31 JANUARY 2011

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Airbus A330s to join the Virgin fleet

Virgin Atlantic will shortly be taking delivery of its first two Airbus A330s which will go into service in April on its mainly leisure routes from Gatwick and Manchester to Orlando.  Eight more will be delivered over the next two years. 

For Virgin the aircraft are a big breakthrough, the first “twins” to be operated by the company, and also the first aircraft without Upper Class, the airline's award winning and innovative Business Class.  The Virgin website indicates a layout with 59 seats in Premium Economy (2+3+2) and 255 in Economy (2+4+2)t.

According to Steve Ridgeway, Chief Executive, the upgraded Premium Economy will be outstanding and a breakthrough.  Mind you he is not happy that passengers will have to pay the same APD as those flying Upper Class on the airline’s A340s and 747s.  All A330s will have a brand new state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system – the Panasonic eX2 and eXPhone arrangement. www.virgin-atlantic.com

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Average speed cameras introduced for the first time

London City Airport users and other motorists in the eastern part of London should be aware that from today onwards new average speed cameras will be active on the A13.  The scheme, the first of its kind in the UK, will begin operating between Canning Town and the Goresbrook Interchange.  Hopefully it will help reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on this stretch of road; notorious for collisions.

A total of 84 cameras, based at 37 locations, will monitor the speed of vehicles as they drive along the A13. If the average speed for a vehicle along the stretch of the road they drive along is above the speed limit, the owner of the car will be issued with a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) by the Metropolitan Police.

Regular users of the road will note however the speed limit has been raised from 40mph to 50mph on this section of what is a main arterial road towards the Queen Elizabeth Bridge and the M25. www.speedcamerasuk.com/specs.htm

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Cairo news

Egyptian flights, particularly to Cairo, are causing concern at the present time as the situation deteriorates in Africa’s largest city.  Some European airlines modified their schedules on Friday, cancelling some flights, all due to the curfew in Cairo, which although not enforced would have an effect on ground travel for both passengers and crew.

British Airways, now part of International Airlines Group, postponed its daily service from London to Cairo on Friday because of the curfew.  The airline offered hotel accommodation to stranded passengers.  BA's operations to and from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh continue as normal.  British Midland are due to operate today, but to a new timetable.

Delta Air Lines suspended service to Cairo indefinitely.  A Lufthansa spokesman said the German airline had cancelled one flight due to leave Cairo for Frankfurt on Saturday morning because of the curfew.

Air France has changed its schedule for flights to Cairo so that aircraft land and take off to avoid the curfew hours, a spokeswoman for the airline said.  One flight was cancelled on Saturday but otherwise it was business as usual until further notice, she said.

AERBT would remind readers to check their airline website and if possible that of the airport.  However this site was down as of midnight Sunday GMT. www.cairo-airport.com

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IndiGo on the International scene

India's ambitious budget airline IndiGo will start international operations in August, the company said in a statement last week, only days after it placed a huge order for 180 new aircraft.  The Aviation Ministry has approved IndiGo's proposal to launch services to Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai and Muscat.

Privately-owned, IndiGo is the rising star in the booming Indian industry, which saw passenger numbers leap 25% year on year in November 2010.  The airline currently has a fleet of 34 Airbus ‘planes and offers 221 daily flights to 24 destinations across India.  The US$15bn deal to buy 180 A320 aircraft is the largest number of Airbus 'planes ever ordered in one go. http://book.goindigo.in

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Munich Airport

Transit or stopover passengers can represent big numbers for some airports, typically Heathrow with at least 20% of the incoming traffic making a connection and passing on to further destinations.

Munich Airport is another key European hub keen to attract this potential business. 

It has now introduced what it calls its “Stopover Guide” enabling inbound passengers to quickly and easily transform transit time into a satisfying and culturally enriching experience.  The free guide, available in hard copy form at the arrivals gate and information desks presents options for travellers with time – from one hour to a full day – to spare. 

Passengers can experience Airbräu, the world's only airport brewery or visit the iPilot flight-simulator.  Included is a section called “Wellness and Beauty” as well as “MUC for kids”.  Vouchers for discounts on city tours, perks at the largest Hot Water Spa Complex in Europe, free cocktails at Kempinski’s pool bar, along with maps, directions and estimated travel times are included. www.munich-airport.com/viaMUC

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Russian civil jet gets certification

Sukhoi’s Superjet 100, a joint Russian/Italian competitor to the Embraer E series and Bombardier CRJ aircraft, has received type certification from the Moscow-based IAC AR, the Russian certification authority.  Armenian Armavia will receive the first two aircraft, followed by Aeroflot, which has ordered a total of 30 with an option for 15 more. 

A formal announcement is planned for later this week when the delivery schedule is expected to be announced.  Alenia Aeronautica, a Finmeccanica subsidiary, is a major investor into the company.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 made its maiden flight in May 2008.  It was initially mooted in the early 1990s as the Russian Regional Jet and is the first commercial aircraft designed and produced by an organisation noted for its high performance military aircraft.  It is available in various sizes from 75-95 seats and is powered by a pair of PowerJet SaM146 turbofan engines developed in conjunction with SNECMA.  The aircraft have been designed with a view to certification for London City Airport.  Four and five abreast layouts are available. www.superjetinternational.com

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Vueling-Iberia Madrid operations agreement

The Spanish government has approved an agreement between Iberia and Vueling enabling the low cost airline to increase its number of routes from Madrid to other Spanish and European cities, offering not only point to point services but also connecting services with Iberia.  Details will be published shortly with the services operating in the second quarter. The arrangement is initially only for eight months.

Tickets will be sold through a codeshare agreement between both Vueling and Iberia extending the existing arrangement.  Vueling already feeds Iberia flights from Barcelona.  It claims to be the first European “low cost” airline to offer the whole range of short haul products: point to point, own company connecting flights and connecting flights with other airlines. www.vueling.com

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AND FINALLY: Things are getting better in Italy

Air Traffic Control: "Alitalia 345 continue taxi to 26 Left South via Tango – check for workers along taxiway."

Alitalia 345: "Roger, Taxi 26 Left South via Tango.  Workers checked – all are working."

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COMMENT: Is Northolt the answer?

AERBT has this week two stories which on the face of it have no relationship.  The Transport Times London conference and the cessation of Air Southwest flights into Gatwick.  You could also add in the London City news from last week that the airport has been given permission to increase annual movements to 120,000.  The problems associated with New York, which we report on too, could be included to the scenario “Is Northolt the answer?”

At the conference it became clear that the Government has not a clue where to go regarding air transport for the London area.  It acknowledges that civil aviation plays a big role in helping Britain stay amongst the world’s leading nations.  Heathrow’s third runway, and for that matter the second runway at Gatwick and Stansted are not completely dead we learnt. 

The news of Air Southwest’s retreat from Gatwick highlights not only Cornwall and Devon’s plight in not having air links to the capital but also draws attention to the fact that in recent times the Leeds Bradford, Inverness and Teesside routes into Heathrow have gone too.  Belfast and Newcastle are seemingly in danger of being withdrawn. Liverpool, Humberside, the Channel Islands and even Norwich once had services into what is acknowledged as the World’s most important international hub.  All agree on the consequences of loosing the London routes.  Carlisle would like to be linked.

London City Airport (LCY) runs the executive jet operation at RAF Northolt, London’s secret airport.  In 2009 there were 13,000 movements, half of which were by elderly military jets which do not comply with modern noise regulations.

Go back 25 years and you will find that the opposition to the docklands airport, funded by Ken Livingstone, was vociferous.  Mr Livingstone now acknowledges that it is a success and even accepted an invitation to open the adjacent DLR railway station.  To close the airport now would be a disaster for the whole area.  Modern jets are quiet and airlines bring in business.

A close inspection of the noise footprint area for London City is not that much different than Northolt.  So why not have a “city” airport in the west of London, subject to the same aircraft constraints as LCY?  Link it with a simple monorail system to Heathrow and of course make use of the existing Underground.  Move the regional flights out of LHR and put a lower limit on aircraft size at that airport.  It makes real sense to replace a 68-seat ATR72 slot with one for a 500-seat Airbus.

The cost of such a project is not horrendous and the engineering task could be quickly undertaken.  No compulsory purchase and yes the Air Marshals might grumble.  Prince Philip can have his slots.  There is no climb-down by the Government and it would give a really great boost to the regions (and something for the local MPs to get their teeth into at Parliament).  In the meantime Westminster could look again at Heathrow’s third runway proposals and plough on with its long term plans for High Speed Rail.

A serious (and speedy review) of the Northolt scenario by this Government would at least give them a chance to show that they are thinking positively regarding air transport.  At the moment it seems to be acting like a headless chicken not knowing which way to run. 

Northolt is London’s secret airport.  With the modern jets it would remain hush-hush!

Malcolm Ginsberg
EDITOR IN CHIEF

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Airport retail company to expand

HMS Hosts, the airport retail specialist, is planning an expansion of its UK operation and into Europe.  It currently operates in 111 airports around the globe, including 20 in Europe and the 20 busiest in North America.  HMS Host is part of Autogrill, the world’s largest provider of food and beverage and retail services for what it calls “people on the move”.  Autogrill also owns World Duty Free.

Heading up the European expansion is Dawn Wilding, English but established in Amsterdam, and with over 20 years in the international catering industry.

“We are not setting any targets,” she told AERBT, “But we are looking for expansion.  Our outlets are at a number of UK airports including Heathrow T3 and T5, Manchester and London City”.  Starbucks is probably the best known of franchises HMS Host operate but the company is also adept in creating an outlet tuned to a specific location, typically the Harvest Market concept at George Best Belfast City Airport and the Cork Food Market.  By comparison with the single Belfast site, at Amsterdam the company offers some 70 outlets. www.hmshosteurope.com

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Boutique hotel support function launched

STEM™ (Short Term Executive Management), has been launched, a new  bespoke service designed to help privately owned boutique hotels. 

With the continuing expansion of the multi-national chains and their attempts to swamp the market, at the other end of the spectrum there has been a significant growth in high quality small hotels offering a personal service that the majors cannot compete with.

Established by Dutch national Robert van Eerde, originally a hospitality graduate from the University of Sussex but now with over 23 years of experience in the hotel industry, STEM is able to take on the “head office” functions that boutique hotels may have limited experience in.  The essential idea to offer a flexible system so that hoteliers can call on its services in the required areas – a cost effective alternative to calling in support independently.

For each client a measurable strategic “roadmap” is created and executed.  The bespoke roadmap includes objectives, timelines, likely costs and a framework for how the team will operate at the property.  As part of the roadmap, STEM will carry out a specifically designed quality check prior to commencing the project to measure the performance of their property against objective criteria. www.stem.co

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Devon's London air link goes

Plymouth City Airport's last flight to London will take place today despite desperate efforts by the local Chamber of Commerce to save the four times daily operation to Gatwick by Air Southwest, now a division of Eastern Airways.  The routes to London, which at one time included both Heathrow and London City were pioneered in the early 1980s by Brymon Airways.

Members of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce met Air Southwest bosses on Friday to try to persuade them to postpone axing the route.  However the airline said it could not keep losing money on the services, caused by high landing fees and falling passenger numbers.  An alterative of using Stansted is known to be under consideration which might entail an aircraft operating via Newquay in much the same way as the present service.  Two years back Ryanair dropped its non-stop Newquay – Stansted operation citing airport charges at the Cornish airport as the main reason. Flybe operate Newquay-Gatwick non-stop. www.airsouthwest.com

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Irish flights disruptions

Aer Lingus passengers should be aware that disruptions are likely to occur over the airline's network this week as weekend talks between the airline and its cabin staff union have failed to resolve an ongoing situation with the cancelation of about 10% of services during the last fortnight.

Almost 300 cabin crew have been removed from the payroll and disciplinary measures, which could result in staff being sacked, are still taking place.  The staff are protesting about cost cutting measures and a change of the roster system

The increasingly acrimonious dispute is being played out in the media with the airline saying that all ongoing matters were settled late last year, whilst the union is claiming that Aer Lingus is suffering during the strikes with passengers turning to other carriers and expensive aircraft wet leased in. www.aerlingus.com

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New York needs expansion

John F Kennedy and Newark, New York’s two major airports must be expanded and redesigned to handle the area's growing transport needs, according to a new report.

The number of airline passengers in the New York region is expected to surge to 150m by 2030 from 104m passengers, said the report by the Regional Plan Association, an urban research group, partly funded by the Port of New York and New Jersey which runs the airports.  London by comparison moved around close on 130m passengers with a much larger international proportion.  It is not feasible to expand LaGuardia Airport, the report said.

The region needs to add 78 flights per hour during peak periods, up from 236 now, the report said.  It also noted that by adding capacity, delays would be reduced.  "The crucial link between air travel and economic prosperity is threatened by a lack of adequate capacity in our aviation system," wrote RPA President Robert Yaro in a statement accompanying the report. www.rpa.org

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San Francisco for Airbus A380

Lufthansa is to launch in May a daily Airbus A380 service from Frankfurt to San Francisco (SFO), the airline’s fifth Airbus A380 destination and the first carrier with the aircraft into SFO.

The carrier will operate the service under the present flight numbers LH 454 and LH 455, replacing a Boeing 747-400 currently offered on the route. 

The new Lufthansa flagship is configured with 526 seats, eight in First Class, 98 in Business Class and 420 in Economy.  Lufthansa will also continue to serve the "metropolis of the Pacific coast" from Munich daily with an Airbus A340, sister company Swiss serving the city with an Airbus A340 from Zurich.

Lufthansa has established the A380 on flights to Beijing and Tokyo.  From the end of February it will also operate to New York. 

The airline has issued some interesting statistics regarding the A380.  With the new service the fleet will be undertaking 70 long haul flights per week, covering a distance of more than half a million kilometres.  Each week, almost 37,000 passengers will have an opportunity to fly on an the aircraft.  Deploying the A380 will enable Lufthansa to increase its capacity on flights to San Francisco by 31%. www.lufthansa.com/A380.

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ON TOUR: Transport Times Conference

Last Wednesday Junior Transport Minister Theresa Villiers led off a thoroughly interesting Transport Times air transport conference at Central London’s impressive King’s Fund conference centre.

The keynote speaker, Villiers, admitted that the Government had no policy for aviation in the South East.  She seemed in a more conciliatory mood towards the problems of the London area than has been the case in the past.  In March the Government will issue a “scoping document” as part of an air transport review in 2012.  The usual anti third Heathrow runway rhetoric was not apparent and asked by AERBT whether one answer to the Heathrow movements problem was to increase the opening hours she evaded the question in typical political fashion.  

She said that the government will act to cut border queues at airports, improve resilience to bad weather and make security “more passenger friendly”.  She did not explain how.

Villiers told delegates that the Civil Aviation Authority would soon have new powers to intervene at airports and stressed the regulator’s primary duty in all areas would be “to promote the interests of passengers,” a view reiterated by Andrew Haines, Chief Executive, CAA.  He said that British airlines responded well in the main to the problems associated with the airport snow closures in December, which was not the case with some foreign carriers.  As regards the passenger reimbursement issue Mr Haines said that this required a more rational approach.  “Clearly a passenger who paid one pound for a flight on a low cost airline cannot expect £3,000 compensation.”

The same session included Daniel Moylan, Deputy Chair, Transport for London, reporting to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, .and Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive, London First.

Mr Moylan opened up by saying he was a banker with no knowledge of air transport, something that clearly became apparent when he virtually argued with himself stating that new airports were what was wanted and then praising Amsterdam and Charles de Gaulle.  Whilst he proved to be a charismatic and interesting speaker what he had to say hardly stood up to scrutiny but he did point out correctly that urgent decisions are needed regarding airport policy.  He spoke of airports being “full” not realising that “full” is normally associated with runway capacity, but in fact with large aircraft replacing earlier generation jets and turboprops there is scope for increasing passenger numbers.  One got the impression he was willing to learn and hear the other side of the argument. 

Jo Valentine eloquently put the case for London, a sort of city state, but now no longer with its own minister, the position scrapped by the new coalition administration.  London however does have Boris.

The Minister of State had earlier evaded questions regarding APD saying that it would be reviewed in the next Budget, due in March. 

This was a subject raised during a further session in which Steve Ridgeway, Virgin Atlantic’s expansive Chief Executive, put the case for the current system of passenger taxation (everyone agrees now that is what it is).  He showed some interesting graphics and predicted that Virgin will have flown 85% full over the last year when the figures are announced. 

He said that any change of taxation would affect the vital (non-taxed) transfer traffic.  Likewise the crucial cargo element in long haul, showing a slide comparing the amount carried by Virgin compared with easyJet, in favour of whole ‘plane tax, the amount insignificant.  The European emissions trading scheme (ETS) is coming in which will further confuse matters.

ABTA chief Mark Tanzer more or less reiterated Mr Ridgeway’s views pointing out that research indicated one million less visitors per annum to the UK by 2015 if the tax continued to rise.

The case for whole ‘plane tax was put by easyJet’s Chris Gadsden, in the absence of Carolyn Mccall, Chief Executive, the published speaker.  He put forward the obvious argument that short haul operations produced less emissions and pointed out that the Prime Minister had favoured per ‘plane duty (PPD) and said so in a recent visit to the airline.

The final session was given over to BAA chief Colin Matthews explaining what went wrong at Christmas with the snow at Heathrow.  John Jarvis, Transport Director of Northern Way, a lobby group, and Sir David Rowlands, formerly a high flyer in the Department of Transport responsible for the High Speed 2 deliberation and now, as Chairman of Gatwick Airport Ltd, were seemingly opposed to it saying emphatically that any railway project would not replace flights from London to the north.

Let’s just say that Mr Jarvis, of all the speakers, was downbeat, casting a gloom on northern airport development prospects although highlighting the success of Emirates at Newcastle. 

Mr Matthews again admitted mistakes had been made over the snow period but also said that the media had been guilty of misleading the public.  “The airport was not closed for five days,” he repeated but also was at pains to find out why a report stating “the airport may open at four” somehow became “the airport will open at four”.  Foreign airlines were accused of boarding passengers for publicity purposes, but this could be put down to a misinterpretation of announcements.  Hopefully the enquiry will come to some conclusion that can be turned into future crisis procedures.

Sir David was full of praise for Heathrow which he said should be developed.  He described the government’s aviation policy as “ludicrous”.  Gatwick was concentrating on its current vital development and was not thinking at this time of a second runway post 2019, which of course is currently stifled.  His bright and breezy presentation rounded off an interesting day only marred by a lack of interest and attendance by Britain’s regional airports, and no presentation by British Airways.

In summary the Government clearly does not know what to do regarding the South East airports problem.  The possibility of new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted is not completely dead.  We learnt in an aside that in the case of BAA, the land acquired for the possible expansion has not been released.

Sir David put it well in concluding his speech.

“It should be the market, not any regulator, that drives service standards and decides the future success of Britain’s airports.”  And turning to the government.

“It most certainly does not mean announcing policy piecemeal, without evidence and in ways that then constrain strategic choices.  For that is dangerous.

And that I fear is exactly what the Coalition Government has done with runway capacity in the South East".

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Aegean and Olympic not to merge

European Commission officials have blocked the proposed merger of Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air on the grounds it would create a quasi-monopoly in the Greek air transport market.  The EU says that a merger would lead to higher fares for four out of six million Greek and European consumers travelling on routes to and from Athens each year.  On the Greek domestic market the two carriers control 90% of the market.  It also points out that at the present time it is unlikely that another airline would enter the market.

Aegean is a member of Star Alliance and from Athens serves Heathrow at Terminal 1.  Olympic is owned by Greece’s Marfin Investment Group and at Heathrow uses T4.  BA also operates the route from T5, as does easyJet from Gatwick South.

The airlines had offered to cede take-off and landing slots at Greek airports, but Greek airports do not suffer from the congestion observed at other European airports in previous mergers or alliances.

The companies say that they are reviewing the EC decision and following internal consideration and consultation with their advisers will decide for their possible further actions within the framework of existing legislation. www.aegeanair.com www.olympicair.com

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American Airlines v Sabre

Litigation has been put on hold between American Airlines and Sabre (as reported 17 January issue of AERBT).  The two companies have said they will try to reach a deal to end a dispute over how the carrier's fares are displayed to travel agents and customers.  In a joint statement they confirmed they would return to operating as they did prior to 5 January, when Sabre said it would change how it displays the carrier's fares to ticket buyers.

Earlier this month, American Airlines won a court order temporarily blocking Sabre from presenting its fares in a manner the carrier fears might steer customers to other airlines.

American had accused Sabre of violating its contract by pushing the carrier's fares lower in displays, making them harder for ticket buyers to find.  It has developed technology that informs ticket buyers of various services it offers for a fee, such as extra legroom or priority seating, rather than steering them toward tickets on the basis of price or schedule.  But this could disrupt the ticket selling model now favoured by Sabre and online agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz. www.aa.com www.sabre.com

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Budapest seems in favour

Air Baltic and Qatar Airways, two somewhat diverse carriers, are in the news this week in respect of Budapest.

With regard to Air Baltic, the fast expanding Riga-based national carrier of Latvia is to introduce a four times per week Riga – Budapest service on 14 May operated by a Bombardier Q400 propjet.  Flight time for the two-class operation is 2hrs 15mins. 

Qatar Airways last week inaugurated a non-stop flight from Budapest to Doha which will also operate four times weekly.  The service will be flown by a Airbus A320 featuring 12 seats in Business Class and up to 165 in Economy.  The Budapest hub will provide passengers with connections to Scandinavia, Russia and the CIS in one direction and the whole of the Gulf region in the other. www.bud.hu

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Doha gets Ramada Encore

Ramada has opened it first Encore property in the Middle East.  Situated in the Al-Asmakh area of Doha, less than three miles from Doha International Airport, the hotel is the second Wyndham Hotel Group property to open in Qatar’s capital. 

The Ramada Encore Doha is located on Ahmad Bin Mohamad Bin Thani Road and offers 111 guestrooms with free wired internet access and all the latest amenities.  All feature queen or twin beds, a spacious work desk, mini fridge, tea/coffee maker and an electronic safe.  Rooms on non-smoking floors and interconnecting rooms are also available upon request.

For dining options, the hotel features The Hub, a signature offering at all Ramada Encore properties that includes an international breakfast buffet and à la carte lunch and dinner menu.  A coffee bar in the lobby serves a mix of hot and cold soft beverages and a 24-hour room service is available.  For business travellers there is access to a 24-hour centre with print, copy and fax services as well as two meeting rooms equipped with the latest audio and video technologies.  Other amenities include an indoor swimming pool, a gymnasium and separate male and female saunas.  Airport transportation and on-site parking are also available. www.ramadaencoredoha.com

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Manchester return for Ryanair

Ryanair, in what is seen as something of a climb-down, has returned to Manchester Airport in quite a big way.  Fifteen months ago it pulled all its routes with the exception of Dublin, claiming that the airport charges were making them unsustainable. 

It was Mr O’Leary himself who returned last week to front a press conference confirming daily services to Madrid, a first for the airport, with 14 April set for the inaugural flight.  Also being introduced at the same time are services to Alicante, Faro and Tenerife.  Frequencies to Dublin go up from four to six flights daily.  With the exception of Madrid all the routes face competition from other low cost airlines.  At the same time Ryanair also announced a new twice weekly service from Humberside Airport to Alicante starting from 12 April. www.ryanair.com www.manchesterairport.co.uk

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Oman Air offers new First Class and Business Class lounges

Muscat International Airport has seen the unveiling of Oman Air’s spectacular new First Class and Business Class lounges.  They are both located on the first floor of the terminal.  Each lounge is open 24 hours a day and offers dedicated dining facilities, quiet rooms, men’s and women’s prayer rooms, wash and shower rooms, a business centre, and a “Chedi” spa with massage rooms, offering complimentary 15-minute treatments.

First Class passengers can use dedicated lifts and staircases to the limousine pick-up point where chauffeurs will take passengers to their aircraft in complete privacy and comfort.

For those travelling with children, a wide choice of toys and computer games awaits to keep them occupied within the dedicated playroom. 

The airline says that the lounges reflect the quality of the new fleet of Airbus A330 aircraft, with its 1+2+1 layout in both First and Business Class.  The carrier now serves more than 40 destinations throughout Europe, the Middle East, South and South East Asia, and North and East Africa. www.oman-air.com

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Thomas Cook goes for sharklets

Airbus has signed an order with Thomas Cook Airlines for the leisure carrier to take 12 A321 series aircraft, as it consolidates its narrow bodied fleet.  It currently operates both the A320 and Boeing 757.  In addition to the firm order, Thomas Cook Group plans to lease A320 Family aircraft from operating lessors.

Sharklets are large wing-tip devices that will enhance the eco-efficiency and payload-range performance of the A320 Family.  They are expected to result in at least 3.5% reduced fuel burn over longer sectors, corresponding to an annual reduction of around 700 metric tons of carbon dioxide per aircraft.

Thomas Cook currently operate around 40 aircraft, both Airbus (A320 and A330) and Boeing (757 and 767).  With the arrival of the first A321s in 2012 the 757s will begin to be withdrawn, some of the aircraft dating back to the era of Airtours International, and then MyTravel Airways, becoming part of Thomas Cook in 2007. www.thomascookairlines.co.uk

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CRUISE NEWS JANUARY 2011

This month’s ship review: Crystal Serenity
UK readers are reminded that the Daily Telegraph London Cruise Show takes place at Olympia 26-27 March.  Readers can enter a competition for free entry in next month's cruise review.  http://cruisingshow.co.uk

Our 10-story news review follows:

Crystal Cruises could be said to be the world’s smallest serious cruise line, and by the same token one of the largest.  The company, which created the title “Six-Star” cruising is certainly worth the description. 

Crystal now has only two ships, Crystal Symphony (1995 – 51,000 tons – 960 passengers) and Crystal Serenity (2003 – 68,000 tons – 1,100 passengers).  Whilst managed hands on from Los Angeles the company is owned by Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha or NYK Line, itself part of Mitsubishi, and one of the world’s largest shipping companies with over 500 vessels.  Crystal has won more awards than most.

When launched 20 years ago the cruise industry as we know it today was in its infancy.  In the main, the ships in the luxury top end of the market were converted liners, with very few offering anything in the way of balcony cabins and with limited amenities.  Crystal Harmony, a one-class vessel designed exclusively for worldwide cruising, changed all that.  At 50,000 tons, then and now, it can be classed as a medium size ship.  Such is the size of NYK it has moved on and plies the seas as the Japanese Asuka II. 

Our review is of Crystal Serenity which differs from her sister ship in having two swimming pools, one covered by a sliding glass roof, ideal for less equitable climes but in fact usually kept shut.  The air conditioning is excellent.  Called the Neptune Lounge the area is ideal for lunchtime buffets and also less posh evening dining.  On Crystal people tend to dress up for dinner, especially for the formal nights.  Wherever you choose to eat the cuisine is superb and you can dine off the menu too.  No charge of course.

First impressions count and there is a welcoming drink when stepping on board.  You are escorted to your stateroom and introduced to your steward.  If there is a weakness with the ships the standard cabins are not as spacious as some of the latest but every one of them has a full bath. 

The ship has three sets of elevators with the main public areas either down towards the waterline, or high up on the top decks.  That makes it easy for getting about and remembering where your cabin is.  The central atrium area features The Bistro for morning coffee and afternoon tea plus simple dining, the Crystal Cove bar, and various management facilities.  Up on the top deck is the splendid Palm Court lounge and one of the nicest rooms afloat.  The ship has a full covered promenade deck at about four laps to the mile.

You can dine privately on your balcony during restaurant opening hours with a full bill of fare to choose from, and there is an excellent 24hr menu if you are out of sequence.  Again there are no charges for this service and in fact the extras’ bill can be very limited.

The penthouses are outstanding in their layout, and offer a 24hr butler service and various complimentary offerings including wines and spirits.  For everyone soft drinks are provided gratis.  Cruising is now very competitive price-wise and Crystal has been innovative in introducing various incentives including wine for dinner, complimentary laundry and on-board credits.  Watch out for what is on offer.  In the casino you can try and win enough to cover the next trip.  It’s been done many times.

When it comes to dining it is here that Crystal really scores.  Serenity offers the traditional two sittings in the main and very spacious Crystal Dining Room but a new innovation for 2011 is Perfect Choice Dining an innovation in the ultra-luxury sector of the cruise industry.  Offered complimentary, Perfect Choice Dining maintains Crystal’s classic dining experience but allows guests to dine when and where they choose.  If that is not enough for you Prego is without doubt the finest Italian restaurant at sea.  For connoisseurs of eastern cooking Silk Road features the eclectic cuisine of famed master chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa with entree and dessert dishes prepared by Nobu-trained chefs.  There is a Sushi bar as well. 

You can of course take breakfast in the dining room but should you prefer the lido café waiting staff are on hand to take your tray or even serve you at the table.  It is all very relaxed but extremely courteous.  The company has a rule that all members of the staff must deal with a traveller’s question in the first instance, whoever you are.  We asked a member of the crew what time we were docking at the next port of call.  He said he did not know and went off to find out.  Later we discovered he was the ship’s doctor.  It is this quality of service that makes Crystal different with a passenger crew ratio of 1:7.  If you are sitting out on the spacious stern deck having breakfast (or lunch) you can be sure a watchful member of the crew is ready to assist with your needs.

The Vintage Room on Crystal Serenity hosts the ultimate experience for wine enthusiasts with intimate wine-makers’ dinners for four to 14 people (nightly by reservation), offering a tasting menu created to complement rare vintages and wine regions of the world.  The dinners are offered several times each cruise for approximately US$200+ per person, depending on the wines chosen.

Crystal, for the most part, tries to offer as many sea days as possible.  On these days there is a whole series of (gratis) onboard activities including a Yamaha keyboard class, Computer University at Sea, golf instruction, poker, hands on cooking, and the Hollywood Theatre, always popular and used for not only the latest film presentations but also for lectures, described as “Enrichment seminars”.  Not free is the Steiner spa where you can pamper yourself with some exotic treatments.

The ship really comes to life in the evening with merriment and noise from the Starlight Club, Avenue Saloon and of course the Galaxy Lounge for Showtime, entertainment to the highest standards, worthy of London’s West End.


THE SHIP’S PROGRAMME 2011:  Crystal Serenity is presently on a world cruise which started at Los Angeles on 17 January and then routed westward, completing at Dover on 8 May.  About half the passenger complement are taking the full cruise. 

Crystal very sensibly offers the world cruise in seven distinct sectors, ranging from 12 to 21 days.  Some people get off and then re-join, whilst for others it is just one or two sectors.

Auckland to Sydney (28 February) includes most of the major New Zealand cities, plus Hobart and Melbourne.  Serenity then routes via Bali to Singapore (15 March), the next sector includes Bangkok, Colombo, Cochin and Mumbai.  Via the Indian Ocean islands, Durban and Port Elizabeth are followed by Cape Town (17 April).  Dover is then 21 days away via various West African ports and Lisbon.

Starting out at Hamburg on 22 May Crystal Serenity embarks on a series of Northern Europe 11/12 day cruises, initially based at Copenhagen and Stockholm and as the summer continues via most of the major Mediterranean ports including Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Athens and Istanbul.

Crystal Serenity completes the year with a transatlantic crossing from Lisbon (8 December) to Miami (21 December) from which it embarks on a lazy 14-day holiday cruise around the Caribbean before returning to the Florida port.

Departing 18 January 2012, Crystal Serenity will embark on a round-trip from Los Angeles, exploring 35 ports in five segments through Hawaii, the South Pacific, Australia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Russia, Alaska, British Columbia and San Francisco. 

 
OUR 10-STORY NEWS REVUE

Carnival Spirit is to be based full time in Australian waters from October 2012.  The 85,000 ton 2,667-passenger ship will be the first Carnival vessel permanently operating outside of the United States.

Sydney has been chosen as the home port, the only problem being that the ship cannot get under the famous harbour bridge.  Circular Quay will be used.  Itineraries are yet to be revealed, but it is likely that cruise lengths will be between eight and 12 days taking in the Pacific Islands and also probably calling at New Zealand ports for part of the year.

Aimed at fun-loving Australians seeking vibrant, active holidays with a broad diversity of on-board choices, Carnival Spirit offers a host of areas for outdoor fun, including a 22-metre corkscrew water slide, four swimming pools, a miniature golf course, jogging track and a sports court.  Guests have their choice of 16 lounges and bars, including a 1,170-seat three-deck-high theatre. www.carnival.com

Cunard staged a remarkable winter firework display on Thursday 13 January in New York when its three Queens met up for the first time.  The rendezvous of The Queen Mary 2, The Queen Victoria and The Queen Elizabeth was only the second time in the company’s 170-year history that the entire fleet was in New York at the same time. 

The Queens’ rendezvous was marked by 20 minutes of fireworks from two locations, with the Statue of Liberty serving as a backdrop.  New Yorkers turned out en masse to see the ships including specially chartered boats, and those taking advantage of the free Staten Island ferry.

The ships then sailed to open sea under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on their way to Fort Lauderdale, Mary and Elizabeth for world cruises and Victoria for a winter season which includes a number of passages through the Panama Canal. www.cunard.co.uk

Fred Olsen’s cruise ship, Balmoral, will host a very special ‘Around the UK’ cruise in August 2011.  A dedicated package for keen gardeners is offered on this cruise. 

On board will be some of the best-known celebrity gardeners in the UK, giving talks and gardening tips, and answering guests’ questions.  They are Alan Titchmarsh, broadcaster, novelist, journalist and gardener; Adam Pasco, Editor of Gardeners’ World Magazine; Pippa Greenwood and Matthew Biggs, both regular contributors to the popular magazine and panellists on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time.

The cruise departs from Southampton on 8 August, the group treated to an exclusive 20th anniversary welcome by Mr Titchmarsh to mark this important landmark in the magazine’s history.  Balmoral then sets sail on her journey around the UK, calling at St Peter Port (Guernsey), Holyhead (Wales), Dublin (Ireland), Greenock (for Glasgow, Scotland), Tobermory (Isle of Mull, Scotland), Scrabster (Scotland), and Harwich, returning to Southampton. www.cruise.co.uk

Frommer’s Cruises and Ports of Call has been published.  It is not a competitor to the even longer established Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships, more of a companion volume and just as useful.  It does rate the boats but in design and layout it is completely different with ships divided into what it calls “classes” although where it is an individual vessel it gains a comprehensive review.  Virtually every major cruise operator is mentioned but it is a US book and whilst Cunard is well covered, P&O seems not to exist.  Holland America is included (maybe it is the “America” that makes for an entry) as does Swedish-owned Monaco-based Star Clippers.  Work that one out.

All the American departure ports are well covered in the style Frommer’s are noted for, as are the Caribbean destinations plus Bermuda and The Bahamas.  No mention of Europe at all!

It’s a fine and comprehensive book and will make for good reading on an eight-hour flight from Heathrow to Miami.  You will need all the time. www.frommers.com 

Guernsey does not have a proper full size port, not one at least big enough to take a cruise liner of any size.  However somehow it has made itself so attractive that 76 vessels plan to anchor off the capital St Peter’s Port this coming year and disgorge one day passengers.  With ships’ crew also making the most of the opportunity afforded more than 80,000 visitors can be added to the islands’ holidaymakers throughput, all keen to spend British pounds.

The new St Peter Port Trails map has proved a particularly popular aide for visitors interested in learning more about the town, with a selection of self-guided walks revealing different aspects of St Peter Port's heritage and attractions.  From the landing stage you can also take boats to the sister islands of Sark and Herm, both equally fascinating. www.visitguernsey.com

Silversea has confirmed that that eight voyages this year will feature the popular Relais & Châteaux L'École des Chefs interactive cooking school.

The curriculum for each of these cruises is carefully designed to celebrate the cultural flavour of the ship's itinerary.  Highlights include specialised workshops covering a range of topics from basic knife skills and kitchen terminology to sauces and baking; cooking demonstrations with wine pairings and interactive Q&A sessions; lively cooking competitions between Chef Bilsland and the ship's own culinary team; a "Lunch and Learn" event offering small groups of guests a chance to sample a delicious meal of specially prepared dishes; and inspired "Take It Home" recipes that will give passengers an edge when entertaining at home. 

Ideal for those who wish to walk off the wonderful food on board is a "Market to the Plate" experience that provides an escorted tour of a local market followed by a cooking class, and a "Culinary Outing," an instructor-escorted excursion to a local restaurant, hotel or other venue where guests can enjoy a unique culinary exploration. www.silversea.com

The UK Passenger Shipping Association has published figures that nearly 35m passengers, 8m cars and more than 140,000 coaches were carried by Britain’s ferries in 2010, which operated normally in a year punctuated with freak weather conditions that caught out other transport alternatives.  Coach numbers were up by 5.6% and ferry passengers and car numbers rose factionary.

In 2010, continental ferry services still carried more passengers than Eurotunnel and Eurostar combined (18.4m compared with 18.3m), and nearly double the number of cars and coaches carried through Eurotunnel (4.19m cars compared to 2.16m through tunnel and 100,130 coaches compared to 56,510 through tunnel In 2010, the ferries finest hour came when they carried some 300,000 additional passengers to and from the Continent and Ireland after airlines were grounded due to the volcanic ash cloud incident.  Ferry figure growth for the year would have been higher were it not for a disappointing and frustrating December, when despite operating virtually normally through the unseasonal snow and ice conditions, passengers in their cars and coaches were not able to get to ports due to blocked roads. www.the-psa.co.uk

Seatrade Europe will return once again to Hamburg this year after its Mediterranean sojourn in Cannes last November.  Dates are 27-29 September at the Hamburg Messe Fairground.  In 2009 over 4.9m passengers embarked on their cruises from a European port and over 75% of these were European nationals.  With vast source market potential and some 180 ports, Europe has taken the lead in cruise market growth.

Over 3,000 participants from 74 countries attended Seatrade Europe in 2009 and the numbers for 2011 are set to rise as the European cruise industry continues its phenomenal expansion.  The show remains the only industry event that encompasses both river and ocean cruising. www.cruise-community.com

Oceania’s new Marina flagship is now well on her way as AERBT is published with a maiden voyage from Barcelona to Miami.  She arrives on 4 February followed by four days of showcasing and a gala launch, and then departs for San Francisco, and in the cruising traditions, celebrates her arrival at every port en route.  It sounds like an exhausting but fun trip.

After two US west coast round trips Marina then operates a 12-day Caribbean cruise, round-trip from Miami, departing 16 March, before sailing along the US Eastern Seaboard and on to Europe to begin her inaugural Mediterranean season.

At 66,000 tons and 1,250 passengers Marina is the first new build to join the Oceania fleet and is finished to the highest standards,  It will be a strong competitor at the top end of the market.  Facilities include 10 dining venues including six open-seating gourmet restaurants, an array of bars and lounges, a full-service Canyon Ranch SpaClub and fitness centre, swimming pool and hot tubs. www.oceaniacruises.co.uk

Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic and Hebridean Island Cruises, all part of Roger Allard’s All Leisure Group, have all been in the news spotlight this year, with one of the biggest stories being the new summer homeport of Portsmouth for Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery in 2011. Portsmouth will become a no-fly cruise embarkation point for many exciting routes and excursions in 2011, with Harwich still playing a part for Discovery on two new voyages, the historically rich Voyage to the White Sea and Archangel and the new ‘Footloose’ walking cruise Norwegian Explorer.

Popular destinations in 2010 for Discovery included Asia and Indonesia and the Mediterranean remains firm favourite for Minerva, as she also enjoyed her last season in Antarctica before returning to the Far East and the Orient in November.

Hebridean Princess went in for her annual winter refit, this year not only will her engines be serviced but there is also the exciting refurbishment of several new cabins which will be ready for the start of the next cruising season. www.allleisuregroup.com

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