8 NOVEMBER 2010

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Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix

Al Bateen Executive Airport, Abu Dhabi’s dedicated private aviation airport, is taking the lead in promoting the UAE as the hub for business aviation in the region through announcing an attractive offer during the Etihad Airways’ Formula 1 Grand Prix, the final race of the 2010 season.  The executive airport will provide landing and parking services free of charge to all executive jets arriving between 10 and 14 November 2010. 

Endorsing the initiative of the airport’s owner Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC),  Ali Al Naqbi, Chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA), said: “This Formula 1 offer is a proactive initiative on behalf of its management to further promote the airport, specifically for business aviation and in general, in the UAE during this mega event of 2010.”

The airport’s strategic location, just over the causeway into the city of Abu Dhabi, provides business travellers with direct access to the central business district of the capital, and is a 15 minutes’ drive to the Yas Island motor racing circuit.  The new CEO Steve Jones, currently Managing Director of Oxford Airport, takes up his position in mid-November. (see AERBT 4 October) www.adac.com

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Boeing 'Next-Generation' 737 gets new interior

Flydubai has taken delivery of the first Next-Generation 737 with the new passenger-inspired Boeing Sky Interior featuring sculpted sidewalls and window reveals.  The ingenious design of the new, larger stow bins allows them to accommodate even more bags than before, while taking up less room and giving a greater sense of space in the cabin. 

Airlines will select from different lighting schemes that range from a welcoming soft blue overhead sky simulation to a calm, relaxing, pallet of sunset colours.  LEDs (light emitting diodes) are brighter and replace incandescent signage, attendant and halogen reading lights.  With an estimated 40,000 hours between replacements, LEDs last ten times longer than the previous standard of lights.

Boeing says that the next to come will be a package of performance improvements that will reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by 2%, making the aeroplane a full 7% more efficient than the first 'Next Generation' 737 delivered.  The modifications to the airframe and engine are beginning certification test soon, and will be fully in service by early 2012. www.boeing.com/commercial www.flydubai.com

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Heathrow is to overhaul its airline charges

Airlines with smaller and older aircraft are to be penalised at Heathrow according to a story in the Financial Times last week.  It is all part of competing with continental operators.

The airport, owned by Ferrovial of Spain, will raise its charges on airlines for passengers flying between UK cities from about £13 to £20, but slash fees by 25% for those who arrive on one aircraft and leave on another within 24 hours.  A fee will also be brought in for airlines’ transit passengers who arrive and leave on the same aircraft.  The way landing charges are calculated will change so the proportion based on nitrogen oxide emissions will rise from 10 to 15%.  Airlines flying quieter aircraft will get discounts.

British Airways, Heathrow’s biggest user with more than 40% of capacity, said it supported the changes broadly but had some concerns about the higher charges for its domestic fliers.  About half of Heathrow’s revenues come from airline charges, the balance raised via retail, parking, rail and property sources. www.baa.com

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Korea gets long haul low cost

AirAsia X has introduced Seoul (Korea), as the airline’s 12th international long haul destination. 

AirAsia X Chairman Dato’ Kamarudin Meranun said: “The AirAsia Group is witnessing strong synergies between its short haul and long haul wings.”  They feed into each other.  AirAsia claims to have an unmatched route connectivity within the south east Asia region.  AirAsia X connects travellers to destinations in northern China, northern India, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.  And the list is growing.  It is an amazing feat when you consider that AirAsia X is just over two years old.”

Clearly the success of AirAsia X rides on the back of affiliate AirAsia’s leading regional network in Southeast Asia.  With over 139 routes to 76 destinations and the highest daily frequencies to most Asian cities, both AirAsia and AirAsia X complement each other. www.airasia.com

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Privatisation for both air and rail

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link, now known as High Speed 1 (HS1) has been sold to Canadian money people for £2.1bn.  Also put up for sale by the Government last week is 49% of National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the balance owned by BAA Ltd and seven of the UK’s largest airlines.

HS1 is the 68-mile long dedicated rail line from Folkestone to St Pancras currently only used by Eurostar and South East Trains Javelin service to and from Kent.  The line has stations at Ashford, Ebsfleet and the somewhat misnamed Stratford International, not an international gateway, but the main railway station for the London Olympics 2012.

The new Canadian owners aim to woo further train operators onto its tracks with Deutsche Bahn a prime target.  The German train company has already made public its ambition to operated services to London from Frankfurt and Amsterdam.  The concession is for 30 years. www.highspeed1.co.uk www.nats.co.uk

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Shanghai Airlines and SkyTeam

SkyTeam has announced that Shanghai Airlines is to become a member under the wings of parent company China Eastern, which is already in the process of joining the alliance in 2011.

China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines merged in February 2009.  In June 2010 China Eastern signed an agreement to join SkyTeam.  As a result, both Shanghai-based airlines are scheduled to be part of the SkyTeam family during 2011.  Shanghai Airlines customers will enjoy SkyTeam alliance benefits including Frequent Flyer Miles across the global network, Elite recognition, priority passenger service and access to more than 420 lounges worldwide.  Shanghai Airlines will enter into codeshare agreements with the current SkyTeam members.

China Airlines, based in Taipei, is also expected to join the alliance in the same period.  China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines will add 32 new destinations to the SkyTeam network. www.skyteam.com

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Thessaloniki to Gatwick

Olympic Air has introduced a Gatwick – Thessaloniki route.  Services are flown on a on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a flight time of 3.5 hrs.  These are operated by Airbus A319 with 120 in Economy and 12 Business Class seats.

Thessaloniki is Greece’s second city and is a major port city and an industrial and commercial centre.  Being a free port, the city functions as the gateway to the Balkan hinterland.  The population is just under 400,000 although the metropolitan area hosts over one million.

With British Airways and easyJet on the route, time will tell whether whether Gatwick can sustain three operators. www.olympicair.com.

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HAPPY TALK: An Irish airline

The following has been received by AERBT following a very straightforward press enquiry.

“I am currently out of the office until Tuesday 26/10/10. Please resend your email upon my return to the office as all emails will be automatically deleted.”

We will not dream of telling you which airline it is, but it is Irish and its CEO has in recent times been more than friendly!

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COMMENT: Security issues and airport efficiency

At the recent CBI conference the normally largely unseen British Airways Chairman Martin Broughton burst forth on the question of airport security.  As noted in last week’s AERBT it seemed to this writer that the outburst came from personal frustration, a statement which has not been challenged by BA. 

What was in fact a sophisticated rant gained sympathetic response from the media, journalists like every one of us, subjected to airport scrutiny. 

And then came British Airways foe Michael O’Leary, actually agreeing with Mr Broughton as he promoted his airline’s latest results.  Perhaps some security operative at Stansted had been over zealous with Mr O’Leary, the consequence of a less than friendly flight on an airline not noted for its pleasantries.  For once the press found itself in agreement with the Irish raconteur.

In between these two events staff at East Midlands Airport had found a device in a freight movement that could have possibly exploded as close as 70 minutes of the actual find. 

Belly cargo can make up as much as 20% in revenue terms of a scheduled airliner’s capacity.  The discovery at EMA, and a similar uncovering at Dubai, has ensured a requirement for a complete rethink of air freight security.  Cargo is going to have much improved examination in the future.

The outbursts by Messrs Broughton and O’Leary can in many ways be justified.  Virtually all of us have been subjected to what we consider unnecessary scrutiny at airports.

AERBT believes that the media (and by inference Messrs Broughton and O’Leary) are out of touch with public opinion.  Travellers find airport security a nuisance but something that just has to be tolerated.  Even the dreaded shoe inspection goes down as an inconvenience.  What would happen if a bomb were to be discovered in a women’s bra?

Hopefully body scanners (as reported last week in AERBT) and more advanced X-ray machines will speed things up and help eliminate the inevitable queue.

Nobody likes the added security.  Yes it has to be better and more efficient.  But we will just have to be patient.

 

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Airbus A340 upgrade for Royal Jordanian

Royal Jordanian (RJ) has completed a comprehensive cabin modernization to the first of its four Airbus A340s serving North American destinations.

It is the lead airline to equip its aircraft with Seat Integrated Technology (SiT), the new, state-of-the-art Audio Video On Demand (AVOD) In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system developed by Zodiac Aerospace.

Director SiT Operations Eric Cornilleau expressed satisfaction with the fact that RJ is the first airline on the globe to choose the SiT.

He said "SiT offers a wholly new ‘simplified architecture’ yielding reduction of the overall IFE system weight, measured with gains of approximately 35%, lowering ownership cost and limiting integration costs, and dramatically improving system reliability, assuring system availability for passengers at nearly 100%."

RJ President/CEO, Hussein Dabbas, said: "The four Airbus A340 aircraft that are being renovated will continue their operations to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal until the 11 Boeing 787 Dreamliners start being part of the fleet, by the end of 2013.  RJ had decided to introduce seven Dreamliners on capital lease and the other four on operational lease basis." www.rj.com

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Car hire goes self-service

Hertz Europe has announced plans to accelerate its adoption of self-service technology by rolling out Self-Service Express touch screen kiosks at selected locations across nine countries in Europe for all customers (not just members-only) who have prepaid for their rental.  At the same time Hertz has launched a free reservations application for the iPhone in 18 languages for customers in Europe.

Similar to an airline check-in kiosk, the touch screen kiosk collects the customer’s personal information and identifies the reservation.  It then completes the rental car pick-up process, sending the person on his/her way quickly.  In addition, it allows Hertz customers to select and purchase upgrades, optional insurance and waiver products, fuel options and add-ons such as child seats and the Hertz NeverLost® in-car satellite navigation system.

The screens are now available at Bergamo Orio al Serio, Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa, Rome Ciampino, Rome Fiumicino, Pisa (Italy); Edinburgh, Heathrow, Stansted, Prestwick (UK); Malaga (Spain); and Hahn (Germany).  The company also plans to enable the kiosks to accept non-prepaid tariffs in early 2011.

The Hertz iPhone application, which has already enjoyed widespread popularity in the US, allows customers to make reservations, save their Hertz #1 Club member number, search and find nearby Hertz locations, via their mobile devices. www.hertz.co.uk

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Hotel Verta to Central London

London’s Vertical Gateway, or Battersea Heliport as was known to generations since 1946, is in renaissance mood under the watchful eye of newish owner von Essen, whose portfolio includes the recently opened Hotel Verta on the site and helicopter operator PremiAir.

The latest innovation could be what is termed an "executive launch" operation from a pontoon just in front of the landing platform to various downstream points.  Possible timings are just over ten minutes to Westminster and 25 minutes to Canary Wharf.  “A sort of limo river service,” said PremiAir ‘s Managing Director David McRobert.

Providing the necessary approvals can be obtained, an ad hoc facility could be available in the first half of 2011. www.londonheliport.co.uk

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London City loses an airline

Baboo (F7), the Geneva-based regional airline, has announced plans to end services to Athens and London City in early November.  Swiss remains on the route four times weekdaily, the 1.45hr flight operated by a two-class Avro RJ100.  The airline will retain a single Embraer 190 and two Bombardier Q400s.

This winter Baboo will fly to ten destinations in total: Bordeaux, Bucharest, Florence, Geneva, Lugano, Nice, Rome, Toulouse, Valencia and Venice.  98% of this network is operated in cooperation with partner airlines, namely Air France, Alitalia, Darwin and Tarom.

During the summer, the airline operated seasonal routes to Biarritz, Figari, Ibiza, Larnaca and St Tropez, while last winter saw the airline serve Oxford as a winter ski destination.  Routes to Marseille and Milan Malpensa ended back in April. www.flybaboo.com

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Pune (Poona) now has a 5-star Hyatt

The Hyatt Regency Pune (India) has now opened, a truly upscale deluxe hotel and residences complex.  With 222 guestrooms and suites now available, and 84 serviced apartments scheduled to open in 2011, the sprawling structure has beautifully landscaped outdoor spaces and dramatically lit water features.

This premier gateway hotel is situated within the Weikfield IT Park in Pune, it is a short drive from Lohegaon International Airport and ten minutes from the upmarket entertainment areas of Koregaon Park and Kalyani Nagar. 

Floor-to-ceiling swathes of glass separate the glistening marble lobby from the outdoor water fountains and tree-filled driveway.  Each room as a 'sanctuary bathroom' with a sparkling white Italian marble floor, free-standing bath tub and separate walk-in rain shower.

For guests who desire an extra level of personalized service, the hotel offers Regency Club accommodation, which includes the services of a dedicated concierge, and a private lounge and terrace for complimentary continental breakfast, evening canapés and cocktails.  Club guests will also receive complimentary internet access, airport transfers and use of the boardroom. http://pune.regency.hyatt.com

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Smartphone tour is first for UK

Gatwick passengers can track progress of Gatwick's £1bn investment programme by scanning barcodes with their smartphone.  The south London operation is the first airport to interact with passengers using the “stickybits” mobile application.

Gatwick Airport is currently undergoing a major upgrade to modernise the facilities and improve the passenger experience.  While most of the work is out of sight, hidden behind hoardings, passengers who have downloaded the free “stickybits” application can now go on a coded ‘Gatwick Discovery Tour’ and take an audiovisual peek behind the scenes to see how the airport is changing.

Gatwick is kicking the ‘Discovery Tour’ off at the North Terminal inter-terminal shuttle departure point.  Over the coming weeks and months, more barcodes will be introduced at check-in and just after security in the North Terminal as well as the forecourt areas and immigration in the South Terminal.  Locations will be changed and the content refreshed to keep the tour interesting and up-to-date. www.gatwickairport.com

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ON TOUR: Innovation shines at NBAA

Alison Chambers reports for AERBT

Atlanta, Georgia, is the world’s busiest airport hub.  Home to Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, CNN, AT&T and this year, NBAA, the industry’s largest business aviation gathering.  The mood at the 63rd annual convention was upbeat with a steady stream of announcements about new aircraft programmes, powerplants and aerodynamic enhancements to trusted favourites. 

Bombardier announced two new additions of its Global Express family, the GE 7000 and 8000, stretched versions of its latest XRS to be powered by new GE Tech X engines enabling superior ranges of 7,300 nm and 7,899 nm, respectively, and fast Mach 0.85 and 0.90 cruise speeds.  

These new aircraft, poised to enter service in 2016/ 2017 are the manufacturer’s direct response to Gulfstream’s clean sheet design, the ultra-long range, near supersonic Gulfstream 650, which made its show debut.  Gulfstream, which presented the aircraft in full production interior, has already secured a backlog of 200 orders to date for the aircraft, slated to enter service in 2012.  The earliest delivery position now for the aircraft is 2017.

Bombardier Business Aircraft President Steven Ridolfi stated that 4,500 aircraft in this class will be required within the next 20 years and he is bullish about his company capturing 50% of that share – worth upwards of US$200bn.

Further, faster was definitely the theme as the business aviation industry takes its lead from the key growth BRIC markets – Brazil, Russia, India and China.  “We have had to learn a lot of new geography,” quipped Gulfstream’s Senior VP Marketing and Sales Larry Flynn at a pre-show gathering to select media for a presentation on the G650.  Straight after NBAA Gulfstream executives flew to Taipei to celebrate service entry of a G550 with Win Air of Taiwan, Taipei’s first business aviation company. 

Talk of the show was the 650’s innovative cabin management system by App that sees windows, lighting, seats, inflight entertainment all controlled via iPod touch/iPhone.  It is the intention that all current aircraft in the Gulfstream family will have this i-fly technology and eventually have full onboard internet via their i-pads too. 

Cessna unveiled an enhanced version of its Citation X.  The new Citation Ten features a slightly longer fuselage, elliptical winglets and new, more powerful engines from Rolls-Royce.  First flight is scheduled at year end with planned service entry in 2013.  

Hawker Beechcraft unveiled a successor to its Premier II light jet the Hawker 200 and the latest variant to its popular King Air business turboprop family – the 250 – with increased short-field performance that open up a further 1,100 airfields worldwide.

BAe Systems was in Atlanta to promote a new version of “the aircraft that never dies,” joked one US journalist referring to BAe 146/AVRO. 

Joining the go-anywhere Explorer One and Explorer Four concepts, BAE presented its new ABJ ‘Fusion’ interior. This one has been designed for the luxury charter market – for product launches, sports teams, musicians, celebrities and corporate VIPs.  Design Q’s Owner/Designer Gary Hoy said the interior, seating 19 passengers and capable of a 1,800 nm range, would be ideal for Los Angeles – Las Vegas sectors. 

But what about improving on the rather aged exterior appearance of the aircraft?  BAE confirmed they were in dialogue with winglet specialists Quiet Wing about potentially fitting the aircraft with winglets, not necessarily for aerodynamic reasons, but for a good cosmetic facelift.  

BAE’s VP Avro Business Jeta Stewart Cordner highlighted that BAE’s work in the VIP sector is seeing it win more aircraft remarketing contracts.  It announced it is remarketing eight A340-200s and -300s for GMT Global Republic, which previously leased them to major carriers.  Stewart said while these are older aircraft, they are low time and would appeal to governments looking for VVIP versions. 

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen and Pete Bunce from GAMA (General Aviation Manufacturers Association) talked about their ‘No Plane, No Gain’ business aviation advocacy campaign, announcing three high profile ambassadors – astronaut Neil Armstrong, Arnold Palmer and Warren Buffet are lending their names to it.  “It has been a pretty challenging couple of years for business aviation,” said Ed Bolen.  “By almost any measure, our industry fell 25 to 40% over the past year.  But even in this climate, the people and companies in business aviation continue to seek out effective venues for conducting business, sharing information and networking.”

There was a surprise announcement from US helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky and its backer United Technologies with news it had decided to invest (with an undisclosed sum) to put the VLJ Eclipse and Eclipse Aerospace back into production. 

HondaJet’s distinctive looking large cabin light jet HondaJet may be a little delayed with its first flight milestone but the manufacturer was a huge crowd puller with its hourly demonstrations of ASIMO, the world’s most advanced humanoid robot which responded to spoken instructions.  ASIMO can run, walk on uneven slopes and surfaces, turn smoothly, climb stairs, and reach for and grasp objects.  Honda was demonstrating its expertise in innovation to highlight ASIMO's usefulness in the home – especially for elderly and people with special needs.  It has taken ten years to get ASIMO to walk; now the company is working on its artificial intelligence.

Visitor numbers for the three-day event were 5% up on 2009 at 24,206.  Some 1,038 exhibitors took stands and the static line up at DeKlab Peachree Airport, a 30-minute coach drive away, showcased a record 93 aircraft. 

There was something for everyone in the static park, including the Dornier SeaStar float plane set to start production in Canada.  Some 40 orders are already logged.  New models on display included Embraer’s Legacy 650 which rival OEMs were so keen to see, photograph and video, the manufacturer had to implement a no photography ban.  The aircraft obtained EASA and Brazilian certification during the show, paving the way for deliveries from next month.  Among the first is one destined for Stansted and Titan Airways Executive of the UK which is managing the aircraft for a private customer. (AERBT Issue 18 October) www.nbaa.aero

Alison Chambers of Emerald Media Services is AERBT'S Executive Aviation expert.  Emerald also acts for Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi.  See in this issue. www.emeraldmedia.co.uk

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787 flown by AERBT

Boeing have introduced a full motion Thales 787 simulator at their Crawley (Gatwick) training centre, conveniently next door to Virgin Atlantic.  It is one of four teaching sites around the world (the others being at Seattle, Singapore and Tokyo) and is a good indication of progress in this important aspect of airline operations.  When the 777 was launched in 1984 all pilots, and for that matter senior cabin crew personnel, had to go to Seattle.  Crawley includes an emergency door training device too.

Technological advances in the development and design of the 787 Dreamliner have prompted new ways for flight and maintenance training for the aircraft.  One of the objectives of the new training system is to replicate the aeroplane using a suite of electronic aids consisting of desktop simulation systems, flight training devices and full-flight simulators.

Not only the flight deck and cabin staff are trained at Crawley.  The use of real-time simulation in the maintenance training environment allows practice on the same tools in the classroom that the mechanics use on the actual aircraft.  Desktop simulation is integrated into the classroom and throughout the course.  Additionally, a 3-D virtual aeroplane is used where students can walk around and operate key functions. www.boeing.co.uk

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BAA owner sells ground handling subsidiary

Swissport International, probably the world’s leading provider of ground handling services to the airline sector, is to have a new proprietor.  Up to now it has been part of the Spanish Ferrovial portfolio, together with Britain’s BAA Ltd.

The new owners are PAI partners, a Europe-based private equity group with no current aviation interest although a big player in the automotive industry.  The company has its origins in a partnership between Paribas and BNP banks, but has long established itself as a leading independent private equity company.

The sale will have no impact on Swissport’s current clients or its personnel, and the present management team will also remain unchanged.  The closing of the transaction is expected in the course of December or beginning of 2011. www.swissport.com

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GTMC at the Savoy

Norman Baker, Under Secretary of State for Transport (Liberal Democrat member for Lewis) was in a conciliatory mood when he addressed members of the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC), at the newly re-launched (and very impressive) London Savoy last Monday.  He said that he understood air travel with Gatwick within his catchment area, repeated the now familiar government line that Heathrow expansion was out for this Parliament, and used the latest ploy of Ministers, saying he would answer questions.  After a short while he had to leave “due to urgent business in the Commons”.

Members raised the ‘per plane tax’ question Mr Baker applying a ‘straight bat’.  He said there was no way that the Transport Review could be brought forward. 

In a keynote speech Tony Collins of Virgin Trains emphasised that rail franchises required extension in order to quantify the outlay.  Virgin would bid for the East Coast operation and gave some impressive figures regarding “16 years of investment.”

In a session devoted to “Air Matters” Richard Tams, Head of Sales BA UK, noted that Heathrow was loosing out to Europe in terms of destinations offered and would soon be behind Istanbul.  LHR is number seven with Frankfurt first according to OAG. Clive Wratten, Etihad’s Country Manager said that he saw APD doing damage to the UK’s airline industry. www.gtmc.org

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Italian airline announces profits

Alitalia (AL), not a carrier with much of a reputation for financial stability, has made a net profit of €39m between July and September this year.  The figure is a €24m improvement on the same period in 2009.

In terms of actual passenger numbers the Skyteam member carried 7.1m passengers between July and September, 11% up on last year.  The airline confirmed it is on track to reach its operating break-even target by 2011, and has predicted better than expected full-year results for this financial year.

The airline said recovery in demand, from both intercontinental and international markets, continues to be strong while demand within Italy is beginning to show signs of growth.

During the quarter, Alitalia took delivery of its initial new A330, the first aircraft to join the fleet with both the carrier’s new Business Class seat and Classica Plus Premium Economy product. www.alitalia.com

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OnAir for TAM

TAM Airlines of Brazil has introduced on-board mobile communications through OnAir using on-board connectivity solutions.

Based on the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband, the high-capacity operation it is now available to passengers travelling aboard TAM’s Airbus A321 operating between São Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport and Recife, Natal, Fortaleza and Porto Alegre.  Via the OnAir service, passengers can make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages and access the internet through GPRS networks from their own handsets.

Up to eight passengers can use their mobile phones simultaneously on a flight with no limits on data or text messaging.  Mobile phones will work in exactly the same way as in international roaming and are activated as soon as the aircraft reaches an altitude of 4,000 metres (13,000 feet).  Usage will be charged directly by the mobile network provider to the passenger's phone bill at rates set by his or her usual provider.

The system has been tried by AERBT on Oman Air’s London to Muscat service, and proved very effective. www.onair.aero www.tam.com.br

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Qantas optimistic with A380

Australia's Qantas Airways hopes to have its fleet of six Airbus A380s flying again "within days" following urgent checks after an engine failure, Chief Executive Alan Joyce said over the weekend.  He was optimistic that the aircraft would quickly return to service as two safety incidents on consecutive days overshadowed lavish celebrations to mark the airline's 90th anniversary this month.

In a second incident on Friday, a Boeing 747 en route to Australia was also forced to turn back to Singapore.  The two occurrences were not connected, each on a different type of Rolls-Royce engine.

Qantas was founded in 1920 as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial  Services.  It is the world’s second oldest continuously operation airline under its own name (after KLM). www.qantas.com

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Smoking ban expected for Spain

Spain remains one of the few EU countries which presently allows smoking in most public places, a surprise to visitors.  Not for long, however.  It is expected that a bill which prohibits the practice will pass through Parliament on 2 January 2011, but not guaranteed a safe passage.

Spanish bars and restaurants are infamous for their smoky atmosphere but with tourism now an even more vital sector the Government has decided that it is time to act.  And before the EU comes in with its own ban!  Hotels can allocate 30% of rooms to smokers

In 1996 a law was issued which prohibited smoking in the workplace, resulting in loud protests.  Interestingly in Spanish speaking Ecuador smoking is very much frowned upon, although to be fair the whole country embraces the eco concept. www.associatedpress.com

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Lexus RX 450H SE-L Hybrid

Real Class and Green too!

Can one suppose that those who can afford a car priced about four times that of a bread and butter hatch back, that they achieved that position by sage savings on their motoring costs?  I very much doubt that that is the case, more likely the cash flow allows for hefty running costs.

Can one also suppose that owners of serious off-road 4x4 and Sport Utility Vehicles buy them because they can’t get home without traversing a bog or a mountain?  Judging by the numbers of this type of vehicle that are certainly squeaky clean and often shod with low profile tyres, I don’t think that the majority have got closer to the rough stuff than a blade of grass at the side of suburban pavement.

Thank goodness then that it is more or less a free world, at least when it comes to choice providing one has the finances, and the modern motorcar is one way to make a statement.

A certain Lexus model has provoked these thoughts, namely the Lexus RX 450 Hybrid, a third generation of Lexus’ 4x4 model range that originally started out with conventionally fuelled power units but has now gone all petrol hybrid on the UK market.

Yes it is a luxury class vehicle as one would expect from Lexus, a work of art, an engineering exercise of the highest quality and certainly a vehicle that makes a very positive statement.

The image is that of a high class 4x4 or SUV though its purpose is that of an exceptionally refined road vehicle that is intended to be spotted in the best parking places like the Captain’s hallowed spot at the golf club or next to the front entrance of a luxury 5-star hotel.

The fact that this Lexus employs a sensibly sized 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine, plus two electric motors, one at the front and a smaller one at the back to give a bit of power to the rear wheels permits it to prune its carbon footprint to an acceptable 148 g/km, a figure more akin to a small family vehicle than that of a commanding one touching scales around a couple of tons.

Depending on the owner’s income, this Lexus could produce serious savings in running costs and taxes of around £4,000 a year that could be spent on more worthwhile pursuits – golf perhaps?

Primarily this Lexus brings a very easy and comfortable driving lifestyle with exceptionally light controls, good handling, generally a good ride though even with its air suspension it can remind one of the local Highways Department’s shortcomings but above all a mode of refined and cosseted travel that conventionally powered 4x4 contenders, regardless of cost, cannot even get near to emulating.

Sit in the generously proportioned leather upholstered driving seat, use the electronic controls to adjust the seat to your liking and the power adjustable steering wheel to ensure that you are fully relaxed and then take stock of where your money has gone.

In this market sector Lexus has not sold you short.  The rear view camera even has a good coverage of what is at the side and is aided by audible proximity sensors, the cruise control has a radar operated system that automatically slows the vehicle, there are memory settings for the powered front seats, the camera screen also doubles for the satellite navigation, the large exterior mirrors automatically fold and the climate control air conditioning system has a split distribution function though if real fresh air is required there is a powered sunroof.

A Mark Levison Premium Sound System at least enables one to compensate for the eerie silence of this Lexus!

Yes, you can sneak off at any God forsaken time without waking the neighbours, providing a light throttle foot is employed the electric power will provide up to 30 mph before the petrol engine comes to life and with a greater demand for performance the second electric motor will come into play.

Any lift off means that surplus energy through braking recharges the batteries, so there is never any need to fiddle around with a charger plug at a lamp post!

Driven wisely it is possible to see a consumption rivalling a medium sized car, say between 32 and 40 mpg while being able to reach 60 mph from rest in well under 7 seconds and, according to Lexus, a top speed of 124 mph.

What soon becomes evident is that this large Lexus is far from clumsy, it is easy on the driver, never challenging like some 4x4s I have encountered, a sophisticated drive with a high feel good factor that combine to ensure a good long distance cruiser and not in any way an off roader, so don’t stray off the straight and narrow.

Practical?  Measure the load space with all five generous and comfortable seats in use and at least two of you could have a round of golf but not much luggage.

The 60/40 split fold rear seat facility obviously adds to the load permutation but this sleek prestigious machine is not cluttered by roof rails.  That would be a bit common!

So for those with the fitting financial qualifications, looking for one of the most refined drives in a commanding vehicle that has cleverly been contrived to avoid accusations of flaunting one’s credit rating, though with a technical CV that can induce a small degree of smugness, then the Lexus RX 450H could be suitable.

Rivals include: Mercedes-Benz ML 350, Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7, BMW X5

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 9
Noise 9
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 8
Accommodation 9
Styling 9
Brakes 9

Finish 9

TOTAL: 89

Price range: From £52,435 – as tested £53,390.

NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON’S MOTORING DIARY

MCIA: The Motor Cycle Industry Association has reported that Britain’s roads are getting consistently safer for motorcyclists – figures indicate that despite a rise of 15% in road traffic, motorcycle accidents reduced by 6% during the past year. www.mcia.co.uk

LAND ROVER: The production of the one millionth Range Rover will see the car, an £85,000 top specification Vogue version, be auctioned on behalf of the Help for Heroes fund.  The first Range Rover was produced in June 1970 and there have been three definitive generations in the model’s 40+ year history. .
www.landrover.com

TOYOTA: The Toyota iQ city car is being recalled for a modification to the software associated with the electric power steering system.  The cause has been put down to rumble strips in the road which triggers the EPS warning light.  No accidents have been reported and the recall affects cars delivered between 11 September 2008 and 22 October 2010. www.toyota.com

SSANGYONG: An all new Korado Crossover 4x4/SUV model will reach UK showrooms in January 2011.  Five versions will be available in two- and four-wheel drive and powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine. www.ssangyonggb.co.uk

SEAT: The new Alhambra 7-seat MPV has arrived in the UK.  Entry level model is powered by a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine delivering 148 bhp. Prices from £22,330. www.seat.co.uk

INFINITI: The third boutique/hotel sales centre for the luxury Infiniti car brand is due to open in the West Midlands shortly.  It is located at Bordersley Circus, just 15 minutes from the M42. www.Infiniti.co.uk

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