6 DECEMBER 2010

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Air Mauritius moves to Heathrow

Terminal 4 Heathrow has welcomed another new airline.  Air Mauritius has moved from T3.

The national carrier of the Republic of Mauritius, the airline was created in 1967 and currently operates a fleet of four A340-300s, two A340-300Es, two A330-200s, two A319-100s and two ATR72-500s.  It presently flies to 25 destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Indian Ocean.

On the Heathrow route Air Mauritius operates a two-class Airbus A340 on the 12-hour flight.  Eligible customers can use the excellent two-floor Skyteam lounge. www.airmauritius.com

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Apples across the Atlantic

Iceland Express is to become the first European airline to offer the Apple iPad on all transatlantic flights.  The aircraft will have up to 25 devices onboard.

The Reykjavik-based budget carrier currently flies twice weekly from Gatwick to New York Newark via Iceland.  Passengers will be able to watch films and TV shows, listen to music, read magazines/books and play games.  The iPad has a 10 hour duration and the onboard rental price for the gadget is £9.  Iceland Express plans to introduce wi-fi at a later date.

The low fare airline plans to roll out the service to the rest of the fleet early next year.  Flights to Chicago and Boston will be introduced next June, as well as departures from Edinburgh, Dublin and Belfast.  Starting in May 2011 the schedule frequency will increase, with daily flights between London and New York. www.icelandexpress.com

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Berlin to Amman

Royal Jordanian is to re-introduce direct, regular service between Amman and Berlin on 2 June 2011, just 12 months before the new Berlin Brandenburg airport opens.

The service to the German capital resume ten years after having been suspended.  Studies then showed a weak economic feasibility of operating to Berlin.

Once Air Berlin joins the oneworld airline alliance, set for early 2012, RJ passengers will be able to continue their flights beyond Berlin in the European continent.  The all-new Berlin Brandenburg International airport will be operative weeks after Air Berlin becomes member in the alliance.

The airline will initially operate twice weekly.  The airline serves Munich three times weekly and has daily flights to Frankfurt.  Brand new Airbus A320 aircraft will be used offering a full inflight entertainment system. www.rj.com

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EU "Passenger Rights"

The European Commission has introduced what it calls its 'Passenger Rights At Hand' campaign which will be ongoing for two years.

It targets travellers passing through airports, train stations and travel agencies, and aims to inform air and rail passengers about the rights they are entitled to under European legislation, and how to claim them. 

The legislation on passenger rights stipulates what people are entitled to when things go wrong during their trip, for example when their journey is delayed or cancelled, or when their luggage is lost or damaged.  It also guarantees equal treatment for people with a disability or reduced mobility.  The EU has published posters and leaflets outlining basic rights which are available for display in train stations, airports and travel agencies.  http://ec.europa.eu/passenger-rights

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Gibraltar Airport in UK route expansion

easyJet is to fly three times per week from John Lennon Liverpool Airport to Gibraltar from 29 March.  It will compete with Monarch Airlines from Manchester, also currently three times weekly.  The new route could coincide with the opening of the British colony’s rebuilt air terminal nearing completion.  A road under the runway is due to be finished later in 2011.

The terminal is supposed to be joint user with Spain, rather like Basle, but with the country in a financial crisis the Spanish side of the operation has failed to keep pace with that under the Union flag, and completion is some way off.

easyJet now flies to 33 destinations from Liverpool John Lennon Airport including recently announced new routes to Brussels, Salzburg and Tallinn. www.easyjet.com

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Internet returns for Lufthansa

Lufthansa has now brought forward public use of its new FlyNet service reported by AERBT in October.  As a bonus the airline is offering free surfing until the end of January 2011.

The extremely fast, high-performance inflight internet service gives passengers with a WLAN-enabled laptop or smartphone unlimited online access.  Thanks to the high band-width, emails – including those with large file attachments – can be sent and received without any time delay.  Business travellers can also access their company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN).  In spring 2011, inflight data communication should also be possible using the mobile phone standards GSM and GPRS.  In addition to the wireless Internet (WLAN) service, Lufthansa customers will then be able to use their mobile phones to send and receive SMS text messages and transfer data with smart phones such as the iPhone or PDAs such as BlackBerry.

The price for one hour’s online access is €10.95 or 3,500 miles, while the 24-hour flat rate is €19.95 or 7,000 miles.  Under the 24-hour flat rate agreement, passengers can access the internet on all Lufthansa connecting flights equipped with a hotspot during the period of validity as well as after the flight in Lufthansa lounges. www.lufthansa.com

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Nice direct from The Gulf

Qatar Airways has continued its European expansion drive with Nice becoming the first of five route launches across the Continent over the next few months.

Complementing double daily flights between the airline’s Doha hub and the French capital Paris, the new Doha – Nice operations strengthen the carrier’s presence in France.

Flights on the Doha – Nice operate via Milan with an Airbus A330-200 in a two-class configuration.  Featuring 24 seats in Business Class and up to 248 seats in Economy, the aircraft offers passengers seatback TV screens giving them the opportunity to watch programmes at the time of their choice.  Regardless of class of travel, passengers can enjoy the next generation interactive onboard entertainment system with a choice of more than 900 audio and video on demand options.

Once into 2011 four new European routes will be introduced.  Bucharest (17 January), Brussels (31 January) and Stuttgart (6 March).  On 6 April, Qatar Airways introduces its 100th destination – the Syrian city of Aleppo. www.qatarairways.com

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COMMENT: Snow and ice

The simply astonishing weather in the United Kingdom last week has predictably caused vociferous criticism of airport operators.  It was snow and yet more snow.  Airports for the most part were closed and it did not help that over the weekend just past Spanish air traffic controllers went on strike causing even more chaos.

But was this censure justified?

The operation of civil aircraft is a complex process.  When snow is falling in great quantities it is not just a question of sweeping the runways clear.  And the aprons.  And the taxiways.

All staff have to get to the airport whether it is those dealing with the aircraft in the air, the flight deck and cabin crew, plus the air traffic controllers, or on the ground.  

Firstly, and in no particular order, the check-in staff and baggage handlers, the security personnel, the refuellers and ramp people, and, whilst clearly not crucial, the retail outlet staff.  The fire and emergency personnel probably top the list.  Fuel actually has to be delivered to the airport, and also catering (and this one too is not essential).  An airport operation is very complex.

Finally it is not much use operating to a schedule if the passengers cannot get to the aerodrome, but it is astonishing that in spite of atrocious conditions somehow fans will make soccer matches.  Arsenal more or less managed a full house when most of north London had given up.  Likewise with airports.  If travellers are assured of getting away they somehow make it.

AERBT believes that on balance airports need to do a great deal more in preparation for the worst of winter conditions.  Gaining publicity with advanced runway clearance equipment may be fine but that is only one element of a very multifaceted process.

A great many lessons need to be learnt from last week’s fiasco. 

Airports will have to appreciate that it may have been a one off, but it could happen again before Christmas, maybe again before winter is out and definitely into the future.  Nobody can predict with certainly when.  Money has to be spent and notice should be taken on how worse conditions are dealt with in Canada and Northern Europe.  Airfields in those parts also close too due to fearsome circumstances but somehow the services get going again far, far quicker.

Roll on summer.

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Airline to use biofuel on scheduled flights

Lufthansa is to become the first airline to use biofuel in commercial aviation.  Whilst others, including Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines, TAM and Virgin Atlantic have run test flights this will be the initial time that the fuel will have been used on a commercial service.

Lufthansa is to begin a six-month trial with an Airbus A321 on flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt.  Pending certification, one of the aircraft’s engines will use a 50-50 mix of biofuel and traditional kerosene.

The primary purpose of the project is to conduct a long-term trial to study the effect of biofuel on engine maintenance and engine life.  During the six-month trial Lufthansa will save around 1,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The project will cost Lufthansa an estimated €6.6m.  Over the years the airline has invested heavily in research.  Thanks to new technologies, it has improved its fuel efficiency by 30% since 1991.  Average fuel consumption per passenger is now down to 4.3 litres of kerosene over 100 kilometres. www.lufthansa.com

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Basra wins another carrier

Dubai carrier Emirates says it will launch flights to the Iraqi city of Basra starting 2 February to tap growing demand for the destination.

Basra will be Emirates' first Iraq route after the airline postponed the launch of flights to Baghdad earlier this year citing "operational reasons".  Services will initially operate four times per week using a three-class Airbus A330.

"The city's recent growth has paved the way for numerous multi-national companies and industries to invest in infrastructure and we have seen strong potential from a number of our markets," Chairman and Chief Executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum said in a statement.

"Since the 2009 oilfield bid, traffic from the US and Europe into Basra has increased significantly and we are ready to capitalise on this growth," he added. www.emirates.com

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City Inn says goodbye (and becomes Mint Hotel)

Mint Hotel is the new name of City Inn.  The company has rebranded in advance of opening two new hotels in prime locations in London and Amsterdam nearly doubling the number of rooms in its portfolio.  The London property is in Pepys Street (EC3) near the Tower of London, has 583 rooms and opens 20 December 2010.  Expanding overseas for the first time the Amsterdam property has 553 rooms and opens in Spring 2011.

As City Inn the group currently operates properties in Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, London (Westminster) and Manchester.

With all its properties custom-built, Mint Hotel has been consistently innovative in its hotel designs.  The pioneering SkyLounge concept offers publicly accessible city rooftop terraces, with private dining and meeting rooms.  At the Tower of London property the SkyLounge will have uninterrupted views of the City of London www.minthotel.com

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Festival of Speed confirms aviation exhibition

will be take place 30 June to 3 July next year at the ex-Battle of Britain airfield as a significant part of the Festival of Speed and Moving Motor Show.

For 2011 the event will see a significant increase in the number of exhibitors, covering a wide spectrum of aviation, from aviation service suppliers and equipment to microlights and light aircraft – including the Beech 200 and Cessna Caravan. 

The Goodwood Aerodrome is less than half a mile from the main Festival of Speed site within the grounds of Goodwood Park, with a regular free shuttle service transferring between the two locations.  Aircraft manufacturers will also have the opportunity to take prospective clients on an evaluation flight. www.goodwood.co.uk

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Holiday Inn at Manchester

Andy Cosslett, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), returned to his home town of Manchester to open the new Holiday Inn Manchester MediaCityUK.

The 218-room property is in the heart of MediaCityUK in Salford Quays.  The hotel has good transport links.  It is a 20-minute drive from Manchester Airport and has a tram station nearby.  Three meeting rooms are provided and guests can choose to dine in The Green Room Restaurant which serves British food, or the Hub Bar for a light meal.

From 2011, the BBC is relocating more than 2,300 staff to MediaCityUK.  BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live, Children's Sport, Learning, and Future Media and Technology will move from London to MediaCityUK in addition to all the BBC's existing Manchester operations.

The MediaCityUK development is on a 36 acres site (roughly the size of 18 football pitches) and includes office space, a state-of-the art studio building, shops, restaurants, apartments, a five-acre public piazza, and the Holiday Inn. www.mediacityuk.co.uk

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IPO for Flybe

Flybe, as predicted by AERBT, is planning an initial public offering (IPO) in December that would value Europe's largest regional carrier at about £240m.  Half of the proceeds will be used to fund the expansion of its fleet and the other half to strengthen its cash position to allow it to pursue other growth opportunities, such as acquisitions.  British Airways, which owns 15% of Flybe, said it planned to subscribe for enough shares in the offer to maintain the size of its holding.

The airline, which carried more than 7m passengers last year, recently struck code-share deals with Air France on some European routes and Finnair on Scandinavian and Baltic co-operation.

As at 30 September 2010, Flybe employed 2,931 people, operated 215 routes from 73 airports across Europe.  Its aircraft fleet consisted of 14 Embraer E195 and 54 Bombardier Q400 aircraft.  From June next year the airline will be taking delivery of 35 88-seat Embraer E175 regional jets at a rate of approximately one per month. www.flybe.com

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ON TOUR: Ecuador "The centre of the earth"

What does the name Ecuador mean and where are the Galapagos?

The translation of Ecuador in simple terms means “the centre of the earth”, the country claiming that its highest mountain, the inactive volcano Chimborazo at 21,000ft, is further from the world’s core than Everest.  In English “on the Equator” would be an easier explanation.  The Galapagos, explored by Charles Darwin in 1835, are a group of islands 500 miles off the coast and are the subject of part two of this discourse.

I flew to the Ecuador capital Quito via Houston on Continental Airlines, a highly recommended routing.  The American immigration and customs were no problem and a very late evening collection at Quito International Airport was organised by one of South America’s largest holiday organisers Metropolitan Touring for which there cannot be enough praise.  They were terrific over 14 days.

Visitors need to know that with its location the sun rises every day in Ecuador at 06:00 and goes down at 18:30.  There are no seasons as such (although there is a rainy period) and Quito itself is 9,000ft above sea level.  The highest point of the whole trip touched 15,000ft, about the same as Mt Blanc.  A coat was not essential at that height although most sea level dwellers will notice the thin air.  The whole country sings the environmental tune with very little litter around and a noticeable lack of smoking.  The US dollar has been the official currency of the country since 2000 with a meal for two in the excellent Quito Hilton just US$26.  Spanish is the official language but English is widely spoken.

Quito itself dates back to the 15th century and in 1978 became the first UN World Heritage Site.  Ecuador is very much a north to south country with a narrow extremely fertile central strip surrounded by mountains on both sides often called “The Avenue of Volcanoes”.  There is also a slender coastal plain boarding the Pacific and to the east massive Amazon rain forests.  Self-sufficient in food it has huge oil reserves and is one of the world’s largest producers of both roses and bananas.  It is also prone to revolutions and changes of governments with seven Presidents over the last ten years.  During my stay there was a minor resurrection.  People just got on with their lives, normality returning within 48 hours.

Quito is really two cities, the old and the new, my initial residence, the Patio Andaluz, a fine boutique property very near Independence Plaza and the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building and the Archbishop’s Palace.  Nearby is The Monastery of San Francisco, one the of great religious buildings of the New World; its impressive façade and atrium that leads to its fine Baroque interior .

After one day to recover from the journey it was along magnificent valleys and mountains to the Cotopaxi National Park and the volcano of the same name.  High-altitude birds were observed around the Limpiopungo Lagoon.  That night our residence was at the Hacienda Manteles, a 300-year old hacienda, hidden among the mountains.  Magical.

Then it was south once more along narrow mountain roads following the gorge of the Pastaza River, more or less parallel with the Pan American Highway (which is far from a highway in parts).

There is art to be seen, old railway stations to be visited, and a gorge to be crossed by cable car.  The Inca Fortress of Ingapirca is a reminder that parts of South America were home to advanced civilisations well before the Spanish arrived.  More volcanoes.

After three fairly tiring but exhilarating days on the road we eventually arrived in the south of Ecuador at Cuenca the country’s third largest city and captivating.  Its red tiled roofs, cobblestone streets, flowery plazas and museums make it very special.  From an early dinner one felt quite safe to walk through the streets to another spotless boutique property, Hotel Carvallo.

It was back to Quito by ‘plane for two more nights in the city. 

An early rise and up into the mountains again for a dramatic day that finished at La Mirage Garden Hotel & Spa, the first Relais & Chateaux property in South America.  Horse riding is one of the activities on offer.  The property is near the small town of Cotacachi, dedicated to the production and sale of leather goods: coats, belts and all kinds of handbags.  Leave your wife to wander.  Prices are one third of London.

Then it was to Guayaquil, the largest city of Ecuador sitting near the mouth of the River Guayas with its splendid public waterfront walk stretching for 1.5 miles and featuring historical, cultural and entertainment areas.  Just back from the river is Bolívar Park, also called "the park of the iguanas", as here they roam undisturbed and perch on the treetops, blending perfectly with the green leaves. 

Seven days at sea in the Galapagos followed (more anon).

Where to finish such an enjoyable trip?  Up in the mountains of course, and not much more than one hour’s drive from Quito.  At 11,000ft above sea level the Papallacta Hotel and Hot Springs is a popular ‘away from it all’ resort on the edge of the Amazon rain forest.  You can water raft or take an adventure trail into the mountains.  With 15 hours of flying due the next day the best thing was to relax in the 80ºF open air pool and then take a superb lunch. www.metropolitan-touring.com

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"A New Direction for Aviation Policy"

The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Minister of State for Transport, is the keynote speaker at “A New Direction for Aviation Policy – Improving the Customer Experience by Maximising Operational Efficiency” a major gathering organised in London by The Waterside Conference Company on Tuesday, 14 December 2010.  It will be the first occasion that she has spoken specifically on aviation since taking office.  Assuming a question time her session should prove most interesting and probably controversial.

Ms Villiers heads a distinguished line-up which includes Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive, London First; Sian Foster, General Manager, Government and External Relations, Virgin Atlantic Airways; Nigel Milton, Director of Policy and Political Relations, BAA; Eddie Redfern, Head of Regulatory Affairs (Aviation), TUI Travel Plc; Simon Buck, Chief Executive, BATA; John Morris, Head of Corporate Affairs, Birmingham Airport; Anna Mahoney, Director, Strategic Aviation Special Interest Group (SASIG).

Chairing the gathering is Laurie Price, Director Aviation Strategy, Mott MacDonald. www.thewaterfront.co.uk/aviation

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Alan Sugar gets new jet first

Lord (Alan) Sugar has become the first purchaser of the brand new Embraer Legacy 650 business jet.  With a list price of US$27.5m, the transatlantic capable aircraft was certificated last week prior to delivery.  The aircraft will be operated by Stansted-based VIP charter operator Titan Airways Executive, who will also be marketing the aircraft for third party charter use.  The Legacy 650 will be maintained and supported at Inflite, which already looks after Lord Sugar’s previous Legacy 600.

The Legacy 650 jet is configured with 13 seats in three distinct cabin zones, stowable tables, a spacious galley and large washroom facilities.  It also features Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband system for high-speed internet inflight and a state of the art inflight entertainment system. 

The aircraft can also operate out of London City Airport and has sufficient range to make it as far as Abu Dhabi and Washington DC non-stop. www.titan-airways.co.uk

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Belfast City Airport arrivals

bmibaby has quickly followed Flybe in taking up the slack at Belfast City Airport following the departure of Ryanair.

On 10 January 2011 it will commence flying to Birmingham, Cardiff, East Midlands and Manchester from George Best Airport.  Parent company British Midland has been established at what used to be called the Harbour Airport for some years with flights to Heathrow.  The bmi group will now offer up to 89 flights a week into Belfast. www.bmibaby.com

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Danish addition for KLM

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will launch a double daily service to Aalborg in Denmark on commencement of its summer schedule on 27 March 2011.  After Billund and Copenhagen, Aalborg will be KLM’s third destination in Denmark.  It is the most northerly city in the country.  Flight times have not been published but are likely to be around 90 minutes.

KLM will operate an 80-passenger two-class Fokker 70 twin-jet on the service.  Departure from Aalborg is at 06:25 and 14:15.  In the other direction it is 12:15 and 20:35.  The slots have been chosen to give good connections in both directions. www.klm.com

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Gatwick not on TV

BBC TV viewers, both digital and analogue will not find Gatwick comings and goings shown on the airport part of the travel information.

Now this does not mean that Gatwick has closed down or gone into cyberspace.  What has happened is quite deliberate.

The airport says that as part of Gatwick's separation from BAA they have been looking at its IT systems and data feeds to assess which ones would benefit from improvement.  According to the airport the accuracy of the service provided via Ceefax and BBC Digital wasn't as up-to-date as required for passengers.  Given that the BBC is soon to discontinue its analogue services, it took the decision to discontinue the live flight information service.

Gatwick is exploring options with the BBC through their new digital services, expected to launch shortly after the analogue switch off.  Over 700,000 passengers monthly use the Gatwick website to check flight times every month, both from their homes and also on mobile phones.  For passengers who may not have internet access, the automated telephone service +44 (0)844 335 1802 provides the latest live flight information.  The BBC also offers an information service for delayed flights. www.bbc.co.uk/travelnews/air www.gatwickairport.com

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International Airlines Group

British Airways and Iberia shareholders have overwhelmingly approved the merger between the two companies.  This will create Europe's second-largest carrier after Air France-KLM, with a market value of around £4.5bn. 

The new company will be called International Airlines Group (IAG) an innocuous title that clearly can be used to take in other partners.  The separate BA and Iberia brands will continue to operate as normal but at some point early in the new year BA shares will be delisted from the London Stock Exchange.

BA shareholders will take 56% of the newly-merged company and Willie Walsh will retain his position as Chief Executive.  Iberia's shareholders will own 44%, and its current President, Antonio Vazquez, will become Chairman.  The new company will have its headquarters in Madrid, and its operational offices will be in London.

Meanwhile BA cabin crew are to be balloted over whether to strike in the new year over travel perks that the union, Unite, says have not been re-instated to certain members.  A BA statement summed up to situation:  "Unite wants to lurch backwards to old-style union militancy.  We are moving forwards." www.ba.com www.iberia.com

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Manchester to open further airline lounge

Etihad Airlines is in the process of completing its brand new executive lounge at Manchester Airport, due to open later in the month.  It will feature “5-star” pre-flight dining, a business centre, family room, and a relaxation centre.  Luxurious bathrooms and shower facilities will be provided for customers.  A prayer room is also incorporated as is the airline's popular “Six Senses” spa.

At Manchester the airline operates daily to Abu Dhabi but readers should note that whilst on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday a day service departs at 09:00 for a 20:05 (local) arrival, on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, it is an overnight flight leaving at 20:10 touching down at 07:10. 

The airline is competing with rival Emirates to nearby Dubai, who already has a lounge in operation for its twice daily services. www.etihadairways.com

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HAPPY TALK: Can any airline do better?

We are approaching the holiday period.

Can any airline do better?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11499315

 

 

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