28 JUNE 2010

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Budget airline nearly gets into Europe

FLYDUBAI, Dubai’s first low cost airline, has expanded its route network to the edge of Europe with the start of services to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen International Airport on the Asian side of the Bosporus.  The carrier, owned by the Government of Dubai, made its maiden flight on 1 June 2009.  It has a fleet of nine Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft and currently flies to 18 destinations in and around the Middle East.  In alphabetical order they are Aleppo, Alexandria, Amman, Assiut, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Baku, Damascus, Djibouti, Doha, Kabul, Karachi, Kathmandu, Khartoum, Kuwait, Lucknow, Luxorand and Muscat. www.flydubai.com

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Kigali gets easier connections

KLM is to introduce a direct flight from Amsterdam to Kigali, capital of Rwanda, from the start of the winter season.  It will be an extension of the airline’s existing Entebbe operation and become the airline’s 64th intercontinental destination.  The service will operate five times per week using Airbus A330-200 with 30 in World Business Class and 213 in Economy Class.  Together with Skyteam partner Kenya Airways, KLM will offer Kigali as the fifth destination served directly in East Africa, along with Nairobi, Entebbe, Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam.  KLM-Kenya Airways operates a total of 41 weekly flights between East Africa and Europe.  There are no direct Kigali flights from Heathrow. www.klm.com

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Multi-faith prayer room

LUTON AIRPORT has opened a multi-faith prayer room close by The King David Lounge airside at the airport.  The room and adjacent religious washing facilities were opened by the Bishop of Bedford, The Rt Revd Richard Inwood.  The airport Chaplaincy Team is led by the Rev Michael Banfield.  The Prayer Room is open at all times for the use of departing passengers and any staff who are working beyond Security Search, and who cannot easily access the Landside Chapel.  A welcome poster in the entrance lobby shows both the Prayer Room’s international and multi-faith emphasis. www.london-luton.com

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North Cyprus airline fails

KTHY, the North Cyprus (Turkish) airline, has collapsed stranding passengers.  Selling tickets as a charter carrier, and a non-ABTA operation, it offered services to Ercan (Cyprus) via Istanbul.  Travellers to North Cyprus should note that Pegasus Airlines, now established over 20 years, and Turkey’s largest private carrier, also flies to Ercan from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side of the Bosporus, where it connects to many Europeans points. www.flypgs.com

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Peel loosens its airport ties

LIVERPOOL AIRPORT, and Peel Airports, is to have a new 65% shareholder, the Canadian operator Vancouver Airport Services (YVRAS).  Peel owns Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Robin Hood Airport near Doncaster and has a 75% stake in Durham Tees Valley Airport.  YVRAS, which is jointly owned by Vancouver Airport Authority and Citi Infrastructure Investors, operates 16 airports around the world.  Peel is a major UK infrastructure company which owns the Manchester Ship Canal and is the country’s second largest port operator.  Over the last 20 years Peel has changed Liverpool from what was very much a rundown secondary operation into John Lennon Liverpool Airport, a fine gateway into the city.  Mark Whitworth, Chief Executive of Peel Airports, is replaced by Craig Richmond, who was running Nassau Airport in the Bahamas for YVRAS. www.yvras.com www.peel.co.uk

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Shanghai has a second Ritz-Carlton

RITZ-CARLTON has opened it second Shanghai hotel in Pudong a sister property to the Ritz-Carlton Portman, in the central Jing An District.  The 285-room property occupies the top 18 floors of the Shanghai ifc South Tower.  The design and style of the hotel hints at new interpretations of 1930s Shanghai Art Deco, and overlooks the Bund – the most intact collection of Art Deco architecture anywhere in the world.  With interior designs by Richard Farnell, the guest rooms and suites range in size from 50 sq meters to 400 sq meters, for the palatial Ritz-Carlton Suite and Chairman Suite.  There are three floors of club accommodation and each club room enjoys access to the hotel’s stunning Club Lounge on the 49th level, which will be open 24 hours a day. www.ritzcarlton.com

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Waterloo terminal for Heathrow?

AIRTRACK, the proposed rail link from Heathrow to Waterloo and the west, could be one of the beneficiaries of the cancellation of the third runway project.  According to the BAA Capital Investment Plan, published last week, some of the £700m earmarked for the runway could now be available for other projects.  BAA is pushing ahead and plans to present to a Public Enquiry in the autumn.  If all goes ahead smoothly, and the T5 station platforms are already in place, the line, which connects with the existing tracks at Staines, could offer a new Heathrow London terminal – perhaps in the redundant, modern looking, Eurostar building.  But don't get too excited.  A completion date is set for 2016. www.baa.com

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HAPPY TALK: Extra charges

Michael O’Leary wanders into a bar in Dublin and orders a pint of Guinness.

“That will be just one euro sir”

He is flabbergasted.  What value!

He gets out his credit card.  Michael O’Leary does not carry money.

“Off course the glass is an extra,” says the barman.  “That will be a further three euro.  You can keep the glass, but it’s not allowed back in this pub due to health and safety rules.  You never know where it may of been”.

“And would you mind getting off the stool.  Otherwise it’s another 2.50.  You can stand if you like.  We are also thinking about charging for the loos”.

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COMMENT: The UK Budget and Air Travel

COMMENT:  The UK Budget and Travel

Last Wednesday the new British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, revealed his first ever Budget.  AERBT will only endeavour to comment on it as it affects the air transport industry.  In fact what Mr Osborne did was to defer any decision regarding taxation and the airlines.  He is going to consult.  Hopefully common sense will prevail.  Still on the books is yet another massive increase of Air Passenger Duty (APD) due in November. 

According to figures released by the newly established Office for Budget Responsibility, APD is expected to rake in £3.8bn by 2015/16.  This is more than inheritance tax (£3.1bn) or the Bank Levy (£2.3bn).  The Germans expect to introduce a similar tax shortly and plan to raise €1bn.  But even Wolfgang Mayrhuber, CEO of Lufthansa, has not a clue on its actual workings.  The Dutch quickly dropped a similar plan when they realised the consequences for Amsterdam Airport.  Unfair taxes drive international passengers to other gateways and hubs.

Essentially what is on the table is either to tax per passenger or tax per aircraft.  A further increase (and we are talking about £360 tax for a family of four to a medium haul destination from November) will not help Heathrow’s ability to stay as the world’s most important international airport.  The competition is intense from the near Continent and elsewhere.  If London wants to hold its world position it needs to be competitive.

London does have one great advantage.  It is the centre of a huge commercial and leisure composite drawing peoples from all over the world.  Dubai, for all its innovations, is no different than Las Vegas, but without the fun.  A city sitting in the desert.  The new ultra long range aircraft will just overfly, much more environmentally friendly than landing in The Gulf.

Whether it be by per plane or by the seat the passenger will have to pay.  If you charge by the plane it would be just another direct operating cost and added to the fare.  One advantage would be that airlines could not disguise other costs under the word 'tax'. 

The argument put forward by the outgoing Chief Executive of easyJet, Andrew Harrison, that per plane encourages a high passenger load factor is a poor one.  All airlines try to gain the highest occupancy.  It is a major way to profit.

It could get terribly complicated.  Air France use an ATR (70 seats), A320 (172 seats) and A380 (538 seats), plus the occasional A319 (142 seats) and A321 (206 seats) between London and Paris.  Suppose they change the aircraft after the booking has been made and paid for, what then?

Some sort of sliding scale would have to be worked out regarding the size of the aircraft.  The rules would be even more complex than the current ones.  Do have a look at HM Customs and Revenue reference notice 550 “Air Passenger Duty”.  They are complex.  If you are being deported from the UK you don’t have to pay APD.

Presumably the per plane charge would be by stage length, but what would happen on BA flights which use a fifth freedom stopover?  It would not be fair to charge the UK airline for the entire journey, whilst clearly it cannot tax its competitor on what is a route from its home state. 

There are vast anomalies under the present system.  Passengers on connecting flights are not applied APD on the second leg.  Therefore if you fly Economy to Heathrow and change to Business Class for the next sector you only pay tax on the first part of the travel.  Take the train to London and just like everyone else who boards at Heathrow you will pay the full Business Class tax.

Transit passengers do not pay tax.  On the whole plane principle they will.

Does an airline add frequency or put on larger aircraft?  Per plane duty will be unfair to those flying non-stop rather than say via a Middle East point that requires a multi-sector journey.  Suppose one flies London – Singapore – Darwin – Alice Springs on a BA ticket but using QF for two legs.  Is that one flight or three?

London City Airport and other small regional airports would be particularly affected with aircraft limited on size.  The current idea of charging based on the capital of a country clearly did not work.  Passengers to Hawaii (Washington being the capital) pay the same tax as Barbados. 

Most industry experts and lobbying bodies take a balanced view.  The whole issue needs a thorough review. 

The AERBT observation is simple.  If an acceptable resolution cannot be achieved between the Chancellor and the industry by November the tax rises due at that time should be put on hold.  Clearly it was a panic measure by a government that knew it was in financial trouble and did not have a clue how to deal with the situation. 

If Britain is to retain its leadership in world air transport it is vital that we get the next step forward in terms of taxation right.  From 2012 aviation will enter the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, another complication with serious consequences for airlines that fail to comply.

The incoming Government in the lead up to the election lacked ideas regarding its attitude to the air transport industry.  A great opportunity is now to hand.  The Chancellor has an enormous amount on his plate.  Instead of rushing out with some ill-conceived plan, like the previous incumbent, he has decided to deliberate.  He must get it correct.  The Budget was good for the air transport industry in that no decision was made. 

Governments do not like admitting mistakes and changing tack.  If the new coalition does decide to drop the November hike there is no embarrassment.  It will just blame the Opposition.

Nobody likes paying tax but there are sensible ways of dealing with the problem.  Mr Osborne has a wonderful chance of getting (most) of civil aviation on his side.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International

EMIRATES Flight EK9883, a Boeing 777 freighter operating Hong Kong – Dubai, has become the first flight to touch down at Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International.  The airport, planned to be the world’s largest, is now officially open for cargo flights.  When completed it will be the largest airport in the world with five runways, four terminal buildings and capacity for 160m passengers and 12m tonnes of freight.  Passenger operations are currently slated to start at the end of March 2011 in concert with the IATA schedule change. www.dubaiairports.ae

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Malaysia Airlines sells airline tickets via Apple

SITA, in conjunction with Malaysia Airlines, has launched in Kuala Lumper (KL) the world's first kiosks to sell airline tickets using the Apple iPad.  Also introduced at the same time is an Apple iPhone innovation for customers to pick up the best airline deals from nearby airports.  Malaysia Airlines Managing Director/CEO, Tengku Dato' Azmil Zahruddin, said: "There is huge interest in the iPad MHkiosks in KL.  It is as simple as ABC.  You select your itinerary, pay with a credit card, and receive confirmation via SMS and email.  There is no printing and no admin fee.  It will mean better queue management at our ticket offices during peak hours when customers can be re-directed to 'stand-alone' iPad MHkiosks."  The iPhone augmented reality application, MHdeals, will soon be available on-line in Apple AppStore.  SITA says this demonstrates for the first time how airlines can exploit the technology commercially as a new channel for ticket sales. www.sita.aero www.MalaysiaAirlines.com

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Munich Airport hotel

ACCOR, the French hotel group that includes Sofitel, Pullman and Mercure, has opened a Novotel at Munich Airport.  Whilst actually within the airport site access is either by private transport or a 5-minute bus ride from the terminal.  The Besucherpark station is a 5-minute walk away.  The 257-room property includes conference facilities, sauna and fitness room.  The guest rooms are of family size and the hotel is fully air conditioned and wi-fi equipped.  There are in total 27 Accor hotels in the Munich area. www.munich-airport.de

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On your bike

AIR BALTIC has become what must be the first airline to offer a bike hire service.  The Latvian airline, based in Riga, is introducing a fleet of 100 bicycles, called “BalticBike”.  When the project is complete, they will be located in 11 easy-to-access stands in Riga and the nearby city of Jurmala.  According to Air Baltic the rental is easy.  You register by mobile phone or internet, gain a key code, and go to a stand to unlock a bike.  Return your wheels by the same method remembering to make the call ending the hire.  Everything is duplicated in English. +371 67788333 www.balticbike.lv

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Pension fund agreement for British Airways

BRITISH AIRWAYS has reached agreement with the trustees of its New Airways Pension Scheme (NAPS) and Airways Pension Scheme (APS) on a recovery plan to address its pension deficits.  The airline completed consultation with its unions earlier this year and will now submit the full recovery plan to the UK Pensions Regulator by 30 June 2010.  The recovery plan avoids closing the pension schemes.  It maintains BA’s annual contributions at the current level of some £330m, plus agreed annual increases in line with inflation expectations averaging 3%.  The agreed deficit contributions continue until 2026 for NAPS and 2023 for APS.  The pension fund deficiency was an obstacle in the way of the proposed merger with Iberia, which is still on schedule although there are at this stage some new mutterings from within the trade union movement. www.ba.com

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Skyteam celebrates ten years and adds new members

NEW YORK was the destination last week for a gathering of SkyTeam CEOs to celebrate the alliance’s tenth anniversary, welcoming Air Europa and Kenya Airways as full members and formally signing an agreement with China Eastern Airlines to begin its membership process.  Vietnam Airlines officially became its 12th member earlier this month followed by Romania's Tarom last Friday.  China Southern Airlines is already signed up but both India and Latin America remain prime target areas for new members.  Air France/KLM and Delta are the lead carriers in Skyteam. www.skyteam.com

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ON TOUR: Glorious Goodwood

A PREVIEW OF THE GOODWOOD FESTIVAL OF SPEED

Thursday 1 July until Sunday 4 July

In the 1930s motor sport hill climbing events were all the rage.  They were festival occasions where the poor would mix with the rich, and all would swoon over the cars.  The hills were pretty short, sometimes tricky, but the best drivers shone.

Fast forward to the 21st century and nothing has really changed, not at the “Glorious Goodwood” Festival of Speed.  The millionaire sportsmen helicopter in, the so-called celebrities do their thing, and we all look at the cars.  The main event is the speed hill climb but these days there is the Forest Rally Stage, the finest motor show ever to grace these islands, and even a chance to test drive various cars.

This year the event is even more extended with what is termed “The Moving Motor Show” on Thursday 1 July.  All the exhibits will be in place but it is the 3.2 mile test drive route up the hill and through the Goodwood grounds which will probably attract the largest interest.  Over 20 manufactures are taking part but it does need booking in advance at a cost of £20.  For those with strong stomachs there are also rides in the Bowler Wildcat rally car.

On each day there are a number of air displays but for those who want to see the mighty Avro Vulcan in action this remarkable aircraft will only be overhead on the Thursday and Sunday.

The Festival of Speed is not just cars and an array of famous motorcycles and world-class riders.  It has become the Mecca for all motor sport enthusiasts, and this year to celebrate the main Festival theme – Viva Veloce, The Passion for Speed – there will be a selection of delectable Italian machinery, such as the ex-Phil Read 1974 MV Agusta 500/4, the Cagiva C591 of Eddie Lawson and ex-Loris Capirossi Ducati GP5 'Desmosedici'.  Great Italian World Champions, including 15-time World Champion Giacomo Agostini, will also be in attendance.

With the event, as ever, in the weekend off before the British Grand Prix there will be drivers, current and retired, all over the place.  Stirling Moss and Emerson Fittipaldi, two greats from different eras always make an effort to attend, as does John Surtees, still the only man to capture world championships on both two wheels and four.

The Formula One list is frankly a mouth-watering celebration of 60 years of World Championship.  How many champions will attend?  Will we see Mario Andretti, Jody Scheckter and Alan Jones?  Damon Hill is sure to make it and Nigel Mansel is a regular.

The line-up in the paddock is a true 'Who’s Who' of motor sport celebrating important Grand Prix cars from the last six decades.  Racers from the 1950s will include the championship-winning Alfa Romeo Tipo 159 'Alfetta', Mercedes-Benz W196, Vanwall, and BRM's first winner, the Type 25.  Highlights from the 1960s include the Cooper-Climax T53 'lowline', Lotus-BRM 33, Lotus-Cosworth 49 and Matra-Cosworth MS80.

The winged Grand Prix cars of the 1970s include the Lotus-Cosworth 72E, due to be driven by Emerson Fittipaldi and Heikki Kovalainen and the legendary six-wheeled Tyrrell-Cosworth P34.  Highlights from the ground-effect  and turbo Grand Prix eras will include the Lotus-Cosworth 79, Williams-Cosworth FW08 – the last car to win the World Championship powered by a Ford-Cosworth DFV engine, and due to be driven by Karun Chandhok, plus the Toleman-Hart T183B in which Ayrton Senna made his GP debut.

Post-Turbo Grand Prix will include the Benetton-Ford B192, Bruno Senna at the wheel of his uncle Ayrton's 1993 McLaren-Cosworth MP4/8, the 1994 Lotus-Mugen 109, 1996 Williams-Renault FW18 and Jordon-Ford EJ13.

However it is the 2010 Championship line-up that will really catch the eye at the Goodwood Festival.

• Scuderia Ferrari – the incomparable Italian, their blood red cars forming a central part of 'Viva Veloce!'

• McLaren-Mercedes – the MP4-23 will be in action all weekend, with 2008 and 2009 World Champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at the controls. They will also both be driving the ex-Alain Prost championship winning 1986 McLaren-TAG MP4/2C.

• Mercedes GP – one the newest F1 teams in the pit lane will mark its return to full works competition after a 55-year absence with Nico Rosberg in action, as well as Goodwood hill climb speed record holder Nick Heidfeld.

• Red Bull – after setting the pace through the early part of the 2010 F1 season, Red Bull are amongst the favourites this year, and their car is sure to be a Festival highlight, especially with Mark Webber at the wheel.  Red Bull's engineering genius Adrian Newey will also be appearing in the 2009 Red Bull-Renault RB5.

• Lotus-Cosworth – after a long absence in F1, Lotus makes a welcome return and will be at Goodwood with drivers Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.  Clive Chapman and Classic Team Lotus will be very much around with Jim Clark’s Indy winning Lotus 38, and the trend setting iconic Lotus 49.

• Williams-Cosworth – the latest FW32, which will appear at the Festival, renews Williams' relationship with Cosworth, with whom it won four world titles in the 1980s.

Goodwood is a true family day (or days) out with attractions for all ages.  The hallowed Goodwood cricket pitch – where the rules of the game were written at the world's oldest pitch still in its original location – will rock to the sound of 20 car-related songs at the 2010 Festival of Speed.  A display of 20 cars immortalised in each song's title or lyrics will be shown around the pitch, with a troupe of dancers performing around each appropriate car as the corresponding song is played on a special radio show compiled and presented by the legendary disc jockey Johnnie Walker.  This special display supports the exceptional 'Cars, Stars and Guitars' musical 'moments' with top car-loving guitarists set to perform live including Jeff Beck, ZZ Top founder Billy Gibbons and leading American blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughn.

Malcolm Ginsberg
(Lotus Cars Press and Publicity Manager 1968-73)

www.goodwood.co.uk/

 

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British Airways makes new union offer but also says it is going to recruit cabin crew

UNITE UNION has offered to postpone its strike ballot of British Airways cabin crew in order to allow time to consider the airline's latest revised proposal.  BA welcomed Unite's move calling it "a genuine opportunity to end" the row.  But Unite leader Tony Woodley responded that he would not be recommending the offer as it failed to reinstate travel perks.  With the last ballot 81% of members actually voted and of these 71% wanted action, which translated means that only 57% were actually for strike action.  In the meantime BA says it plans to recruit over 1,000 new Heathrow cabin crew on wages similar to its Gatwick base.  "We have suffered back-to-back record financial losses and need to continue making permanent changes to our cost base to ensure our long-term survival," BA said on Thursday. www.ba.com www.unitethetnion.com

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Gatwick to expand

LONDON’S second airport, Gatwick, and 24 miles south of Westminster, expects to jump from 33m to more than 40m passengers per annum by 2018.  It is already the world’s busiest single runway airport.  Global Infrastructure Partners, which bought Gatwick last December, has unveiled a new signature-style logo aimed at giving Gatwick a friendlier image.  It has introduced an advertising campaign with the slogan: ‘Your London airport.’  Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s Chief Executive, said the new owner had accelerated the delivery of improved facilities and introduced plans for faster check-in facilities and new security lanes.  In July the re-built inter-terminal transit will open ahead of schedule, one of a series of measures that will improve the passenger experience of the airport.  He noted that although an area of land for a possible second runway had been safeguarded, Gatwick’s focus at the moment was solely on the one existing runway and two terminals. www.gatwickairport.com

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Manchester Airport

CHARLIE CORNISH is to take over as Group Chief Executive of the Manchester Airports Group (MAG) when the current incumbent Geoff Muirhead retires in September after 22 years in charge.  Mr Cornish (50) is presently a Main Board Director of United Utilities where he is Managing Director of United Solutions.  He has held a variety of senior positions both within United Utilities and other businesses including RWE Thames Water, West of Scotland Water, NHS Scotland and Associated British Foods.  His early career included positions in British Aerospace, Plessey Telecomms and Trusthouse Forte. www.manchesterairport.co.uk

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New routes for British Airways subsidiary?

OPEN SKIES, the Paris-based British Airways subsidiary, and now the only surviving Business Class only airline across the North Atlantic, has celebrated its second anniversary.  It currently operates two flights daily between Orly and Newark in addition to five weekly services from Paris to Washington (Dulles).  On offer are two cabin configurations, ‘Business Bed’, a fully flat seat, and ‘Business Seat’ more of a traditional large 140 degree reclining product.  The airline claims 29% of the Paris – New York business market.  Dale Moss, CEO, says that Open Skies is considering 20 key business destinations to launch its third route, anticipated to take place later this summer.  Separately, Open Skies has announced a partnership with railway company SNCF providing passengers with a convenient connection from Orly to Lyon and Nantes. www.flyopenskies.com

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Passenger sales go direct

AIRLINES are on course to sell the majority of airline tickets (55%) direct to passengers by 2013 according to a survey by IT specialist SITA in its annual survey.  Currently 40.8% of tickets are sold direct to the public which breaks down as: internet 25.8%; call centres 10.7%; and interlining 4.3%.  While sales through airline call centres and interlining will remain largely static, direct channel sales through websites are expected to jump to 37.9%.  In order to increase online sales, airlines are prioritizing the implementation of new functionality on their web sites in the following ways: online shopping tools (61% have already implemented this); change/cancel/rebook (52%); and frequent flyer redemption functionality (51%).  Kiosk check-in is expected to remain static at just below 20% while web check-in options will grow from 21.6% today to 35.5% in 2013, and mobile check-in will advance from 28% today to 70% by 2013.  In addition, 70% of airlines have a strategy in place to use the passenger's mobile phone as a further distribution channel to sell air tickets. www.sita.aero

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Secretary General of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) resigns

NICK FADUGBA, better known as a journalist in the UK, has resigned as Secretary General of the African Airlines Association after just four months in the job.  He said it had been an intense period spent single-mindedly addressing the many challenges facing African airlines today.  “After careful deliberation, I have now come to the conclusion that I can better serve the African Aviation industry and African airlines in my previous capacity as founder and Chief Executive Officer of African Aviation Services (AAS) rather than as Secretary General of AFRAA."  Mr Fadugba replaced Christian Folly-Kossi, whose second and final term of office as head of the Association comes to an end early next year.  The IATA AGM was Nick Fadugba’s last official appearance in his capacity as Secretary General.  In the interim, the day-to-day activities of the Association will be managed by an Interim Secretariat Management Committee made up of the Directors under the close supervision of the Chairman of the Executive Committee. www.afraa.org

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UK Defence Secretary to speak at Farnborough

LIAM FOX, British Defence Secretary, is amongst a host of top quality speakers lined up for the inaugural A|D|S conference programme at the forthcoming Farnborough International Airshow 19 to 25 July.  Senior industry and Government speakers will tackle the major issues of the day as they affect the aerospace, defence, space and security sectors.  Some UK Government speakers will be making their first major speech since they took office in May 2010.  The conferences take place from 10:30 to 12:00 each day with registration opening at 09:45 for coffee and networking beforehand.  Current speakers can be found on the website but also expected to be included are Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills; Louis Gallois, EADS; Guy Hachey, Bombardier Aerospace; and Alberto di Benedictis, Finmeccanica. https://www.smartregister.co.uk/events/F-Air10

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CRUISE NEWS JUNE 2010 (Diamond Princess)

THE YACHTS OF SEABOURN’S highly anticipated new Seabourn Sojourn squeezed its majestic way through the Thames Barrier and past the O2 arena at the beginning of June to moor majestically at Greenwich, close by the meridian line, and short of Tower Bridge.  London-born model and film star Twiggy named the ship, the second of three 32,000 super 'yachts' ordered by the luxury brand of the Carnival Group.

Cllr Chris Roberts, Leader of Greenwich Council, announced that what in the first Queen Elizabeth’s reign was the headquarters of the Royal Navy, is making a maritime waterborne comeback.  "In Greenwich we are working to secure berths for two international cruise liner terminals so that we can welcome more visitors from all over the world to our borough, particularly during the Olympics. We hope Greenwich will be a regular destination for Seabourn Sojourn”.

Sojourn, with its 225 suites, claims to offers an extraordinary travel experience, Seabourn notable for its relaxed, sociable ambiance and highly personalized, intuitive service. The vessel offers the highest space per guest ratio in the industry, accommodating no more than 450 guests in spacious, ocean view suites, 90% of which have private verandas. The ship offers what it call a 'culinary experience' in four dining venues.  Fine wines and spirits come with Seabourn’s  compliments. www.seabourn.com


OUR TEN STORY NEWS ROUNDUP 
(followed by A SHIP REVIEW:  Diamond Princess)


Cunard’s largest ever winter series of voyages will go on sale on 15 July featuring two World Voyages and a series of Exotic Discovery Voyages.  Longer Winter Voyages and full World Voyages continue to prosper despite tougher economic times and with the Cunard ships ideally suited to longer journeys. 

Later this year Cunard will have a three-ship fleet, Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.  Mary and Elizabeth will feature completely different around the world voyages whilst Queen Victoria will offer a full winter season of exotic voyages taking in the Panama Canal, Caribbean and her first ever Hawaii Christmas voyage.  www.cunard.co.uk


Dubai is heavily promoting its cruise port claiming to be the only destination in the region providing a complete turnaround facility.  It is proving popular not only for the bulging ex-patriot community, but also for the airlines, bringing in passengers from both east and west. 

Over 325,000 cruise tourists are expected to visit the Emirate during 2010; hosting 120 ship calls.  Costa and Royal Caribbean are both operating from the port this year, and most ships on Northern Hemisphere around the World cruises find that Dubai is a popular stopping off point.  A new terminal, spanning an area of 3,450 square metres, can handle up to four ships simultaneously. www.dpworld.com


Dunkirk may be just another Channel port to later generations but to those who can still remember the Second World War, or were brought up in its aftermath, it means one of the largest seaborne gatherings of all time. 

From disaster came victory. 

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo, the codename for the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940, Norfolkline’s ‘Maersk Dover’ sailed from its name port to Dunkirk with the Lord Lieutenant and other dignitaries and school children on board.  At Dunkirk it greeted the arrival of the Little Ships with a commemorative ceremony.  It was a moving experience for all involved. www.norfolkline.com


Epic, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) latest, and by a wide margin, largest ship will be somewhere in mid-Atlantic on AERBT publishing date.  It has acquired the 'graffiti' style paintwork of it smaller sister ship. French-built it embarrassed its owners by being late for its inaugural showing at Southampton, delayed for five hours at Rotterdam’s cruise terminal by what was called “technical difficulties”. 

At 153, 000 tons Epic is to a completely new and novel design with 2,200 cabins and a passenger capacity, of around 5,000 when children are doubling up with parents. All the 1415 outside cabins have a balcony, the balance within the ships vast interior. 

The majority of the accommodation has what is described as a “new wave” concept with curved walls, LED aircraft lighting, and an shower/toilet arrangement described by one observer as “less than private”.  Epic will be christened by country music mega-star Reba McEntire and will sail in alternate weeks from Miami to the Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries until April 2011 before crossing back across the Atlantic and a European programme.

NCL has always in the past offered a high standard and very good value cruising.  Epic takes head on RCCL and its larger fleet of mega liners with a vessel bristling with innovation and new sea going concepts.  Hopefully it will be the subject of an AERBT SHIP REVIEW at a later date. www.ncl.com


London Cruise Terminal, Tilbury, part of the Port of London, plans to provide accommodation to teams and delegates throughout the 2012 Olympic games.  Two berths have been reserved for the period.  At present, Cruise & Maritime Voyages ‘Marco Polo’ and Holland America’s ms ‘Prinsendam’ are the only current users of the easy to get to Essex port. 

Cruise ships up to about 30,000 tons can make it up the Thames to Tower Bridge (and certain ships past the bridge too, mooring next to HMS Belfast.  Passenger access problems and the use of only licensed tenders have proved an obstacle in turning the Pool of London into a regular cruise destination. www.pla.co.uk


Oceania Cruises, in many ways the successor to Renaissance Cruises, has started construction of a second 1,258-guest 66,00 ton up-market ship called Riviera and a sister ship to Marina, which makes its debut in February 2011.  Both will feature ten dining venues – six of which are open-seating gourmet restaurants – including one by Master Chef Jacques Pépin.  Facilities will also include a Canyon Ranch SpaClub® and gym, Bon Appétit Culinary Centre, swimming pool and hot tubs and suites furnished exclusively in Ralph Lauren Home style.  Renaissance Cruises and its purpose-built fleet of R class ships failed soon after 9/11.  However the vessels themselves were very successful and quickly found new homes (and identities).  Oceania currently operates Regatta, Insignia and Nautica, all once part of Renaissance.  www.oceaniacruises.co.uk


Onair, which claims to be the world’s leading provider of airline in-flight communications, has introduced full mobile phone connectivity – including GSM & GPRS – for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises flagship ms EUROPA.  The Geneva based company, part of SITA, the airline IT operation, is pushing hard to gain a foothold into the cruise line business, most current systems slow, users having to be patient.

OnAir is already offering passengers of more than 25 airlines and VIP and Governmental operators voice, email, text services and internet access, on flights over four continents by using the latest SwiftBroadband Inmarsat L-band technology.

Technological partners for the service is Siemens IT Solutions and Services and TriaGnoSys, who have developed expertise to enable passengers and crew to use their own mobile phones and Smartphones (iPhone, Blackberry©, HTC, etc). The GSM service uses satellite communications, making connectivity possible regardless of the ship’s location.

The installation, which uses the ship's existing Ku-band satellite antenna, is a simple process that can be carried out during a routine maintenance stop between cruises. The software developed by Siemens and TriaGnoSys uses compression technology to make very efficient use of the available bandwidth. www.onair.aero


Portsmouth (once again a rival to Southampton) is to become the home port for the All Leisure Group in 2011 coupled with an expansion of its  “no fly” cruises.  The port is the home of HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose.  Under construction is a brand new cruise terminal which will compliment the spectacular Spinnaker Tower.

First in is Swan Hellenic’s Minerva (the original ship) which will operate a series of regional cruises where even the off-ship excursions are included in the price, as well as staff tips.  The lecture programme is top quality but one thing for certain, the ship is not suitable for children.

With the second of the All Leisure brands, Voyages of Discovery’s the summer 2011 season will commence with a short series of cruises from introducing the ship to a wider audience than previous.  Discovery will re-position back later in the year to Harwich where she will operate a longer programme of “no fly” cruises and continue her association with that port.

The company’s third ship, Hebridean Island Cruises Hebridean Princess, will be joining her fleet colleagues in 2011, also offering a small dedicated programme from Portsmouth.  Hebridean Princess is no stranger to this location as she has visited this historic port in previous years.

News is awaited on All Leisure’s latest acquisition 'Alexander von Humboldt' which is also due in service in 2011, the Group yet to disclose whether it gets a new name or remains with its current title. www.allleisuregroup.com


The Yachts of Seabourn gets a second mention in the June issue of AERBT Cruising News with the announcement of a change of deployment for the popular, 208-guest Seabourn Pride in the summer of 2011. The ship will reposition from its winter Southeast Asia season in the spring and sail a series of 12-day Baltic and Russia cruises between Stockholm and Copenhagen, along with two 15-day round trip cruises from Copenhagen to Norway’s fjords and the North Cape.

Pride’s schedule will complement that of its larger sister-yacht, the 450-guest brand new Seabourn Sojourn, which will be sailing shorter, seven and nine day voyages of the Baltic and Norway.

The company had previously announced that Seabourn Pride would remain in Asia for the whole of 2011, sailing in China, Korea and Japan during the summer months. The decision to move the vessel back to Europe is a response to the popularity of the destination.  En-route voyages are for sale too. www.seabourn.com


TUI Cruises, a cruise brand established in 2008 through a joint venture between Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and TUI AG is to acquire Celebrity Mercury in early 2011.  Named Mein Schiff 2 she will join Mein Schiff (the former Celebrity Galaxy) to become the second ship in the fleet, tailored for the German market.

From an operational point of views things could not have worked out better. 
 
Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Dan Hanrahan explains.”With the rapid growth and momentum of the Celebrity brand, and the fourth member of our five-ship Solstice Class fleet, Celebrity Silhouette, introduced in July 2011, we have abundant opportunities for the fine crew on Celebrity Mercury to transfer to another Celebrity ship?”
 
Celebrity Mercury joined the Celebrity Cruises fleet in November 1997, and was built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg(Germany).  The 77,713-ton ship carries 1,898 guests (double occupancy) and 909 crew. www.tuicruises.com


 A SHIP REVIEW:  Diamond Princess

Diamond Princess is one of a pair of ships built in Japan (the other is Sapphire Princess) for Princess Cruises, for many years the American arm of P&O, and whilst still very much a sister company, now part of the much larger Carnival Group.

Diamond Princess entered service in 2004 and is essentially a modification of the highly successful Grand Princess design which includes Grand Princess itself, Golden Princess, Star Princess, plus, with an extra deck, Caribbean Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess.  P&O’s Ventura and new Azura are essentially to the same design, although each ship differs in detail.  She is 116,000 tons gross and carries a nominal 2,600 passengers plus 1,250 crew, an excellent ratio of just over two passengers for every crew member.

Unlike the initial Grand Princess series Diamond Princess does not have what looks like a wing projecting out over the stern, and used as a nightclub.  A more traditional, and practical, arrangement is now built around the rear of the funnel.

At the present time Diamond Princess lacks Movies Under the Sky, the outdoor cinema first seen on Caribbean Princess.  That together with an adult-only retreat (The Sanctuary) will be rectified when the ships goes in for a major refurbishment in November.

On boarding there is a welcome drink and guests are shown personally to their cabin.  Whilst the ship is always keen to sell you water when disembarking this is provided on the quay for free when at a port, or using the ships tenders.

The overall impression is that Princess is not money grabbing, unlike some operators, and if you want to it is possible not to spend virtually any extra money.  Where the docking is not convenient to the local town for the most part Princess provide transport.  It is essentially a quiet ship, announcements, in English, kept to a minimum, normally at 09:00 and 12:00 from the bridge followed by the entertainment staff giving a resume of activities.

To save the embarrassment of tipping Princess adds per person per day to your shipboard account, and also 15% to extras.

In General:  The public areas of the ship are confined to the top three decks, and a further three decks deep down in the bowels of the ship.  All flows rather nicely.  Each of the six accommodation decks has a self-service laundrette. 

Such is the layout of the ship moving around is very easy, with two notable exceptions. 

The promenade deck, which is lovely and wide and ideal for sitting out on the teak lie-flat seats, and for deck games, is not continuous.  For those taking a one-third of a mile lap walk or running tour, at the front of the ship you have to mount a series or steps, pass the staff swimming pool in the bow, and go down the other side. Exhausting!  Or you can jog to the steps, turn around, and do the same when you reach the same obstruction opposite.

The other complication is the double sitting international dining room in the stern.  It is on the same deck as the other two main restaurants with the kitchens in-between.  Easy enough to get to if you are coming from your cabin, but if you are partaking in pre-dinner drinks in the Grand Plaza area it is an up and down exercise.  Infuriating (and overcome with cocktails at the gallery level).

Accommodation:  Just over half of Diamond Princess cabins have balconies (easily large enough for a twosome breakfast) and the ship has a very limited number of suites. 

The standard veranda cabins are some of the best at sea, well thought out, the lounge area very acceptable and the beds nearest to the services.  Nice linens, bath robes and slippers are there to use.  The cabins have a mini walk-in hanging area too, saving the problems associated with swinging doors. 

There is a turndown service plus chocolates every night and fresh fruit on request.  A 24-hour courtesy room service is provided as well as tea and coffee making facilities.  The fridge offers drinks at bar prices.  If you book a lower deck balcony cabin please note you might be overlooked from above.  The inside and window cabins are normally much the same size as the standard ones with balcony.

Dining:  The cuisine aboard all the Princess ships is to a fine standard and you are served by an attentive multi-national staff, all of whom for the most part speak acceptable English, with many long term contractors (unlike the management the majority of the hotel/public contact staff are on contract to contract).  If you want something special ask at the previous mealtime and you will usually get it.  Dietary requirements are dealt with. It’s best to contact the cruise line beforehand, who are very helpful.  The kitchen team are most experienced and will emerge from their hidden areas to discuss.

There is a choice at both breakfast and lunchtime of dining casual  or silver service, which can be 'anytime' when you dine to your timetable, or fixed, first or second sittings.  Surprisingly this traditional style of eating seems to be making a comeback Princess now offering two restaurants with set timings.  Unlike the other ships in the class the amidships dining room on both Diamond and Sapphire have been divided in two along the centre of the ship.  This gives for a better ambience and more intimate surroundings.

For a small premium Sabatini’s offers multi-course traditional Italian cuisine deep down in the ship and the Sterling Steakhouse, a bar area during the day converts in the evening.  It is high up on the ship and partially overlooks the stern.  The meat cuts are delicious.  Both dining areas are to the highest standard. 

An innovation this year for premium suite clients and Captain's Circle Platinum members is the opening of Sabatini’s for breakfast.  It has cost Princess virtually nothing and is a more intimate venue for breakfast.  And the doors don’t close at 10:00 sharp.  If you are little late they will still let you in.

Princess now offers courtesy ice-cream during daytime hours (it used to be free  at mid-afternoon only) and the English tea still continues at 16:00.  This includes scones with clotted cream and jam, and a harpist threesome entertains in the restaurant.  English tea time not only finds favour with the British but the Japanese like it too, and those from North America.

Entertainment:  Showtime on Princess is a proper live West End quality variety performance, no miming by grinning dancers to pre-recorded music.  There is a large (900+) pillar-less theatre on board and the very well equipped alternative venues, but with not so many seats and a full bar service.  The theatre also doubles up as a cinema, films another Princess tradition.  The programme even manages to fit in with the cruise, ‘The Last Emperor’ playing to nearly afull house on the way into the port of Beijing.  The orchestra also pops up all over the place, on deck, and in the other entertainment venues.

The actual entertainment programme is mixed, with the Cruise Director acting as MC.  Good Cruise Directors make for a cruise, full of energy and charm.  Princess is lucky that it has some of the best.  All the cruise lines need pay special attention to what they have to offer as cruising can often be more than twice a year and clients do need variety and not the same show over and over again.  Also the US seems to be the last resting place of  forgotten British comics.  They need to update their acts. 

Princess offer a proper port lecture series which can also be caught on the in-cabin TV.  In the Mediterranean and other popular places these can be sparsely attended, most clients knowing the popular ports of call, but the Far East is new territory for most, and a quality lecturer, it is standing room only.

Diamond Princess has two pool areas, one with a sliding roof.  In practice this stays in place all of the time providing a air conditioned open deck area, and a fine venue for lunch barbeques and the occasional evening show time.

Children:  British cruise ships have always had on offer splendid facilities for children (and continue to do so with Cunard and P&O leading the way – although with P&O some ships ban under 18 all together) and Diamond, with its UK heritage no exception.  The number of children on board depends on the time that you take your cruise.  There can be anything up to 900 during the school holidays but experience has shown that they are normally well behaved and really have no effect on those whose experience of parenthood is long gone.

The younger people have their own well laid out area at the stern of the ship including a dedicated pool and outdoor play areas.  There are computers galore and electronic games.  Parents have to  look after the actual feeding of the younger ones, but once that job is over but they are supervised until late into the night.  This goes for the crèche too.  All the staff are registered and go through Princess own training programme.

 

 

On Board Services:  Princess does not offer daily international newspapers (but they can be purchased at a price) although BBC World and CNN is available on the cabin TVs.  There is what is thought to be the largest Internet Café at sea, which always seemed busy during normal hours, with a pay for coffee bar.  It suffers, as with all ships at the present time, with an intermittent service, which can be very slow.  There is also a wireless system on board, but it does depend on where your cabin is situated. 

The medical facilities are top quality and like everything else on board, chargeable to your cabin account.  The reception is open all night.

What Else?:  The gym on board Diamond Princess is comprehensive and is incorporated into the spa.  Massage on deck is on offer too when the weather suites.  There is a 9-hole putting course and simulator.  There is a good range of shops on board covering evening needed (and useful when your luggage does not keep pace at the airport) and whilst the daily “sale” offerings on the balcony of the atrium can be somewhat over the top, it is easy enough to keep away from that area.  It all normally packs up around five.

Diamond is traditional with few gimmicks, but that is what the Princess clients demand.  The casino is huge, the art sales are well attended (and presumably make money), the dance class, scholarship@sea (self enrichment), bridge  and cooking demonstrations  all attract their devotees.  Trivia can get quite exciting, but at the end of the day the quiz master's word is final.  You can take in as much as you can, or relax, or perhaps find some midway point. 

 

 

In Conclusion:  Don’t be put off by the sheer size of Diamond Princess and her sisters.  When Grand Princess entered service she was the largest cruise ship afloat by some margin.  Things have moved on.  We’ve mentioned already that the flow within the ship causes no problems, and getting on an off at the various ports is easy.  Not everyone wants to at the same time. Princess is well organised and their agents at the various ports top quality.  Up to 100 coaches waiting for the ship might sound a great number but the staff seem to cope without problems.  Everyone smiles, customers and workers alike.  This augers well for Princess new arrival in 2014, 141,000 tons and 3,600 passengers.  We await.

All in all Princess serves up a fine middle of the road product.  In the Far East Americans made up just under a half of a full ship, with a large contingent of British, followed by Brazilians, and then Germans (and don’t worry there are more than enough deckchairs to go around). A friendlier crowd you could not have found.

www.princess.com

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