26 JULY 2010

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Bangkok shows resilience with new 5-star hotel

KEMPINSKI made a soft opening of its new Hotel Bangkok, a clear demonstration that things are getting back to normal after a very disruptive spring.  The 303-luxury room, cabana and suite property in the centre of the Thai capital is Kempinski’s 64th property worldwide.  Kempinski, headquartered in Geneva, was established in 1897 in Berlin and is today Europe’s oldest luxury hotel brand.  The new Kempinski, adjacent to the Paragon lifestyle mall, is unique due to the hundreds of Thai art works commissioned and visible throughout the property.  All rooms look onto large tropical landscaped gardens with extensive water features and three saltwater swimming pools.  The hotel’s European heritage is evident in the signature Brasserie Europa fine dining restaurant, the T Lounge and the 1897 whisky bar and cigar court.  The Sra Bua modern Thai dining restaurant and Kempinski The Spa will open in a few weeks’ time. www.kempinski.com/bangkok 

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Flightglobal Lifetime Achievement Award

BOEING’S Joe Sutter (89) collected the inaugural Flightglobal Lifetime Achievement Award at a reception during last week’s Farnborough International Airshow.  "Joe Sutter helped shrink our planet for tens of millions of ordinary travellers," said Murdo Morrison, Editor of Flight International. "More than 40 years on, the Boeing 747 remains a unique and radical design – unmistakable and beautiful, but most importantly, a highly efficient people and cargo mover."  In a postscript to the latest reprint of his excellent book, with the simple title “747”, Sutter writes that just recently he was sitting in the departure lounge at Narita Airport, Tokyo, and in a two-hour period counted 55 Jumbos from more than one dozen airlines.  His thoughts were with his colleagues now no longer with us and how proud they would have been. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Jurys Inn has opened in Bradford

BRADFORD is the site of the 23rd UK Jurys Inn hotel.  In fact the Irish hotelier is larger in England than in its homeland where it has just eight properties.  The new-build £20m property is in the heart of the city and has 198 guestrooms, three dedicated meeting rooms and a refreshment breakout lounge, a separate bar and restaurant, and cardio gym.  Free wi-fi is available in all areas of the hotel.  Over the last 18 months Jurys Inn has opened new hotels in Aberdeen, Derby, Exeter, Sheffield, Swindon, Watford and also Prague. www.jurysinns.com

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Los Angeles has a better view

LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) passengers and visitors will be pleased to know that the very popular 360-degree view Observation Deck atop the iconic Theme Building has re-opened to the public.  Initially at least it will be weekends only with limited hours – 08:00 to 17:00 on Saturdays and Sundays but there is no time limit for how long visitors may stay on the deck.  Together with the space-age, retro-themed Encounter Restaurant housed inside the building, the re-opening fully restores an LAX experience that had been a major draw to travellers from around the world.  The Observation Deck was closed following 9/11.  New security measures are in place before visitors enter the non-stop elevator to the Observation Deck.  However if you are connecting through on Air New Zealand and forced to go landside due to the US authorities there really is not enough time to make a visit. www.lawa.org

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Qatar in Heathrow move

TERMINAL 4 at Heathrow is expected to be Qatar Airways’ new home at Heathrow from the start of the winter season.  It presently is a tenant of both Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic in T3, an unsatisfactory arrangement which clearly does not promote the airline.  The move to T4 and investment in purpose-built First and Business Class lounges is a further indication of the Doha-based carrier’s independence from alliances and industrial tie-ups although it does codeshare on certain routes.  Asked by AERBT regarding the redevelopment of Doha International Airport, Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker seemed very philosophical over the delays (it was due to be completed in 2009) noting that he had hopes of its opening by the end of 2012 to coincide with delivery of the airline’s first A380. www.qatarairways.com

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St Helena to get an airport

NAPOLEON would not be jumping in his grave as, whilst he died in exile in St Helena in 1821, his remains were transferred to Paris in 1840.  The British Overseas Territory, deep in the South Atlantic, is to gain an airport.  International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the UK had an "obligation" to build the facility and his bean counters have worked out that in the long run it would be cheaper to construct an airport than replace and subsidise the current RMS Helena.  With a proper airport there is a great chance that the island, said to be one of the most remote places on earth, could become economically self-sufficient and a tourist paradise. www.sthelenatourism.com

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Transatlantic unification

BRITISH AIRWAYS, American Airlines and Iberia have received the regulatory US green light to operate a joint business on transatlantic flights.  Following European Union approval on 14 July, the airlines have now been granted anti-trust immunity from the Department of Transportation.  Virgin Atlantic is fuming but can do little about authorisation, which is similar to that approved for the Star Alliance and Skyteam carriers.  The airlines plan to launch the transatlantic venture this autumn and will co-operate commercially on flights between the EU, Switzerland and Norway and the US, Canada and Mexico.  Customers will be able to travel more easily on all three airlines’ combined route access.  Customers have to be very careful in choosing flights that are actually operated by the carrier of their choice, there being a total difference of standards between the three airlines. www.ba.com www.aa.com www.iberia.com

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HAPPY TALK: The smart senior

An elderly friend went to breakfast at a restaurant where the 'seniors' special' was two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast for £2.99.

 

"Sounds good," his wife said. "But I don't want the eggs."

 

"Then, I'll have to charge you £3.49 because you're ordering a la carte," the waitress warned her.

 

"You mean I'd have to pay for not taking the eggs?" the wife asked incredulously.

 

"YES!!" stated the waitress.

 

"I'll take the special then."

 

"How do you want your eggs?" the waitress asked.

 

"Raw and in the shell," the wife replied.  She took the two eggs home and baked a cake.

 

The moral of the story is don’t mess about with seniors.

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COMMENT: Heathrow rail connections

In the dying embers of the last Government Lord Adonis, whose short stay as Transport Minster could be considered a success, asked Lord Mawhinney to undertake a review of high-speed rail access to Heathrow Airport.  Lord Mawhinney’s background did include a very short stay in Transport during the John Major premiership but he is more remembered for a highly controversial tenure as Chairman of the Football League.

As a former Member of Parliament for Peterborough, Mawhinney seems to be somewhat weak in his geography of Heathrow.  “While I was visiting the Iver site (with Arup) I realised that while the Great Western Main Line (GWML) runs within about two miles of Heathrow, there is no rail connection between the GWML and the airport.”  A rail link between Heathrow and Hayes as a connection with the Great Western has been obvious for 60 years!

In a four-month period Mawhinney has produced a 33-page report that has the backing of the new Minister Philip Hammond.  Whether deliberate or not, its publication in the middle of Farnborough does not seem to have gained the coverage it deserves. 

Lord Mawhinney took evidence from a whole gaggle of observers of the travel scenario and those with vested interests but it is not always clear in the report who they represent.  (Greengauge 21 is a lobbying group promoting high-speed rail, whilst Arup is a well respected transport consultancy.)  The actual major British airlines, that is BA, bmi and Virgin Atlantic, who are the ones that really know about passengers’ travel requirements, had their say, watered down one could argue, under the leadership of Roger Wiltshire, the retiring General Secretary of the British Air Transport Association (BATA).

His Lordship toured possible sites for high-speed rail stations at Heathrow, Iver and Old Oak Common.  He visited Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports – the other main European hubs – and discussed with them their experience of high-speed rail operations to those airports.

For reasons that AERBT finds incomprehensible Lord Mawhinney seems to have ventured into (and presumably spent time considering) the vexed question of runway slot allocation.  This has virtually nothing to do with the Heathrow rail link.

The recommendation of Lord Mawhinney is that Old Oak Common should be the initial London terminal for a new high-speed rail line to the north and that there was no compelling case in its early stages for a direct link for that railway into Heathrow.  Crossrail and other existing rail and tube connections would suffice.

For readers who are not aware of Old Oak Common’s location it is better known as Willesden Junction, one of the world’s busiest railway stations in Queen Victoria’s time.  It is a particularly run down area, with a very complicated and extremely busy narrow road system north of Wormwood Scrubs and south of Harlesden.  Other than a complex rail arrangement and engineering works it has nothing to compliment itself in terms of a national transport interface.

Lord Mawhinney’s recommendation is clearly an interim Department of Transport case study that has gone wrong.  The real problem is the new Government’s total lack of direction regarding the future of air transport and any guidance at all from Downing Street.  If Heathrow is to remain as the world’s number one international airport, and with it all the benefits applied to the United Kingdom, once Parliament returns from its summer recess the country deserves to know the Government's view and its plans on how we go about achieving this goal.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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British Airways cabin crew reject final offer

UNITE, the trade union representing most British Airways cabin staff, was still deliberating on causing more disruption as AERBT was published.  Of the just under 11,000 members only 5,105 bothered to vote with 1,686 in favour of the deal and 3,419 against.  This is positive news for British Airways, who says that this means 73% of the cabin crew didn’t reject the offer.  Now they are urging Unite to return to the table to accept the deal and end the dispute.  A spokesman for the union said that their leaders are due to meet with staff representatives to decide on what they will do next.  In the meantime passengers are keeping away from the airline in their droves, not sure if their planned flight will go ahead. www.ba.com www.unitetheunion.com

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Gothenburg from Heathrow

BRITISH AIRWAYS is launching twice daily services from Heathrow T5 to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, starting at the beginning of the winter season on 28 November.  Flights depart Heathrow at 07:35 and 15:10 arriving 10:35 and 18:10 respectively.  In the other direction it is out at 11:20 arriving 12:30 and 18:55 for a 20:05 landing (all times local).  Already established on the route is Star Alliance (bmi/SAS) from Heathrow T1, likewise to the main Gothenburg airport, and Ryanair from Stansted to the small city strip. www.ba.com

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Kuwait leasing company stretches Airbus A350

ALAFCO is not an airline that even the keenest of regular travellers will expect to travel on in future years.  Whilst Airbus has issued a digital impression of what an Alafco A350-900 would look like flying, the company is a Kuwait-based international aviation lease and finance company.  It has converted its existing firm order for 12 Airbus A350-800s placed in 2007, into the higher capacity A350-900 model.  The A350-900 typically has a capacity of around 40 more seats than the smaller 800 model.  The A350 XWB family is available in three basic passenger versions: the A350-800 accommodating 270 passengers, the A350-900 seating 314 and the A350-1000 for 350 passengers in a typical three-class layout.  Power is supplied by two new generation Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines.  Orders for the aircraft stand at more than 530 from over 33 customers. www.alafco-kw.com

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Minister to appear on TV

PHILIP HAMMOND, Britain’s new Secretary of State for Transport, will be appearing in front of the new House of Commons Transport Committee today (Monday 26 July).  The interview is transmitted (from 16:00) on Parliament Live (Channel 81) and might even extract some indication on the Government’s plans for air transport, its only utterances since coming into power somewhat negative.  The title of the session “Priorities for Transport,” offers no prizes for guessing the range of questions covering travel by land, sea and air.  At Farnborough whilst Ministers Dr Vince Cable (Business, Innovation and Skills), Liam Fox (Defence), David Willetts (Universities and Science) and Baroness Neville-Jones (Security and Counter-Terrorism) took part in the new conference programme, the man responsible for the output of the commercial aviation business failed to put in an appearance. www.parliamentlive.tv

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SITA

BERMUDA’S LF Wade International Airport has become the first anywhere in the world to employ SITA’s new WorldTracer kiosk.  These units are the 'front' for a self-service system uniquely designed to assist passengers who experience baggage delays.  They are linked into the global tracing system for mishandled baggage and their deployment is part of a multi-million dollar overhaul of the airport's range of passenger self-service technology by the airline IT specialist.  Passengers rank check-in baggage arriving promptly and safely as one of the most important criteria associated with a pleasant journey.  Last year over 25m bags were mishandled worldwide.  The slim WorldTracer kiosk has an option for wireless connectivity, giving the airport an opportunity to move the unit.  Self-service check-in is becoming increasingly popular among passengers in North America and Europe.  Worldwide 25% of passengers currently use kiosks to check in. www.sita.aero

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St Pancras is key to Eurostar boost

EUROSTAR saw passenger numbers rise by 6% to 4.6m and revenues increase by 18% to £404m during the first half of 2010.  This growth is due in part to the impact of the ash cloud disruption but also reflects a strengthening of the business market and the public’s acceptance of St Pancras as a gateway to and from the United Kingdom.  Over the last year there have been significant improvements with the Kings Cross and Underground interface and this should be completed in 12 months’ time.  The number of international passengers is also up by 24% as visitors from the US and Australia, in particular, see travelling by Eurostar as an integral part of their European tour.  Eurostar is also increasing services during the very busy August period. www.eurostar.com

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ON TOUR: The Farnborough Air Show 2010

£31bn of orders and 120,000 trade attendance

It is impossible to compare one air show with another.  In truth it is a question of one’s preferences and interests but there is no doubt that the 2010 Farnborough offering was one of the best.  This year it was dominated by Boeing, who introduced the brand new 787 Dreamliner to an international audience, and persuaded the US Air Force to make a daily flypast with a B52.  The B52 first flew in 1952. 

Paris last year was wet and lacked sparkle, Farnborough was for most of the week glorious, the airfield itself, with new structures all around, looking particularly good.

This year's event saw good engagement from decision-makers with 11 UK Government Ministers, plus 70 delegations from 44 countries, in attendance.  There were over 120,000 visitors over the four trade days. 

Orders for the show were put at £31bn.  The peak boom year was 2008 when the show saw £57bn of orders.  In 2006 the figures were much the same as this year. The show also contributes about £20m to the local economy around Farnborough. 

Ian Godden is Chairman of A|D|S, the UK's aerospace, defence and security trade organisation, the parent company of Farnborough International Limited (FIL).  "The 2010 Farnborough International Airshow has been very successful and the figures demonstrate the mood of strong optimism that there has been around the show this year, which is very encouraging given the current global economic climate.  To see over US$47bn (£31bn) worth of business done and the quality of the business transactions at the show is a testament to the endurance of our sectors, their positive contribution to UK and world trade as well as the significance of the show itself.”

“Congratulations go to Shaun Ormrod and his team at FIL for a fantastic job well done and my thanks also go to my A|D|S colleagues who have helped to make the week a very positive one.”

Such was the mountain of news at the show that affects commercial aviation and business travel AERBT is only able to review significant announcements.

AIRCRAFT ORDERS

Airbus announced commitments for 255 aircraft, signalling a clear upturn in the aviation industry.  Whilst Boeing lead with orders the A380 was probably the outstanding aircraft at Farnborough this year, both on the ground and in the air.

The firm orders at the show came from Aeroflot for 11 A330-300s,  Air Lease Corporation for 51 A320 series; Garuda Indonesia for six A330-200s ; GECAS for 60 A320s; and Germania for five A319s. 

The MoU commitments included: ten A330-200s plus 15 A350 XWBs from Hong Kong Airlines; 40 A320s plus ten A321s from LAN Chile; seven A330-300s from Thai Airways International and 40 A320s from Virgin America. 


Antonov confirmed that the Russian leasing company Ilyushin Finance is to buy ten Antonov An-158 jetliners with an option on ten more.  Deliveries will commence in 2011 and run through to 2013.  The deal is the first for the aircraft, which is a stretched 99-seat variant of the 85-passenger An-148 regional jet.  

The 148 now has been in service just over one year with six delivered and an order book standing at around 220.  Experienced travellers flying on Russian domestic services will recognise the aircraft as a twin-engined BAe/Avro 146.


ATR, just like Bombardier, continues to sell a steady number of its turboprop model and has announced orders for 42 new aircraft and 72 options for the first half of this year.

Highlight of its Farnborough participation was a deal with Brazilian carrier Azul for 20 ATR 72-600s and a ten- aircraft order placed by Air Lease, the new venture of former ILFC CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy.  Orders were also announced with Swedish regional Golden Air for a pair of ATR 72-500s, bringing its fleet up to five, and for long time customer Lao Airlines, also two 500s.


Boeing took centre stage for the first two days with the Dreamliner and aircraft orders.

The order book was impressive.  Air Austral two 777-200LR, Air Lease Corporation 54 737-800, American Airlines 35 737-800, Avolon 12 737-800, Azerbaijan Airlines one 767-300ER and two 767 Freighters, Emirates 30 777-300ER, GECAS 40 737-800, Norwegian Air Shuttle 15 737-800, OKAY Airways ten 737-800, Qatar two 777-200LR, Royal Jordanian three 787 and finally the British taxpayer (84%) in the form of Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) aircraft leasing arm for 43 737-800.


Bombardier had a generally quiet show, with the only airline order announced that by Australia's Qantas Airways for seven Q400 aircraft, to be used by its regional airline subsidiary QantasLink.  What was surprising was a lack of commitments for the all new C series, due to fly in 2013, or even a mock-up.  It is forecasting a 6,700 aircraft requirement over the next 20 years for aircraft in the 100-150-seat range.  However on paper the C series does look exciting and has to date 90 firm orders.
 

Flybe, the UK’s largest regional airline really did spring a surprise on the Monday with an order for a further 35 Embraer 190s with options for 65 and purchase rights for a further 40.  The order flies in the face of the new Government’s ideas regarding railway development and probably means a major move of the airline into Europe.  Embraer also announced orders with Air Lease 15 E-190s, Azul Brazil 5 E-195s, Linhaas Aereas Brazil two E-190s and US carrier Republic for 24 E-190s.


Irkut, a Russian corporation best known for its combat aircraft (YAK and Su-30) is also getting into the commercial aircraft business and has under development the MS-21, a short to medium haul plane in the 150-210 passenger range.  With deliveries planned from 2016 orders were announced with a number of finance companies.

 

Mitsubishi organized a press briefing for their proposed regional jet during the show and said that the first flight would be in 2012.   ANA has on order 15, as does Trans State Holdings, who operates services on behalf both United Airlines and US Airways.


SuperJet International, a joint venture between Alenia Aeronautica, a Finmeccanica Company, and Sukhoi Holding, signed an agreement with Pearl Aircraft Corporation for thirty Sukhoi Superjet.  Also announced during the show where orders with Indonesian regional carrier Kartika Airlines for 30 aircraft and Orient Thai Airlines for 12.

The Sukhoi Superjet is a low wing twin engined fly-by-wire regional jet in the 75- to 95-seat category.  The order book stands at around 280.

 

BUSINESS JET SALES

While there were some absentees among the prominent business aircraft manufacturers owing to Farnborough being so close to EBACE, Bombardier Business Jets was in upbeat mood, announcing several new deals.   Qatar Airways the Doha-based airline announced a purchase of two Global 5000s, in an order worth $90 million. Scheduled for delivery in October 2010 and

August 2011, they will join three Bombardier Challenger 300s in the year-old Qatar Executive fleet.   This was swiftly followed by VistaJet of Switzerland confirming a $277 million order for four Global Express XRS jets, including two with the new Global Vision flight deck, and two large cabin Challenger 605 jets.  

VistaJet CEO Thomas Flor in a press conference with Steve Ridolfi of Bombardier highlighted that the company is seeing strong  demand across all its services and the new order reflected clients’ increasing preference to buy flight hours, rather than purchasing aircraft outright. 

Hawker Beechcraft (HBC) announced that SaxonAir, based at Norwich Airport, UK was acquiring two 400XP aircraft – one to be based at Norwich and a second it will manage from Edinburgh Airport. 
And in a salute to piston aircraft – the industry darling when the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud struck -  HBC announced that its piston-powered  twin, the Beechcraft Baron, has become the only aircraft in its class to be certificated for steep approaches into London City Airport.  


NETWORKING

There was considerable networking and fine corporate hospitality being enjoyed at the Aviator, TAG’s Group’s stunning design adjacent hotel,  which saw brisk business during the week. 

“It was simply the best place to be,”  acknowledged Farnborough Airport CEO Brandon O’Reilly, trumpeting the hotel’s easy and convenient access between the hotel and the show site. 

TAG ran all its hospitality from Aviator during the week.  “We’ve had a terrific response from the industry,” said Michael Helling,  Aviator’s General Manager, whose own hospitality chalet built to entertain event managers, exhibition directors and PRs was also very well received.  

Among companies taking advantage of the corporate hospitality inside the hotel were CFM International,  Bombardier, Diamond Aircraft, Masterjet, Raytheon and Reed Exhibitions/Asian Aerospace 2011 who hosted an Asian-themed lunch. 

 

Photographs mainly by Mark Wagner www.aviation-images.com

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BA shows the flag at Farnborough

AIRBUS was very much to the fore at the Farnborough Air Show during last weekend with British Airways flying in one of its two A318s used on the London City – New York JFK service.  The airline gets its first A380 in 2012.  Airshow attendees were also able to try out the airline's simulator demonstrator, configured as a Gatwick-based Boeing 737-400 and set up for Heathrow’s 27 left runway.  BA had the prime spot vacated by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. www.ba.com

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Delhi terminal changes

NEW DELHI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TERMINAL 3 will become operational for overseas airlines on 28 July.  Said to be India’s largest public building, the futuristic steel-and-glass structure replaces T2, which will close, T1 remaining for domestic services.  In a move to very visibly demonstrate its commitment to oneworld, which it officially joins in 2011, Kingfisher has extended a welcome to its brand new executive lounge for member airlines of the alliance.  The ultra modern lounge will be used by oneworld passengers before even Kingfisher’s own clients, Indian airlines not transferring until a month after the international carriers, a deliberate move by the authorities designed to settle the terminal down before the arrival of larger numbers. www.delhiairport.com

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Intercontinental number two in Manhattan

MANHATTAN has seen the arrival of the InterContinental New York Times Square, the largest hotel to open in downtown New York since 2002 and only the second ‘Intercon’ to open in New York.  Located on 8th Avenue and 44th Street, just west of Times Square itself, the 36-floor hotel has 607 guestrooms, 25 Panoramic Avenue Suites and a 2,700sq ft presidential suite.  An outstanding feature of the property is a courtyard garden in the lobby with a pool, ten meeting rooms with 10,000sq ft of space and a 4,000sq ft ballroom.  All rooms feature a 42-inch flat panel HDTV, a work area with a touch screen free wi-fi and an extra large bathroom with a walk-in rain shower.  The Intercontinental New York Barclay was built in Art Deco style in 1926 and sits overlooking Central Park. www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental

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London City to Geneva

BABOO, the Swiss airline that operates a code-share with Air France on the Geneva route from London City, is changing its product and will now offer two travel classes called Economy and Premium Economy.  The Premium Economy class, formerly known as Smart, allows flexibility and a range of value-added services both on the ground (including Fast Track and the use of the Executive Lounge at Geneva), and in the air including front end seat selection (more leg room), 30kgs luggage, newspapers and enhanced refreshments.  Currently the airline operates a single daily return service using Bombardier Q400s, except on a Thursday and Sunday when an Embraer 190 is operated. www.flybaboo.com

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Newark to Europe

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES will continue with its successful North Atlantic programme this winter from New York’s Newark Airport to no less than 16 European cities.  As previously noted in AERBT, Bristol is being dropped at the end of the summer season, largely a victim of the airline’s success at Heathrow with which it competes for passengers originating along the busy M4 motorway.  The single Bristol flight does not offer the spread of daily services that BusinessFirst users have come to expect at Heathrow, an extra flight being added for the winter season bringing Continental’s frequency up to five between London and New York.  All Heathrow services (including Houston) are now with sleeper seats, which are progressively being fitted to the airline’s 777 and 757 fleets.  In 2011 these will begin to be introduced on the 767s. www.continental.com

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Sport in Terminal 3

TABLE TENNIS is said to be the world’s most popular racket sport and has been an Olympic event since 1988.  Invented like so many competitive games by the British in the 1800s it was originally called wiff-waff.  In any event a ping pong table has been installed at Heathrow T3 departure area as part of the airport’s on-going efforts to promote the best of British sport and culture.  The table is marked 'Stop and Play' and bats and balls are on hand for passengers to join in the fun.  The table is one of 100 to be installed in key locations across the capital this summer, including the London Eye, Tate Britain and the British Library.  Project, Ping! will aim to encourage a million more people to take up sport by the time London hosts the Olympics in 2012.  After the four-week period, the table will be donated to a local organisation nominated by the staff at Heathrow. www.baa.com

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Sydney gets new domestic transfer facility

QANTAS passengers inbound on international flights at Sydney now have the benefits of a brand new purpose-built domestic transfer provision.  Similar to a regular airport check-in facility it houses both premium and economy counters.  Extra seating capacity is also provided.  The facility remains on the airport’s arrivals level and the process for customers transferring is the same, but it should prove much quicker and user friendly.  The shuttle bus continues to operate between the international and domestic terminals every ten minutes during peak times and every 20 minutes during off-peak times. www.sydneyairport.com.au

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CRUISE NEWS JULY 2010

Hebridean Princess

Our ship review for this issue is not the one originally planned, nor is it in the style that AERBT is now establishing, but when the news leaked out that HM The Queen was once again taking a cruise holiday it was well worthwhile changing our schedule around somewhat. 

Queen Elizabeth and family are at sea as AERBT is published, aboard Hebridean Princess the subject of our ship review below.

It is a private cruise, and the operator Hebridean is not allowed to comment, but the Royal family is following statistics which, according to the Passenger Shipping Association, indicate that two thirds of cruising is repeat business.  For her 80th birthday Her Majesty chose Hebridean Princess around the Scottish islands and for the birthdays of Princess Anne (60) and Prince Andrew (50) four years later the Family is back again.  Clearly Britannia is sorely missed.

It must be pointed out that seagoing holidays are very much in the Windsor blood.  Victoria and Albert was the Royal Yacht of 100 years ago, and whilst certainly no holiday the Queen’s father served his time in the Royal Navy participating in the Battle of Jutland.  Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Commander Philip Mountbatten RN, who had wartime seaborne service and her honeymoon was taken in Britain’s last battleship HMS Vanguard. 

This month’s CRUISE NEWS also includes a story of another even smaller ‘cruise’ ship The Majestic Line’s Glenn Massan.  Room here for only 12 passengers, and the cost is somewhat less too.

 

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


AmaWaterways has expanded its fleet of custom-designed vessels with the launch of the 162-passenger MS AmaBella, bringing the size of the fleet up to 12 vessels, with the construction of the new AmaLotus on the Mekong and AmaKatarina on Russia's waterways currently underway.

The newly-built AmaBella’s features include staterooms averaging 214sq ft (larger than those on many ocean-going ships) and exclusive double balconies, continuing the line’s tradition of innovative luxury on Europe’s great waterways.

AmaBella’s exclusive features include an intimate chef’s table restaurant that seats just 24 and has its own private chef; a library with fireplace; and a swimming pool. The vessel also features AmaWaterways newly-upgraded ‘Infotainment’ system, offering complimentary high-speed internet access, complimentary first-run Hollywood movies, classic films and computing options for those maintaining email contact or even blogging during their holiday.  The entire vessel, as with all the AmaWaterways vessels on the Danube, Rhine, Main and Mosel, has complimentary wi-fi.  www.amawaterways.com


Dover is busy promoting its latest arrival Holland America Line and no-fly cruises.  The UK’s busiest port may be in the far South East but it is motorway virtually all the way and it now has the advantage of high-speed Javelin train to St Pancras which takes just 1hr 9mins.  Kings Cross for the east coast lines is literally across the road and Euston less than five minutes in a taxi.

Holland America is basing two of its ships at Dover,  MS Eurodam one of its latest ‘Signature Class’ vessels and MS Ryndam on its first ever visit to the UK.  Nine round trips are planned between May and August which include visits to the Baltic, Scandinavia and the Norwegian Fjords. http://www.portofdover.co.uk


Engine emission regulations are now affecting cruise ships.  New rules approved by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), will force cruise lines to dramatically cut the level of sulphur in their fuel when they are within 200 miles of shore.  The low-sulphur zones, known as Emission Control Areas, came into force in the Baltic and North Sea this month.  By 2012 they will be introduced in North America, where the impact on cruising is expected to be greatest.

It has been estimated that using low-sulphur fuels could cost some vessels an extra £10,000 a day. Cruise ships travelling along the east and west coasts of the United States would normally be within the controlled zones for the duration of their sailings.  One way to cut costs would be to use fuel from separate tanks when in different areas, but it would be very difficult to monitor.

The general consensus is that, just like aircraft tax, clients will just have to grin and bear it, and that it will not effect the growth and popularity of cruising. www.imo.org


MSC Fantastica is the name of MSC’s latest superliner due to join the fleet in June 2012.  The Italians do like flamboyant ships name and it is an improvement on Favolosa which was the original selection for this vessel.  At any rate a deal has now been concluded for construction of the new ship to commence at STX Europe shipyard in Saint-Nazaire (France). 

Measuring just over one thousand foot long and with a 125ft beam (too wide for the Panama Canal) Fantastica will have a total of 1751 cabins of which 1,250 will have balconies.  She should come in at 135,000 tons. www.msccruises.co.uk


Oceania Cruises is not going to charge for bottled water and soft drinks in 2011.  If one as a passenger actually tots up the amount of non-alcoholic drink taken it probably does not add up to much but it is a good psychological selling point,
not likely to bring in any new clients but is seen to be adding value.  The company continues with its policy of not charging any extra for the specialty restaurants. 

Next year’s brochure is now out and introduces the brand new 65,000 ton Marina which debuts in Barcelona next January.  Also new for summer 2011 is Alaska, Canada and New England. www.Oceaniacruises.co.uk


The Majestic Line is nothing to do with another cruise operator based in Scotland and featured in this week’s AERBT.  And the money involved is vastly less than the £200,000 reputed cost of HM’s charter.  Majestic Line will hire you a small cruise ship for just £10,000 for a week’s cruise in late August. 

A major benefit of hiring your own ship is that the itinerary and route can be arranged to cater for individual groups.  Should you fancy a leisurely sail around the Argyll coast, a route can be tailor-made to fit in the attractions you want to see and visit.  Or perhaps a trip around the rugged islands of North West Scotland may appeal or even a trip through the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness.  

Whole boat charters now account for about 25% of the Majestic Line’s business and are generally booked by groups wanting something absolutely unique and exclusive.  There is a crew of 4, including a chef on board to ensure everyone’s needs are catered for. www.themajesticline.co.uk


The SS United States, still the holder of the westbound transatlantic speed record in three days and ten hours, could be saved.  Launched in 1952 as the American competition to the Cunard Queens on the North Atlantic (and built to Navy standards as a potential troopship following the success of the Cunarders during World War II) for the last 14 years the essentially aluminium ship has languished in a Philadelphia dock whilst its various owners, the latest being Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), dithered as to its future.  NCL had plans to use the ship in Hawaiian waters but they never materialised.  NCL also owned for a period its erstwhile competitor, the SS France (later Norway). 

NCL have now sold the ship to a group called the SS United States Conservancy, backed by philanthropist H. F. Gerry Lenfest, who will contribute up to US$5.8m to fund the purchase and associated costs.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mr. Lenfest will be covering the US$60,000 a month docking fees for the next 20 months, while the conservancy develops a restoration plan – which may be to transform the vessel into a waterfront hotel or multi-use development, according to the Journal. www.ssunitedstatesconservancy.org


Turkey is being highlighted by Celebrity Cruises who are basing the newly refurbished 2,034-guest Celebrity Constellation at Istanbul for a short season in September and October 2011.  Experience has shown that this is a particularly temperate time of the year weather-wise, by UK standards late summer rather than autumn. www.rccl.com

There are three new 12-night roundtrips out of Istanbul including stops at Bodrum and Marmaris (Turkey) and Chania (Souda) new ports of call for Celebrity Cruises.  The itineraries include an overnight stay onboard at Istanbul, a splendid historical city that sits astride the Bosphorus, and calls at Ephesus (Kusadasi), Bodrum and Marmaris (Turkey), Rhodes (Santorini), Athens (Piraeus), Mykonos and Chania (Souda) and Crete (Greece), before returning to Istanbul.  Celebrity Constellation was refurbished in May 2010 to feature highlights of the new Solstice-class ships including the Tuscan Grille steakhouse; the creperie, Bistro on Five; a new ice-topped Martini Bar; Café al Bacio and Gelateria plus the Cellarmasters wine bar. www.rccl.com


Windstar Cruises has introduced what it calls a gourmet sandwich bar in the Yacht Club on Wind Surf.  Guests can dine on an assortment of delicious specialty sandwiches, fresh fruit and cookies onboard or they can take them on shore in a Windstar insulated cooler bag for enjoyment in port.  You know exactly what you are getting for lunch and it is easy to make for that secluded beach.  Eight signature sandwiches are available and we list here just a few examples, all of them with a European flavour.  The Italian Sandwich made with salami, mortadella, provolone cheese and pesto; The Greek Sandwich composed of feta cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, red onions and olives; The French Baguette with brie cheese, sweet onion confit, walnuts, tomatoes and lettuce.

The other big advantage is of course that you know the bread very freshly baked.  We dare not comment on what sometimes is offered on shore. www.windstarcruises.co.uk


Winter in England means summer in Australia where the cruise market has really taken off, not only for Aussies but also Europeans and even Americans who find the trip relatively easy in modern long haul aircraft..  Princess has released details of its largest ever back end of the year Australasia programme with three locally based vessels in Sydney (Sea Princess), Melbourne (Dawn Princess) and Brisbane (Sun Princess).

Spanning a total of 48 voyages the new programme will include more New Zealand cruises than all of the other visiting cruise lines rolled into one, with a total of 27 departures on offer.  The South Pacific will see a great deal of Princess Cruises and the ships will venture as far north as Japan, to Singapore and Hawaii to the east. www.princesscruises.com

 

SHIP REVIEW:  Hebridean Princess
(In the Footsteps of the Royal Yacht)
 

This report was originally written (with the headline as above) in 2003 following a fine trip on one of the world’s most unique cruise ships, Hebridean Princess. 

Maybe someone at the Palace read the piece but in any event Her Majesty The Queen chartered the vessel for her 80th birthday family cruise. 

She was following a tradition of the Royal Family who, in the not too distant past, used the Royal Yacht Britannia every summer for a quiet private cruise often to the Western Isles and the North of Scotland. 

Clearly it was a success and as you read this piece many of the Royal family will be at sea celebrating this time around Princess Ann’s 60th and Prince Andrew’s 50th birthdays.  This review is an update.

If your requirements are an 80,000 ton luxury liner at discounted prices and 2,000 other passengers Hebridean Princess is not for you.  However if what you want is something totally unique, restful but invigorating, and the height of old fashioned luxury and service she might just fit your requirements.  A sort of travelling stately home or large country house with discerning company, many of advanced years but with the mind and vigour of youth.  Hebridean is now part of the All Leisure Holidays Ltd which includes Voyages of Discovery and Swan Hellenic.
 
Essentially Hebridean is based at Oban and leisurely cruises the inlets ands bays of Ross and Cromarty, the Western Isles, past Cape Wraith and the Orkney Islands.  In 2011 she will also be visiting Scotland’s east coast, East Anglia, English Channel ports, Normandy, and the Scilly Isles.  Most cruises are eight days, although these are interspersed with four night taster trips.  A bus will meet you at Glasgow’s airport or railway station.  It’s a lovely run to Oban.

Hebridean cruises follow a simple pattern that has evolved since the former Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry first put to sea as the world’s smallest luxury liner back in 1989.  It is a very relaxed break but you have to enter into the spirit of it.  Truely country house with everyone soon on first name terms.  You will normally find quite a few widows and other elderly singles (all of whom sit at the captain’s table and appear to have a terrific time), bird watchers, walkers, those interested in history, and also the less mobile who prefer to stay on the ship whilst others get off.  Half the guests have been before, often many times before.  Some are a lot younger but all seem to mix in well together.

The quality and distinct individuality of what is on offer does not come cheap.  Forty-eight ‘guests’ at the most, looked after by 38 crew.  Prices start from a fully inclusive £1,800 for a week at the beginning of the season in the lowest priced cabin, but even here the furnishings are outstanding, a private bar is provided and there is TV, video, coffee and tea making facilities plus ironing board, trouser press and hairdryer.  A decanter of Sherry is provided too.  It is that sort of cruise.  And you don’t have to go far to catch your ship.  And no art auctions nor gambling rooms either.  In July and August the minimum price is £4,000.  Tasters start at just under £1,000.  Terrific value.  Single cabins are available and the prices reasonable, except during the peak periods.

The fact that Princess was called Columba in her former life must not be held against her.  As a ship she was perfectly designed to enter the small ports and lochs that are a feature of the Western Isles, places that other vessels cannot even look at.  The conversion all those years back was first class and sumptuous, but innovations are still being made.  If you want to know where you are take a look at the satellite navigation system in the lounge, a recent advance.  The ship has simply matured over the years like a fine wine.  There is a mock coal fireplace in the main lounge complete with brickwork.  The awards Hebridean has picked up over the last decade testify to excellence.
 
The daily routine normally consists of an eight o’clock breakfast (and use of the keep fit equipment for those who want to partake) followed by a morning visit, either down to the quayside, if the ship is docked, or via the ship’s tenders when moored in a sheltered bay or loch.  The ship’s professional guide takes over, often augmented by knowledgeable locals.  Usually lunch is back on board whilst the ship makes her stately way to the next port of call.  Sometimes a barbeque is organised ashore.  She might move to another island or Loch whilst a buffet is taken.

In the early evening it is cocktails in the lounge followed by dinner and then a talk on the next day’s programme.  If the ship is tied up you can get off and take a walk, borrow a bicycle stowed on board, or perhaps visit a local pub.  Some of the tiny waterside hamlets only have just one shop, whilst others, such as Tobermory on the Isle of Mull are busy tourist traps made famous via TV.  Balamory, set in Tobermory, is a popular programme for tiny tots.
 
A cruise on Hebridean means not putting your hand in your pocket at all.  Tipping is positively frowned upon and all alcoholic drinks are included including a fine selection of wines for lunch and dinner.  There is a specialist cellar for those with particular tastes and for this you pay.  And there cannot be a better range of whiskies available at sea?  All the planned off ship visits are taken care of.  If a coach is involved the ship makes sure the refreshments hamper goes with, otherwise it is into a local hostelry where Hebridean plays host.  Each cruise is designed to satisfy a different market.  Some are for walkers whilst others concentrate on Scottish heritage and, in a season that runs from March to November, nature lovers are not forgotten.  Depending on the trip you have chosen your itinerary might include a visit to an uninhabited island, 5,000 year old dwellings or a famous cathedral.
 
The fact that the ship is small makes for a much less tiring time.  No cabin is more than two or three minutes from the restaurant, the Sky Deck bar over the stern, or the main Tiree Lounge.  Queuing just does not exist and when you finally have to leave there is none of the packing of suitcases and leaving them outside the door the night before that one gets accustomed to on big ships.  A steward will collect your items once the ship has docked, and will even help you pack if need be.  Cabin keys are not provided (although you can really have them if you so wish).  Every suite has a safe.
 
Evening entertainment is very low key, limited to useful talks on the next day’s activities and local entertainment.  But if you are up to it the ship has a 45-knot eight-seat speedboat which is great fun and used both as an alternative ship’s tender and for getting around some of the better protected lochs.  Never thought of yourself as a marksman or used a rod and line?  Clay pigeon shooting is provided and fishing trips can be organised.  Sir Jackie Stewart, a world champion at clay pigeon in his time, chartered the whole ship after trying Princess out on a short cruise.  For smokers they have their own lounge which also leads on to an open veranda
 
There is no sophisticated computerised boarding system on Highland Princess.  Each of the 30 individual cabins has a name (and its own personality), replicated on a board laid out with one or two tags.  As passengers get off at a port or landing point they just need to collect a tag and make sure they put it back when they return.  There is no doctor on board, just a trained first aider although when on the rare occasion a physician has been needed there has always been one amongst the clients.  No hairdresser either.  If that is your concern book ahead at the larger ports such as Kirkwall, where such facilities are available.  On a seven-day cruise Officers will wear dress uniform on three occasions including the last night.  Passengers tend to follow suit with dinner jackets for men and cocktail dresses for ladies, but very understated.
 
The cuisine can best be described as classic English.  Beautifully presented four/five course meals are offered for lunch or dinner with a selection of starters and the main course offering either fish or meat.  A typical selection could be grilled asparagus and artichoke salad with parmesan and lemon croutons, cream of mushroom soup with snipped chives, roast rack of peppered lamb carved into a ratatouille of vegetables with roasted garlic and basil scented sauce, chocolate and ricotta pavlova, followed by Irish cheeses and a glass of vintage Port.  The menu can be seen at least one meal in advance and if there is nothing that you fancy the chef will come up with an alternative.  Vegetarians are catered for very well and if a big lunch is not your style sandwiches or a light meal are always available.  The bread (and rolls) are particularly good.  Breakfasts are positively Scottish, porridge (with a wee dram if you like) kippers and haddock (smoked haddock risotto topped with a poached egg accompanied by a tomato, lemon and chive dressing) are available, as well as the chef’s special.  There is a light buffet on hand, or you can just have coffee.
 
One can of course charter the ship.  A certain gentleman once the leader of the Royal Bank of Scotland has been a customer, and we have already mentioned another Scottish Knight.  It is somewhat pricy, but not so out of season and providing you can take a chance with the weather, can be the greatest waterborne holiday ever taken at a very realistic cost.  http://www.hebridean.co.uk top


Malcolm Ginsberg 

For the future AERBT would welcome ship reviews which will be published with full acknowledgement.  These must be written in the style and layout of the June review Diamond Princess.  Please send to info@aerbt.co.uk

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