15 NOVEMBER 2010

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Airbus A380 engine update

Rolls-Royce has confirmed that a faulty engine part caused an oil fire which led to a Qantas Airbus A380 having to make an emergency landing at Changi (Singapore).

It noted the problem was "specific to the Trent 900" engine, and in particular a component in the turbine area.  Inspections are ongoing and the company said it would be replacing the faulty part in all the engines affected.

Three airlines presently operate the super jumbo with the Rolls engine.  The Qantas fleet is grounded, whilst Singapore Airlines has already modified one of the three aircraft already in service.  Lufthansa says that any work on their aircraft can be undertaken without changing the schedules. www.rolls-royce.com

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Berlin gains a Hampton

Hampton Hotels, a Hilton brand very much in the mid-priced hotel segment, has opened its first property in Berlin, also its first in Continental Europe.

Located in the heart of western Berlin, the 214-guestroom hotel is just a ten-minute walk from a range of attractions such as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the Berlin Zoo and Aquarium, and countless bars and restaurants around the Savigny Platz.  Rooms on the seventh floor provide extra comfort with individual terraces that offer great views over Berlin. 

There are four meeting rooms, as well as a fitness area and free onsite parking.  Also provided is complimentary wi-fi.

The hotel offers accessible rooms for guests with special needs, tea and coffee-making facilities, and family rooms with sofa beds.  Additional guest amenities include free “On the House” hot breakfast, a 24-hour snack area featuring light entrees and sandwiches and a bar area with evening dining options to help guests connect after meetings. www.hamptonbyhilton.com

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Business jet Boeing 777

Boeing’s ‘Big Twin’ 777, in its long range version, is the latest aircraft to join the VIP fleet provided by Aviation Link Co in the Middle East.

The 777-200LR interior completion work will begin at Amac Aerospace of Basel, Switzerland, later this month.  An undisclosed, private owner in the Middle East will take delivery of the aeroplane after VIP cabin completion in 2012.

“Despite the global economic downturn, the Middle East region remains a very strong market for both single-aisle and twin-aisle VIP airplanes,” said Steve Taylor, President of Boeing Business Jets. 

“The customer required a widebody aircraft capable of connecting virtually any two cities in the world non-stop, while carrying a full cargo load,” said Al Rowaished, President and Chief Executive Officer Aviation Link Co.  “After a thorough review of the market, the 777-200LR was the natural choice.” www.boeing.com/commercial

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Dubai Airport could become a white elephant (white camel?)

Al Maktoum International Airport at Jebel Ali, the much heralded new gateway for Dubai, will not be opening for passenger traffic for a very long time.  This could be as distant as 2025, according to Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airlines, speaking at World Travel Market.  “At 41m passengers last year Dubai was the 15th busiest international airport in the world.  The current airport is still expanding.”

He said that the airport was investing US$3.5bn into a new Concourse 3, exclusively for handling Emirates Airline A380s.  This is expected to be completed by late 2012.  Although the target figure was 60m passengers per year the airport could handle up to 90m passengers.  Jebel Ali is supposed to have a limit of 120m.

Jebel Ali opened in June of this year, but only for cargo traffic. www.dubaiairport.com

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Irish Underground

Dublin is to get an Underground rail system (in fact partial – about 5 miles under the ground) connecting the centre of the city and the airport.  There will be 17 stops and it is estimated that 35m passengers a year will use the service, which will travel between St Stephens Green and the airport in 20 minutes.  It is estimated to cost in the region of €3bn, with the majority of the funds coming from private investors and the remainder from the State.

Trains will run every two minutes at peak times with a capacity for 20,000 people in each direction per hour.  It is also know as Metro North.

Assuming that the scheme gains approval from the Irish Parliament in January preliminary work will start straight away with a completion target of 2016. www.transport.ie

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Routemaster makes a comback

London’s new double-decker bus was unveiled by Mayor Boris Johnson last Thursday.  It is a true successor to the very popular Routemaster with its rear entry deck.

A full-size mock-up of the design revealed a layout that allows passengers to hop on and off.  There are three entrances, two staircases plus panoramic windows, and it will have much more fuel-efficient engines.  With a conductor in place the double-deckers will be far quicker than the hated bendy bus which proved to be unsuitable for London roads.

The model of the so-called New Bus for London (NB4L), displayed at the London Transport Museum’s depot in Acton, has been produced to garner views on the design ahead of a prototype being built next year.  The first five buses are due to hit London streets early in 2012. www.tft.co.uk

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Stuttgart to the Middle East

Qatar Airways has announced it is bringing forward the launch date of its new Stuttgart route due to strong demand for the airline’s fourth German destination.  The Doha-based carrier will start its scheduled three times a week service between the capital city of Qatar and Stuttgart on 6 March 2011.

The route will be operated with an Airbus A319 single-aisle aircraft and features a capacity of 110 seats – eight in Business Class and 102 in Economy.  The aircraft is equipped with the Oryx Entertainment system offering individual TV touch screens in each seat and over 700 audio video entertainment options across both cabins.  It also features OnAir mobile telecommunication technology allowing passengers to send and receive SMS and MMS messages, as well as browse the web using their internet-enabled mobile device.

At the same time, the airline will upgrade frequencies to Munich.  Daily services to the Bavarian city will increase from seven to 11 flights a week, and take the total weekly capacity of services between Germany and Qatar to 31 flights.  Qatar Airways also serves Berlin daily, and operates ten flights a week to Frankfurt. www.qatarairways.com

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COMMENT: Jim French - Has your time come?

If very well founded rumours are correct, later this week Flybe will finally announce plans for a London Stock Market floatation.  It has been a long time coming.

Flybe is based at Exeter Airport, a Second World War RAF base and a grim 1970’s style operation now running at just 800,000 passengers a year.  Perhaps a fairly quiet backwater is the ideal location to build up what is today the largest regional airline in Europe and Britain’s biggest domestic carrier.   

Back in September the airline announced profits of £6.8m for the year to March (compared to £12.8m for the previous 12 months), a splendid effort during very difficult times.  Whilst the ash problems and its after-effects will impinge on the 2010/2011 trading, clearly the board is sufficiently satisfied with the current trading and prospects to consider the launch, said to raise £200m.  Over the last several years Flybe has nearly floated but each time outside events beyond its control have meant an aborted “take off”. 

Flybe has announced plans for a major aircraft acquisition and made noises regarding a serious expansion in Europe.

The history of Flybe is turbulent and an interesting combination of Blackburn and Jersey interests.  In the 1970s steel magnate the late Jack Walker created Spacegrand, a small charter airline, essentially to serve as his transport between Lancashire and the Channel Island tax haven.  He also built Blackburn Rovers into one of the leading football clubs in the country.

In 1983 Spacegrand acquired Jersey European Airlines (JEA) which became British European in 2000 and subsequently Flybe.  The Walker family interests are the largest shareholder to this day.

Jim French, Chief Executive, (57 and now a CBE) joined Flybe in 1991 after an aviation career that included long spells at Caledonian Airways and Air UK.  A native of Duns he shares the same passion for motoring as another product of the Scottish farming town, the late Jim Clark.  

French will probably admit that one of his better decisions was to dump a fleet of 50-seat Canadair passenger jets in 1995 for 70-seat Bombardier turboprops.  Whilst a BAe 146 enthusiast to the extent of ordering the doomed Avro RJX, he was quick to realise the potential of Embraer’s E series aircraft, becoming the first to commit to the 115-seat EMB 195.

A fine relationship with British Airways resulted in another very successful and far-sighted move.  BA acquired for £40m 15% of Flybe, the Exeter airline taking over the remnants of City Flyer Express and British Regional Airlines which the national carrier had purchased in a rash moment of expansion.  Combining routes and different staff attitudes was accomplished virtually seamlessly, a real achievement. 

On a different front one of the biggest criticisms of the UK airline industry over the last period has been a lack of leadership with APD and its appliance, a classic example of Government spotting a cash cow.  It is unlikely that Lord Marshal and Sir Michael Bishop in their time would have stood still and let it happen.  Downing Street would have been visited.

Let’s assume that Flybe gets its well deserved floatation under way.  Emirates President Tim Clarke spoke up heartily last week at World Travel Market (WTM) focusing on the dangers of a Heathrow demise.  One of the leaders of the airline business worldwide he received very little coverage.  What is needed is someone in the UK to beat the drum for the air travel industry.

Jim French your time maybe cometh.

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Almaty expansion

Air Astana, 49% owned by BAe Systems and flag carrier of the Republic of Kazakhstan, is launching a series of new routes from Almaty, Astana and Aktau to destinations in Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey during November and December.

The new services from Almaty include St Petersburg (twice weekly from 2 December); Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan (three times weekly from 21 November) and Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan (three times weekly from 2 December).  Twice weekly services from Astana, capital of Kazakhstan to Yekaterinburg in southern Russia will commence on 8 December.  A new once a week service from Aktau in western Kazakhstan to Istanbul will commence on 28 November.

The plan is for the routes to be flown by new Embraer 190 aircraft due in the Spring.  In the meantime the services with be operated by Airbus A320 family aircraft. www.airastana.com

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BHX stays BHX

Birmingham Airport is reverting to its original name, dropping “International” from the title.  AERBT has always called it Birmingham Airport and in fact it was once named Elmdon.  Heathrow is Heathrow (OK RAF Heath Row for a very short time) and Gatwick seems to have disposed of the ‘London’ moniker as well.  East Midlands Airport has quietly noted its allegiance adding Derby and Leicester, those cities joining the Nottingham name it took several years back.  In both cases the three letter codes remain the same, BHX and EMA respectively.

In the spring of next year the airport will unveil a £13m redevelopment programme linking the two current terminals as one, offering new shops and restaurants, and offering an increased security search area. 

CEO Paul Kehoe explained the reasoning behind the name change at WTM.  He admitted that the last two years had been difficult for Birmingham, the airport failing to meet its targets.  “There are around 8m people living within an hour’s drive of the airport but less than 40% of this demand uses Birmingham; we are determined to increase this figure over the next few years.  We want people to think about their journey in a new way, and not to be bound by old habits.” www.birminghamairport.co.uk

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Cargo cartel broken

Air France has topped a list of 11 airlines fined by the EU for cargo price fixing.  Others involved include Air Canada, British Airways, Cargolux, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, KLM, LAN Chile, Martinair, Qantas, SAS and Singapore Airlines.  The decision leaves the carriers vulnerable to major compensation claims .

The EU Competition Commission said the cartel was “deplorable” and fined the companies €799m (£688.4m) in total, following a four-year investigation. 

Lufthansa, which blew the whistle on the secret deals, was found guilty of price fixing but was not given a fine.  BA said that provision had been made for a possible fine in 2006. http://ec.europa.eu/competition/index_en.html

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First to Las Vegas

British Airways is to introduce its First service onto the Heathrow – Las Vegas route from the start of the summer season 2011.

A four-class B747 offering BA’s First cabin will replace the three-class Boeing 777 that has been operating the service since October 2009.  The new aircraft will offer an extra 124 seats in all, including the 14 seats in First.

BA Head of Marketing and Sales Richard Tams said: “Our direct service from Heathrow to Las Vegas has been one of our most successful launches in recent years.  It is one of the star performing routes on the BA network and such a winner with our customers that we are increasing capacity by 18% from next summer and offering that extra touch of luxury."  Virgin Atlantic also offers Las Vegas, from both London and Manchester. www.ba.com

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London City French Christmas specials

CityJet, a division of Air France, will be offering flights during the festive period to Brive in the Dordogne and Deauville, Normandy.  Additionally the new route to Florence, due to start on 10 January will operate with a limited service from 22 December 2010.

Says Christine Ourmières, newly appointed CEO of CityJet: “Demand for the newly launched routes to Brive and Deauville has been very positive.  As a result we’re happy to announce these extra services over the Christmas period and to give our customers flying to Florence an early Christmas present in the form of a very competitive price promotion.  Passengers can take advantage of CityJet’s convenient schedule out of London City Airport and fit their festive plans around our services.  The popularity of these routes proves that there is a very strong demand for select leisure destinations from the City Airport catchment area.”

The flights to Brive and Florence will be by Avro RJ85 and to Deauville with the Fokker 50. www.cityjet.com

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Russian airline joins oneworld

S7 Airlines, Russia’s leading domestic carrier, has today (15 November) officially become a member of the oneworld alliance.  Its subsidiary Globus joined at the same time, as an affiliate member.

S7 and Globus between them serve 90 destinations and 28 countries.  They add 55 destinations in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States to the oneworld schedule, and nine countries, in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  This has almost tripled the number of destinations served by oneworld in Russia, the CIS and other parts of East Europe to a total 84 destinations in 26 countries.

Currently seven of oneworld’s established airlines – British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Malev Hungarian Airlines and Royal Jordanian – serve Moscow, plus St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg in Russia.  British Airways has been supporting S7 through its 18-month alliance implementation project, as its oneworld sponsor airline. www.s7.ru/en

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ON TOUR: World Travel Market

WTM opening day reveals
cautious optimism of travel industry

World Travel Market (WTM), now well established at London’s recently extended Excel exhibition centre, opened last Monday with its usual fanfare and train problems.

The Dockland Light Railway (DLR) was keen to promote that there would be services every two minutes to Custom House (the traditional way into the show) or via Prince Regent, nicely re-built, but a very long walk to the press centre.

The trains did run pretty effectively for most of the four days.  What the DLR failed to publicise was that Custom House and Prince Regent do not have extended platforms yet and only two-coach trains can use the stations rather than the three units used on the rest of the system.  Next year we are promised three-car trains and a direct service to Stratford. 

Canning Town was very unpleasant at times due to overcrowding and yes a train did break down mid-morning on the first day. 

From the start on Monday WTM had a real buzz about it although an industry report revealed caution among top executives.  The survey found that it will struggle to return to pre-downturn demand levels and profitability until 2016.  Four out of ten executives see increased taxation as one of the biggest issues facing the industry over the next five years.

But for all their caution guests and exhibitors were at WTM 2010 in record numbers with 24,000 visitors supported by 17,000 exhibitor personnel and nearly 3,000 press.  The catalogue listed 5,121 exhibitors representing 187 countries.

Jeff Cacy, Managing Director of Global Airline Marketing Services at Boeing, opened the show and announced a Saudi Arabia order for eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners and 12 777-300 ERs with an option on another ten 777s.  The 787s maiden flight was on film for all to see. 

People go to the show to network; to make serious business enquiries; and to attend the many symposiums and press conferences on a whole range of travel related subjects.

Typical was a ‘Low Cost Carrier’ master class hosted by John Strickland on the Tuesday.

In what might be seen as a “classic” of his company in getting something for nothing Ryanair was not actually exhibiting at the show.  Ken O’Toole, Ryanair Director of New Route Development, said the airline has 22 new aircraft coming into service next year, 13 of which still have to be allocated to routes.  Rumours do exist of white tailed Ryanair ‘planes sitting at various airports. 

“We will engage with the local and regional governments to focus on the development of these facilities and increase inbound tourism to them,” he told a packed audience.  He quoted both Dublin and Stansted losing 25% and more of traffic due to high charges. 

“Airline Industry in Turnaround” was another seminar with air travel participants of the highest quality.

Colin Matthews, BAA CEO; Stephen Kavernagh, Aer Lingus Commercial Director; Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport Chief Executive; Sertac Haybat, CEO Pegasus Airlines and perhaps most interesting of all Tim Clark, President of Emirates, a regular at WTM.

The ash cloud crisis in May was discussed, highlighting the importance of air travel and its benefits.  “The ash cloud crisis brought a degree of balance to the debate about the costs of aviation and showed the extent to which we are dependent on aviation for our global economy,” said Colin Matthews. 

Matthews also warned of the long-term impacts: “If it’s more expensive to fly from a UK airport, people will make other choices.  The new affluent Chinese middle-class for example will holiday in France – in fact, France get six times more Chinese visitors. ’

Stephen Kavernagh added: “You can’t take chances with safety but there was enough experience globally to have re-opened air space earlier.  Prolonged further, many airlines could have gone under.”

Birmingham Airport’s Paul Kehoe blamed a lack of leadership but credited airline bosses from BA and KLM for getting onto planes to check the severity of the ash.  He said the airline industry lacked its own Al Gore, “someone saying what a brilliant job you do.  Otherwise we’re always on the back foot and we lose out to environmentalists.”  We were reminded that the BBC’s Aaron Heslehurst said much the same thing at a recent Middle East air travel conference.

A current controversy is increase in Air Passenger Duty (APD).  Tim Clark was emotive when he said that the world wants to come to Heathrow, “but the Government seems to be working in the opposite direction,” adding that Emirates will “adjust if demand falls off.”  Citing Newcastle he noted that since Emirates introduced a service, trade to the Middle East had gone up from £100m per year to £300m.

Pegasus Airlines’ Sertac Haybat reported that after domestic taxes were lifted in Turkey, revenue increased and passenger figures went from 10m to 20m.  “European governments should learn from this.”

Emirates and Oman Air took significant stand space, and Continental again exhibited, for the last time under that name. 

Many smaller carriers took space in the national areas, or as part of a consortium, a sensible way of being seen in difficult times.  Whilst something in the order of 40% of overseas visitors came in on BA the UK’s largest carrier chose once again not to be seen.  Partner Iberia took a small stand.

Next year's World Travel Market takes place Monday 7 November – Thursday 10 November.  Book it in your diary. www.wtmlondon.com

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A380 gains first Japanese success

Skymark Airlines, Japan’s third largest and growing airline, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Airbus for the purchase of four A380s bring the total sales and commitments to 234 from 17 customers. 

The aircraft will be operated on major international long haul routes from Tokyo.  Engine choice and cabin details will be revealed at a later stage.  The aircraft’s runway performance will enable it to operate on the shorter 2,500m runways at both Narita and Haneda airports carrying a full passenger payload and cargo to destinations in Europe, North America and Australia.

Skymark Airlines is a low cost airline which started services in 1998.  It currently operates 15 Boeing 737-800s. www.airbus.com www.skymark.co.jp/en

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BAA numbers rise

Heathrow was the star performer as BAA Ltd posted a 3.4% increase in total passenger numbers for October, boosted by a recovery in the level of business travel.  Actual flights rose by 1.2% meaning that the airline load factor also prospered.

At Heathrow numbers were up by 7.2%, but Stansted again suffered with another fall, this time by 3.1% the annual figure now running at below 20m.  Both Glasgow (down 7.4%) and Aberdeen (down 5%) continued to experience a period of contracting traffic.

A 10.6% increase in Heathrow's European travel fuels hope that the continent's economic recovery is beginning to stabilise.  Key routes with substantial increases included Geneva up 59.9%, Milan up 30.1%, Moscow up 27.5% and Berlin up 25.6%.  Long haul trips between Heathrow and China and Hong Kong increased by 16.1%, up by 23,000 from 150,000 to 173,000.  The increase came even though the hub's limited capacity means it can only directly serve two destinations in China compared to three from Paris, four from Frankfurt and five from Amsterdam.

Gatwick, now independent, had a very small growth of less than 1% for the month and is still 2.3% down for the full year. www.baa.com

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British Airways cabin staff problems continue

Unite, the umbrella organisation for BA’s BASSA and Cabin Crew 89 unions has gone back on its word to recommend accepting the airline’s offer to resolve the long running employment dispute.  The continuance of the problem is bad news for the airline, and ultimately not good for the staff either.

In a statement BASSA said: "There are some good parts within BA's offer, in particular their acceptance of binding independent ACAS arbitration, but there are many other clauses which we simply, as a trade union, cannot recommend."

The union says it intends to go ahead with a consultative ballot on the offer which could result in industrial action over the Christmas holiday period. www.ba.com www.unitetheunion.org.uk

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Dreamliner woes continue

Boeing has issued a statement noting that during an approach to Laredo, Texas, last Tuesday (9 November), aircraft ZA002 lost primary electrical power as a result of an onboard electrical fire.  Backup systems, including the deployment of the Ram Air Turbine (RAT), functioned as expected and allowed the crew to complete a safe landing.  All test flights of the 787 were cancelled and are expected to resume shortly.

Initial checks appears to indicate that a power control panel in the aft electronics bay will need to be replaced on that aircraft and inspections of the power panel and surrounding area are being carried out.

The team was conducting monitoring of the Nitrogen Generation System at the time of the incident but there is no reason to suspect that the monitoring or earlier testing of that system had anything to do with the incident. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Hong Kong Eaton

The Eaton Hotel Hong Kong has been rebranded as the Eaton Smart, Hong Kong.  As part of a complete refurbishing project the hotel, a division of the Langham Group, has spent over HK$10m on refurbishing the lobby which includes a new reception, retail shop, internet portal and indoor and outdoor bar areas.  The property has 465 rooms and an outside heated swimming pool.  There is internet throughout the hotel.

Located on the Golden Mile of Nathan Road in Kowloon, the distinctive hotel lies in the very heart of Hong Kong's business district and shopping areas and just a three-minute walk to Jordan MTR station. www.hongkong.eatonhotels.com

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Miami to Amsterdam

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is to serve Miami with a four times weekly service commencing from the start of the summer schedule on 27 March 2011.  This re-launches KLM's direct flights to Miami which were suspended in September 2004.  Government departure taxes levied in Germany and the UK are seen as adding to the attractions of Amsterdam as a European gateway airport. 

KLM will operate this service using MD-11 equipment.  This aircraft seats 285 passengers – 24 in World Business Class, 38 in Economy Comfort and 223 in Economy.  All seats are equipped with a personal screen and interactive entertainment.

Miami works in both directions with Florida a popular retirement location in the US, well endowed residents keen to travel.  The business market has the highest concentration of financial institutions in the USA and provides locations for many multi-nationals.  For inbound tourists the State offers a huge variety of holiday venues. www.klm.com

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South America and Star Alliance

Avianca, Copa and Taca, all important airlines in the central/Latin America region are to join the Star Alliance.  Avianca owns Taca (and Aerogal), and is listed on the Columbian Stock Exchange, and has routes to Europe.

The combined network gives Star Alliance a more prominent footprint in Central America, the Caribbean and the northern and western regions of South America, as well as additional direct connections between Latin America and cities in Europe.

Star Alliance passengers will in future have access to a large range of new destinations and flights connecting through the Copa Airlines hubs in Panama City (Panama) and Bogota (Colombia) and the Avianca-Taca hubs in Bogota (Colombia), San Salvador (El Salvador), Lima (Peru) and San Jose (Costa Rica).

A target of mid-2012 has been set for the integration of the airlines into Star Alliance. www.staralliance.com

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HAPPY TALK: From our friends at IFALPA

Some years ago when I was working at an airline ticket counter I had to confirm a passenger's reservation that showed his name as "Cole, Pheven."

"I'd like to be certain our information is correct," I said to him. "What is your first name?"

"It's Stephen," he replied. "I hope the agent got it right. I told him it's spelled with a ph."

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