15 FEBRUARY 2010

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Aviation Club lunch

UNITED AIRLINES Chairman, President and CEO Glen Tilton was an outstanding speaker at the London Aviation Club last week.  In front of a very full house (he would have been proud of the load factor) he gave a robust and potent speech, personifying perhaps his airline which has come through difficult times to once again being a leading US carrier.  He renewed his call for overseas investment in US airlines as part of deregulation worldwide to boost industry profitability.  "Capital is global, it is global and doesn't have sovereign inhibitions," he said.  A second round of "Open Skies" is due following the new bilateral agreement between the US and Europe. (SEE COMMENT ABOVE)   American law now prohibits non-citizens from controlling airlines or owning more than 25% of voting stock.  "I support the EU view that in phase two, foreign ownership should be on the table," said Tilton, who has urged looser rules for such investments. www.united.com

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Boeing's big freighter gets airborne

BOEING’S 747-8 freighter took to the air for the first time last Monday (8 February) just one day short of the 40th anniversary of the 747-100’s maiden flight.  AERBT readers were able to watch on a worldwide webcast.  Amongst the guests was Joe Sutter, Chief Engineer of the original 747 project.  "It's amazing to me that this programme has lasted all these years.  The basic design was right then and it's still right now."  Using much Boeing 787 Dreamliner technology (including similar engines) Boeing launched the 747-8 in November 2005 and to date has secured 108 orders, mainly for the cargo aircraft, with Lufthansa and Korean Air taking the passenger version. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Coventry Airport problems continue

COVENTRY AIRPORT is no nearer re-opening as a licensed operation than it was when operator West Midlands International Airport Ltd collapsed at the beginning of December.  After making all the right noises Switzerland-based ADP has pulled out from a deal with the freehold owner Coventry City Council.  It is thought that another serious party has been monitoring the situation and might now be in a position to open up discussions.  Resident airline West Atlantic, a major freight operator, says it has been inconvenienced, the airport in the main more of a maintenance and management operation rather than a key operational hub.  However the continued closure of the airport is causing a strain for the flying clubs and other aviation interests based at the airport. www.coventryairport.co.uk

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Gatwick to stay single

GATWICK’S new owners appear to have ruled out plans to build a second runway.  At a meeting with conservationists, Gatwick Chairman Sir David Rowlands said there was “not a shred of interest” in a second runway.  Rowlands met with members of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) to talk about future plans for the airport under its new owner, US-based investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners.  Back in 1979 an agreement was reached with West Sussex County Council not to build a second runway before 2019.  Sir David noted that it would cost £100m to £200m on a planning application with an uncertain decision.  In October 2009, then owner BAA submitted planning applications for Gatwick to handle an extra six million passengers annually by 2018 and for an extension to the North Terminal.  The local planning authority decision to approve these plans was upheld in November 2009 by the Government. www.gatwickairport.com

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London City update

LONDON CITY AIRPORT is to add a further two security checking lanes, effectively doubling the throughput, with six sets of agents and machines expected in operation by the end of the month.  Whilst the work is in process the airport is asking passengers to allow extra time for this necessary evil.  Regulars (and not so regulars) to the airport are also advised that for the next 18 months extensive work at Bank Station will curtail access from connecting Underground lines (but not for passengers inbound from the airport).  Transport for London is advising that connections would be better made at alternative stations such as Canary Wharf and Tower Hill (for the Circle and District lines). www.londoncityairport.com

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Stockholm gains Marriott Courtyard

COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT has opened its first hotel in Scandinavia, the Courtyard Stockholm Kungsholmen.  With 278 guest rooms and more than 1,000sq metres of meeting space, the hotel is the largest Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Europe.  The property is within walking distance of the city centre and adjoins one of the main metro stations.  With more than 860 locations in 30 countries, Courtyard is Marriott’s largest brand; 200 additional Courtyard by Marriott hotels will open around the world over the next three years.  Amenities include complementary high-speed internet access, large well-lit work desks, ergonomic chairs and coffee makers.  For recreation, the hotel offers guests access to an on-site fitness centre. www.gocourtyard.com

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West Atlantic sells an Electra

WEST ATLANTIC has sold one of its Lockheed Electra (L188) turboprop fleet to the Canadian operator Conair.  Now Europe’s largest regional freight airline the Coventry (UK) and Gothenburg (Sweden) based company currently has an operational fleet of five Electras (15-tonne capacity) and 43 BAe ATPs (8.5-tonne), two 7-tonne capacity Bombardier CRJ200PFs and single versions of the ATR 72 (8-tonne) and Boeing 737-300 (15-tonne).  “There is little doubt that the Electra is one of the finest turboprop aircraft of all time, its sister aircraft the Lockheed Hercules owing much to its systems and innovations,” said Tony Auld, West Atlantic's Managing Director.  “The aircraft (G-LOFD) has already been delivered and I am sure will do sterling work in Western Canada.  With the current fleet West Atlantic is ideally placed for the upturn which seems to be developing in the air cargo market.”  Mr Auld was able to confirm that a price of around US$2m was achieved for the aircraft including a spares package.  See REGIONAL AIRCRAFT ABOVE. www.atlanticairlines.co.uk

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HAPPY TALK: Security gone mad

We are not going to reveal to readers at which British airport your Editor in Chief had his comb thoroughly inspected by a slow and completely over-zealous security officer last week but AERBT will give you a clue.  The Managing Director of the airport does not suffer such ignominy.  The healthy looking soul has no hair to comb. 

 

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COMMENT: British Airways again

The news late Friday night that the US Department of Justice had ruled in favour of British Airways, American Airlines and its oneworld colleagues regarding immunity from the anti-trust laws has to be good news for travellers, the airlines concerned and the air travel community in general. 

The trade-off is minimal, just four pairs of slots at Heathrow.

Mind you it’s taken some time to get this far.  In January 1999, the then Colin Marshall told a business audience in Los Angeles: "It is now two-and-a-half years since we announced plans to create an alliance with American Airlines.......When it comes down to it, I believe that the liberal economic philosophies of our respective governments and the precedents in globalisation being set in other business sectors, will come to support the logic of a full partnership between BA and AA – and with it, the introduction of a fair and equitable open skies regime between our two countries."

Fifteen years of negotiations and four BA bosses but the benefits for both airlines should be substantial with a more integrated operational programme, engineering and purchasing savings, and a proper co-ordinated commercial agenda.  Ticket prices can be more competitive and the returns for shareholders improved.

Clearly the fact that even with American Airlines slots at Heathrow included in BA’s total, the British carrier will still have less percentage-wise than Air France at Charles de Gaulle, KLM at Amsterdam and Lufthansa at Frankfurt, all of whom have anti-trust immunity.  One assumes it was a factor in the judgement.  One assumes it was a factor in the judgement.  And one would hope that the European Commission does not enter the fray at this stage and upset the applecart.  No meddling please.

Naturally Sir Richard Branson has reacted badly to the news.  “It beggars belief,” he is reported to have said.  In truth Virgin Atlantic has since its inception in 1984 failed to get into bed with a US carrier, or indeed join one of the three big airline alliances.  Other than various code-shares, and one in particular with Continental Airlines, it has always preferred to be independent, with all the advantages that it brings, and the consequences.  In 2000 Singapore Airlines acquired 49% of Virgin Atlantic, but commercial tie ups between the two airlines since that time have been very limited.

This judgement should be only the beginning.

When it comes to transport it is a British company, Stagecoach, that is a substantial investor in the American bus market.  When Lehman Brothers collapsed Barclays Bank, another UK corporation, bailed out most of the North American operation.  Rolls-Royce own Allison Engines, a major supplier to the American military, and the US operations of BAE Systems are one of the largest contractors to the US fighting machine.

Elsewhere in this issue of AERBT you will find reference to Glenn Tilton, very much in charge of United Airlines.  He is strongly in favour of overseas investment in US airlines and has made it quite clear that the present 25% maximum ruling is outdated.  Tilton is first and foremost a businessman having arrived at United from Texaco, the petroleum giant. 

Assuming it goes ahead (there is a 45-day objection period – but these decisions are rarely overturned) the judgment is a breakthrough.  However, and here Sir Richard has to swallow pride and be realistic, it is only the start.  What is needed now is for the United States to throw away the rules regarding friendly overseas investment in the nation’s air transport infrastructure.

Today (Monday 15 February) discussions begin in Madrid regarding phase two of last year's successful “Open Skies” deal between the USA and Europe.  Now that there appears to be a level playing field between all the main international American airlines and their counterparts this side of the Atlantic, there has to be progress on both ownership and fifth freedom allowing European carriers to sell seats on US domestic legs.  The 25% rule has to go too.

Hopefully immunity for British Airways on the anti-trust laws has been achieved.  But it is only a step on the ladder (but an important one) of opening up the United States to true airline competition.  The US domestic air transport scene is a mess.  Let us hope it can be shaken up.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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Baboo jets into London City

BABOO became the first airline to operate the Embraer 190 into London City Airport last week.  The carrier, who operates 11 weekly flights between the dockland airport and Geneva is in a code scheme under the Cityjet/Air France/KLM banner.  Founded in 2004 Baboo currently has a fleet of two Bombardier Q400s and thee Embraer 190s and serves 18 destinations from its Geneva hub.  With 2+2 seating, virtually vertical side walls and a very light ambience the Embraer E series jets are proving to be very popular with the business people who predominate at London City. http://www.flybaboo.com

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British Airways cleared of airport crash

BRITISH AIRWAYS has been admonished from any blame regarding the Boeing 777 crash landing at Heathrow in January 2008.  In a report the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said that a build-up of ice in the fuel system had restricted the flow of fuel to its engines causing the flight deck crew an emergency situation less than a mile from the final touchdown point, crash landing just 300 yards short of the runway.  All 152 people on board survived.  The AAIB said: "Certification requirements, with which the aircraft and engine fuel system had to comply, did not take account of this phenomenon as the risk was unrecognised at that time."  Captain Peter Burkill, in command, and who took voluntary redundancy from BA last year, said he was still looking for a new flying role. www.aaib.gov.uk

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First Class gets slow arrival

BRITISH AIRWAYS last week launched its new First Class with perhaps one of the most insipid introductions of all time.  Claimed to cost £100m to develop, it was originally planned for a Winter 2009 introduction.  According to a press release it “draws on its rich heritage to create an exclusive experience based on classic design and understated luxury.”  Key features include a 60% wider bed at the shoulders, personal wardrobe, personal electronic blinds, a 15” in-flight entertainment screen.  USB port, RCA jack and noise-cancelling headsets, fully integrated ambient and mood lighting, Anya Hindmarch washbag and amenities by D.R. Harris & Co, plus a leather bound writing table are to be found.  BA staff should have been able to learn more details in the house newspaper.  Sadly a designer, rather than an editor, chose to make the supplement so dark that it is impossible to read.  At the time of the announcement the kit was on a single Boeing 777 with the next aircraft not due for 90 days.  The BA staff at the Business Travel Show were unable to help.  www.ba.com

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JAL stays put

JAPAN AIRLINES (JAL) has confirmed that it is to stay within the oneworld partnership contrary to rumours that it might join Skyteam.  Clearly the risks involved in switching to the Air France led alliance, together with the management’s need to focus on its three-year restructuring plan, played a significant part in the decision.  In a statement the airline said that together with oneworld partner American Airlines (AA) it would shortly apply to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Ministry of Land Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan (MLIT) for the approval of anti-trust immunity (ATI) on transpacific routes. www.jal.com

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Paris to Washington

OPEN SKIES, the French British Airways subsidiary, is to introduce a five-times-weekly service from Paris Orly to Washington's Dulles airport starting 1 May.  The flight will use one of the airline's three Boeing 757-200s, offering "Biz Seat" Premium Economy and "Biz Bed" with a proper flat seat.  Speaking at the announcement Managing Director Dale Moss claimed a 27% market share of the Paris – New York Business Class market.  Newark is now the airline’s New York base having dropped both Paris and Amsterdam from JFK.  Moss said loads on the Paris – New York service have been running in the mid-70s.  Spare capacity has been used by offering aircraft for VIP charter services, including one taken up by the French Ministry of Finance.  Other charter clients have been premium sports teams.  Asked whether US government employees (at federal, state or municipal level) would be allowed by their employer to use a foreign-owned airline, Moss remained mum, stating only that discussions were being conducted. www.flyopenskies.com

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Unite stirs it for BA

BRITISH AIRWAYS has suspended 17 staff noting “Inappropriate comments have been posted on a union website and we have asked Unite for their assistance in removing those postings and identifying those individuals involved.  We will not tolerate intimidation of our staff and any reports of staff being threatened will be investigated.  A number of staff have been suspended while we carry out investigations.”  BA’s 13,500 cabin personnel have until 22 February to vote on what is clearly a very acrimonious issue.  Unite has said that the strike will not take place over the Easter period, but without stating actual dates, adding more problems both for the airline and passengers with advance bookings or lack of them. www.ba.com

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ON TOUR: Singapore Air Show

It was bound to happen considering the global economic outlook but the 2010 Singapore Air Show must be recorded as one of the quietest on record.  There were few deals and no major sales by aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing.

"This is a quiet airshow.  The world is getting too many airshows," Airbus sales chief John Leahy said this week.

"I think we need to get together as an industry and maybe limit the number of airshows,"  he said.

Singapore immediately followed the low key, but successful Bahrain Show (which was more of a gathering than a true air show), a muted Dubai towards the end of last year, with an Indian show about to follow.  Farnborough (due at the end of July) says that bookings are up to expectations.

The Singapore Airshow reported that US$9bn worth of deals were signed during five days of trade, US$4bn short of the previous airshow in the city-state in 2008.

The largest commercial contract  announced was a US$3.5bn deal between International Aero Engines and Jetstar Airways, of which US$1.5bn was for V2500 engines and US$2bn for a long-term service agreement.

The International Aero Engines consortium groups Pratt & Whitney together with Rolls-Royce, MTU Aero Engines of Germany and a trio of Japanese heavy engineering companies.

Airbus signed a memorandum of understanding to sell six Airbus A330-200 aircraft to Hong Kong Airlines, valued at US$1.15bn at list price.

Organisers, however, put a brave face on the slow sales.  "The commercial guys are doing good business.  I was thinking that the defence side would do well, but the commercial boys are snapping up the business," Jimmy Lau, Managing Director for Singapore Airshow 2010, told reporters.

"The swing in the market is back and everybody is getting ready to fleet up again.  Airline operators are looking to put back in service what they cut back the past year and a half or so.  The growth in MRO is going to be there," Lau said.

About 70% of the deals struck during the airshow came from the commercial side and the rest from the defence side, Lau said.

Home carrier Singapore Airlines was bullish regarding the A380 and says it is lifting passenger loads up by 8%.  On reliability the A380 had a 97% technical dispatch record in the first year, which compares favourably with the 777 at around 98% and is well ahead of the 747-400, which swung between 89% and 93% when it entered commercial operations.  Airbus is targeting 98% reliability for the A380 this year.

The four-day trade show was jolted by the scrapping of a flight display on the Thursday when a South Korean pilot steered his fighter jet too close to spectators, having "infringed the safety boundaries," witnesses and the show organiser said.  But even what was on offer by way of display flights was limited.  One wag complained that you could never get it right.

At Paris the French usually put on a military display whilst we are all trying to have a quiet lunch, and we complain.  Here there is little flying and it is too quiet!”

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AirBaltic in expansion mood

AIRBALTIC, the national airline of Latvia, but also with a hub at Vilnius (Lithuania), will launch on 29 March new flights from that city to Dublin, to Hamburg on 30 March, and to Manchester on 31March.  The airline will operate its first flight to Oslo on 17 May.  The frequencies vary.  For 2009 airBaltic has announced €20m provisional profit, and achieved 6% passenger growth to 2.75m.  In 2010, the airline says it will open at least nine new direct routes from its main base at Riga, and has so far announced destinations including Amman, Beirut, Belgrade, Madrid, Umea and Vaasa. www.airbaltic.com

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BAE Systems aircraft sales

BAE SYSTEMS may no longer build aeroplanes but they are certainly in the aircraft sales/leasing business with a large portfolio from a previous life and responsible for an increasing number of Airbus and Boeing equipment acting on behalf of third parties.  As such BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is in a unique position of assessing the market which it does on an annual basis.  Talking to the media (at London’s Foundling Museum – the subject of ON TOUR in a future AERBT issue) BAE noted that in 2009 global passenger traffic declined by 3.1% and cargo 15%.  New aircraft orders totalled 664, the second worst since 1995, whilst there were 188 cancellations and 345 deferrals.  Utilisation was down by an estimated 6% and at the end of the year there were 2,757 idle jets (up 258 on the previous year and global airline losses were said to be in the US$11bn region.  In spite of all this nearly 1,100 passenger aircraft were delivered in 2009. www.regional-services.com

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Business Travel and Meetings Show a success

 BUSINESS TRAVEL buyers and corporate organisers gathered at Earls Court last week for the annual coming together.  A comparison must be drawn with the new Business Travel Market and the general opinion seemed to be that Earls Court caters for the UK domestic market, whilst Excel, the June venue for the newcomer, is much more European minded.  In any event whilst numbers have not been posted it seems by compressing the Business Travel and Meetings Show into two days it was much more attractive for both visitors and exhibitors.  The site was slightly smaller and it did seem more busy.  Some 30 airlines had booths.  Most major hotel groups were represented but Avis was the only true international car hire company on parade . www.businesstravelshow.com

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Flybe for Bournemouth

BOURNEMOUTH, on the English south coast and less than 30 very direct miles from Southampton Airport, is to gain its first Flybe operation.  Originating out of Manchester, and flown mid-morning, the Bombardier Q400-60 service will be introduced on 27 May on a Monday to Friday basis.  Flight time is just one hour.  From its major hub at Southampton, Flybe offers up to five flights daily to Manchester. www.flybe.com

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Kingfisher in major route expansion

KINGFISHER, the privately-owned Indian airline, has received permission to operate seven new international routes.  Start dates are expected to be confirmed shortly.  From Delhi the destinations are Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong and London.  Mumbai gains Bangkok, Colombo and Dubai.  The services on the Delhi – London and Delhi – Hong Kong routes will be operated using Airbus A330 aircraft whilst all the other routes feature two-class Airbus A320 series.  Currently the airline serves both Heathrow and Singapore twice daily from Mumbai, both routes gaining an extra frequency from 28 March.  Said to be the best equipped A330s so far from Airbus, the aircraft are dual cabin with all seats offering live TV channels including BBC World, CNN International, Bloomberg and Eurosport/ESPN via satellite as well as some 357 hours of programming on 36 channels. www.flykingfisher.com

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Regional Aircraft not for sale

REGIONAL AIRCRAFT, the BAE Systems division providing aircraft sales and leasing, fleet support and engineering, is not for sale according to Managing Director Alan Fraser speaking at the annual press briefing (see above).  “We remain a profitable organisation within the group,” was all that he would say.  Any MBO or similar movement was a “no go!”  BAE was able to announce the sale of three ATP freighters to the Anglo-Swedish cargo airline West Atlantic bringing their fleet up to 43 aircraft (and a further machine to a Miami organisation) and various leasing deals for the BAe 146/AVRO series.  Most interesting was a tie-up with Mitsubishi regarding their new 70/90 regional jet due to make its first flight in 2012.  In all 44 aircraft were placed by BAE Systems during 2009. www.regional-services.com

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Vancouver gets airport hotel in time for the Games

VANCOUVER has a new airport hotel just in time for the Winter Olympics.  The Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport (in fact just over one mile from the airport), has 176 guest rooms and eight suites.  It is within a five-minute walk to Yaohan Centre and a 20-minute Skytrain ride to downtown Vancouver.  The new hotel also offers easy access to the Aberdeen Centre, River Rock Casino and Royal Canadian College as well as the nearby Richmond Olympic Oval.  There is a heated indoor lap pool and 8,500sq ft of flexible meeting and event space plus six breakout rooms. www.starwoodhotels.com

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CRUISE NEWS FEBRUARY 2010

Figures released by the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) show a rise in the number of ferry passengers travelling within the UK, with 11.4m journeys taken in 2009, an increase of 1.4% compared with 2008.  The number of cars also showed a slight increase, with 2.078m ferry journeys in 2009, a rise of 0.7%.

The news is supported by the latest UK Tourism Survey, from the Office for National Statistics, which shows that trips taken by UK residents in England between June and August increased by a staggering 22% compared with last year, with the amount spent by travellers up 20%.

Is using a ferry cruising?  That is a fair question.  For very short, mainly Scottish island trips, probably not, but when it comes to crossing the North Sea, or bypassing France on the way to Spain on a 30,000-ton plus super ferry it certainly is.

You may be surprised how many islands surround the UK, over 80 named in Wikipedia to 1,000 if you count uninhabited islands and those which disappear under the sea at high tide.

Some ferries are quite basic, but others have tried to emulate the small cruise ships and offer comfortable lounges and restaurants – and other facilities . And of course on some ferries you can take your car, which you cannot on a cruise ship.

Head north and the domestic services of Caledonian MacBrayne open up some of Scotland’s most beautiful and dramaticplaces.  This operator sails to 22 islands and four peninsulas, from Arran in the south to Lewis in the north, serving places from the popular island of Skye to less familiar Raasay, The Uists and Gigha.

Head even further north for the hauntingly beautiful Orkney and Shetland islands, served by NorthLink Ferries with up to three sailings each day to Orkney’s Stromness from Scrabster and nightly sailings to Shetland’s Lerwick from Aberdeen, some going via Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital.

There’s culture, history – and high-speed endurance racing – on the Isle of Man, home to the famous TT races and served by the venerable Steam Packet Company.  Take a trip there from Heysham, Liverpool, Belfast or Dublin to explore the island’s quiet roads or watch others speed around them.

A trip to Queen Victoria’s favourite island is simple with operators Wightlink and Red Funnel, who open up the unspoilt and beautiful Isle of Wight with round-the-clock services across the Solent.  The island is also famous for its festivals, from music to walking, cycling, sailing and powerboat racing.

The Channel Islands are served by Condor Ferries, with sailings to Jersey and Guernsey as well as between the two.  Here, you’ll find castles, beaches, lush gardens and charming yet cosmopolitan towns with a huge array of shopping on offer.

There’s also the world-famous Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland to see – a trip that will let you take in the Bushmills distillery, beautiful hidden glens and stretches of rugged coastline: get there with a special Rediscover Northern Ireland deal from operator Norfolkline.  For speedy crossings from Troon or Cairnryan in Scotland, there’s P&O Irish Sea, who can get you to Northern Ireland in as little as an hour.

A full list of ferry operators is shown on www.sailanddrive.com


NEWS ROUNDUP


COSTA, the Italian division of Carnival, is to continue with its popular winter programme with Costa Pacifica, Costa Concordia and Costa Magica.  The Costa Pacifica sails from Civitavecchia (Rome) and Savona (Gerona and Nice are the nearest airports) on 11-night cruises with calls in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.  Costa Concordia leaves from Savona on 11-night cruises to the Canary Islands.  Costa Magica offers seven-night Western Mediterranean voyages departing from Savona and Civitavecchia. www.costacruises.co.uk

HOLLAND AMERICA has unveiled its summer 2011 programme with increased sailings from Dover and Rotterdam.  For next year the Carnival Corporation-owned Dutch-based operator will feature seven ships cruising the Mediterranean, Baltic and Northern Europe from Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Civitavecchia (Rome), Copenhagen, Dover (London), Rotterdam and Venice.  Both Nieuw Amsterdam and  Noordam will sail the Mediterranean all season.  The Nieuw Amsterdam, which debuts on 4 July 4 2010, will offer 12-day sailings while the Noordam will feature seven- and 10-day cruises.  The ms Ryndam will sail a series of Mediterranean and Northern Europe cruises ranging from seven to 21 days.  The ms Rotterdam will also sail Northern Europe and Mediterranean itineraries of seven to 12 days, including some that feature the Black Sea and the Holy Land.  The Rotterdam will also sail two nine-day historic transatlantic cruises mid-season.  The ms Eurodam begins her 2011 season with two seven-day Mediterranean sailings and then offers ten- and 12-day cruises in the Baltic.  Both the ms Prinsendam and ms Maasdam will also feature Europe cruises, the Maasdam again sailing its traditional transatlantic roundtrip itinerary from Boston that visits Greenland and Iceland. www.hollandamerica.com

MSC has chosen Southampton as its new base for all ex-UK sailings, which will operate from May to September and sail passengers on MSC Opera to Northern and Western Europe.  Later this month the Naples-based Italian line has also chosen the Solent port to introduce its latest ship MSC Magnifica (and AERBT will be reporting in full on both the ship and event).  Giulio Libutti, MSC Cruises' UK and Ireland Managing Director said, “Southampton Port is well suited to our new planned itineraries cruising to the north of France, Spain and Portugal.  The infrastructure and amenities at the port and in the city make Southampton a desirable and attractive port for us, with great transport links offered by road, rail and air, which will better service our passengers." www.msccruises.co.uk

PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES is a brand new cruise line with a single ship, the Tahiti-based Paul Gauguin, providing luxury cruises to Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific.  The ship will be familiar to fans of luxury cruising in general – and French Polynesia in particular – as it was operated by Regent Seven Seas Cruises from its launch in 1997.  Paul Gauguin Cruises took over management of the vessel beginning with its 6 January 2010 cruise.  The Paul Gauguin was designed specifically to sail the shallow seas of Tahiti and French Polynesia, visiting small ports that larger ships cannot reach.  Five-star service and 70% of accommodation with private balconies.  On offer for the balance of the year are 35 itineraries ranging from seven to 15 nights, highlighting such amazing destinations as Tahiti, the Society Islands, Tuamotus, the Cook Islands, Marquesas, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand.  Each cruise is enhanced by a choice of exciting shore excursions and fascinating lectures by cultural and environmental experts. www.pgcruises.com

P&O will introduce the Azura in April (and there are still a few cabins available for the maiden voyage).  At 116,000 grt and room for around 3,000 passenger, she is a sister ship of Ventura, which entered service in April 2008.  Azura will feature 18 single staterooms, a first in the P&O Cruises fleet, and two large suites for extended families or groups of friends to share. The ship will offer 900 staterooms with private balconies and a select number of spa staterooms, offering exclusive access to the Oasis Spa and added in-cabin extras.  Cruising out of Southampton Azura will this year offer a series of cruises from seven to 16 days. www.pocruises.com


PRINCESS has revived an old tradition, albeit on an experiment basis, of allowing friends and relatives on board ship prior to the sailing.  The programme will debut in March in the ports of Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, and then roll out to New York, San Francisco and Seattle.  Called the "Bon Voyage Experience(SM)," the programme is a new twist on the departure celebration of bygone days, when friends and family would routinely come aboard to see off passengers.  Because of increasingly tighter security procedures, this practice disappeared more than two decades ago, but it's now back. Unique in the cruise industry, the Bon Voyage Experience will enable passengers to extend an invitation to their guests to join them onboard during sailing day for a four-course dining room lunch with wine, a ship tour and even a souvenir photo.  Passengers and their guests can enjoy priority embarkation and will be able to spend approximately four hours together on the ship before it sets sail. The cost for the programme is US$39 per person, which can be applied toward a future Princess cruise.  Cruise line Discovery has a similar programme in the United Kingdom whereby prospective cruisers can view the ship at Harwich during the turnaround period. www.princess.com

SEADREAM the highly rated and exclusive yacht style cruise operator has also announced its 2011 programme which includes a visit to London for the first time.  SeaDream's twin mega-yachts SeaDream I and SeaDream II each offer accommodation for up to 110 passengers and are sumptuously fitted out including a large swimming pool on the rear deck, quite unique in its layout.  Immediately prior to its Northern European voyages, SeaDream I will make a 15-day transatlantic sailing in April 2011 from San Juan, Puerto Rico across the Atlantic to the Thames with a stop in the Azores. The 4,000 grt vessels are idea for visits to smaller ports, the Northern Europe itinerary including Marstand (Sweden); Lillesand and Bergen (Norway) and Kuressaare (Estonia).  SeaDream I will also sail in two of Norway’s most magnificent fjords, Hardangefjord and the Sognefjord. www.seadreamyachtclub.com

YACHTS OF SEABOURN has aconfirmed  that Seabourn Quest will be the name given to its newest vessel due into service June 2011.  She follows Seabourn Odyssey which arrived last year and Seabourn Sojourn, launches in June in London.  At 32,000 grt and carrying just 450 guests each, the three new Seabourn yachts are the smallest vessels being built by any major cruise company and in keeping with the line’s strategy of offering guests highly personalised service in a relaxed, sociable and luxurious environment.  The three new Seabourn yachts join another trio of small, 208-guest ultra-luxury vessels already in the fleet: Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend. www.seabourn.com

VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY is a new cruise line operating its first season in 2010.  Its rationale is a series of voyages visiting famous historical places mainly in the central and eastern Mediterranean Aphrodisias (Turkey), Krak des Chevaliers (Syria), Leptis Magna (Libya), Luxor and Karnak (Egypt), Palermo (Sicily ) and Petra (Jordan) as well as such popular port destinations including Istanbul and Venice.  Operating the cruises is the renamed and extensively upgraded Aegean Odyssey (formerly Aegean I) the now only maximum-380 passenger vessel providing the best features of a mid-size ship with a choice of restaurants and various cabin offerings including 41 balcony suites.  Onboard, the emphasis will be on learning throughout each cruise – guest lecturers will play a big role in the cruise experience, with figures such as author Lord John Julius Norwich, who helped plan the itineraries with the cruise line, making appearances.  Shore excursions and wine with dinner are included in the price of the cruise. www.voyagestoantiquity.com

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