20 SEPTEMBER 2010

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Airbus confirms Cathay

CATHAY PACIFIC AIRWAYS has concluded the purchase agreement with Airbus for the delivery of 30 A350-900 aircraft, representing the carrier's largest ever single aircraft purchase.  Deliveries will begin in 2016 and are scheduled to stretch over a three-year period.  The all-new A350-900 XWB ('Extra Wide Body') will serve principally long haul destinations in Europe.  The aircraft is Rolls-Royce Trent powered and is expected to deliver improved payload range capability at competitive costs, at the same time providing high standards of passenger comfort and safety.  Cathay Pacific currently operates a fleet of 128 wide body aircraft and with the Airbus A350 now has a total of 60 aircraft on firm order.  Last month the airline also expressed its intention to exercise existing purchase rights for six more Boeing 777-300ER ultra long haul aircraft, which would take its total order for the type to 36. www.cathaypacific.com

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BA ground staff happy

BRITISH AIRWAYS has at least settled one of its disputes regarding pay and staffing levels.  The GMB union says that 97% of its more than 1,000 members working as ground staff have accepted the outcome of 12 months of quiet negotiations between the union and the airline.  "This vote is a ringing endorsement of all the hard work done by GMB workplace representatives at BA over 12 months to achieve a negotiated settlement to secure a future for the airline," Mick Rix, GMB National Officer for Civil Aviation, said in a statement.  It is understood that the deal includes a one-year pay freeze, as well as agreements on new employment and staffing levels.  A total of 500 jobs will be lost, all through voluntary redundancies, and the agreement also sets in place procedures to deal with any future changes. www.ba.com www.gmb.org.uk

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Delhi Airport railway nearly ready

COMMONWEALTH GAMES visitors might be able to hop on the new Delhi Airport Metro Express after all, with trial running beginning last weekend.  The Games themselves commence on 3 October.  If all goes well commercial operations will begin by the end of September.  The Metro link starts from New Delhi Railway Station (NDRS) stopping at four stations — Shivaji Terminus, Dhaula Kuan, Delhi Aerocity and Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) — before reaching its destination at Dwarka sector 21.  For air travellers heading to IGI, airline and baggage check-in counters are being provided at the NDRS, Shivaji Terminus and Dhaula Kuan stations.  The fare has been kept at a maximum of Rs150 (€2.5) till IGI airport and an additional Rs30 (€0.5) to Dwarka, with a provision for monthly passes for airline staff and frequent fliers. www.delhiairport.com

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Flydubai expands again

SAMARA (Russia) is the latest destination of flydubai, an announcement last week stated 76that a twice weekly service, Wednesdays and Saturdays will start from 20 October.  Flight time is around four hours and the service will be operated by a Boeing 737-800NG.  On Saturday 16 October services begin to Yekaterinburg also twice weekly.  The airline flies from the modernized and enhanced Terminal 2 on the north side of Dubai International Airport.  Situated where the Volga and Samara rivers meet, Samara is an important regional centre, as the largest Russian car manufacturing plant is located in neighbouring Tolyati.  Shostakovich lived in the city during World War II and it is also the birthplace of Tolstoy. www.flydubai.com

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Palermo to get all year round London service

EASYJET’S summer only Gatwick service to Palermo, Sicily, is to be upgraded to an all year around operation from the start of the winter season.  Flights will take place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  It is the only operation to Palermo from the UK, but does compete with the British Airways service from Heathrow to Catania, which is also three times weekly 52 weeks of the year.  The capital of Sicily, Palermo is the home of the Palazzo dei Normanni and also Italy's largest indoor theatre, the Teatro Massimo. www.easyJet.com

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Rio added from Texas

AMERICAN AIRLINES is to introduce what it calls a “seasonal service” between its Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) hub and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) (GIG) starting 16 December this year.  Operating three days per week it stops on 4 April 2011, and then resumes for the summer season between 9 June and 22 August 2011, starting once again on 22 November.  The flights will be operated by a Boeing 767-300 aircraft that offer two-class service with 28 Business Class and 191 Economy Class seats.  Unusually for a US airline American’s announcement highlights the 2014 Soccer World Cup.  American also flies to Rio from JFK and Miami. www.aa.com

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Toronto hotel opening

HÔTEL LE GERMAIN MAPLE LEAF SQUARE is a new 5-star property about to open in Toronto.  In what is essentially the entertainment part of the city it is close by the Air Canada centre and Billy Bishop Airport.  Le Germain is an expanding quality Canadian boutique hotel group now established in all the major cities.  This latest investment offers 167 guest rooms including a duplex apartment suite.  The hotel has a library and a seasonal roof garden and offers free internet.  The conference facilities are top grade offering a total of up to 4,600 sq ft (427m2) and ideal for quiet and discreet city centre gatherings.  A state-of-the-art 24-hour fitness facility is available. www.germainmapleleafsquare.com

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HAPPY TALK: Holiday travels

A couple of guys were deep in an African forest.

 

A lion jumped out in front of them and started snarling.

 

Said one "What should we do?"

 

The other responded.

 

"I'm gonna run for it."

 

“Rubbish,” said the first guy.  “You can't outrun a mountain lion!"

 

The retort was to the point.

 

"I don't have to outrun HIM  –  I only have to outrun YOU!"

 

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COMMENT: London City long haul

British Airways has celebrated the first year of its twice daily 32-seat Airbus A318 service between London City Airport (LCY) and New York Kennedy (JFK). 

From a purely passenger point of view it has been a success, but in terms of the airline’s bottom line, and in respect of current Chief Executive Willie Walsh’s much publicised ruthless austerity and cost cutting programme it is very questionable.  BA does not publish figures on specific routes.

Does it make money?  Will it make money? 

Does it exist just to keep friendly with the City and Canary Wharf? 

Booked yesterday for today (20 September) on Expedia the cheapest London – New York non-stop return Business Class fare was Delta (DL) at £3,333.57 (all quotes include tax etc).  BA at London City was £6,103 and Heathrow £5,588.  One month ahead DL was still the cheapest – £2,168 with BA at LCY £4,092 and Heathrow from £3,590 (with six flights a day).  In November and early December there is likely to be some severe markdowns including LCY.

These fares do not take into account any discounts and bulk buying or the use of incentive cards.  Clearly a twin engined Boeing 777 with 398 seats (56 in Club World) is going to be more cost effective than a twin engined Airbus A318.  Just two pilots for both aircraft to start with.

Sadly, like many ground-breaking efforts it is probably doomed to failure (as indeed was the now forgotten Brymon Airways who pioneered London City Airport). 

Lufthansa, already well established at London City, is the lead carrier for Bombardier’s C series aircraft.  The Canadian manufacturer claims that its new ‘plane can carry 42 passengers flying (100 kg/pax + 100kg residual cargo for a payload of 4300kg – no extra fuel tanks required) non-stop to New York in around seven hours as against the Airbus 32 passengers 9hrs 25mins including a stop-over at Shannon.  A win-win!  And the aircraft can probably be used cost effectively on other North Atlantic routes also.

The Airbus is leisurely in the other direction too, 7hrs 30mins, with Boeing’s 777 scheduled under seven hours into Heathrow. 

London City scores with no long taxiing on either arrival or departure, and the possibility of being placed in a holding pattern rare.  You get off the ground very quickly once away from the stand, and it is possible to be landside within ten minutes of actually touching down.  The airport itself was running out of passenger space but new investment should rectify this problem.  It is a very easy terminal to use.

There is also an argument that had BA been to the highest authority the Shannon stopover could have been reduced in time and effort with the US authorities checking the paperwork on board.  As it is passengers, and their hand luggage, have to disembark and come back on again.

BA talks about new destinations from London City from Heathrow but Washington proved problematical for Concorde with not enough business traffic to justify the service and Boston, another possibility, has equally limited appeal.  The problem for BA is that London City will dilute the passengers.  Dubai and Moscow could be attractive depending on the range of the A318 out of the City airport

The Airbus A318 is 2+2 flat bed, not the latest 777/747 Club World product and one has to climb over a (sleeping) companion to regain the window.  Wi-fi is provided as is a very good IFE set up.  There is no BA full service lounge at London City but a pre-boarding facility is provided, nor the popular T5 landside arrivals executive arrangement, although the airline will transfer you to the Marriott Canary Wharf which provides a washroom facility and a paying breakfast.  At Kennedy the BA Terrace Lounge offers an excellent service including pre-flight dining allowing for a full night’s sleep.

It is the economics of the whole operation that is difficult to quantify in these complex times.

BA for its own reasons decided to base the whole operation at Heathrow (Waterside).  By all accounts the pilots’ bids for LCY resulted in a high return and it is quite probable that even if the East London airport had been dedicated as the base, recruitment would have been no problem. 

Because flight deck crews start their day at Waterside their duty hours will not allow them to operate to New York.  They have to night-stop at Shannon, and then pick up the incoming aircraft the next day (except on a Friday where either they stay one or two nights, or return to the UK and are replaced).  It is expensive with hotels and a Heathrow – London City transfer involved, and also adds one third to the crew requirement.  The aircraft have to return to Heathrow for maintenance, again adding the cost.  With the Shannon stop extra fuel, navigation and airport charges have to be met.

British Airways’ London City operation is curious in that effectively it is two airlines.  The Embraer services are run by BA City Flyer based in Manchester under its own AOC whilst the Airbus fleet are part of BA main line.  Rather than retrain or recruit cabin staff locally these come from the Gatwick pool. 

Is LCY – JFK making money for the airline?  As noted BA does not give figures for specific routes, in common with others.  We will probably never know.  The CAA does publish passenger numbers.

One has to consider that at the end of the day all London City is doing is reducing the revenue on the airline’s parallel route into Heathrow.  Its generally higher fares will not attract Continental and Delta clients, and only the occasional Virgin Atlantic passenger who either lives or works near the East End airport is likely to give it a go.  American Airlines, the fifth direct operator, now works closely with BA.

Air France, the largest airline at London City, certainly explored the possibilities of offering a service prior to BA and may have been outmanoeuvred for once.  However the AF attempt to make the use of Open Skies with a Heathrow – Los Angeles service was a failure.  Unlike BA, who offer full fare Heathrow-booked passengers at Kennedy a ‘space available’ service to LCY, AF would not have had that additional benefit.  The trouble with the JFK offering, whilst it looks very good in bolstering the LCY figures it does nothing for BA main line.  It just dilutes the revenue.

London City Airport is itself a success.  BA City Flyer clearly works too.  As to the Kennedy route it hardly adds to the airport’s bottom line with perhaps 17,500 fare paying passengers in a full year and is the airport’s thinnest and presumably least rewarding operation. 

London City – Kennedy New York is the one British Airways route that the airline really seems to have put effort into in PR and marketing terms.  But should this endeavour have been made elsewhere?  Does the result justify the means? 

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Another 'InterCon' for Argentina

MENDOZA, Argentina’s second city, now has an InterContinental hotel.  Opened last week, the 15-storey InterContinental Mendoza totals 180 guestrooms, inclusive of 24 suites.  A completed second tower with an additional 72 rooms will be available shortly, bringing the total number to 252, inclusive of 36 suites.  The property boasts 11 meeting rooms totalling 22,500 sq ft, including a 12,000 sq ft ballroom, and also has 18,000 sq ft of pre-function space.  Its amenities include a full-service spa named Deyabu, swimming pool, gym and restaurant.  It is the 18th InterContinental Hotels & Resorts property in Latin America and the Caribbean, with an additional three currently under construction. http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental/en/gb/locations/mendoza

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Belfast City Airport gains more than it loses

MANX2.COM is to move its Northern Ireland operation from Belfast International Airport to George Best Belfast City Airport at the end of October.  This follows the Ryanair pull-out from what used to be called “The Harbour Airport” and Flybe’s decision to increase services.  Manx2.com currently carries 100,000 passengers a year between the Isle of Man and Belfast, Blackpool, Gloucester, Jersey, Leeds Bradford and Newcastle.  The Isle of Man-based airline will also introduce a new twice daily service between Belfast and Cork. www.manx2.com

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Doncaster loses easyJet

EASYJET is to discontinue flights from Robin Hood Doncaster Airport to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Faro, Majorca and Prague at the start of next year.  Whilst airlines are always keen to feed the media on details of new routes and services they are somewhat more reticent when it comes to cutting services.  A well hidden away statement on the airport’s website said that flights would cease on 4 January noting “We are already talking to a number of alternative airlines regarding these and other potential new routes and are confident that many will be re-instated in the near future.”  Other budget carriers established at the airport include Flybe, Ryanair and Wizz Air. www.easyjet.com www.robinhoodairport.com

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Glasgow gets new airline

JET2.COM is moving into Glasgow Airport where it will base a Boeing 757 and Boeing 737.  Both will feature the airline’s new interior.  Direct services will be offered to Alicante, Dalaman, Faro, Nice, Majorca, Paphos, Sharm el Sheikh, Tenerife and Tunisia.  Ian Doubtfire, Managing Director of Jet2.com, said the airline aims to fill “a considerable gap” at Glasgow.  “It has been a turbulent time for the travel industry with some airlines and operators ceasing to trade this year,” he added.  “In contrast, we have continued to go from strength to strength – including the launch of a new base at East Midlands Airport this time last year and significant growth from our existing airport bases.”  Jet2.com's six other UK bases are: Belfast International, Blackpool, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle. www.jet2.com

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Pullman hotel for Dubai

ACCOR HOSPITALITY MIDDLE EAST has opened its first Pullman hotel in the region, the Pullman Dubai Mall of the Emirates.  The 24-storey luxury development features 481 guest rooms including 94 suites, two restaurants, pool and spa lounge, 800 sq m of meeting space, nine rooms with individual pre-function areas, board rooms, and several venues for cocktail receptions and creative breaks, two indoor swimming pools with one lap pool as well as a Jacuzzi.  The hotel provides direct access to the Mall, with the new Metro link ensuring a rapid transit to other areas of the city. www.pullmanhotels.com

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Sky Team to add Taiwan carrier

CHINA AIRLINES, the flag carrier of Taiwan, today formally announced the start of its joining process leading to full entry into the SkyTeam airline alliance.  The process is expected to be completed by mid-2011.  China Eastern has also signed an agreement to join SkyTeam, a further indication of the thaw in relations between the Communist country and its offshore island.  Headquartered in Taipei, China Airlines is the largest airline of Taiwan, home to one of the world’s most dynamic technology-driven economies with abundant two-way tourism opportunities.  Shanghai-based China Eastern said in April of this year that it had come to a tentative agreement to join SkyTeam. www.china-airlines.com

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ON TOUR: Kazakhstan and Air Astana

Peter Foster, President of Air Astana, was the forthright and entertaining speaker at the Aviation Club in London last week.  Prior to the speech Air Astana hosted a press visit to Almaty, headquarters of the airline, on-line from Heathrow and the commercial centre of the country. 

Jane Stanbury reports for AERBT

“There’s a surprise every day in Kazakhstan,” commented the Air Astana PR Manager as we departed from a hunting lodge restaurant in the quiet resort of Tau Dastarkhan, half an hour south of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital.  We’d just been serenaded by a beige-suited, white-shoed, Kazakh who had an Elvis smooth voice, and was singing the best of the The King’s ballads.  A genial white-gloved waiter served French wine and greeted us in broken English with “Welcome guests, we are most happy to see you in Kazakhstan,” a republic that is just under 20 years old. 

Previously the whole region was closed to the rest of the world by its Soviet masters.  It is the 9th largest country in the world with abundant oil reserves, coal and a plethora of minerals.  Flying to Almaty from the UK is about the same as New York, with half the flight over Kazak territory.

Ruled since inception by the current president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country has developed from once being the USSR’s nuclear testing ground, space programme launch pad, and over-worked agricultural plains, into a modern day economy that is flourishing, even in the current financial crisis.  Nazarbayev has led the country into stability and his open engagement with the west has supported the development of business relationships that under Soviet rule would have been unthinkable.

One of the greatest success stories of the new state is Air Astana, the national carrier which has a fleet of 22 western aircraft including four Boeing 757s, two 767s, seven Airbus A320s, two A321s and one A319.  There are also six Fokker 50s serving shorter internal routes.  The airline is owned by the unlikely bed fellows of Britain’s BAE Systems (49%) and the Republic of Kazakhstan’s holding company Saruk-Kazyna (51%).  

Nazarbayev personally requested support from BAE systems in 2001, to help create a national carrier that would be recognised and valued by the rest of the world.  The airline’s current mission statement “to provide profitable domestic and international air services to the highest standards of air safety and customer service in order to serve and compliment the needs of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” drives the business which is led by charismatic President Peter Foster.

In today’s challenging financial environment with western national carriers struggling to maintain revenues, it is surprising to learn that Air Astana, a business launched just eight years ago is profitable, reporting net profits of US$48m in 2009, and is expected to exceed this in 2010 with the half year accounts showing US$33.5m before tax, up 34% from the same period last year.  Revenue growth comes from an increasingly mobile Kazakhstan public who maximise the internal network which serves 15 cities.  In a country so large travelling between cities is more or less impossible by any other means.  Internationally Air Astana is also spreading its wings.  Its position at the heart of Central Asia allows Air Astana’s fleet to serve regular routes to both eastern and western destinations.  Kuala Lumpar has proved one of its most recent success stories joining other regular flights to Bangkok, Beijing and Moscow.  To the west Frankfurt has daily flights and Heathrow serves its UK passengers twice weekly, a schedule the airline is seeking to improve.

Whilst the average age of the fleet currently sits at eight years, this is set to lower with the addition of two new Embraer 190LRs in the first quarter of 2011.  These are destined to serve the near abroad as Richard Ledger the airline’s Director of Sales calls destinations such as Tashkent and Dushanbe. 

Whilst the fleet is less modern than more familiar global airlines, this does not detract from the comfort and in-cabin service.  As one who never sleeps on overnight flights,  I was pleasantly surprised to find myself stretching out of a deep sleep about 20 minutes before landing in Almaty.  I put it down to a mix of the good food, excellent amenities keeping dehydration at bay, and the delightful summer duvet to snuggle under making the eight-hour journey more comfortable than many I have endured.

Most of Air Astana’s traffic is currently driven by business travellers who are working with local and international companies.  This market is reflected by the ads included in the in-flight publication Tengri.  The usual perfume, fashion and gadget ads are replaced by ads for mining equipment, corporate solution services and banking.  The business theme continues in available accommodation designed for business comfort, The Holiday Inn, Hyatt and Rixos hotels in Almaty all offer excellent services for the business visitor, whilst in Astana the Radisson, and other internationally recognised hotel chains offer 5-star quality for the visitor.

However there are a surprising number of reasons for the more adventurous tourist to visit.  The imposing Tien Shan mountains towering to the south of Almaty are the perfect playground all year round offering fabulous skiing in the winter, and heart pounding treks in the spring and autumn.  East of the city the Charyn Canyon is compared to Colorado’s Grand and offers white water rafting and kayaking.  The Tau Dastarkhan resort offers a mix of spa services, horse riding, cycling, and a must for anybody seeking an insight into traditional Kazakh hunting techniques, an Eagle Hunting sanctuary.  The blend of old Kazakhstan merging with the new was perfectly epitomised by our ornithologist, dressed in traditional Kazakh hunting clothes with resplendent bird of prey on arm taking a phone call on his state of the art mobile. 

For a real sight of what the future holds for this stunning country a visit to the new capital designated in 1994, Astana, is essential. 

Viewed from the air on a sunny clear day, Astana appears as a city bejewelled with a myriad of colour.  Where Almaty is leafy, verdant and relaxed in ambience, Astana, as the bureaucratic capital, offers wide boulevards lined not with trees but with striking modern edifices.  This broad expanse of a city still lacks an obvious cohesiveness but already has its own set of style, surprisingly supplied by a blend of Japanese architectural town planner Kisho Kurawara and Britain’s very own Sir Norman Foster.

The Pyramid of Peace and Accord is a behemoth building housing a concert hall, meeting rooms, hanging gardens and is the venue for a tri-annual global religious conference.  With a diagonal moving lift, visitors are overwhelmed by the open space, and windows adorned with images of doves of peace.  Compare and contrast this to the newly opened Khan Shatyr, also a Foster creation, shaped as Kazakh nomad’s hat.  Externally representing all that is old and traditional, internally visitors experience a shopping mall any globalised country would be proud of, but more surprisingly a set of fair-ground attractions including a mono-rail, and bizarrely a full beach with sand shipped in from Saudi Arabia, waterfalls and and a water chute. 

Close to the pleasure dome is the spectacular Foster designed football stadium.  This will be the venue for the opening ceremony of the Asian Winter Games in late January 2011.  Construction for the event, co-hosted in Astana and Almaty, is well underway.  Following the games tourists will be able to take advantage of the superb selection of winter sports facilities.  The Winter Olympics are on the target list.

Kazakhstan is clearly a place to do business with.  BAe Systems proves that.  For long haul winter sports it is cheaper than Canada.  And if you want to explore the old trade route to China it is part of that too. www.air-astana.kz

Jane Stanbury jane@emeraldmedia.co.uk

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Air Southwest discussions at a "a crucial stage"

PLYMOUTH, one of the UK’s most cut-off major cities from a transport point of view, could be left without an airline if sale negotiations regarding Air South West fail to be realised.  Even if the airline is sold there are no guarantees that the present services to Gatwick and other destinations will be maintained.  The airline, a successor to British Airways owned Brymon Airways, is part of the portfolio of property developer Sutton Harbour Holdings Plc.  Sutton Harbour also owns Plymouth City Airport on a long lease from the local council.  The company recently closed one of the two runways in order to build houses.  A combination of the recession, extreme weather at the start of the year and the volcanic ash crisis resulted in the airline making a £3.94m loss and Sutton Harbour putting the airline on the market.  Eastern Airways appear to be the only potential purchaser at the present time.  The situation is made even more complex with some of Air South West’s 50-seat Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft nearing the end of their leases and Eastern operating non-compatible 29-seat J41 turboprops.  Sutton Harbour says negotiations are at a "a crucial stage". www.airsouthwest.com

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Aviation Club 'Fellowship'

ROGER WILTSHIRE has become the first 'Fellow' of the Aviation Club of United Kingdom in recognition of his efforts as Secretary General of BATA (British Air Transport Association) over the last decade.  He retired in July having previously spent 30 years at British Airways.  BATA is active on a wide range of issues including environment, climate change, taxation and regulation.  It plays a leading role on the industry's environmental agenda and works closely with a number of other organizations in pan-industry campaigns and lobby groups.  The new Chief Executive is Simon Buck formerly Head of Industry Affairs at First Choice. www.bata.uk.com

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Continental on the home run

CONTINENTAL AND UNITED (UAL) are now in the home straight to become the world’s largest airline following more than 98% vote at a Continental's shareholders meeting on Friday to approve UAL's US$3.17bn all-stock purchase of the Houston-based carrier.  UAL investors also approved the acquisition.  The airlines' aim is to complete the combination of their operations within the next 18 months and to realise US$1bn – US$1.2bn.  Jeff Smisek of Continental will move to Chicago becoming CEO and whilst some very senior appointments have already been made what happens further down the management pyramid is not clear.  A typical case is London, a major hub.  Here Continental, based in Horley, a leftover from Gatwick days, has been very successful in moving into Heathrow (where it will go to five services in November and six next spring).  United, with Heathrow offices, has abandoned New York and concentrated on Chicago. www.continental.com www.united.com

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Exeter airport hotel

HAMPTON BY HILTON plans to introduce a 160-bedroom property at Exeter Airport by the end of 2011.  The hotel will be on the same site as the new Flybe Training Academy, now under construction and due to open early next year.  Hampton by Hilton is essentially a Hilton business traveller economy brand.  Amenities include a 24-hour snack area featuring light entrees and sandwiches and a bar area for guests to connect after meetings.  A fitness centre and meeting space is provided.  Currently the brand is represented in the UK with properties in Birmingham, Braintree, Corby/Kettering, Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Shrewsbury.  All the hotels offer standard guest rooms with king size beds. www.hamptonbyhilton.com

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Pacific increase

DELTA is highlighting its increased services across Asia-Pacific, expanding from 222 weekly departures in summer 2006 to 275 in the current season.  Recently added routes include Tokyo-Narita – New York-JFK and Salt Lake City (June 2009); Shanghai – Detroit (June 2009); Sydney – Los Angeles (July 2009); Osaka – Seattle (June 2010); Beijing – Seattle (June 2010); Seoul-Incheon – Detroit (June 2010); Hong Kong – Detroit (June 2010); Nagoya – Honolulu (December 2010); and Tokyo-Narita – Palau (December 2010).  Delta also has announced plans to begin a new non-stop service between Tokyo-Haneda to Detroit and Los Angeles in 2011. www.delta.com

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Renton sets more aircraft records

BOEING is to accelerate production of the Next Generation 737 in the second quarter of 2013 to an astonishing 38 aeroplanes per month.  This decision comes just months after announcing a rate increase on the company's best-selling commercial jetliner from 31.5 to 35 units monthly in early 2012.   All Boeing 737s are produced at the Renton plant, just outside Seattle, easily the world’s most productive aircraft factory.  Key factors to the rate decision include the company's current backlog of more than 2,000 737s, plus current options that customers may well exercise and ongoing sales campaigns.  The market is expected to require 21,000 single-aisle aeroplanes over the next 20 years. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Tasman problems

VIRGIN BLUE’S planned alliance with Air New Zealand, turned down with a draft ruling by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has resulted in Sir Richard Branson hinting on Australian radio that the airline might terminate all flights to New Zealand.  "If we can't have an arrangement like that, there is a possibility that we would pull off the Tasman routes," he said.  The airline withdrew from NZ domestic services due to losses.  Australia to New Zealand was also losing money.  “We think if we can work together with Air New Zealand, we can offer a proper competitor to Qantas," Branson noted.  "If we're a strong competitor, we can keep fares low and we can keep Qantas honest and we believe that's in the interest of the travelling public.” www.virginblue.com.au

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CRUISE NEWS SEPTEMBER 2010

SHIP REVIEW: Star Flyer

 

National Cruise Week, now in its third year, is offering an exciting range of deals, great savings and incentives from adventure cruises, to cultural river cruises and  getaways by sea for the whole family (until 26 September).  Your local travel agent will have a great many special deals this week.  Or you can contact an operator direct, but they will be more biased.

Cruising is now the fastest growing part of the holiday industry with the numbers doubling over the last ten years to an estimated 1.65m, young and old, 1n 2010.

Figures, released by the European Cruise Council (ECC) at their annual conference in Brussels, show that passengers made 23.8m visits to European ports in 2009, an increase of more than 9% over 2008, with 4.9m European residents booking a cruise holiday last year, a rise of 50% in five years, and representing nearly 30% of the world’s cruise passengers.


OUR TEN STORY NEW ROUNDUP

The 2011 Berlitz cruise guide has been published, the 26th issue.  It’s an outspoken edition with cruise guru Douglas Ward highlighting the “extras” now being added by operators, ones that are difficult to escape.

“Be prepared for rip-offs,” says Mr Ward, and he lists six of the ones to watch out for.

• Extra Gratuities – Be careful here.  Watch out for signable receipts for such things as spa treatments or extra-cost coffees and bar charges, despite a 15% gratuity having already been added to the actual charge of the item.

• Transfer Buses – The cost of airport transfer buses in some ports, such as Athens, Barcelona and Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) is unacceptably high.  He sights Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas US$6 one way charge for the shuttle bus in some ports on its ex-UK Western Mediterranean cruises.

• Currency Conversion – Check the rate.  Passengers often only learn what they have paid when they receive their credit card statements at home weeks after their cruise.

• Mineral Water – The cost of bottled mineral water for shore excursions has rocketed.  For example Celebrity Cruises charges US$4.50 and then adds another 15% gratuity “for your convenience.”

• Navigation Bridge Tours – Cruise-goers like to see the view from the bridge, but access is restricted and costs are sky high.  For example, Princess Cruises charges passengers US$150 per person to be entered into a “raffle” to compete for a dozen available tickets per cruise to do ‘The Ultimate Ship’s Tour’ which takes in the bridge, among other ‘backstage’ areas.

• Bingo Cards – The cost of cards for a game of Bingo is rising dramatically.  NCL, for example now charges US$40 for a block of four cards.

Ward also advises readers on how cruise lines cut costs to stay afloat.  Among the 15 strategies employed by cruise lines are reducing food portions, providing cheaper cuts of meat, reducing the strength of ‘free’ coffee, removing trays from self-service buffets so that passengers can’t help themselves to so much food, reducing service levels and providing minimal staff training. 

Every ship is listed and all you get with a sister ship is a reproduction of what was written before.  Carnival Conquest is virtually identical to Carnival Destiny and five other sister ships.  Each gets a matching assessment spread over two pages.  Mr Ward’s volume is now of a record 720 pages.  He needs to think seriously of cutting down the size of the volume, and helping with ecology.

The fully revised and updated edition of the Guide includes not only in-depth reviews of 285 cruise ships but also previews the 20 new ships set to debut between 2011 and 2014.  But why put QE2 on the from cover?  It’s history.

The Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2011 (£16.99) will be available from all good bookshops from 4 October 2010. www.berlitzpublishing.com

An online guide to ferry services for foot passengers has been launched by greentraveller.co.uk.  It features over 80 ferry journeys passengers can take between the UK, Ireland and continental Europe.  Included is detailed information on public transport transfers to and from the ports, prices, sample itineraries, as well as direct links to book tickets.

The 80 passenger ferry routes include: 
• Train and Ferry from Manchester to Dublin (from £24 one way);
• Edinburgh to Belfast (from £29 one way);
• London to Dublin (from £27 one way);
• Train and Ferry from National Express East Anglia train stations via Harwich to the Hook of Holland (Netherlands) (from £35 one way).

Richard Hammond, Chief Executive and Founder of greentraveller.co.uk,
says:

“Travelling as a foot passenger on a traditional ferry service is one of the greenest ways to travel between the UK, Ireland and the continent, yet it is often difficult to find information on how public transport links in with the vast network of ferry services at home and overseas.

“Our new online ferry journey planner shows how easy it can be to take the train or bus to a ferry port then hop across to Ireland or Continental Europe and continue the journey overland.” www.greentraveller.co.uk


Azamara Club Cruises is to offer Dublin for the first time in summer 2011 opening up a new market for the line, Royal Caribbean’s boutique operator.

The intimate 694-guest Azamara Journey will sail on a 12-night Iceland and Norwegian Fjords voyage on 17 August.  Departing from Copenhagen (Denmark), the ship will feature an overnight in Reykjavik, and include calls at Bergen and Geiranger (Norway), Lerwick/Shetland (Scotland), Akureyri (Iceland), and Torshavn (Faroe Islands) before arriving in Dublin on 29 August.

Azamara Journey will also offer a ten-night voyage departing Dublin Port on 29 August 2011. The ship will feature two days in Bordeaux (France), as well as calls at Holyhead (Wales), Cork/Cobh (Ireland), and Bilbao, Gijon and Vigo (Spain), before finishing with another overnight in Lisbon (Portugal) on 8 September 2011. www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk


Celebrity and Royal Caribbean have come up with a luggage collection provision that removes one of the real struggles when going on holiday.

The new service will allow travellers to have their holiday luggage collected from their home, delivered directly to their stateroom on-board their chosen ship and delivered back to their home after their cruise.  No hassle and no problems.

A collection time is arranged directly with the guest and once picked-up; the safe and secure luggage service is track-able allowing guests to monitor the location of their luggage.  Luggage is collected between 24 and 96 hours prior to the cruise departure depending on the address location in mainland UK.
 
The new luggage collection service costs £35 per luggage item each way, and is available for cruises on-board the UK-based Royal Caribbean International ships Independence of the Seas for cruises from Southampton, Jewel of the Seas for cruises from Harwich, Celebrity Eclipse cruises from Southampton. www.celebritycruises.co.uk www.royalcaribbean.co.uk 


Cruise Birmingham is a new venture at the National Exhibition Centre Birmingham 16-17 October.  In fact it is not really an original undertaking at all but is a Midlands version of the London Cruise Show at Olympia, and again sponsored by the Daily Telegraph.

The Cruise Show claims to be  the one stop shop for anyone booking a cruise, packed with free talks, panel discussions and Q&A sessions to help plan a first cruise, or to find out more about family and adventure cruises, for example.

Most of the major cruise operators are taking part.  Whilst your High Street travel retailer can tell you of the ships they have experienced here you will find the actual operators ready to answer your questions.  And if you are not happy there is always the stand next door.

Visitors can find out about everything from the world’s biggest cruise ship, Allure of the Seas, right down to boutique ships such as the Hebridean Princess, which caters for as few as 50 guests and played host to the Queen this summer.  Other exciting options include polar expeditions, wildlife discovery cruises, exploring inland waterways on a river cruise, as well as ultra high end luxury vessels.  Opening times: Saturday 10:00-17:00, Sunday 10:00-1600. Go to the web site and book your ticket at half price.  www.cruisingshow.co.uk


Crystal Cruises, who have always welcomed children, but is somewhat up-market, is going overboard (clearly not the right expression for a seaborne holiday) to welcome the younger elements aboard Crystal Serenity this coming Christmas. Crystal is offering young patrons a free holiday (when accompanied by two full paying adults).

Departing 21 December 2010, the round-trip cruise from Miami will take guests on an unforgettable festive cruise around the Caribbean.

While parents enjoy some much-needed relaxation, Junior Activities Directors will be on board to host complimentary supervised behind-the-scenes efforts to keep the children entertained.  These include for the little ones scavenger hunts, mini-Olympics, water polo, galley tours and much more.  Fantasia, the ship’s dedicated children’s playroom which features games, craft materials, Sony Playstation video games and personal computers with entertainment and education software.  For teenagers, late night pool-parties, pizza parties and karaoke are among the entertainment activities on offer. www.crystalcruises.com


Paul Gauguin, the specialist South Seas islands cruise ship, is to venture south to New Zealand later this year. 

The 20,000 ton 300-passenger luxury ship will offer two sailings in 2010 to New Zealand departing 6 November and 21 November 2010. 

She embarks from Papeete, Tahiti, sailing through the South Pacific, quickly reaching the lush vegetation, exotic fruits and flowers and breathtaking mountain peaks of Moorea.  Guests will have the opportunity to experience Motu Mahana, Paul Gauguin Cruises private island.  Next is Bora Bora, famous for its colourful villages and unsurpassed beauty.

Then on to the Cook Islands, home to large and beautiful lagoons perfect for snorkelling, then pass through the quiet beauty of Tonga, the only island nation in the South Pacific never to have been colonised.  When the ship arrives in New Zealand, guests will immediately experience the Bay of Islands, an area on the northeast tip of New Zealand steeped in culture and history.  After exploring the city of Tauranga, a fascinating geothermal region protected by Matakana Island, guests will finish their journey of the South Pacific in Auckland.


Seatrade Med is coming to France for the first time this year, taking place from 30 November to 2 December in Cannes on the French Riviera.  It is effectively a trade show.

With ten of the new cruise ships being delivered this year calling at Mediterranean ports, major opportunities for the region abound.  More ships mean the search for new ports of call and homeports is stepped up as some cruise lines go year-round.  A session on Itinerary Expansion will examine winter cruising in the Med as well as the potential of North African destinations, with the Greek cabotage issue and connectivity between the Med and the Black Sea also on the agenda.

The event is essentially a major exhibition with a wide-ranging conference programme attached.  Also incorporated is an intensive travel agent training course.  Networking is also the order of the day and, even in December, Cannes is expected to be warm.  Visiting the exhibition is free – click here for advance registration
www.seatrade-med.com

Stuart Perl, sometime Cunard Marketing Director and more recently UK Director of German operator Peter Deilmann, has formed Perl River Cruises Ltd aimed at expanding river cruise market across the world.

Perl will focus on group and charter business, offering 13 bilingual-designated ships (including eight ex-Deilmann ships) on a variety of rivers including the Douro, Rhine and tributaries, Rhone & Saône, Seine, Elbe, Danube, Volga & Dnepr (Russia/Ukraine), Nile and Yangtze.

Perl River Cruises is launching onto the UK market, the three unique and authentic ships of Mekong River Cruises operating on the upper Mekong, through Laos and Thailand, and also includes within its portfolio the first river cruise build of Far Horizon Tours’ new eco-ship on Northern India’s Brahmaputra River. www.perlrivercruises.com


The Northwest Passage, one of the legendary sea routes, has been successfully navigated by the Hapag-Lloyd Cruise ship Hanseatic.

The passage took in total 26 days starting on 16 August in Kangerlussuaq ( (Greenland) and completing in Nome, Alaska.  Besides numerous animal encounters and excursions with the manoeuvrable Zodiacs, the highlight of the voyage was a meeting with the sister ship Bremen.

Only a very limited number of passenger ships accept the challenge of sailing through the entire Northwest Passage from east to west.  The two Hapag-Lloyd Cruises expedition ships Bremen and Hanseatic are among the very few ships worldwide capable of tackling these routes thanks to their special design.

With the success of this year’s programme Hapag-Lloyd will be offering a similar programme in 2011 following in the steps of such famous explorers as Amundsen and Franklin. www.hl-cruises.com


SHIP REVIEW:  Star Flyer

“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.  And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”.

John Masefield 1878-1967

The sea has a glory and pure energy about it that Masefield and others have gloriously described.  Even on a mighty 21st century cruise liner there is something special to explain.

Masefield spoke of a tall ship, probably a four master.  There is something romantic and mystic about such a vessel.

In the 21st century you can cruise on a ship that would not put the Cutty Sark out of place.  Star Flyer.

If you have visited the Great Britain in Bristol Star Flyer seems much the same in respect of the polished woodwork and massive masts 

Star Clippers was founded in 1989 by Swedish entrepreneur and classic boat connoisseur, Mikael Krafft, initially operating two identical barquentines, Star Flyer, which set sail in 1991 and her twin, Star Clipper, launched in 1992.

The ships were the first passenger sailing clippers to be built for over 100 years, joined in 2000 by Royal Clipper, a 400ft  long (as against 360ft for the two earlier ships) fully square-rigged vessel with 42 sails, the largest sailing vessel of its kind in the world.  On the drawing board is a further Star sail ship bigger still and incorporating even more technology.

Star Cruises should not be compared with other cruise ships with sails.  Those have sails but that is as far as it goes.  Everything is electrically driven from the bridge.  Not so Flyer and Clipper.  The on-deck crew work hard, sometimes assisted by enthusiastic guests.

All three Star ships would not be out place if returned to the 19th century.  Yes they do have air conditioning, GPS and a small engine to help keep them on the cruise schedule and for manoeuvring in small ports, but seafarers of old would have no difficulty in dealing with all the ropes and pulleys that are on deck.  Forget ‘health and safety’.  Just be careful.  And if you want to climb up the mast that can be arranged too.  The rearmost one doubles up as a funnel for the engine.  You would never know it.

Star Clippers is now based in Monaco and in the United Kingdom is represented by Fred Olsen.  It fits in well with their portfolio offering something entirely different from the usual cruise experience and appeals to a clientele who are happy to ‘muck in’ when required, want a high quality holiday, and whilst nominally “changing” for dinner in the evening, are certainly not the jacket and tie brigade.

 

Accommodation:  The standard cabins are rosewood trimmed and have wall to wall carpeting and offer enough clothes space for the limited amount you will need on a two-week cruise.  They are either on what is termed the Clipper Deck (which includes the dining room) with a large picture window, or by the waterline, Commodore Deck with just a porthole.  The inside cabins are much the same. 

The cabins are smaller than on the newer ocean going cruise ships but is well thought out and comfortable.  The only drawback is if your stateroom is organised as a double, one party will require to sleep by the wall with access either by climbing over a body, or via the bed's foot.  The shower/toilet unit has a ‘wet’ floor, three mirrors with shelf space behind, and a hair dryer and 220v shaver point.

The Main Deck cabins are slightly larger and you can get into the King Size bed from either side.  On offer is a flat screen rather than analogue TV.  Also a whirlpool tub and a mini bar.

There is also a Owner's Suite on board which stretches right across the stern and is reminiscent of such accommodation on large private yachts.


Dining:  You might expect that with a small ship and equally small kitchen that the cuisine might suffer.  This is not the case at all and dining is certainly up to the standard to the mid-range/5-star cruise ships with a varied selection of mainly European style menus and vegetarian offerings.  It is very much “go as you please” the restaurant open from 07:30 until 10:00.  You can sit with the same people every night, or move around.

Breakfast is even more casual from 08:00 until 10:00 with variations of an extensive menu every day and an omelette point.  Just tell the chef of your requirements as you stroll in and it will be delivered hot to your table.

Lunch also offers a carvery.  If that is not to your choice the buffet offers hot and cold with a generous selection.  

One aspect of the dining is not novel, but is so as far as a boat is concerned.  The main courses of the evening are on display as you enter the restaurant.  It is a good idea and offered elsewhere, usually in photographic form.

There is a continental breakfast available from 06:30 until 10:30, an hor d'oeuvre hour at 17:00, and midnight snacks from 23:00

The ship offers an excellent wine list ranging from a delightful house wine list through a range of popular and well thought out international wines, with nothing too expensive.  Champagne is of course carried.

The dining room itself is but on a single deck but it seems bigger due to the clever design.  A staircase leads to the piano bar lounge.  An actual piano is perched on a landing half way between the two with let into the ceiling above the central swimming pool.  This has large portholes giving natural light.  It may sound somewhat odd but actually works out rather well.

 

Entertainment:  Forget the large cruise ships with professional entertainment.  Star Clipper offers a pianist/singer who doubles as the DJ and general entertainer.  At some ports local support is provided, and they too have to use the tender where neccessary.  Every evening there is some kind of entertainment/social activity led by the cruise director who doubles as the off-ship tours lecturer.  When it comes to the ship's technical operation, for those who are interested, the ship's officers give a most interesting briefing.  They dine with you as well.  Get the Captain in the right mood and tales of the seas come out galore.


Children:  Let’s face it Star Flyer and her sister ships are not really designed for the younger elements but all the same once they reach a certain age, perhaps about ten they are normally sufficiently cautious enough to be allowed on deck and join in with the sports staff in all manner of activities. 


On board service:  The crew is made of 12 nationalities with the Captain from the Ukraine, who still have a large sail training fleet, Europeans making up most of the hotel staff, and Indians and Philippines domination below decks and in the dining room.  Out of 72 crew only two were women.  The sports instructors are Scandinavian, young and enthusiastic and seemingly just as expert on land as in the water.  Snorkelling and scuba diving is available for those keen on sea activities.

 


What Else:  There are no lifts (elevators) on the ship but seemingly stairs and gangways galore.  These come in very useful with the early morning one mile walk at a good pace taking 30 minutes, a really up/down and along session around the whole rabbit warren of the ship.  

On a typical Mediterranean summer cruise about 25% of the just over 100 passengers were from North America, Germans next up, followed by the British and colonial types, plus a sprinkling of French, Russians, Scandinavians, Spanish and Swiss.  A very cosmopolitan group.  Most languages offered but English is the norm.  

There is no gym, nor is a hair stylist offered, but plenty of water sport offerings to choose from.  Also no doctor but the ship does have a resident nurse and also on offer is a traditional Asian therapeutic massage service. At many of the ports tenders are used and somehow the ships manage to moor within 15 minutes of the quay.  The always on-time boat service departs the ship on the hour and 30 minutes, and from the land at 15 and 45 minutes.  It works very well and queing is not ever required.

Tipping and the like is standard cruise ship working out at €8 per day and 12.5% is added to the very fair bar charges.


In Conclusion:  Smokers will be delighted with Star Flyer.  They are not looked upon as aliens from another planet, but as fellow travellers with the Tropical Bar, on the open deck and covered with an awning, seemingly their home on the voyage.  Smoking is banned below decks.

Price-wise a quality product with 70 staff and at a maximum of around 160 guests, plus what is a small fleet, Star Cruises is never going to be that cheap.  However  bargains can be picked up during the shoulder periods and overall it represents good value. 

Star concentrates on the Caribbean during the winter and the Mediterranean in the summer. 

In a later AERBT we will be offering an ON TOUR of Star Flyer and a delightful seven-day exploration of the western coast of Italy.

www.starclippercruises.co.uk

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