1 MARCH 2010

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The real strike figures

BRITISH AIRWAYS seems to have again missed out on the PR front regarding its increasingly acrimonious row with the union Unite representing its cabin crew.  According to the trade union 80.7% of all those who returned their ballot forms voted yes to industrial action.  The headline writers got to work.  In fact 78.7% of the eligible staff voted and of those 80% said yes to possible industrial action, in other words 63.5% agreed to allow the union to call a strike.  Separately the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has taken the airline to the Supreme Court in London in an attempt to secure an increase in holiday pay for members.  BALPA argues holiday pay for pilots should be based on what they garner, rather than on just their basic pay without allowances.  It is an interesting one which will be watched by Inland Revenue too.  BA says it will continue to resist the claim strongly.  See also below and visit the BA site for an update. www.ba.com

 

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BA fuels green revolution

BRITISH AIRWAYS, in partnership with the Solena Group, is to establish Europe’s first sustainable jet-fuel plant and plans to use the low-carbon fuel to power its Embraer fleet based at London City Airport from 2014.  The new fuel will be derived from waste biomass and manufactured in a state-of-the-art facility that can convert a variety of waste materials, destined for landfill, into aviation fuel.  A self-contained plant, likely to be sited in East London, will convert 500,000 tonnes of waste per year into 16m gallons of green jet fuel through a process that offers lifecycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 95% compared to fossil-fuel derived jet kerosene.  This volume of fuel would be more than twice the amount required to fuel all British Airways’ flights at the airport.  According to BA the fuel’s reduction in carbon emissions would be the equivalent of taking 48,000 cars off the road per year. www.solenagroup.com www.ba.com

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Continental is truly paperless

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES is to expand its mobile boarding pass service to its Heathrow T4 operation, becoming the first carrier to offer paperless boarding passes for non-stop US flights.  Customers can receive their boarding passes electronically on their mobile phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs).  Also available is the latest flight information and any special news including up to date standby lists and status.  Continental was the first carrier to offer paperless boarding passes in the US in a pilot programme with the Transportation Security Administration that began in December 2007.  The airline currently offers mobile boarding passes at 42 airports, including its hubs in Cleveland, Houston and New York. www.continental.com

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Greece to have one airline?

GREECE'S two largest carriers Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air have agreed to merge subject to approval by the European Competition Commission.  With Greece’s economic woes overshadowing everything in Athens, clearly a stronger combined airline is better equipped to compete with its European peers.  At London’s Heathrow, for example both airlines are currently serving Athens, from Terminals 1 and 4.  Olympic Air was bought by buyout firm Marfin Investment Group (MIG) from the Greek government in March last year.  Aegean Airlines  also bid for  Olympic.  Under the agreement the main shareholder of Aegean and the sole shareholder of Olympic Air will have equal shareholdings in the combined entity. www.aegeanair.com www.olympicair.com   

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Lufthansa strikes for just one day

LUFTHANSA’S main line operations were only disrupted for one day last week (Monday) after both sides agreed to continue talking.  If the disagreements are not resolved the parties will have to present themselves at the Frankfurt labour court on Monday 8 March.  Out of 1,800 flights something over 800 were cancelled on Monday.  Lufthansa’s regional operations were not affected nor Swiss International Air Lines, owned totally by Lufthansa, which increased its German capacity by 20%. www.lufthansa.com

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Ryanair comes to London

RYANAIR held a press conference in London last week hosted by the ubiquitous Michael O’Leary.  In spite of being late (see HAPPY TALK below) the man from Dublin was in high spirits and not a single four-letter word was spoken.  Perhaps he has finally grown up or maybe as a family man he does not want his children to see the uncouth specimen sometimes portrayed.  Michael was actually sympathetic towards the BA management regarding their spat with the unions, but as usual was full of untruths,  nothing like truth, and occasional facts.  He was scathing in one respect. “The problem for [chief executive] Willie Walsh is that the board of BA has no spine, no balls and no vision.”  The media for the most part has given up trying to dispute anything, O’Leary being an ace bully before that word was re-invented.  The only real facts to emerge was that Ryanair would never consider Heathrow – the turnaround times would just not work for the airline – that Stansted is becoming less important, the UK still representing nearly 40% of the airline’s business.  New Boeings were not part of the current vision. www.ryanair.com

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Toronto Billy Bishop Airport

TORONTO CITY AIRPORT enters a new phase later this week (Sunday 7 March) when it officially becomes Toronto Billy Bishop Airport and opens a new purpose-built US$50m terminal.  Billy Bishop was a Canadian WWI fighter ace.  Situated on an island in Lake Ontario, a quarter mile offshore, it is unique with only a ferry to service passengers.  Porter Airlines, the resident carrier, expects a throughput of 1.3m passengers in 2010.  The facility includes ten bridged aircraft gates, customs and immigration facilities and a mix of retail, food services, duty free, and other amenities.  Some ten destinations are served including Boston, Chicago and Newark New York. www.flyporter.com

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HAPPY TALK: Deeds speak louder that words.

Ryanair held a press conference in London last week to talk about punctuality.

Only one  problem.  Michael O’Leary was late.

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ON THE SOAPBOX: Glenvil Smith of Constellation Aviation

GLENVIL SMITH is one of the founding directors of Constellation Aviation Consulting Ltd.  Between 1982 and 1986 Glen acted as in-house solicitor with Dan-Air, at the time the UK’s second largest airline, before joining the niche Oxford law practice of Dallas Brett as a partner, specialising in the legal aspects of the regulation and operation of civil air transport.  From 1997 to 2009 he worked as an aviation law solicitor and consultant to three major London law firms, most recently with Manches LLP.  Glen is a member of the European Air Law Association and both pioneered and acted as lecturer on the Air Law and Negotiation module of the MSc course in Air Transport Management at City University.

“NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!”

Starting as a mere slogan in the Thirteen Colonies for a dozen years before culminating in the American War of Independence, the phrase meant quite simply that if taxes were to be imposed by a British government on persons living in a faraway place (and whose country’s capital was to be deemed some 200 years later to be a benchmark for “Band B” for the purpose of UK Air Passenger Duty), such persons were entitled to a say in how these taxes were disbursed, ideally in the Mother of Parliaments.  Not to do was an illegal denial of their rights.

Those of us who are tax resident in the UK and who feel APD is unfair upon themselves and their families – and at £300 per family of four to fly over British airspace for some 40 minutes en route to the Caribbean or South Africa from November of next year, it is of course blatantly “unfair” – have an easy remedy, apart from not paying APD at all by taking carbon-emission-producing shipping routes across the world, namely to “throw the ba****ds out” at the next election and obtain pledges from other parties wishing to take on the reins of government that they will ensure that aviation makes its “fair contribution” towards any damage which aviation may be doing to Planet Earth, no more and no less.

British Airways has, to its credit and, quite correctly, in its own interests, set about “Exploding the Myths about APD” forcefully enough, though their justifiable tirades focus on UK-originating travellers. 

Overseas tourist boards, notably those of Kenya and the Caribbean states, but also in the form of tourism ministers from some 100 countries who gathered in November at the UN World Tourism Organisation in London, warned (but were ignored by the current government) about the impact on their economies by the natural reticence of British travellers (and especially families) to be financially raped and pillaged – by their own government, no less – before travelling to the golden shores of their particular destination. 

“Great move, Labour: Deny Commonwealth and Caribbean countries their last remaining source of livelihood,” thunders the righteous indignation of a letter-writer to the Daily Telegraph published under the heading “APD takes travellers for a ride”.

However, when it comes to Thomas Earl Harrington III, that good United States citizen, federal and state taxpayer from Tucson, Arizona, who wishes to visit Blighty for the London Olympics in 2012, he is decidedly unhappy about the prospect of paying almost US$200 (£120) in APD for himself and his wife to the UK exchequer “for general purposes”; not, it should be remembered, to “save the planet” or to improve infrastructure at Heathrow or make the skies of Southern England safer, but merely as a result of their choosing to fly BA from nearby Phoenix non-stop to London and back to their Arizona home. 

Thomas is not seriously agitating to be elected to Westminster to oversee how his contribution to OUR welfare state is to be spent (although, as a purchasing director, he would be quite excellent at that), and yes, they do have a choice: they could (and may well) ditch BA in favour of AA who can fly them via Dallas to London, take a cheap “Yank special” one-way ride through the Chunnel to Paris, then ‘open-jaw’ it home from Paris via Dallas, in the process also contributing to the French economy by their short presence there.  But if thousands of North Americans, Singaporeans, Indians, Australians and South Africans (to name just a few sources of our more distant overseas visitors) react in the same way, it will deny Britain the pleasure (and profit) of retaining our guests for a few days longer, BA will lose “straight in and out” sales that they would otherwise easily have secured and all long haul carriers will be affected by the skewing of the number of arrivals and departures by air into and out of the UK. 

The story of those 50% of travellers to and from Britain who live – and pay their taxes – elsewhere has to date been largely unsung; such travellers should from the outset have been allowed to “opt out” of APD by means of making a simple declaration when booking their air ticket that they are resident for tax purposes outside the UK (and which would be a criminal matter to declare falsely). 

So unless overseas visitors are taken out of the APD net there should, and doubtless now will, be more chanting from both overseas individuals – and their governments – from the four corners of the world demanding:  “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!”


Glenvil Smith, Director and Aviation Lawyer
Constellation Aviation Consulting Ltd

http://www.constellationav.com

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Air Berlin goes Austrian

AIR BERLIN plans to raise its stake in former race car driver Niki Lauda's airline Niki to 49.9% from 24% in a move to expand in Eastern Europe.  This could lead to a 100% takeover.  Essentially a low cost carrier, and based in Vienna, Niki was founded by Lauda in 2003.  Air Berlin has been a 24% shareholder since 2004.  Last September Air Berlin announced a co-operation deal with Turkish airline Pegasus, itself a shareholder in the German airline.  Air Berlin currently has a fleet of 145 aircraft.  Lauda was the second Austrian World Motor Racing Champion, after Jochen Rindt. www.airberlin.com

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BAA puts a bad year behind

BAA Ltd, owned 100% by the Spanish Ferrovial consortium, saw its pre-tax loss widen to £821.9m last year from £324.2m in 2008.  Of this sum £217.8m related to increased pension scheme deficits and £277.3m in losses related to the sale of Gatwick.  Looking at the detailed figure the fascinating results show that whilst airport passenger numbers dropped appreciably (except for Heathrow – down only 1.5%) the retail performance increased, a bi-product of the weakness of Sterling (what was on offer proving to be very competitively priced), and Heathrow’s continuing importance as the world’s number one international hub. www.baa.com

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DHC Twin Otter makes aviation history

VIKING, which can now call itself an aircraft manufacturer, made aviation history last week with the first flight of new-production DHC-6 Series 400 Twin Otter, at Calgary, Alberta.  It is 22 years since the last Twin Otter was assembled by the then de Havilland Canada division of Boeing in Toronto, probably a record aircraft production break.  Viking, hitherto an aviation support company, announced the production re-launch of a modernized Twin Otter in March 2007 featuring over 400 modifications and improvements centred around a completely updated flight deck and added safety systems while retaining the legacy aircraft’s famous robust airframe design.  The order book currently stands at around 40 aircraft with first customer deliveries to start shortly. www.vikingair.com

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Kingfisher joins oneworld

KINGFISHER, the Indian airline backed by the beer company of the same name, and also involved with Formula One motor racing, sprang a surprise last week with the announcement that it had been accepted for membership by oneworld.  Based on past experience it will now take at least a year for the regulatory aspects to be dealt with and the airline fully integrated into the alliance.  It is further good news for oneworld following Japan Air Lines’ decision to stay with the group which includes American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas.  In the space of just a few weeks it has changed from possibly being the weakest alliance serving Asia to probably the strongest.  Rumours also abound that both China Eastern and Brazil’s GOL could be the next airlines to join.  In another move Kingfisher has confirmed that it will introduce a two class daily Delhi – Heathrow service from 28 March. www.flykingfisher.com

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Mongolia gains a Radisson Blu

ULAANBAATAR may not be familiar to all our readers, but it is the capital of the Republic of Mongolia.  Work has now started on a purpose-built Radisson Blu hotel due to open in the first quarter of 2011.  Effectively the centre of the city, 200m from Sukhbaatar Square and Peace Avenue, the property is adjacent to (and the rooms look down on) the 100-year old Choijin Lama Temple which features the 18th Century gold-covered statue of Buddha Shayaryamuni; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Opera House; and the Museum of Natural History.  In addition to the 175 guest rooms, it will feature three restaurants (including a Paulaner micro brewery), a wellness centre and 1,500 square metres of conference and meeting space. www.radissonblu.com

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Scottish service to Kent

FLYBE is to introduce a summer service between Edinburgh and Manston (Kent International) airports on 27 May.  It will operate on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Fridays.  Flight time is just 80 minutes for one of the Flybe Bombardier Q80 turboprops.  Manston has had no full scheduled services since the demise of EUjet in 2005.  The airport is to the east of Canterbury and borders on the towns of Broadstairs, Margate and Ramsgate.  The nearest alternative airports are Gatwick and London City, both nearly 80 miles away.  The port of Dover is about 15 miles to the south. www.flybe.com

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Toyko air wars

TOKYO remains in the news concerning the North Pacific routes following Japan Airlines' decision to stay with oneworld.  Next October Haneda, essentially the Japanese capital’s downtown airport, will open a fourth runway allowing for an expansion of international flights.  Since the opening of Narita Airport 30 years ago, 40 miles from the city, long haul flights have been banned from Haneda.  The US Transportation Department will somehow have to decide who gets the four daily flights choosing between American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.  Delta and United already fly to Japan through Narita.  Delta wants to launch services from Detroit, Los Angeles, Seattle and Honolulu.  American has applied for JFK and LAX.  Continental would fly from Newark and Guam.  United is focussing on San Francisco. www.dot.gov

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SOAPBOX EXTRA: Flight tax hits poorest and ethnic minorities hardest

A new survey conducted by Flying Matters, the lobby group, in the ten most diverse constituencies in Britain, the majority held by Labour, has revealed that the hikes in flight tax will hit the poorest and ethnic minorities hardest.  Published last week it seemed logical to group together with Glenvil Smith’s “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!” featured in our monthly ON THE SOAPBOX for the start of March.

Over 60% of those in the lowest social bands and two thirds of ethnic minorities said that the rises which came into force last November will impact on how often they visit their family abroad, compared to just over half of the general population (55%).

Those on the lowest incomes and ethnic minorities were also more likely to be fearful that the tax will affect how often their relatives come to visit them in Britain (61% of people in the DE social group compared to 52% of those in the AB category; and 70% of ethnic minorities compared to 60% of the general population).

The research shows how the further away people's relatives live the more likely the tax is to impact how often they and their families are able to visit each other.

The survey, carried out by Populus for FlyingMatters, the national campaign for flying, also reveals that two thirds of the population are concerned about the impact of further rises in the flight tax after those planned for November this year.  This rises to three quarters of ethnic minorities.

A family of four travelling to the furthest destinations will pay £220 in Air Passenger Duty this year, compared to £160 prior to the rise.  This will go up to £340 in November this year.  This comes on top of the doubling of Air Passenger Duty in February 2007.

Over half of the population (56%) in the seats polled have relatives abroad compared to nearly three quarters of ethnic minorities (74%).

The survey shows how the poorest and ethnic minorities are feeling the rises in the general cost of living more than others.  Just over half of people (53%) in the constituencies polled feel that they are spending more in all areas of their lives compared to a year ago, whilst 57% of ethnic minorities and 58% of in one of the lowest income brackets agreed this was the case.

Nearly two thirds (65%) of ethnic minorities were more likely than the general population (58%) to say they would consider cutting back on other holidays so that they could still afford to see their family. They were also more likely to cut back on 'little luxuries' (62% compared to 57% of the general population) and to cut back on going out/socialising (61% compared to 52% of the general population).

Worryingly, 3 in 10 people (31%) said they would cut back on groceries and more than a third said they would cut back on heating and home energy costs.  Those on the lowest incomes and ethnic minorities were slightly more likely to say they would cut back on these things.

Just over half the population (56%) said they would consider trying to find a higher paid job so that they could continue to afford to see their family abroad, whilst more than two thirds (68%) of ethnic minorities said they would consider this.  This was followed by working longer hours (59% of ethnic minorities and 51% of the general population agreed they would consider this option).

Commenting on the findings, Brian Wilson, Chairman of FlyingMatters, said:

"In these constituencies well over half the population have relatives living abroad.  The increases in flight tax will hit these people hard with poorer families and ethnic minorities suffering most.  It is a deeply regressive tax.

"Many of these people are being taxed out of the right to visit their loved ones.  This is deeply unfair and politically insensitive."

www.flyingmatters.org.uk

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Airport ownership fight continues

EDINBURGH or GLASGOW plus STANSTED airports can remain in the hands of BAA Ltd according to the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT).  The Competition Commission ruled in March last year that BAA, a subsidiary of Spain's Ferrovial infrastructure group, should sell Gatwick, Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports to meet competition concerns.  BAA sold Gatwick pre-empting this result.  BAA appealed to the CAT against the decision regarding the sale of the other airports and won.  This clearly upset the Commission which has had other reversals, questioning its effectiveness.  Another appeal is being made by the Commission but in the meantime BAA continues as a six-airport operation.  If the sale of all, or any, of the airports goes ahead it could now take a further two years. www.catribunal.org.uk  www.competition-commission.org.uk  www.baa.com

 

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British Airways carries on

BA continues to stagger along commercially as talks carry on between management and the trade union Unite.   Whilst the trade union has a 63.5% (see above) mandate from all cabin staff to strike no date has yet been fixed causing concern for would-be passengers booking ahead at this time, and those concerned that their reservations might not be fulfilled.   A luncheon at the Foreign Airlines Association in London last week certainly confirmed sympathy for BA whilst at the same time reporting a surge of bookings.  What is also apparent is a militant group within the airline's cabin staff are determined to vent their feelings on the airline, regardless of  passenger reaction and its consequences.  There is a feeling of unease by certain Unite officials.  The union has until March 22 to strike otherwise it will need to re-ballot.  It must also  give seven days' notice of any action. See also BA above

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Executive lounge expansion

SERVISAIR, perhaps better known as a behind the scenes airport handling operator, has strengthened its public presence at Gatwick North and Birmingham airports while adding Luton, to its growing portfolio.  The French-owned company now operates a fourth executive lounge at Gatwick and an additional executive lounge at Birmingham; it has also taken over operations of the executive lounge at Luton.  The acquisitions were completed in January, and plans are underway to upgrade and refresh the look and feel of each facility.  Servisair now manages 27 lounges at airports throughout the UK and Europe.  All are equipped with essential business facilities including internet access, telephone and fax facilities, TV, newspapers and magazines as well as complementary drinks and snacks. www.servisair.com/services/executive-lounges

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Ladies loo

ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS (ANA) is to offer a female-only toilet facility on most international routes from next month.  An airline official told Kyodo news agency that ANA decided to designate women-only lavatories based on a 2007 online survey in which 90% of the women polled said they found the idea attractive.  The airline said in a statement it was responding to "numerous requests for this service," adding that the toilet would be located at the rear of the plane and be available to women passengers from all classes.  She said demand for women-only toilets was especially high among passengers taking long flights. Korean Airlines also looks after ladies in the same way.  www.ana.co.jp

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New Changi aviation gallery opens

CHANGI (Singapore) keeps winning awards.  Now this might be because it is one of the best and most user friendly international airports or due to its very proactive PR department.  New at the airport is the Changi Aviation Gallery which has opened in Terminal 2 (Level 3) providing aviation enthusiasts and members of the public with interesting insights into Changi’s ground operations and the eventful history of aviation in Singapore.  Visitors also have a view of aircraft on the apron.  For greater visual impact, the gallery is decked out with more than 600 miniature aircraft.  The gallery has eight ‘islands’ of information with display panels covering a spectrum of topics including many of the ‘on-the-ground’ activities that take place at the airport and are not normally seen.  Admission is free.  A sister gallery featuring ‘in-the-air’ aspects of Changi Airport, such as air cargo and in-flight meals, is being planned at Terminal 3 and will open later this year. www.changiairport.com

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TAM adds First Class cabin to UK

TAM, the Brazilian airline, has added a new First Class cabin on its daily Heathrow – Sao Paulo flight.  The airline says this reflects the increase in premium traffic between the UK and the largest South American republic.  The cabin offers just four flat sleeper seats and is designed for passengers’ maximum privacy and comfort.  The Airbus A330-300 ERs used on the route have a further 56 seats in Business and 302 in Economy.  First Class passengers within 65 miles of Heathrow can book a complimentary luxury chauffer drive transfer to and from the airport. www.tam.com.br

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ON TOUR: Sri Lanka

Our roving reporter Jane Stanbury has been east to a wonderful island now returning to peace.

Sri Lanka lounges resplendently in the Indian Ocean.  Sadly  recent times  have not been tranquil but now thankfully there is peace. Sri Lanka has endured a torrid period with 25 years of internal conflict prevailing and the deadly tsunami of December 2004.

The war ended in May 2009 and post tsunami construction enabled the building of chic hotels and  luxury villas whilst strengthening relations with a number of foreign countries. Much of the destroyed Southern coastal road was rebuilt by Japan. Whilst there are still reminders of the fatal wave, Unawatuna, Mirissa and Weligama bays now beckon thanks to international funds received.

Consequently Sri Lanka is becoming one of the world’s most desirable destinations and is determinedly building services to attract luxury travellers. The New York Times declared it top of 2010’s places to visit. Boutique companies like Sri Lanka in Style are struggling to keep up with the requests.  “We offer clients a tailor-made service and particularly specialize in complex trips” says Miguel Cunat Managing Director of the thriving company, “this year we’re seeing more requests than ever and literally don’t have enough of our specially trained drivers and guides to keep up with demand”.   Undoubtedly the services of companies like Sri Lanka in Style ensure visitors maximise their time on an island brimming with places to visit yet still has transport challenges.

Getting around the island


“Might is right” says driver Sunil explaining the rules of the road.  Oxen, pedestrians, monkeys, bikes, three wheelers, cars, mini-vans and buses vie for right of way, hurtling buses win every time.  Car hire companies are uncommon, and local government tax regulations make importing of expensive vehicles prohibitive.  Alternatively a network of private aviation is developing.  “Many of the military aircraft are now utilised for charter, it can be a real alternative to taking a driver,” says Cunat.  Yet to appreciate Sri Lanka journeying by road far outweighs any other means of travel.

The landscape is fantastic


Lush landscapes of palms, bamboos, and spice gardens form the verdant landscape.  Ensconced amongst the leaves are national parks, ancient cities and intriguing villages. Several hotels are beginning to offer opportunities to get more involved with local culture.  Ranjit Cooray, hotel manager of Thi Lanka Resort and Spa, encourages guests to visit local schools to talk to the children, work in the hotel’s mango orchard or take a cooking lesson in the middle of the hotel’s paddy field.  Located in Dambulla, the home of the famed rock temple where hundreds of Buddha statues carved from the rockface are located in a series of five caves, the Thi Lanka is a perfect location for exploring Sri Lanka both old and new. The mystical cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya are all within an hours drive. 

Ancient Cities too


Anuradhapura city, built in 380 BC, is comparable with Angkor Wat and undoubtedly one of Sri Lanka’s prime destinations. Consisting of astonishing palaces, stupas*, dagobas and Buddhist relics the city covers a vast expanse. Wandering unobstructed around the preserved remains, a living depiction of ancient Sri Lankan life develops. Instead of peace and quiet Anuradhapura is still bustling. Modern day worshippers continue to revere their gods breathing life and insight into centuries old religious tradition. Polonoruwa is equally stunning and carries significant architectural weight with World Heritage Status. The ruins are in surprisingly good repair and the high-light must be Gal Vihara, a group of four beautifully carved Buddhas in various meditation poses, carved out of one piece of stone. Rumour has it that during the 12th century Indian invasions locals buried the monument preventing it from destruction, today a thin line of rope is all there is to keep the visitors at bay.

Sigiriya – Lion Rock


1650 steps lead through boulder gardens and irrigation systems that once pushed water up-hill to the flat-top of the awesome 200m high Sigirya rock. Colonized over 1500 years ago its purpose remains unknown with fortress, palace, and Buddhist temple as leaders in the debate. Another World Heritage Site, the ascent to the peak is in itself an experience. Narrow steps, spiral stairs and iron staircases lead to a wall of unsurpassed frescoes of celestial nymphs, continuing on to the enormous lion’s feet guarding the final climb to the 1.5 acre site, complete with breathtaking views across the dry central plains. 

Temple of the Tooth


Heading south from the ancient cities the drive leads to Kandy.  As Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese cultural and spiritual centre, Kandy is home to The Sacred Temple of the Tooth, where a relic of Buddha’s tooth is said to be housed and protected in a multi-layered stupa. For practicing Theravada Buddhists this is the equivalent of visiting Bethlehem or Mecca and visitors find themselves jostling with devotees, for a momentary glimpse of the sacred relic. From Kandy travellers explore the tea plantations and experience cooler mountain air amongst the greenest of leaves. Alternatively the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage where over 60 orphaned elephants are cared for and enchant visitors with their bathing antics.

Galle is the gateway to the south


After ten days of culture the southern beaches beckon. Galle, is a fort town and gateway to the southern tropical coastline. Galle mixes Sri Lankan and colonial style resulting in an impressive fort with a notable array of restaurants, hotels and guest houses, along with beautiful galleries, art collections and antique shops. Outside the fort Galle new town offers the full gamete of Sri Lankan sights, smells and sounds. The Sun House Hotel sits above the town and provides a neo-colonial oasis. Run by flamboyant Henri Tham this is the perfect establishment for those seeking a little solace.

 

The Southern Coast


Galle extends to Unawatuna bay, the beach of sultry dreams, to bustling Matara where a new airport is under construction. Swaying palms, golden sand and lapping waves create the perfect relaxing environment. Thalpe offers guests the opportunity to stay in one of Sri Lanka’s hippest new hotels, the colonially chic six bedroomed Era Beach. With ancient Jaffna columns, local Nadun wood features, and elaborate four poster beds, Era Beach epitomizes the proverbial retreat. The team are so attentive guests sonambulate through the day without lifting a finger. However for this writer the ultimate luxury is your own beach villa with someone taking care of your every need. Welcome to Kikili Beach in Dalawella  Kumara the house keeper manages the cleaning, food, laundry and the client’s every need. Our home for a week, this was the icing on a Sri Lankan multi-layer cake.

Undoubtedly there is still a long way for Sri Lanka to go in terms of infrastructure, yet this magical island has entered a period of calm and offers a fantastic alternative to the world’s more crowded hot spots.

Getting there
Sri Lanka Airlines has direct flights from London.
www.srilankan.aero

Most of the Middle Eastern airlines go via their hub and provide a good opportunity for breaking up the flight.

www.srilankainstyle.com – artisans of travel in Sri Lanka.

*stupa/dagoba – Buddhist monument composed of a solid hemisphere often containing relics of a Buddhist saint

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