* items include readers letters
30 AUGUST 2010
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IRISH REGIONAL AIRLINE Aer Arann has been put under examinership after suffering €18m losses since 2008. Under Irish company law this is similar to US ‘Chapter 11’ or the British ‘Administration’. The company said it had been on course to meet budget targets this year but was badly hit by the volcanic ash crisis. In a statement it noted: "Aer Arann intends to operate normally during the period of examinership and intends to fly all Aer Arann services and all Aer Lingus Regional services operated under the airline's franchise agreement with Aer Lingus. No flights have been cancelled or are planned to be cancelled." Grant Thornton ishandling the situation in Dublin. Aer Arann also said it expects to remain in examinership for up to 70 days after that and that it has a viable business plan. Aer Lingus itself made an operating profit of €18.8m between April and June this year, a significant improvement on the €18.2m operating loss over the same period in 2009 and predicts a €21m operating profit for the whole year, good news for the previously ailing airline www.aerarann.com
BRITISH AIRWAYS has had to alter its child seating policy after a court case. Last year a customer was on a flight from London back to his home in Luxembourg with his wife. She asked him to swap seats so she could sit next to the window. He took her middle seat but cabin crew, who mistakenly believed he was alone, told him to move back to his original seat as he had ended up sitting next to a young boy he did not know. Because of the legal action BA has changed its longstanding arrangement of banning lone male travellers from sitting next to unaccompanied children on its flights. Children between 5-12 need to be booked with the BA Skyflyer Solo service. They will now be seated in a special area on the aircraft where possible. In this case the award has been given to charity by the gentleman whom the court deemed to be injured. www.britishairways.com/travel/childinfo/public/en_gb
HOTELZON tells AERBT that its LiveView apps for mobile phone bookings (now also iPad compatible), initially developed for the corporate market, is more frequently downloaded by the independent user. The function, which works in real time, allows customers to use their mobile phone like a sat-nav and seek available hotels in the area with live booking information and prices. According to CEO Jani Kaskinen the product has become more popular with leisure users, which was not anticipated when the app was being developed. “The attitude towards efficiency and saving money when making hotel bookings has certainly been adopted by leisure users of the app who are able to do exactly that. We have used this as an encouraging sign for Hotelzon to move into the leisure market.” www.hotelzon.com
TRAVELODGE has opened its 11th hotel in the Scottish capital. The 96-room property is ideally situated near the top end of Princess Street. In the past 15 months the budget group has opened five hotels in Edinburgh taking its room stock to more than 1,000 rooms across the city. According to a Melvin Gold Consulting report on hotel supply, the UK budget sector is set to treble by 2027 to 225,000 rooms. This forecasted growth mirrors the rise of the budget sectors in France and the US where demand for low cost accommodation has been driven by the internet and increased supply. In Edinburgh the report claimed that budget supply is still relatively low, allowing plenty of potential for growth. www.travelodge.co.uk
TUNE HOTELS, whose name may be familiar to TV soccer followers as the sponsors to the Football League Professional Games Match Officials (PGMO), has opened its first London property just by North Lambeth Underground station. Malaysian-headquartered Tune has entered into a strategic partnership with London-based Queensway Group Ltd with plans to add 1,500 rooms across 15 London properties by 2017. With the tagline “five-star beds at one-star prices”, Tune is offering typical room rates starting from £35, and even cheaper promotional prices. The new air conditioned property features 79 rooms. On the ground floor there is a Costa Coffee concession with a £4.95 continental breakfast package available. Everything is an extra, including TV (at £1 per night). www.tunehotels.com
LANGHAM HOTELS will open its Xintiandi, Shanghai property on 1 October. The 357-room hotel is situated close by the existing Yangtze Boutique, as its name implies, just 96 rooms. Both are very much 5-star operations. The new hotel already stands out amongst the charming Hutongs and Shikumen storefronts of Old Shanghai in the elegant and lively Xintiandi district, surrounded by glamorous designer boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and bars. Included are 23 suites, three restaurants, and a signature Chuan Spa which includes a 25m indoor swimming pool. http://xintiandi.langhamhotels.com
THE BRITISH HOME OFFICE is to issue a new ten-year passport from October. Pages will contain well-known UK scenes, including the White Cliffs of Dover, the Gower Peninsula, Ben Nevis and the Giant’s Causeway. Enhanced security features include moving the chip which stores the passport holder’s details to the inside of the passport cover where it won’t be visible. This gives additional physical protection as well as making it much harder to replace the chip without damage to the passport cover being detected. A secondary image of the passport holder will be printed onto the observations page which includes several holograms to protect the holder's personal details. The whole idea is to keep ahead of criminals who look to fraudulently alter or copy passports. The new passport will replace the current UK ePassport, which came out in 2006. www.homeoffice.gov.uk
It seems to AERBT that one of the prime objectives of any government is to change the name and even objectives of established civil service organisations. They will tell us it is in the name of efficiency, transparency and cost saving, although the general consensus of the public is that it is only to confuse. Oftel became Ofcom and needed a design team for new notepaper. Why?
The good news is that the AUC, Air Transport Users Council, which was in danger of being swallowed up by another quango, Passenger Focus, looks like it has been saved. Under the previous administration the idea was to move the AUC into that (seemingly silent) body representing rail and road users. AERBT has learnt that this will now not happen, at least a positive move regarding air travel by the current government.
The AUC has published its annual report, as always a most interesting document. Complaints were once up 14,503 in 2009-2010, as against 13,485 last year and 12,619 the year before that. The increase probably means that complaints were running at much the same level as previously, the increased use of home email inevitably meaning a rise in correspondence. It is so much easier than writing a letter and posting it.
In the period April to June, the AUC received 7,519 complaints and enquiries compared to 3,086 for the same quarter the year before, mainly due to the ash crisis. It also published a volcano information pack, although this enterprising document may have been overtaken by EU issues now pending following a UK High Court action.
The AUC has advised and commented on a number of serious issues during the year and for the most part has taken a common sense view, not necessarily siding with the airlines (the AUC thought that the Gatwick Express should stop at Clapham Junction). Neither does it always agree with the passengers, not opposing the use of body scanners. It has got involved with issues ranging from passenger rights to reforming the framework for the economic regulation of UK airports, the Montreal Convention limits and the activities of the Office of Fair Trading.
That the AUC is to continue independent of other transport advisory bodies is good news. AERBT acknowledges that it sits in a sometimes awkward position, seen to many as part of the CAA, but only a tenant in its building, an Auxiliary Group within the CAA corporate structure but not constrained on expressing an independent view. Our belief is that it ought perhaps to be a bit more outspoken at times. After all it is called the Air Transport Users Council, with the emphasis on “Users”.
Editor in Chief
AEROGAL has unveiled its first Airbus A320-200 at a ceremony in Quito (Ecuador). The new Airbus aircraft, three of which will be delivered in 2010, marks the start of Aerogal’s fleet renewal programme. As configured by Aerogal it seats 150 passengers in a two-class configuration and will be operated on domestic and international routes. Established in 1986 the airline is majority-owned by Ecuador’s international airline Avianca. Whilst mainly a regional airline (it serves the Galapagos), it also flies to Bogota and New York. (AERBT plans to feature an ON TOUR on the Galapagos before the end of this year). www.aerogal.co.uk
SUVARNABHUMI AIRPORT, Bangkok’s new international hub, finally has an operational rail link to the downtown area of the city many months after it was technically completed. The social unrest problems in Thailand did not help but there had been important differences between the railway constructor and the train operator. The 16-mile long track links joins the airport to the City Air Terminal (CAT) in Bangkok’s Makkasan area through a non-stop 15-minute journey titled the Express Service. The rail news is a good indication that life is returning to normal in Bangkok after the disruptions earlier this year. www.bangkokairporttrain.com
HENAN AIRLINES suffered the loss of an Embraer 190 last Tuesday (24 August) at Yichun City in the mountainous area of central China. Reportedly 43 of the 96 people on board lost their lives. China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that the aircraft overshot the runway and "was engulfed in [a] blaze after it crashed as a heavy fog blanked blanketed the airport." Henan, a Shenzhen Airlines regional subsidiary, was formerly known as Kunpeng Airlines (ATW Daily News, 12 May). Earlier this year, it changed its name and transferred its operating base from Xi'an to Zhengzhou. AERBT has a policy of not illustrating fatal incidents. www.kunpeng-air.com (Use Google Translate)
EL AL is considering increasing its Luton – Tel Aviv service to partially double daily for next summer. The airline says the route has gone very well although there is resistance from the Israel end, potential passengers still not sure that Luton does mean London. Outbound travellers in all classes gain the benefits of the airport’s fast track service. The new three times daily flights between Tel Aviv and the popular resort of Eilat look like being a success, the transfer at Ben Gurion about to be upgraded with a baggage drop-off just the other side of customs and immigration for inbound international clients. Outbound from Eilat through luggage is the norm, as is an apron transfer to the new Terminal 3 for long haul connections. The airline made a US$14m profit for the last quarter reversing a loss of £19.7m for the same period last year. www.elal.com
ICELAND EXPRESS is launching three new routes from Gatwick to the United States through 2010 and 2011 via Reykjavik. An Orlando service will run initially on 2 October and 24 October, and then every Saturday. Chicago launches on 10 June 2011 and will operate every Friday from Gatwick. Flights to Boston will begin on 13 June 2011 from Gatwick four times a week, Monday to Thursday. The airline’s JFK New York route, currently four times per week, will go daily from June 2011. All North Atlantic flights are operated by single class 224-seat Boeing 757-200. www.icelandexpress.com
ACCOR, the French hospitality group, plans to almost double the number of hotels in its global portfolio to 7,000 over the next seven years. This expansion will target high-growth emerging markets, particularly in Brazil and India, and will include opening a new property nearly every week in Asia for the next two years. In China where it already has 96 hotels Accor says there is a danger of oversupply in hotel rooms. Accor also plans to boost its presence in North Africa in Algeria, Morocco and Egypt with its Sofitel, Ibis, Novotel and Formula 1 brands. www.accorhotels.com
What does the name Okinawa mean to the average Brit or European? Probably very little except it is something to do with Japan.
For an American it was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War.
The 82-day-long battle lasted from early April until mid-June 1945. Japan lost over 100,000 troops, and the Allies suffered more than 50,000 casualties. It was probably the very high casualty ratio on the taking of the island that persuaded US President Truman that dropping the Atom bomb was the lesser of two evils and would bring the Second World War to a quick conclusion. It did.
When visiting Okinawa one should first of all consider the geographical and historical implications.
Okinawa itself, the capital of the Ryukyu Archipelago, is about 1,000 miles south of Tokyo and more or less equidistance to the Japanese mainland, China and Taiwan. It was once a kingdom of its own, very much under the influence of China until the early 17th century when it became virtually a Japanese colony, officially a prefecture since 1868. Ryukyu encompasses about 100 islands spread over 600 miles north to south. The historical dialect of Ryukyu is difficult to understand by natives of the main Japanese island.
It is its favourable location, in the centre of the sea routes that has made Okinawa a prosperous and much fought over territory, its history very much for us to see today. Okinawa is the birthplace of karate. One of the world’s most popular martial arts, karate is the fusion of Chinese kung fu and traditional island codified hand to hand combat.
Given its turbulent history, Okinawa has evolved into a unique melting pot of cultures — a mix of Ryukyuan, Chinese and Japanese traditions permeated by American pop culture from the US's long military presence on the island.
For visitors to Japan it is culturally and weather-wise completely different. Okinawa experiences temperatures above 20°C (68°F) for most of the year, very sub-tropical and never that hot. The many islands that make up the prefecture contains some of the most abundant coral reefs found in the world.
There are frequent air services to the major Japanese cities, to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan. A monorail, the only train on any of the islands, runs from the international airport, through the heart of Naha (the downtown and dock area) to Shuri Castle. There are 15 stops and the line is just seven miles long.
If you are coming in by cruise ship it will probably dock at what is known as the Seaside Road. No massive terminal, it is straight on and off with a welcoming band. Kokusai Street in the heart of the city, with its shops and entertainment within walking distance. Grab a map from the tourist board people. Go via the Fukushuen Chinese Garden built in 1992 by Fuzhou City using genuine materials from Fuzhou and with techniques unique to that city. Also fascinating is the pottery production with a small collection of shops and tiny factories grouped together in an area called Tsuboya.
Whilst the Japanese are very friendly, speaking English is not one of their stronger points (unlike the Chinese who are quite good). Either get someone to write down your destination or point it out on a map. With 40,000 American troops based (controversially) on the island the language problems are less than say in Kyoto.
The International Cemetery of Tomari and the Peace Memorial Park are two cemeteries which have to be a MUST when visiting Okinawa.
The former is within the city limits sited near the seafront. It was established in the early 19th century to provide a burial place for foreigners who died in the Ryukyu Island and was largely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. Re-established in 1955 it is now a tranquil enclave and also includes a memorial to Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy, responsible for the opening up of Japan to the west in 1854. At the present time it is still open for interments.
The massive Peace Memorial Park is located near the southern tip of the island where some of the fiercest fighting took place and overlooks the sea. The Memorial Museum, gives a sobering overview of the road to the battle, the battle itself and the reconstruction of Okinawa. A series of huge stone tablets lists all those who fell in the battle including Americans, Britons, Koreans, Taiwanese, as well of course Japanese. It lists approaching a quarter of a million names.
A few kilometres west of the Peace Park stands the Himeyuri Monument (Himeyuri no To) with an adjacent museum. It commemorates the fate of female high school students, who worked in army field hospitals in caves under horrendous conditions. Most of them did not survive the war.
Another thought provoking, war related site is the Former Navy Underground Headquarters, several hundred metres of underground corridors and rooms, which served as the Japanese Navy's headquarters during the war. Many sailors committed suicide in these tunnels, after their situation had grown hopeless towards the end of the battle.
Just outside Naha is the imposing Shuri Castle, a World Heritage site in a parkland setting and the location of the 2000 world leaders’ summit. Bill Clinton attended for the United States, Jacques Chirac represented France and Tony Blair for the United Kingdom. Dating back at least 1,000 years it was virtually destroyed in World War II, the reconstruction completed in 1992 based on photographs, historical records, and memory.
The islands of Okinawa are too numerous and spread out for a short visit which can be but a taster. There are some very fine 5-star hotels, or you can go rural and experience Ruyukyu traditional cuisine. You are never far from the sea. Try a fortnight's holiday in Japan with seven days on the mainland and seven days in the prefecture. You will much enjoy both, and also notice the difference. www.okinawastory.jp/en
REZIDOR has opened its 101st Park Inn hotel and the 27th in the UK, the 185-room Park Inn Aberdeen. Facilities at the new-build hotel include eight meeting rooms, a fitness room and a signature RBG restaurant. The hotel also offers complimentary wireless internet access throughout, to both residents and non-residents alike. It is located in the centre of ‘The Granite City’ on Justice Mill Lane, which runs parallel to the city’s main thoroughfare of Union Street. The new Park Inn by Radisson includes a ballroom which is divisible by three accommodating up to 200 delegates theatre style and 160 guests for a dinner. www.parkinn.co.uk/hotel-aberdeen
VIRGIN BLUE & ETIHAD have established a partnership that will enable Virgin Blue’s international arm, V Australia, to launch direct services to Abu Dhabi in 2011 with the two airlines offering a joint network from 1 October this year. Etihad is already established in Oz with daily services to Melbourne and Sydney. The two airlines will move towards a total of 27 weekly services between Abu Dhabi and Australia including double daily services to Sydney, daily to Melbourne and six frequencies per week with Brisbane. V Australia will operate three Sydney – Abu Dhabi services per week from next February and three Brisbane – Abu Dhabi services per week by February 2012, using its new fleet of three-class Boeing 777-300ER, becoming the first Australian carrier to be seen in the Middle East since 1991. www.virginblue.com.au www.etihadairways.com
ANA, lead carrier for the all new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, will have to be patient again following a brief announcement from Seattle to the effect that first deliveries of the composite aircraft will not be until the “middle of first quarter 2011”,meaning probably towards the end of February. Boeing sight availability of a Rolls-Royce engine needed for the final phases of the flight test programme for the delay but also admit the cumulative impact of a series of problems, including supplier workmanship issues related to the horizontal stabilizer and instrumentation. The 787 order book stands at around 850. www.boeing.com/commercial
BOSTON AND MIAMI are expected to join Atlanta and New York as Delta Air Lines' Heathrow destinations for summer 2011 operations, assuming the (straight forward) and necessary approvals are confirmed by the European Commission and the US Department of Transportation. Departures would be twice daily to Boston and daily Miami, both all year round. The slots for the new flights are available following EU and US approval of an immunized transatlantic alliance between American Airlines and British Airways. Delta points out that the services would intensify competition on both routes to the benefit of the travelling public. The airline plans to operate Boeing 767-300 ER aircraft with 36 seats in BusinessElite and 180 in Economy. www.delta.com
DAN HOTELS CORPORATION has unveiled the group’s newest property – the Dan Jerusalem. The hotel, the largest in Jerusalem, is situated on Mount Scopus and provides wonderful views. This is Dan’s fourth Jerusalem hotel. The Dan’s flagship is the world renowned King David, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, and home to visiting dignitaries and celebrities from overseas. The Dan Jerusalem is near the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Centre and is only a seven-minute drive to the city centre and 40 minutes to Ben Gurion International Airport. Within the hotel is Jerusalem’s largest Spa facility. Open daily (with the option for segregated men and women only hours), there are two swimming pools – one inside (open all year round) and one outside (only open during the summer months), and a modern well equipped fitness room. www.danhotels.com
PREMIUM ECONOMY is definitely in vogue with Qantas announcing that it will retrofit six two-class Boeing 747s to include a 40-seat section on the Sydney – Tokyo route from October 2010 and Frankfurt from February next year. It is currently offered on Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Singapore. Customers enjoy priority check-in, dedicated cabin crew, an additional baggage allowance and priority boarding and disembarkation. They also gain a nine-inch seat recline and up to 40-inch seat pitch with extra wide 19.5-inch Recaro seats, their own menu and various other accruements. www.qantas.com.au
ANA is to significantly upgrade to its services and network from Tokyo Haneda (HND) when it opens to international flights from 31 October following the activation of its fourth runway. ANA previously announced that is new destinations will include Bangkok, Beijing, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Seoul (Gimpo), Singapore, Shanghai (Songshan) and Taipei (Hongqiao). The airline says that most of its HND international flights will be operated by 777-200ER/300ERs with a few 767-300ER services. On the domestic front, news is expected shortly on revised frequencies, the dropping of some routes, plus additions. HND is well under ten miles from central Tokyo and around 15 minutes on the dedicated Metro. www.ana.co.jp