serious problems.  The ever increasing price of oil.  Low cost carriers, with no historical baggage, and questionable passenger service.  Poor staff moral in some areas.  And finally the horrendous APD charges, driving travellers away from the United Kingdom (although it could be argued that BA failed in its backroom dealings at Westminster, a charge that could never be levelled at the previous administration).

This  week sees the alleged loss making Open Skies (a BA subsidiary for those who don’t know) launching an undisclosed route out of Paris Orly.  However brilliant the choice of the destination is, it will make a loss for the first two years.  New routes normally do.

The London City – New York service is something of an enigma.  It certainly suits a few but does it add, or in fact detract, from the bottom line?  The so-called load factor (75%) is a nonsense figure dreamt up by some airline Managing Director years ago to confuse his non-executive, non-airline experienced board members.  It actually means nothing as the seats could have been given away.  Yield is what really counts.  How much money has come in?  In the case of London City will BA be bold enough to survey its clients and ask “If not from LCY where would you have flown from and on which carrier?”  If the answer is T5 all the service is doing is taking money away from one British Airways route and giving it to another.  With Continental mounting an even stronger effort this year (see AERBT 1 February 2010) and Delta/Air France strengthening its position, the national airline needs to focus only in one direction. The American Airlines tie-up is far from resolved.

Traditionally British Airways has always set high standards of cabin service.  Will the Iberia partnership mean a change of direction?  With Iberia you pay (expensively) even for a cup of tea.  Willie Walsh talks about dropping Business Class in Europe but how will his traditional customer react?  Long haul, the two carriers do not compare.

Let’s hope that Mr Walsh sorts out his union problems and does not spend too much time with Iberia.  He should know how deal with the Spanish.  In a previous life he ran the now failed Futura.  Focus is needed in getting the passengers back.  “Bums on seats” is what it is all about – readers of AERBT and the like.

Will the affable Irishman be remembered as the man who saved British Airways, or the guy who wrecked it?

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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BATA looking for new Secretary General

BATA (British Air Transport Association), the trade organisation for UK-registered airlines, is looking for a new Chief Executive.  Its current Secretary General, Roger Wiltshire, retires in July after ten years in the role, having previously spent 30 years at British Airways.  BATA is active on a wide range of issues including environment, climate change, taxation and regulation.  It plays a leading role on the industry's environmental agenda and work closely with a number of other organizations in pan-industry campaigns and lobby groups.  Interested parties should contact Roger at wiltshire@bata.uk.com.

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Business Travel and Meetings Show

EARLS COURT 2 is the home of the re-named Business Travel and Meetings Show (formerly known as Business Travel Show) 9-10 February.  Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker MP will officially open the exhibition, his presentation outlining the Liberal Democrat’s vision for transport, which comprises two main goals: to improve conditions for all passengers and to reduce carbon emissions from the sector.  He will explain the party’s specific policy goals, which include the introduction of high speed rail funded through a lorry road user charging scheme and the introduction of a road user pricing scheme, which will be revenue-neutral for the average motorist.  Mr Baker is one of 45 top quality speakers on four stages over the two days, including Richard May, Credit Suisse; Simone Buckley, Bouda; Fabian Kleinjung, EADS; Kerrie Henshaw-Cox, BP International; Patrick Murphy, former Chairman, Ryanair and Jerome Drevon-Barreaux, ACTE.  Taking place at the same time at Earls Court is Travel Technology Europe. www.businesstravelshow.com www.traveltechnologyshow.com

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Fast trains to Milan's Malpensa Airport

MILAN MALPENSA users will be pleased to learn that the eagerly awaited double track tunnel on the Castellanza line has now opened.  This has significantly reduced the Malpensa Express journey time from Milan Cadorna station to the airport’s Terminal 1.  The 150m  tunnel involved upgrading the infrastructure and building a twin track line allowing an increased frequency from 74 to 80 runs per day of the express service and reducing the journey time from 40 to 29 minutes. www.airportmalpensa.com

 

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Malaysia Airlines strengthens in the UK regions

MALAYSIA AIRLINES (MAS) has used the advantages of the Internet to add six more UK and Ireland destinations to its route network.  Kuala Lumpur (KL) passengers (and other points on the MAS network) arriving or departing Aberdeen, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester airports can now book their flights online.  Malaysia Airlines already serves these routes through a code-share with bmi but previously these tickets could only be purchased from ticketing offices or travel agents.  MAS offers Heathrow from KL twice daily and plans to offer a similar scheme with KLM for mainland Europe.  However it is not a member of an airline alliance. www.malaysiaairlines.com.

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Moscow Airport and security

DOMODEDOVO, now the major airport for Moscow with 46% of passenger traffic, has issued a press release reminding travellers that it has had full body scanners in operation for the last three years (as AERBT can testify).  The scanners are completely innocuous in use and minimizes tactile (pat-down) contact between security officers and passengers.  Nevertheless personal search can be applied if required.  A scanner operator can only see a black and white shadow-figure on a monitor.  The procedure reduces time of screening: it takes only two seconds to reveal and pinpoint hidden on a human body metal, wooden, plastic and other items.  As a result the technology provides for up to 400 passengers per hour capacity.  Scanning is absolutely safe for a human including pregnant women, children and people with a cardio stimulator.  It has no medical restrictions for application because of an active millimeter wave radio frequency technology applied which is the same as used for echoscopy medical procedures.  The scanner is 10,000 times less powerful than a cell phone. www.domodedovo.ru/en

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Safi Airways from Afghanistan

SAFI AIRWAYS from Afghanistan, has announced an interline union with Emirates, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and United Airlines.  The agreements allow passengers travelling in either direction to benefit from easier connections and a single fare between Kabul and the other end of the route.  The co-operation with United will be of special interest for US citizens who have to comply to the Fly America Act.  Safi Airways daily service from Kabul to Frankfurt connects onto United and US cities thus fulfilling the conditions of the act.  Safi Airways will, however, not be code-sharing with its partner airlines.  It is the first Afghan airline to be compliant with the safety standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). www.safiairways.aero 

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ON TOUR: Low cost thrives in Asia

Tony Harrington runs Asia Pacific Public Relations Pty Ltd based in Brisbane  Australia.  A former journalist he reports on the Low Cost Airlines conference held in Singapore.  Next week ON TOUR will bring you details of the Singapore Airshow, which followed a few days later.


Wherever you look in Singapore there’s a crane.  Like pins on a map, each marks a site of progress, in seeming defiance of global economic conditions.  It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the Global Financial Crisis never made it this far.

The same incongruous optimism permeated the Olivia Room in Singapore’s Raffles City Convention Centre last week, where, one by one, bullish executives of airlines and airports took to the stage at Terrapin’s Low Cost Airlines Asia conference to share stories of success with a capital ‘S’.

That’s right.  Bullish airline executives.  Excited and upbeat, talking double-digit growth, and barely a month beyond 2009, universally considered the worst year on record for the air transport industry.

That’s not to say that the impressive performances of airlines – or more accurately low cost carriers (LCCs) – were unexpected in Asia-Pacific, which is leading the way in air transport growth, and will do for a long while to come.

What is a surprise is the level and consistency of the optimism which swept the Singapore conference, against the worldwide backdrop of airline failures, aircraft groundings, frequency reductions, staff cuts and the most distressed (and distressing) pricing the industry has ever seen.

“There are lots of smiling faces in this room,” said Peter Harbison, Executive Chairman of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, and conference moderator.  “It wasn’t the same last year.  There’s an underlying strong feeling of confidence coming through.  People are still fairly cautious with their money, but they are spending, and the low cost airline model fits this environment perfectly.”

In the same week that legacy carrier Japan Airlines became the exception to  the rule in Asia, declaring bankruptcy and announcing aggressive restructuring, Singapore-based LCC Tiger Airways easily completed a major capital raising.  In the next six years, Tiger intends to expand within the Asia Pacific region and increase its fleet from 18 A320s to almost 70.

And it’s not just Tiger that’s roaring.  LCCs throughout the region are telling similar stories.

“The Indonesian market is expected to grow at 11/12% in 2010,” said Diono Nurjadin, President Director of Mandala Airlines.  “But we would look to grow faster than that.”  Mandala currently operates six 180-seat Airbus A320s and two 144-seat A319s.  At least four more A320s will arrive in 2010, followed in 2011 by the first six of a recent order for 25 new A320s.  Mandala Air also considers regional international service a natural progression.

The story is similar for India’s SpiceJet, formed in May 2005 with three Boeing 737s. It now has 19 and plans to added a further five in the next financial year.  A detailed evaluation is also underway for long term fleet growth requirements.  “In India, every carrier is low fare,” said Samyukth Sridharan, SpiceJet’s Chief Commercial Officer.  “Six years back this market wasn’t there.  Now 67% of all Indians who fly are flying low fare.

“Every day, about 20m people in India travel by train.  That’s about the population of Australia.  Of that number, about 2m travel in the upper classes of the train.  But only about 125,000 people board a flight each day,” said Mr Sridharan.

“In India, there are over 450m people under the age of 21.  There are 65m affluent households and GDP is projected at 9/10% for the next three to five years.  The potential is enormous.”

On the day the conference started, Malaysia’s Air Asia announced plans to fly to five more destinations in India, taking to nine the total it now serves.

Jetstar – the low cost arm of Qantas – is expanding not only within Australia but to and within other Asia Pacific markets, and used the Singapore conference to announce the acquisition from International Aero Engines of V2500 engines to power up to 90 new A320s.

What’s more, Jetstar and Air Asia have formed what, at this stage at least, is an operational partnership, exploring cost-saving activities for A320s, from maintenance and procurement to ground handling, staff training and who knows what else.  They’re even talking of combining their common aircraft orders, not only to pressure manufacturers on pricing, but to demand a say in the design of the next generation of Airbus or Boeing narrow bodies.

Philippines-based LCC Cebu Pacific introduced five new A320s and eight new ATRs last year, and told the Singapore conference of plans to add 15 more 320s.

Saudi Arabian LCC NAS Air, launched in February 2007, foreshadowed plans to spread its wings into Asian markets including India and Pakistan.  It now operates eight A320s, four Embraer E190s and two E-195s to 13 Middle East destinations. By 2013, said CEO Walter Prenzler, the airline will add 20 more A320s and nine more E-jets, to carry a projected 5m passengers per year, compared with 1.5m today.

Even the smallest of Asia Pacific LCCs are growing, with Koustav Dhar, CEO of India’s Jagson Airlines, telling the conference his airline was preparing to expand with BAE RJs, including ex-British Airways units.

Yang Hae-Gu, President of Korean LCC Eastar Jet, said his airline was poised to fly internationally with its fleet of Boeing 737s once open skies arrangements were finalised between Korea, Japan and China.  The market share of Korean LCCs was 44.8% in 2009, said Mr Yang.  The growth of Korean LCCs was 150.4% in the same period.  Last year, said Mr Yang, Eastar Air signed a code share MOU with China’s Spring Airlines.  He foreshadowed significant growth in LCC alliances throughout Asia.

Samyukt Sidharan, of SpiceJet, agreed. “All LCCs have started as domestic operators.  They’re now spreading their wings.”  This June, SpiceJet will be eligible to apply for international air traffic rights, and will do so when the time is right.

Tony Harrington
tony@asiapacpr.com.au

http://www.lowcostairlinesworld.com/sg/contact.stm

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Air France gains new UK chief

AIR FRANCE – KLM (AF/KLM) has a new General Manger in the UK, Henri Hourcade, a 22-year Air France veteran, whose background is very much from the commercial area of the airline.  The combined carrier now serves 21 British airports with Amsterdam its largest destination in terms of passenger numbers, followed by Paris and, surprisingly Edinburgh, offering seven flights daily from London City.  M Hourcade sees the dockland airport (where AF has been established from day one) as a UK cornerstone for the AF/KLM group, all flights now branded as CityJet, including a twice daily Alitalia operation to Milan Linate.  On the marketing front AF/KLM and Delta have combined forces in terms of their UK sales operations, adding substantially to the efficiency of the whole British operation.  The fine new Skyteam lounge at Heathrow T4 shows the way the alliance is moving, although with completely different operations in terms of aircraft and crewing requirements it could be some time before these duties also are combined. www.airfrance.co.uk

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Body scanners introduced at Heathrow and Manchester

HEATHROW and Manchester airports have both introduced body scanners and whilst the national press and TV has attempted to generate outrage for the most part passengers have quickly adapted.  Rather like ‘patting down’, travellers seem to accept that there is a need for increased/improved security.  Under new rules introduced by the government any refusal to be body scanned will result in passengers not being allowed to travel.  The image generated by the body scanner cannot be stored or captured nor can security officers viewing the images recognise people.  Contrary to reports, the equipment does not allow security staff to see passengers naked? www.heathrowairport.com www.manchesterairport.co.uk

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Concorde

CONCORDE will be under scrutiny over the next four months whilst a French court attempts to lay the blame for the July 2000 disaster, grounding the Air France version of the supersonic jet.  Five people are charged with involuntary manslaughter plus Continental Airlines.  Two Air France technical staff, a former French civil aviation official and two engineers from Continental will be closely scrutinised under French law.  Prosecutors will argue that an 18-inch scrap of titanium on the runway caused the accident.  A Continental Airlines DC-10 shed the “wear strip” on the runway shortly before takeoff, shredding the Concorde’s tyre and splattering pieces of rubber into the fuel tanks, which caused a fire, and the catastrophe.  The US airline will argue there had been 65 incidents of burst tyres, six of which led to the perforation of fuel tanks and that it was an accident waiting to happen.  In the incident, which happened during Farnborough week, 113 died.  The final British Airways Concorde commercial flight took place on 24 October 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk

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Holiday Inn Wall Street

HOLIDAY INN (a division of IHG – the world’s largest hotelier) is to open a property in Wall Street, New York, during April. (Regular readers will note that hotel companies are now following the standard set by Ryanair.  The Wall Street hotel is in Nassau Street – about three blocks away from Wall Street).  This will be the first full-service IHG property in New York’s financial district.  The 20-storey conversion property will showcase the brand's new style, part of a US$1bn Holiday Inn brand re-launch programme.  IHG point out that despite the current economic downturn four new properties have been opened in New York city over the past 12 months. www.holidayinn.com

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Martin Halstead is the man behin Varsity Express

MARTIN HALSTEAD,  four years ago labelled “Baby Branson” by the Sunday Times (Alpha One failed), has been revealed as the man behind Varsity Express (see AERBT 25 January 2010) due to take off on 1 March.  Martin is now 23.  Varsity Express plans to operate between Oxford and Edinburgh, twice daily, weekdays, with another route to be unveiled later this week.  Now a qualified pilot Martin has spent his time usefully,  acting as a cabin service ambassador for Virgin (flying on long haul, under-performing routes) as a first officer on a Jetstream 31 for Blue Islands in Guernsey and as a F/O on Airbus A319/A320 aircraft with bmi for an ACMI contract with Greek airline Elite.  The investors in Varsity Express are expected to be unveiled at the launch.  www.flyvarsity.com

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Premium Economy booming for Air New Zealand

AIR NEW ZEALAND is predicting dramatic growth in premium travel, specifically Premium Economy, with its new fleet of Boeing 777-300 aircraft which has 39% in this cabin than on its 777-200 aircraft and 28% more than on its 747-400 fleet.  To be introduced with the new aircraft later this year the “Spaceseat” is an original concept for this class in the airline industry, providing flexibility and privacy through the angle of the seats.  They will be configured in a 2+2+2 layout, compared to the industry standard 3+3+3 in 777-200s.  The centre seats angle outwards from each other, providing ultimate privacy or the space can be combined so couples can snuggle together or even dine at a common table.  The sets of two window seats are angled so as to offer the ultimate privacy for individual passengers. www.airnewzealand.com

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Scandinavia gains Marriott upmarket brand

RENAISSANCE, a Marriott brand, has made its Scandinavian debut at Malmo, taking the title Renaissance Malmo Hotel.  The hotel combines three preserved historical buildings together with the latest in technology including free wireless for guests.  All 128 rooms are fully air conditioned and the property has three restaurants.  The property is located at the vibrant Lilla Torg (Little Square) and also just a five-minute walk to  Malmo Central Station which offers a short 30-minute train ride to Copenhagen International Airport (Denmark). www.marriott.co.uk/malmo

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Peugeot 5008 1.6 Hdi

Right for the Occasion!

For the full road test index click here

Long experience with Peugeot cars has always been a bit of an adventure, especially the larger models that were veritable mileage eaters, people movers and load shifters.

I am glad to report that sense of adventure is very much alive in the new Peugeot 5000 compact MPV I have been testing, a car that is certainly right for the occasion we are living in, a car that can be all sorts of things to all sorts of people and more seriously one that has the quality credentials to knock at the so-called premium market sector!

While big MPV models have a defined place on the market (though possibly near its peak) these compacts are really starting to take off by providing more than satisfactory driving and performance qualities, and the potential to carry seven occupants (though sacrificing interior luggage space) or all sorts of people/load permutations from there on.

This new contender takes up about the same road space as an average-sized estate car and proved far from cumbersome to handle, seriously comfortable from all aspects, hugely practical in its easy transformation from a seven-seater to a light van-sized transporter, a mobile entertainment centre and with the style to win a lot of street-cred contests.

As a result of the efficiency of the modern car engine the overall capacities have notably shrunk and for the 5008 range there is nothing larger than a 1.6-litre petrol unit in two-power outputs or a choice of 1.6 and 2.0-litre turbo diesels with power outputs ranging from 107 bhp to 163 bhp.  Three specification levels are offered – Active, Sport and Exclusive plus a useful list of options.

My test car proved an interesting mix of the least potent 1.6-litre diesel coupled to a dual mode (Sport – Economy) 6-speed automatic gearbox and the top Exclusive specification plus a Video pack (£510), Connect Navigations system (£715) and very impressive Xenon Directional Headlights (£510).

In theory this combination did not appear to promise much in the way of performance though in practice it delivered more than satisfactory results.  Peugeot claim a top speed of 112 mph with 62 mph (100 kph) reached in 12.6 seconds and a combined consumption of 55.3 mpg.

Obviously any of these results depend on the load and the way the vehicle is driven and under general use it proved an excellent motorway cruiser with an amazing degree of quietness and ride refinement and with good pick-up in the intermediate speed ranges though the gearbox tended to hunt a bit if strong acceleration was demanded when the transmission was set in the Economy mode.

It also proved a bit busy under the same circumstances in the Sport mode with gear changes coming more frequently.

I don’t think that most owners would need to work this car as hard as I did during my test and for more casual driving the 5008 proved very competent and satisfying.

Clearly a lot of that driving satisfaction comes from the excellent seating comfort, ideal driving position, impressive and cleverly presented fascia area (which includes a head-up system to project the speed in clear view of the driver) and the seriously good ride, responsive control and competent handling qualities.

What is also important is that it drives small, the driver’s view pretty well unobstructed though one has to ‘learn’ the length of the rakish bonnet. Rear parking sensors are part of the package and so too is a secondary (small) rear view mirror to keep an eye on the rear seat occupants.

Life inside this vehicle is a very pleasant (and exceptionally safe according to the high NCAP ratings), the accommodation in the second row of individual seats considerably better than a lot of Economy Class airline seats I have experienced and with the facility to slide and recline individually.

Bring the final pair of seats into use and logically there may be the need to balance the seat spacings but even so those extra two seats are as good as found in the back of some small hatchbacks.

Airline type picnic shelves are provided in the backs of the front seats, the TV screens are built into the backs of the front headrests and come with slip on covers for added security, the air conditioning/heating/ventilation system is highly efficient and has the versatility to ensure the well-being of all occupants.

The standard fit panoramic glass roof on this Exclusive version adds to the feeling of spaciousness and the easy life is further enhanced by an extensive equipment package that also includes automatic folding mirrors, distance alert, tyre pressure sensor, cruise control with speed limiter, side sun visor curtains, rechargeable boot torch, USB and Bluetooth hands free kit but no roof rails.

I strongly urge anyone considering an executive class vehicle to compare quality of the 5008 with any premium grade alternative – I suggest an eye-opener.

Optional for publication - Rivals include: Citroen C4 Grand Picasso 1.6 HDI Exclusive £22,945, Renault Grand Scenic 1.5 DCI 106 Priv. Tom Tom £21,594, Ford S-Max 1.8 TDCI Zetec 6-speed £23,489, Vauxhall Zafira 1.7 CDTi Elite £23,925, Volkswagen Touran 1.9 TDI Promotion Match £21,980.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

TOTAL: 88

Price from: £22,445 on thPerformance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 8
Noise 9
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 9
Accommodation 9
Styling 9
Brakes 9
Finish 9

Price from: £22,445 on the road.

NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON‘S MOTORING DIARY

LAND ROVER: A Ski Weather Report service has been set up by Land Rover in conjunction with the Ski Club of Great Britain.  The free report service can be obtained via the iPhone downloading on www.itunes.com/app/skiclubsnowreports.

SKODA: The Czech car maker has extended its VAT-free sales offer to 31 March. Available on Fabia, Octavia and Roomster models the saving is potentially up to £3,388 off a new Skoda.  www.skoda.co.uk

JAGUAR: A return to the famed Le Mans 24-hour race has been confirmed by Jaguar.  Jaguar XKR GT models will race at the classic event on 12 June.  With a total of seven wins between 1951 and 1990, Jaguar remains the single most successful British make in the race’s history.  www.Jaguar.com

ANTI-THEFT: Exchange & Mart has entered the battle against car crime.  Cars advertised in the magazine will be checked against the Police National Computer to see if they have been registered as stolen.  www.exchangeandmart.co.uk

NISSAN: An all-black commemorative version of the Nissan 370Z high performance model will be created to mark the 40th anniversary of the Z-car programme which commenced with the Datsun 240Z.  Just 370 cars will be produced for sale across Europe.  Prices start from £33,645, including the £750 showroom tax which comes into effect on 1 April – no joking!  www.nissan.co.uk

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