8 MARCH 2010

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Aer Lingus Regional takes off

AER ARANN has announced a significant expansion to its network with the launch of four new routes to the UK direct from regional Irish airports under the Aer Lingus Regional banner.  In Kerry, Aer Arann is re-introducing a Manchester link, operating four days per week from 20 May.  As Aer Lingus Regional the airline is also launching two new services from Londonderry to Manchester and Edinburgh on the same day.  The Manchester service will operate seven days per week whilst Edinburgh will be six days.  In Donegal, the current Prestwick service is being replaced on 28 March by direct flights to Glasgow Airport. www.aerlingus.com

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Bangkok gains new hotel

BANGKOK has a new hotel, the Renaissance Ratchaprasong.  Towering over the city's premier shopping and business district, the new property offers 333 rooms to the high standard required by Marriot’s upscale brand.  The hotel follows the Renaissance Koh Samui Resort and Spa with another opening due in Phuket later this summer.  Poised to be a popular venue for social events and business gatherings due to its ideal location, the Ratchaprasong offers 11 meeting rooms complete with reception areas, open kitchens and a large landscaped terrace that allows meeting participants to step out into the open air during breaks.  The Royal Maneeya Ballroom has a capacity for 800 guests and there are 14 additional meeting rooms.  A club lounge is available on the 21st floor for executive level guests. www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bkkbr-renaissance-bangkok-ratchaprasong

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Chile update

SANTIAGO, the capital of Chile, is beginning to get organised after the devastating earthquake last week with LAN quoting (Sunday) 65% of flights operating.  Travellers are strongly advised to check with their airline and cruise company if joining a ship at Valparaiso in what is the busy season for Cape Horn and Antarctica.  LAN, the Chilean airline, has set up temporary facilities at the airport and said passengers should be "assured we are making our best effort so that our flight schedule returns to normal as soon as possible."  The country's National Emergency Office, known as Onemi, said the international airport is operating international and national flights with restrictions.  Also popular from Europe is TAM of Brazil whose flights route via Sao Paulo. www.lan.com/index-en-us.html 

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London to gain cut price hotels

LONDON will have 15 examples of what is claimed to be “A 5-star sleeping experience at a 1-star price” by 2017 according to Mark Lankester, of Tunes Hotels unveiling the latest travel project spearheaded by Tony Fernandes, founder and Group CEO of low cost airline AirAsia and Team Principal of the Lotus F1 racing team.  Tunes has entered into a strategic partnership with London-based Queensway Group Ltd to invest in, develop and operate properties across Greater London.  Some 1,500 hotel rooms will be rolled out at a cost of £150m.  The third-quarter of 2010 will see the first completion at 118 Westminster Bridge Road.  The concept of Tune is to supply a quality bed and power shower leaving virtually all the other requirements to others.  Since Tune Hotels.com was first launched in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), in 2007, more than 500,000 guests have stayed in one of its Southeast Asian properties, currently totalling nine hotels.  The chain is expected to expand significantly in the next few years. www.tunehotels.com

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Malev re-nationalised

MALEV has become the first European airline of any consequence to be re-nationalised.  The Hungarian government now owns 95% of the carrier, the Russian investors, part of the Airbridge group just being left with 5% of the equity.  In its two years of ownership Airbridge was unable to turn around the loss making carrier the government now saying that it is in the interest of the country that there is a national airliner.  The independent Hungarian airline Wizz, which is based in Budapest, has announced that it will appeal to the EU to try and stop the re-nationalisation.  “Malev is a non-viable business and will remain financially non-viable in the future.” www.malev.com

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Rwanda hotel

KIGALI may not be on everyone’s travel brief but the capital of Rwanda has made considerable strides since the 1994 genocide, with per capita income having nearly tripled since the early 1990s.  The 2010 World Bank Doing Business survey ranked Rwanda as the “Top Reformer” globally in 2009.  This new optimism is personified by the announcement from Rezidor Hotel Group of a contract being signed for a 292-room Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre due to open in 2012.  The property is a key element in a portfolio which this year includes openings in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Maputo (Mozambique), Lagos (Nigeria), Johannesburg and Cape Town (South Africa) and Lusaka (Zambia). www.investor.rezidor.com

 

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Varsity takes off AND LANDS WITH A BUMP!

VARSITY AIRWAYS took off last Monday, initially offering a daily return service from Oxford to Edinburgh.  Managing Director Martin Halstead said he was delighted with forward bookings noting that the frequency will be doubled on 5 April and with Newcastle included in the schedule.  What was apparent on this first service was the suitability of the Jetstream 31 for the route, at least from a passenger point of view.  The original Handley Page designers got it right offering a comfortable 1+2 layout in the fully pressurised aircraft with a toilet at the rear.  It affords a comfortable if slightly noisy ride, a 250 mph cruising speed reducing the airborne time between Oxford to Edinburgh to 75 minutes.  Just over 450 Jetstreams were built making it arguably the most successful British passenger aircraft of all time.

ADDED AM TUESDAY 9 MARCH

Varsity Express regrettably announce as of 3 o'clock today March 8th 2010 the suspension of scheduled services on their Oxford to Edinburgh route.

The reason for this suspension is due to operational issues between Varsity Air Services Ltd and the airline and AOC holder who have been contracted to operate the Jetstream 31 type on our behalf and that was being used on the route. All further ticket sales have been suspended until further notice. All passengers effected by the suspension of service either have been or are currently being informed of the situation.

The policy of Varsity Air Services Ltd has always been to protect the interests of its passengers at all times and therefore the company from the onset of ticket sales entered into a voluntary passenger revenue protection scheme involving an Escrow agent account. All passenger revenue relating to flights not completed is protected by this scheme independently and all money relating to un-flown revenue can be refunded in full if necessary.

The board of Varsity Air Services Ltd are in current negotiation with potential aircraft operators and AOC holders who could provide the operational capability required to allow the resumption of services, on what has already proved to be a very popular, viable and sustainable route. The board are hopeful that Varsity Air Services Ltd will be able to resume full operational services in the very near future. For further information contact the Varsity call centre on 0871 644 0450.

http://www.flyvarsity.com

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HAPPY TALK: Last rites of a traffic warden

 

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COMMENT: Is the outlook getting better for the airlines?

There is a strong argument that the financial strength of the globe is personified by the performance of the airlines around the world.  Here in Europe the economic downturn has been serious, reflected by the awful performances of British Airways, Iberia and SAS, amongst others – in alphabetical order rather than actual results.

We can look at these results statistically three ways.  By what the airlines actually tell us in their reports; by analysing IATA’s (International Air Transport Association) overall results – and the figures don’t include many of the low cost/budget carriers; and by the numbers offered in the OAG (Official Airline Guide) database of seats available, these including virtually all airlines, the budget carriers actually participating in this non-revenue affiliation.  OAG is one club they require to be members of.  (Also see below)

OAG has published this month’s seat statistics which indicate, as things stand, that airlines worldwide will operate 4% more flights in March 2010 as compared to March 2009.  The total number of scheduled flights listed for March 2010 is 2,464,311 with an overall seat offering of 303,075,355, an increase of 5% compared to March 2009. 

As a comparison in March 2001 the airlines showed 250m seats, the growth around 20% in a decade.

We will follow seats only rather than flights, the two running more or less in parallel.

The Middle East continues to be the most robust sector and North America the most worrying.  Whilst the numbers are relatively small for what is essentially the Gulf region – 6.4m seats within the area (+17%) and 10.6m (11%) to and from – the decline 2% decline for North America must give concern both for the economies in general and the aircraft manufacturers themselves, particularly Boeing, and to some extent Bombardier.

For Europe the outlook looks better with seats offered, up by 4% to and from, and 2% within, at least a rise and positive.

All these figures represent serious guesswork within the airlines regarding what capacity is required, and frequency, bearing in mind their aircraft fleets and utilisation.

Asia, and particularly India and China, are always cited for growth but they still have some way to go in terms of numbers.  The area is vast and the populations enormous.  Here culture is different from the US, where families for generations have moved around the continent and are well versed in using the aeroplane for their regular get togethers.

Whilst traffic in Central Asia has doubled in ten years, the vast area only represents 7.6m passengers for the whole of March.

Go back again to March 2001 and 94m seats were on offer for Canada and the United States domestically.  This time around it is just 76.4m.  The decline has been steady over the period.  Has the reason for the drop been that people are using more road transport or the railways, or have they stopped travelling?  Is it because the actual bottom line cost of air travel has risen?  Or is the US economy so bad that potential travellers are just staying at home? 

The one good bit of news is that in spite of the strength of the Dollar the airline people still believe that people need to travel to and from the USA and are increasing capacity for the month by 1%.

2010 is beginning to look like a very cautious year for the airlines, with the flab of past regimes still in many cases to be cast off.  Prudence may be the way forward but those that succeed will still need innovation and originality.  The competition is intense.  Carriers should not sit back on past glories. 

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Air Slovakia ceases operations

AIR SLOVAKIA, the Bratislava-based charter airline first established back in 1995, has ceased operating after having its Air Operator's Certificate withdrawn.  The airline operated a fleet of four B737s and a single B757.  Slovakia has had a poor run in recent times with SkyEurope, Seagle Air and now Air Slovakia all failing.  It is thought that the authorities had concerns regarding the carrier's financial well being.  Slovakia has been a member of the EU since 2004.  Bratislava, which is the capital, is only 40 miles along the Danube from Vienna. www.airslovakia.sk

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British Airways and the strike

BRITISH AIRWAYS watchers should note that this looks like a critical week in its dispute with the Unite union.   The law dictates that if the strike does not go ahead by 22 March the union will have to re-ballot.  However it also says that seven days warning is required for a strike.  This means in effect that if the union has not declared a strike by 15 March (next Monday) they will again have to seek the views of members.  The whole argument is about BA introducing cost cutting procedures alien to the union's view.  Unite has presented to the airline a number of alternatives in a last ditch effort to prevent strike action.  Talks were due to continue today (Monday 8 March). www.ba.com www.unitetheunion.com

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Etihad medically sound

ETIHAD is to install new state-of-the-art technology on its long and ultra long haul aircraft which can monitor the condition of passengers who display signs of sickness that might require immediate medical attention.  The Tempus IC system allows cabin crew to gather vital information about a passenger’s health quickly and efficiently.  The data covers a wide range of the passenger’s vital signs including blood pressure and an electrocardiogram.  It also allows the crew to take photo imagery.  That information is then transmitted to a ground-based medical team.  Following their advice the crew will take a decision about what to do next for the passenger and the flight.  Etihad will introduce the Tempus IC technology, designed and manufactured by UK-based RDT, on its Airbus A340 and Boeing 777 aircraft and then subsequently across the remaining long haul fleet. www.etihadairways.com www.rdtltd.com

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Lufthansa makes loss

LUFTHANSA made a €112m net loss for 2009, although it did publish  an actual €130m operating profit.  It will not be paying a dividend.  In 2008 the overall profit was a whopping €542m.  However the results did include the takeover of both Austrian Airlines and bmi, long term goals that could have reached fruition at a better time.  Lufthansa’s problems have continued into this year with a one day pilot strike and further industrial action still possible.  Revenues in 2009 tumbled by 10% to €22.3bn. www.lufthansa.com

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OnAir on line

ONAIR, the airborne internet provider, has achieved a notable first using the full spectrum of mobile and wi-fi internet connectivity services based on Inmarsat’s latest high speed SwiftBroadband satellite communication system.  At this stage, the service is in operation aboard one of Oman Air’s Airbus A330 aircraft on the Muscat to Heathrow route.  Passenger services on the flight provide access via laptops (wireless), as well as the ability via mobile phones and smart phones to make and receive calls, to send and receive text messages and emails, and to access the internet.  OnAir has been selected by Airbus as the first connectivity solutions to be incorporated on the production line for the A350 XWB. www.onair.aero

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South Africa gets ready for the World Cup

SOUTH AFRICAN President Jacob Zuma was at Wembley last week to reassure UK football fans travelling to the World Cup this summer over safety.  “When we say we are ready, we do not exclude the question of security, we include that.”  He was diplomatic in not answering a question over support for England’s 2018 bid prospect, but like others before him, clearly impressed with the home of football.  Twelve ministers accompanied him to the press conference.  Sadly questions were limited (by time constraints we were told) to the BBC and South African Broadcasting.  Around 450,000 foreign fans are expected to visit South Africa for the World Cup, including 25,000 from the UK.  Agents and airlines are still offering availability.  South African Airways is partnering with MATCH, the official hospitality provider for FIFA, to lease additional aircraft in order to operate a round-the-clock domestic schedule during the tournament enabling fans to select a base city and fly to a match and return the same evening.  Kick-off date is 11 June. www.fifa.com/worldcup/matches/index.html

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ON TOUR: The Embraer Phenomenal

Jeremy Clarkson eat your heart out.  I’ve been trying out a means of executive travel that is quicker, maybe in the long run cheaper and certainly more exhilarating than the fastest of exotic vehicles you can get hold of.  And before you tell me that you can’t smoke when in the Embraer Phenom (short for phenomenal?), you can, assuming your fellow travellers don’t mind.  The designers have contrived to incorporate a private loo into this four passenger very light jet (VLJ) too.  I have heard that some passengers !!!! in their pants when being driven by your good self.

Clarkson will probably not be impressed that Starbucks is the sponsor of the in-flight refreshments, but the on-board catering locker is very generous in size and liquor should not be in short supply.

The problem with the Brazilian-built Embraer is that for Clarkson, and anyone of his size, it is a bit on the tight side.  But saying that it is already proving popular with gangling Premier League footballers not short of a few bob.  And personalities!  The extremely comfortable little jet is ideal for “the star”, the manager, the publicist and “the friend”.

Embraer

The Brazilian’s nearly invented the aeroplane.  Back at the end of the 19th century, before the Wright Brothers, a man called Santos Dumot had the aviation craze, and by 1906 was flying his own plane.  The problem was Orville and Wilbur had got there first.  A bit like Scot and Amundsen.

Rush on 100 years and the Royal Princes are checked out on the Embraer’s Tucano, perhaps the best basic military trainer around today. 

Founded in 1969 Embraer is now the world’s third largest aviation manufacturer.  From the same design studio comes the very popular Embraer 170, seen out of London City Airport and the Legacy, a large corporate express.

When the Phenom was first announced in 2005 experienced aerospace executives raised their brows.  Yes lightweight jets were all the vogue but did not Embraer have enough on its hands with the very successful e-series and its other various airframe projects.  It was true that de Havilland of England had taken a similar route in an earlier era, but they are not with us any longer.  Nor Eclipse Aviation who only three years earlier were talking about a build rate of 600 units annually at a price tag of less than US$1m – crazy economics. 

Phenoms at large

The Phenom 100 has also been joined by the Phenom 300, capable of carrying up to eight passengers further and at quicker speeds.  It costs is at least twice as much as the current US$3.6m for the smaller jet.  

Embraer certainly has VLJ competition of which the $2.9m four-passenger Cessna Citation Mustang is the most serious with over 200 delivered.  Coming along slowly is the bigger US$3.9m HondaJet – although initial deliveries of the carmaker’s aircraft have been put back to the last quarter of 2011.  Two other manufactures, Piper and Diamond well on the way to producing aircraft and 260 Eclipse were delivered before the manufactures demise.  They have not disappeared.

For the owner pilot

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Embraer Phenom 100 is that it was always planned for the owner pilot.  It is designed for single crew operation.  But someone with a couple of hundred hours flying experience can’t just jump in the left hand seat and just take off.  

For the private pilot the business concept of owning the Phenom is to engage one’s own experienced professional crewman, allow him to give you command (that’s the word they use when you are actually flying the aircraft) from time to time, and when you are not using the aircraft contract in a first officer.  The Embraer then becomes an executive jet and you can charter it out and get some of your money back.

AERBT was delighted to take up the offer by the Oxford Airport-based business jet operator Flairjet to become the first UK journalist to fly in the aircraft.  Registered G-SRBN after owner Simon Reuben (the other being G-DRBN taken from David Reuben – the two brothers the owners of the aircraft, and Oxford Airport).  Flairjet says that the aircraft has been extremely well received with plenty of repeat bookings.  In May a pair of Phenom 300 will join the fleet, under the same Rueben brothers arrangement.  Flairjet is funded by three QC’s and has it own aircraft on order.

“If it looks right it will fly right”

There is an old saying in aviation.  “If it looks right it will fly right”.  It certainly looks right and once in the very comfortable BMW-designed cabin the world of luxury surrounds you, elegant and restrained.  If you don’t want to just sit back and either read or go off to sleep a table easily comes out to offer a working area.  No doubt in a short space of time the aircraft will acquire an in-flight internet system.  OK the cabin is not as large as say the Hawker 800 (the former de Havilland 125) but it is a comfy fit.  Airborne no nosier.  And we are talking of a different league of price range and operating costs.  You can of course lose the toilet and replace it with two more seats, but four up it is very comfortable.


An ideal charter is Le Touquet for the day with luncheon at one of the wonderful restaurants the town is famous for, and later a flutter at the racecourse.  £3,000 (plus the inevitable VAT) will easily cover for the four of you.  If it is Geneva or Nice that is your destination both are well within range with a full compliment of  passengers and some luggage.  It will make Rome but with a reduced payload.  The Embraer does need a 1500m runway and is not suitable for London City Airport.  Cruising speed is over 400 mph and tops is 40,000ft, the province of the airliners, but ideal for sitting above the weather for a trip to sunnier climes.

As was said in a famous interview “he would wouldn’t he”, but my Captain was most enthusiastic.  “It handles beautifully and is a joy to fly”. 

Perhaps I should get my PPL back.  Certainly the Garmin flight deck looks terrific with its three big screens and lots of digital offerings.  Perhaps better known these days for its car navigation systems Garmin is establishment when it comes to light aircraft avionic fits. 

The flight deck personifies the aircraft.  It’s impressive.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

Also see www.supersonic executive jets
www.light jets
www.flair-jet.com

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Accra flights

ACCRA (Ghana) suddenly seems to be the flavour of the month with the announcement of two major long haul services due for a Spring start.  On 24 May Virgin Atlantic begins a three times per week flight from Heathrow’s Terminal 3 using an Airbus A340 kitted out with 34 Upper Class, 35 Premium Economy and 171 Economy seats.  It will be the first new Virgin route since Kingston (Jamaica) in October 2007.  The seven-hour flight is overnight outbound and daylight for the return.  It competes with British Airways daily Boeing 777 service from Heathrow and Ghana International with a three times per week 757 operation from Gatwick.  On 20 June United Airlines introduce the carrier’s first-ever non-stop service to the African continent, with a daily 767 routing from Washington.  Making the announcement was Mark Schwab, formerly the airline’s boss in London and now Senior Vice-President of Alliances, International & Regulatory Affairs. www.virgin-atlantic.com  www.united.com

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Aurigny celebrates

AURIGNY AIR SERVICES, arguably Britain’s smallest airline, has celebrated 40 years of operation at Southampton Airport.  It is the longest serving operator at the airport, beginning flights to Alderney in 1970, when the airline was just two years old.  Back then, flights cost just £5.70 one-way.  Owned by the States of Guernsey it has carried 1.1m passengers between Southampton and Alderney since then, on over 100,000 flights.  Famous for its distinctive aircraft fleet, the airline became the first commercial operator of the 14-seater Britten-Norman Trislander aircraft in October 1971.  It is still the world’s largest operator of the type. www.aurigny.com

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BusinessTravel Market is in June

BUSINESS TRAVEL MARKET, the conference and exhibition for travel buyers taking place on 16 and 17 June at London’s ExCel, last week announced its conference programme, with all seminars free.  The site is within view of London City Airport and much emphasis is being made to attract visitors from Europe.  The two-day conference agenda featuring 20 sessions across four distinct programmes has been developed in association with key industry bodies ITM, ACTE and HBAA.  Highlights include: ‘Next GenInteraction’ – a chance to discuss changing communication and meeting methods; ‘Emerging Markets’ – an opportunity to learn more about the way business is carried out in China, India, Brazil and the Gulf States; ‘There’s More To A Travel Programme Than Air & Hotels’ and ‘A Paler Shade of Green’ – focusing on the post-Copenhagen landscape and considering whether the pressures on being green are still as high on the corporate agenda. www.businesstravelmarket.co.uk

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IATA notes traffic improvement

IATA (International Air Transport Association) has published its members’ passenger figures for January which show that the airline situation as regards passenger numbers is improving.  Compared with the same months from last year demand was up 6.4%.  Against this improving figure a 1.2% increase in passenger capacity in January pushed load factors to 75.9% (up from the 72.2% recorded for January 2009).  International cargo demand showed a dramatic 28.3% improvement with only a 3.7% increase in capacity.  This pushed the cargo load factor to 49.6% which is a significant change from the 40.1% recorded in January 2009. www.iata.org

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Malaga holds UK top spot

SKYSCANNER, the internet-based flight search engine,  has revealed Malaga as the most searched for flight destinations from the UK during February 2010, followed by Alicante, Tenerife and Faro.  Amsterdam moved up two places into 8th and Dublin jumps four to 9th, likely due to more people booking flights to Ireland for St Patrick’s Day.  Spain lost one of its top ten cities as Lanzarote slipped three points to 11th, but overall the country has the most destinations in the top 50 and remains the Brits’ most popular holiday spot.  Delhi saw the biggest rise in search popularity since January, climbing 12 places in the charts.  Las Vegas disappeared from the top 50 along with Johannesburg; despite World Cup football fever gripping the globe.  It is likely that most people travelling to the South Africa World Cup have now already booked. www.skyscanner.net

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Qantas re-configures

QANTAS is to invest US$400m to upgrade seats and in-flight entertainment on nine Boeing 747-400 aircraft, and reconfigure its Airbus A380 fleet.  Out goes First Class on the Boeing aircraft, replaced by a similar flat bed Business Class to the Airbus A380, plus an all-new economy seat and new in-flight entertainment system.  The planned 20-strong A380 fleet will be split, 12 aircraft with 14 First Suites, the balance with just Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy.  First will be offered on daily services from Sydney and Melbourne to London via Singapore and Los Angeles.  The upgrade and reconfiguration programme will commence at the end of 2011 and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2013.  The airline says that the changes have been brought about due to changing passenger requirements.  Qantas is one of the few carriers to remain profitable during the downturn. www.qantas.com.au

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Trains still criticised

RAIL PASSENGERS are still up in arms regarding punctuality, according to the watchdog group Passenger Focus.  Typically National Express East Anglia says that it is making big improvements with timekeeping but in truth customers continue to suffer delays.  Research from Passenger Focus indicates that a big problem is the word “punctuality" and what it means.  Official punctuality figures record whether trains reach their final destination within five minutes of schedule for most services and ten minutes for long distance services.  The research found that significant proportions of passengers failed to arrive on time at intermediate stations even when their trains officially counted as on time.  Thameslink, between Gatwick and Luton airports, is still under severe criticism and the parallel line from Kings Cross to Stevenage suffers even worse. www.passengerfocus.org.uk

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Honda Accord 2.2 I-DTEC EX

Classy Accord Makes a Strong Challenge

The cat’s out of the bag!  For long the European car manufacturers have dominated the medium-sized premium car sector though I suspect that for the past couple of years or so Honda’s Accord Saloon and Tourer models have been increasingly nibbling away at their status.

Now after a week’s experience with the 2.2-litre Accord saloon I suggest it is time for buyers in this market to wake up, not simply to take Honda products on their reliability credentials but to discover the product quality, the more than competent driving performance and, in particular, the impressive styling.

Believe, you me, I had five separate groups of Jo Public confronting me to ask about the test car, one actually twice for extra information as he had never heard of the car and was looking for a quality car to replace his two cars as he joined the ranks of the retired.

Reliability was one of his major priorities…just check the Accord’s CV.

Launched on the UK market in mid-2008 and replacing a previous Accord, this is a virtually all new design and, even though the engine range may be similar, an immense amount of development and improvement has been carried out, notably on the diesel engine as tested.

Yes, there is a steadily growing choice of diesel automatics on the market and this one comes with an option of either a 5-speed manual or, as tested, a 5-speed automatic unit.

This has been able to come about by the power and refinement advances now achieved by modern diesel engines (the test’s car’s 2.2-litre unit is quieter and more refined than I recall with previous Honda diesel units) plus specially developed automatic transmissions that can cope with the massive torque of a diesel engine.

The test car was painted in the most brilliant of reds which really made the body lines stand out to good effect though I suspect the target customer for this car would go for less indulgent silver, grey or even black.

Immediately the driver’s door is opened this car screams wow factor, its draws on Honda’s racing expertise to create an engaging and involving ‘cockpit’ that combines high technology with function, excellent ergonomics and exceedingly high quality levels.  There is a lot of equipment and driver services here that should not deter; learn as you go.

Driver comfort is brilliant, aided by full electric adjustment of the well contoured seat, fully adjustable steering column and ideal position of the sporty alloy finished pedals.  I felt as though I was wearing the car!

For interior accommodation I would rate the Accord as a compact executive model, the occupants in the rear having two good sized seats with passable leg and head space.  A third occupant in the rear would be feasible though hardly welcome.  Luggage capacity, accessed through a shallow boot lid is better than looks first suggest and there is the possibility of folding one or both rear seats…or alternatively go for the Tourer version.

The EX GT specification puts the owner on a level playing field with pretty well any premium grade car – all the usual electronic aides, cruise control, perforated leather seating (front heated), alloy effect interior trim, Bluetooth with voice recognition system, rear view camera, satellite navigation, GT aero body kit, high density headlights with washers, front and rear parking sensors and so on.  Options include collision mitigation system and lane keeping assist system.

Driving performance in my opinion is immensely satisfying, hardly demanding on the driver though it does not quite have the sharpness of feel of say a BMW or Audi or the softness of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.  That said it is a very competent handler with tremendous braking power and an automatic gearbox that complements the power unit to very good effect.

Overall performance is very competitive, the car feels that it delivers well and lives up to Honda’s claims of a top speed of around 130 mph with 60 mph reached in a creditable 9.6 seconds.

Considered with a combined fuel consumption figure of 49.7 mpg that would probably drop to a still acceptable 40 mpg under general driving conditions these are seriously competitive returns for a car of this stature.

I rated the Honda Accord highly when I drove it briefly during an earlier launch exercise, this test session has been a revelation.  A car well worth discovering!


Rivals include: Audi A4 2.0 TDI S-S 143 SE £24,540, BMW 320D SE £25,385
Mercedes-Benz C220D CDI Elegance £25,075.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 9
Noise 9
Economy 8
Ride and Comfort 9
Accommodation 8
Styling 9
Brakes 9
Finish 9
TOTAL: 88
From £25,345
 

NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON‘S MOTORING DIARY

BOOKS:  Classic British Sports Cars by Jon Russell is a well illustrated, well documented and very informative read.  An extensive but not exhaustive make’s list has been thoroughly researched and made interesting by the inclusion of hardly known fact.  For instance the Jaguar E-Type was originally envisaged as a smaller car powered by a 2.4-litre engine.  A prototype was built and raced once in the USA where it failed to finish.  RRP £9.99 from Haynes Publishing.  sales@haynes.co.uk

AUDI:  The continuing move to introduce stop-start technology now includes the Audi A3 range, including diesel versions, an A3 Sportback 2.0TDI version recording C02 figures of 115 g/km compared with 134 g/gm of the conventional model.  System involves a power recuperation device to replenish the battery via the brakes.

LEXUS:  Interest is reported to be strong for the hand-built Lexus LFA super car though Lexus report that orders can still be placed for European customers via its Lexus Park Lane dealership.  Only 500 cars, allocated to 56 countries will be built based on a 4.8-litre V10 552 bhp engine.  Confirmed orders/deposits will be activated this May. 

NISSAN:  The new Nissan Cube, just on sale, is reported to retain strong residual values, Nissan reporting that the £14,000 1.6-litre petrol model will be worth 49% of new price after three years or 30,000 miles.

SWAPPAGE is the new term for part exchange, at least the Toyota version.  As the Government Scrappage scheme winds down, the under pressure manufacture is offering £2,000 off of the price of new Yaris, Auris and Avensis models registered between 1 March 2000 and 28 February 2003 that have been owned by the customer for the past 12 months. 

TOYOTA:  A completely restyled Toyota Auris range has been launched with prices from £14,463.  A new British-built hybrid version, the Auris HSD, will be available from July.

VAUXHALL:  Demand for Vauxhall’s EcoFLEX technology cars has been strong across all ranges.  Top seller has been the Corsa 1.3 CDTI with 12,300 units sold in 2009.

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