15 MARCH 2010

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LONDON’S AVIATION CLUB will host Andrew Haines, Chief Executive, Civil Aviation Authority, next Thursday 18 March.  Based at the Institute of Directors, Pall Mall, the (essentially networking) gathering of the civil aviation industry, has a busy summer programme of speakers including Hussein Dabbas, Chief Executive, Royal Jordanian Airlines (28 April); Paul Griffiths, CEO, Dubai Airports (9 June); and Willie Walsh, CEO, British Airways (8 July). www.aviationclub.org.uk

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Air France v Ryanair

AIR FRANCE has accused Ryanair of receiving “financial aid” from French regional airports.  It has issued a press release stating “Ryanair's agreement to serve these airports is conditional on the airport authorities' granting aid to it.  Such measures, taking the form of reduced airport taxes, preferential ground handling rates at certain airports or marketing aid, have been implemented by at least 25 French regional airports.  In addition to the fact that they were never officially announced before they were implemented, these measures are contrary to European regulations.”  The complaint has gone to Brussels, Ryanair has denied the charges.  It is within the airports’ rights to offer initiatives in order to attract airlines.  But for how much and for how long is the question?  Ryanair has in the past been successful in battling these kind of allegations, Charleroi for example, but this time it is the French national airline complaining about French nationals! www.ryanair.com www.airfrance.com

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British railways to expand

250 MPH TRAINS are one of the main features of new rail plans announced by Transport Secretary Lord Adonis.  The government is recommending a route for a new line between London and Birmingham with a future extension to northern England and Scotland.  The public will be consulted on the proposed route, with work unlikely to start until 2017 at the earliest.  The Conservatives largely agree but say the project should start in 2015.  The London terminus would be a re-built Euston and Curzon Street is expected to be the Birmingham city centre station.  There would be interchange stations with Crossrail west of Paddington and near Birmingham airport.  The preferred route will run out through north-west London, skirting to the south-west of Aylesbury, then to the west of Buckingham and the east of Brackley and Banbury, before passing between Leamington Spa and Coventry and the eastern side of Birmingham.  A future extension is being considered to northern England, which would be developed as a Y shape with one branch to Sheffield and Leeds and the other to Liverpool and Manchester. www.trains.co.uk 

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Finnair connections

FINNAIR is heavily promoting its connections to the Far East from Manchester via Helsinki with its twice daily service.  From Heathrow it is four times daily.  Last week the airline hosted a gathering at Manchester’s Radisson Edwardian hotel essentially to enlighten north west enterprises on the swiftly developing Asian economies.  Christer Haglund, Senior Vice-President of Communications of Finnair, unveiled the airline's new "Local Hero" campaign which features Imran Hakim, the highly successful Dragons' Den entrepreneur and adviser to the UK government.  Other speakers at the working breakfast included Philomena Chen, Head of Asia-Pacific Development at UKTI NW and Andrew Harrison, Commercial Director of Manchester Airport.  Finnair calls itself “Manchester's Fast Airline to Asia” offering some of the best transit and flight times to nine cities in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.  The airline points out that there is just time for a quick sauna in Helsinki’s new executive facility, in either direction.  After all it is Finland’s most famous export. www.finnairgroup.com

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London City in security speed-up

LONDON CITY AIRPORT has opened up a new security zone, closing the existing restaurant area within the terminal to make way for the facility.  Two new search lanes effectively add 50% to the airport’s throughput capacity.  This new facility is part of a £7m revamp of the complete terminal building with the introduction of a mezzanine floor above the existing check-in and airline desks and the removal of not just the restaurant but the kitchen area serving it.  Whilst the current security area will be retained for overflow purposes, for the most part future passengers will take the escalator to the first floor and then turn right into a completely new zone, emerging behind the main retail area.  The enhancement work will all take place during the airport's closure times to ensure there is no disruption to passengers.  The project, which is subject to certain approvals, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010.  This follows a number of complaints that the airport’s much publicised ten-minute check-in was not working, causing substantial queues.  Sadly, with all the new rules in place, no airport anywhere is the world can offer a ten-minute check-in.
www.londoncityairport.com

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Olympic hotel for Stratford

PREMIER INN has acquired a site for a new 267-room hotel adjacent to the Olympic Stadium, right at the heart of the 2012 London Olympic Park.  The new property will be within walking distance Stratford International station, which in fact is somewhat of a misnomer as it only offers services to St Pancras and Kent.  It is also near the new huge Westfield retail site presently under construction.  Close at hand is Stratford Regional, served by Overground, Underground and the DLR.  By the time the Olympics come around in two years’ time Premier will have 59 hotels and 8,374 rooms in London. www.premierinn.com

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Soho from the rooftops

LONDON (and Soho’s) historic Hazlitt’s Hotel is to go one better than any other of its competitors by introducing a suite featuring a private roof terrace with retractable glass roof – get your booking in quick.  Said to be Soho’s first boutique hotel, and with each bedroom named after an historically famous local resident, Hazlitt’s has recently been extended by eight rooms.  One, the distinctive Duke of Monmouth suite, boasts a private roof garden and the sliding roof.  In Frith Street, off Soho Square, and dating back to 1718, Hazlitt’s has been meticulously restored and crafted to offer guests an overnight stay seen by London’s 18th century aristocracy. Quaint staircases, exquisite antiques and oil colours are subtly married with today’s technology; all rooms benefit from air-conditioning, complimentary wi-fi, flat screen television, blu-ray player, stereo, mini bar, safe, antique desk and REN toiletries. www.hazlittshotel.com

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ON TOUR: Baboo. It is the name of an airline

Is the name of an airline (or indeed any other product) that important?

One of the most successful British carriers in the nineteen sixties and seventies was Dan Air, not named after a certain cartoon character, the UK version of Superman, but the abbreviation of Davies and Newman, a shipping company.  The name Etihad is an ethnic term.  It has not stopped it becoming one of the most powerful and influential of Middle East airlines.  It was only created in 2003.

And now we have Baboo, an airline that has been in existence, also since 2003, and landed in the UK in October last year with its first routes Geneva to London City, and a weekly skiing flight from Oxford Airport.  Oxford is hardly the centre of air travel (except for executive jets), and according to Chief Executive Jacques Bankir, whilst it could have done better he says that they were late into the market last year.  He has confirmed that the route will again be operated next winter.

London City Airport (LCY)
As for London City the route has surpassed expectations and is currently running at a 60% load factor.  A twice daily operation, the service is currently flown with a 74-seat Bombardier Q400 in a code share with Air France, its CityJet subsidiary now the largest operator at the East London airport. 

Baboo is unique in that it offers (hot) soup on its evening sectors.  The Q400 is a one class operation with the timings ideal for a day visit from Geneva.  In the other direction it works out well too as the Swiss city is tiny compared with London and 15 minutes is all that is required to get to most places in town.  Baboo says that the originating traffic is split 50/50. 

On the cards is a plan to replace the Bombardier with an Embraer 190 at busy times.  Quicker, larger, and even more quieter.  Details will be announced once the steep approach paperwork is complete, the aircraft already having completed the necessary test landing with a full passenger load at LCY.

London City was chosen as Bankir felt that there was room for another carrier in the London – Geneva market (BA having pulled out of City to Geneva), the competition being British Airways, Swiss, and in a different market sector easyJet.  He is also a fan of the airport as the CEO of CityJet when it was taken over by Air France in 1999.  His long industry career includes CEO of the French airline Régional, and for many years at Air France where he was head of the CDG Project, Deputy VP Cargo, VP North America, VP Airport, VP In-flight Services and VP Planning. 

A quality airline
The name Baboo has Indian origins.  The original founder of the airline, Julian Cook, now Chairman but very much non-executive, could trace his ancestry to the sub-continent.  There are several interpretations according to Wikipedia none on them over sensational.  However Dan Air worked for that airline.

From its very inception Baboo has meant a quality airline with great emphasis on passenger/staff relationship, and with both the Q400 and Embraer very comfortable aircraft, a quantum step from the alternative budget carrier competing on some of its routes.  There is little doubt that loading and flying 72+ people on a 34” seat pitch 2+2 aircraft is a far less exhausting experience than 150 with 29” and 3+3.  With the same Q400 Flybe manages 78 passengers with a 31" space between the seats.

The Baboo lounge at Geneva Airport is not for passengers but for staff.  It is a carrier which places much emphasis in keeping its employees happy.  Eligible passengers can use the Horizon Lounge on the mezzanine floor of the airport.

With the Geneva – Zurich route losing money the airline was in serious financial trouble by 2007, to be rescued by M1 Group of Beirut, with a substantial cash injection of €9.2m.  This enabled plans for the acquisition of the Embraer aircraft to go ahead, and later the appointment of Jacques Bankir.  Zurich was dropped.

Baboo now has 200 staff
Baboo has grown consistently.  From 20 employees in its early days, it numbers 200 today.  It currently serves 18 destinations (charters excluded) from Geneva (and connections from London City, Marseille, Milan, Nice, Naples and Rome) which breaks down into permanent and seasonal destinations.  The airline has not published its summer timetable yet (from 28 March) but this is expected to be much in line with the previous year, plus the UK routes.  Rome (Fuminchino) is the number one destination but London City is catching up fast.  Connection business is developing at London City on the Dublin and Edinburgh routes and Plymouth with Air South West is another possibility. 

Last year the airline carried 406,000 passengers, expects to beat a half million target in 2010.  Revue was €50m.  The current fleet comprises of two Bombardier Q400 and three Embraer 190.  There are no plans for an expansion at this stage although the airline is carefully looking at proposals for 2011.  It is in partnership with both Alitalia and Air France on a number of key routes. www.flybaboo.com

Malcolm Ginsberg

 

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Aer Lingus totters along

AER LINGUS, no longer a member of oneworld, continues with big problems after the Irish flag carrier warned that operating losses quadrupled last year due to a collapse in fares topping €81m from a previous €20m.  Short haul fares were down by about 12% on 2008 while long haul revenue fell by 15.9%.  Passenger numbers went up by 3.8% to 10.4m.  The airline plans to cut 800 jobs, about one in five of its workforce, as part of a €97m restructuring programme.  The proposals have been accepted by the pilots’ unions, management and maintenance staff but rejected by over 1,000 cabin crew.  Ryanair, which is a 30% equity holder, says it is not interested in buying the carrier which is also 25% owned by the Irish government. www.aerlingus.com

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Avis goes electric

AVIS goes electric, or at least it plans to in 2011.  In a partnership with Renault the giant international car hire organisation is to offer electric cars to customers.  From 2011, Renault will progressively roll out four electric vehicles.  These include two derivatives of internal-combustion vehicles the Renault Fluence Z.E., an electric version of Fluence which will initially be available in Israel and Europe.  The Kangoo Express Z.E. is intended primarily for fleet and business use.  In addition, two vehicles will be available in EV form only, a car derived from the Twizy ZE Concept, a car for motoring in built-up areas.  The  fourth vehicle will take its inspiration from Zoe ZE Concept and is scheduled to be released at the beginning of 2012.  It will be a particularly versatile vehicle intended for every day motoring in and around cities. www.avis.com

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Brooklands hotel

BROOKLANDS, once the home of Vickers Aircraft, and before that the world’s first ever purpose-built motor racing circuit, now has a hostelry.  With the original Brooklands race track literally running through its lobby, The Brooklands Hotel has 120 rooms including six super-sized one bedroom suites and eight ‘super-suites’ each covering an area of approximately 100m2 include two bedrooms, lounge and dining area.  Enjoying prime views directly over the Mercedes-Benz World test track, and the aviation museum the hotel features memorabilia and artwork depicting the famous old track, as well as a restaurant featuring modern cuisine and an about to be opened spa complex. www.brooklandshotelsurrey.com

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Gulf Air adds Embraer

GULF AIR has introduced the Embraer 170 on its regional services with a flight from Bahrain to Larnaca in Cyprus.  The airline is leasing a pair of the Embraer e series regional jets as part of an evaluation for future requirements.  The two Embraers will be used on services from the Bahrain hub to Athens, Baghdad, Erbil, Istanbul and Muscat as well as Larnaca.  The aircraft is two-class with the Falcon Gold Business Class cabin offering just seven seats with a 36” pitch.  Economy is 31” but every seat has a state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment (IFE) system in every seat.  With over 3,000 video titles and audio channels to choose from at their finger-touch, customers are spoilt for choice from a wide range of movies, music, news and documentaries in Arabic, English and several other languages. The Embraer introduction is being supported by the British airline Flybe, who also operate the e series jets. www.gulfair.com

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Lufthansa goes Bavarian with beer garden

LUFTHANSA has a Bavarian touch in store for its guests in Munich from 23 March.  While waiting for their flight, eligible customers can for the first time spend the time in a beer garden admiring a panoramic background provided by the Bavarian Alps.  In co-operation with Munich's Franziskaner brewery, Lufthansa is giving passengers a chance to relax at traditional beer tables, enjoying draught beer tapped from the barrel with Bavarian pretzels.  The beer garden is integrated in the refurbished Business Lounge in the Schengen departures area (Gate Area G) of Terminal 2. www.lufthansa.com

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Qatar goes South American way

QATAR AIRWAYS is to fly non-stop from Doha to South America.  Whilst no details have yet been confirmed the airline was trumpeting the new destinations at the international German travel show ITB last week.  Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires will be joining the carrier’s ever expanding network within the next few months.  The airline's state-of-the-art Boeing 777 aircraft – of which there are currently 16 in the fleet – featuring Business Class seats that convert into 180 degrees fully flat horizontal beds, will be deployed on the new South American routes.  Other new services due for 2010 include Copenhagen (from 30 March); Ankara (5 April); Tokyo (26 April) and Barcelona (7 June).  In addition, Qatar Airways will phase in capacity increases through additional frequencies and deployment of larger aircraft on selected international routes from the beginning of the summer schedules on 28 March.  These include Amritsar, Cape Town, Chennai, Colombo, Geneva, Goa, Guangzhou, Johannesburg, Kathmandu, Luxor, Maldives, Seychelles, Shanghai and Stockholm. www.qatarairways.com

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South West gets London transport pass

AIR SOUTHWEST, which flies to London up to six times daily from both Plymouth and Newquay airports,  has launched the sale of Visitor Oyster cards on all its flights into London, giving customers quick and easy access to the capital's public transport network.  Oyster is an electronic transport smartcard which enables passengers to pay for journeys on the Tube, Docklands Light Railway, London Buses, Tramlink, London Overground, Thames Clippers river services and on all National Rail services in Greater London.  The airline is four times daily to Gatwick, and twice daily into London City.  Richard Gooding, Chief Executive of London City Airport said: "This is a great partnership that we hope to see repeated on other scheduled services into London City”. www.airsouthwest.com

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HAPPY TALK: Short and simple

"You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive."

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COMMENT: BA v Unite

If it was not so serious it would be boring.  For the umpteenth week running AERBT is mentioning British Airways and the Unite union.

This time the news is very grave.  As readers probably already know cabin staff who are members of Unite will strike for three days from 20 March and for four days from 27 March in a dispute over pay and staff levels.

History shows that for the most part strikes never work.  The classic example is the miners’ confrontation of 1984-85 which effectively destroyed that trade union and the coal industry.  There are plenty of other examples.  The British car industry was replaced by overseas-owned assembly plants in the nineteen sixties and seventies due to the actions of “Red Robbo” and his friends.  If British Airways were to disappear its place would be taken quickly by international predators delighted to feast on the carcass of Heathrow, the world’s busiest (and most important) hub.

Just under 64% of the cabin staff actually voted to strike.   How many will actually walk out?

The BA strike is a tale of two egos (or perhaps even three).  Willie Walsh, an ex-pilot, plucked from the relative obscurity of running tiny Aer Lingus, and Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, Joint General Secretaries of Unite created in 2007 by the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers' Union.  Curious that Len McCluskey, Assistant General Secretary, fronted the most recent press conference last Friday.  Rumours have it that the trade union is far from united.

Mr Walsh has stated that the latest idea of a new ballot by the union is illegitimate since the strike dates have been announced. 

Behind the scenes senior labour party activist Charlie Whelan is the Political Director of Unite, and is also back working for Gordon Brown, his former boss.  BA recruited a former aide to David Blunkett, Julia Simpson, as Director of Corporate Communications when she left the Prime Minister’s office with Tony Blair’s departure prior to the T5 debacle.  Wheels within wheels?

The union has structured the strike dates very carefully and whilst BA has been robust with its statements regarding training up replacement staff the whole thing could be something of a stalemate.  The first three days of action is over a weekend, which whilst causing problems, will have no real effect.  Yes passengers will be inconvenienced but for the most part accommodation by other carriers is no problem, or they can move their dates if still happy to fly with BA.  The airline will also return monies paid.

Aircraft and crews should be in position for when the strike ends.

The second strike is really along the same lines as the first, but extended, and more harmful.  If the action were to continue on 14 April, as notified, one would expect that to be five days and really hurt.

BA is fat and flabby and needs time in a clinic.  That is hardly disputed.  Even the union has put up a cost cutting plan.  Other problems lay ahead with a possible strike by airside ground staff, also members of Unite.  Willie Walsh has said he would sort out the dilemma of the massive pension fund shortfall by mid-summer.  He is pushing ahead with the planned Iberia merger, which has not even been put to shareholders.  All this whilst the commercial side of British Airways seems to be in something of a freefall.  Rival carriers cannot believe their luck.

Let us hope that the whole situation can be quickly resolved.  British Airways flies the flag for Britain. 

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African airline raises profile

FLY540 (pronounced Fly Five Forty) is launching a new sales campaign aimed at getting more UK passengers onto its low cost services throughout East Africa.  The airline,  established in 2006, is backed by the giant UK-based investment and mining conglomerate, Lonrho Plc.  It serves nine airports in Kenya as well as to 11 international destinations, mainly in East Africa, including the island of Zanzibar.  The airline plans to upgrade its present fleet of ATR 42 aircraft to ATR 72 and has recently acquired a Canadair CRJ-200 regional jet. www.fly540.com

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British Airways airline reaction

BRITISH AIRWAYS strike action by the union Unite SEE COMMENT ABOVE has (naturally) caused some quick reactions by other UK carriers.  Flybe has increased the number of seats available on several UK and European routes, replacing 78-seat Bombardier Q400 aircraft with 118-seat Embraer 190s.  Specifically, these are Gatwick to and from Aberdeen, Jersey and Dusseldorf.  Additionally, Flybe has upped the number of seats available for purchase from Southampton to a range of destinations to assist BA customers who otherwise might fly from Heathrow or Gatwick.  bmi says it is currently reviewing its situation in respect of operating larger aircraft and additional frequencies.  In addition, with an eye to the future, BA Silver and Gold Executive card holders flying with bmi will be offered access to the bmi lounges including The Great British lounge, bmi’s flagship international lounge at Heathrow. www.flybmi.com www.flybe.com

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Denmark gains first Intercontinental

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP (IHG) has opened its first hotel in Denmark with the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers.  The 366-room property is situated just outside the airport perimeter on the main E20 Copenhagen Road.  280ft tall it offers commanding views over the Copenhagen skyline and the whole Oeresund region.  A large ballroom can accommodate up to 800 guests.  All rooms are equipped with designer furniture, a flat screen TV, adjustable air conditioning, a mini bar and a safety deposit box.  It also has the first groundwater-based cooling and heating system in Denmark, expected to reduce the energy used in the hotel by almost 90%. www.ichotelsgroup.com

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Heathrow Express adds airlines to Paddington self-service machines

HEATHROW EXPRESS has increased the number of airlines available for check in through its common user self-service customer check in services at Paddington Station.  The new carriers are Air Canada, American Airlines, Kenya Airlines, KLM and Lufthansa, joining Delta Air Lines, Finnair Iberia and United Airlines.  Still no Air France, bmi or British Airways.  The customer check in services consist of three machines located below the flight information display screens at the Heathrow Express ticket office at the station.  The machines are very easy to use with touch screen facilities.  Customers can print their boarding pass and also view their flight information before they even arrive at the airport, helping them to feel more at ease on their way to Heathrow.  Travel time from London is 15 minutes to the central area and a further six minutes to T5.  Trains are also every 15 minutes.  Change at the central area for T4 (Heathrow Connect).  Free wireless is provided on the parts of the service which run underground, a first of its type.  Over 50m people have travelled on Heathrow Express since its launch. www.heathrowexpress.com

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Luton says prayers

LUTON AIRPORT has opened a multi-faith prayer room.  It is only the second airport in the UK to provide such amenities beyond the security search area – although there are a number of such facilities worldwide.  Open round the clock, to staff and departing passengers, the room has already proved popular and is seeing extensive use.  Rabbi Alan Plancey, Emeritus Rabbi of Elstree and Borehamwood (Orthodox) Synagogue, and many years earlier Luton, is to act  as the airport's honorary Rabbi, Tel Aviv served by both easyJet and El Al.  The prayer room is located on the upper level of the departure lounge, adjacent to the executive lounges.  Passengers can access it via the same entrance.  Prayer mats and faith literature are provided, together with direction of prayer signs for those faiths that require them.  Religious washing facilities  are also available nearby. www.london-luton.co.uk

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Sidney to Uluru

VIRGIN BLUE has announced that it will be commencing daily direct flights between Sydney and Ayers Rock (Uluru) on 2 August, providing additional access to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.  Probably Australia’s most famous landmark, Uluru incorporates dramatic outback landscapes with the history and traditions of one of the world’s oldest cultures, the Anangu people.  Virgin Blue is promoting the service in conjunction with Voyages Ayers Rock Resort, which sits at the gateway to the dual World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, providing a range of accommodation options for more than 300,000 visitors attracted to this extraordinary and unique experience each year. http://www.virginblue.com.au

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Varsity again!

VARSITY EXPRESS, an airline serving Edinburgh from Oxford Airport, failed last Monday, probably setting a record for the shortest lifespan of a British airline, certainly in recent times (see AERBT 8 March).  A full load of 18 passengers were ready to board the carrier’s leased BAe Jetstream 31 at Edinburgh when they were given the news that they would have to find their own way south.  It appears that the aircraft owner secured his property due to non-payment of bills.  A spokesperson for Oxford Airport said that the carryings of Varsity were excellent and that they were in discussion with two carriers interested in taking over the route.  Varsity is the second airline to be founded by Martin Halstead, now 24.  In 2005 he introduced AlphaOne which lasted two months. www.flyvarsity.com

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