7 FEBRUARY 2011

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Alaska to be seen more in the US

Horizon Air, which goes back 30 years as a US regional carrier, is to virtually lose its identity with a move by parent company Alaska Airlines to rebrand its aircraft in its style.  The airline’s 40 strong fleet of Bombardier Q400 aircraft are even to gain Alaska’s trademark Eskimo on the tailplane.

Horizon has had a separate brand since it was acquired by Alaska Air Group in 1986.  Horizon operates an average of 350 flights a day in 45 cities in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Baja California, Sur (Mexico), and British Columbia and Alberta (Canada).

Rather like the CityJet/VLM arrangement in Europe, Horizon operates and maintains its aircraft while Alaska is responsible for scheduling, marketing and operations.  Alaska Air itself is based at Seattle and has extensive services in Alaska, and as far afield as Hawaii.  It has a Mexican gateway at Los Angeles. www.alaskaair.com

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Dubai hosts aviation conference

With the Gulf states and the whole region now seeing a growth of low cost airline operations it is not surprising that this part of the air transport scheme will be highlighted at the 4th annual Aviation Outlook Middle East & North Africa, at the Shangri-La, Dubai, 14-16 March.

Key speakers include Peter Hill, CEO of Oman Airways, very much a full service carrier, and at the other end of the scale and balancing things up is Mr Stefan Pichler who holds a similar position at Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways.  David Huttner, Senior Vice-President at Nyras, the London consultancy, will try and balance out the whole situation in a session entitled 'Key Sales & Distribution Challenges in the Region.'  In all over 30 speakers are lined up to debate a whole series of civil aviation related subjects over the three days of the conference.

The moving situation in Egypt, and in other countries in the region, should make it a most interesting gathering.  In six weeks' time anything could have happened. www.terrapinn.com/2011/aome/index.stm

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Faroe link this summer

Atlantic Airways, the flag carrier for the Faroe Islands, will again be operating a twice weekly service from the islands tiny airport to Stansted from June to August this year, plus a special service over Easter.  Flight time in a BAe/Avro 146/RJ is just two hours.

Atlantic Airways was founded in 1987 and began operating scheduled flights in 1988.  The 2011 schedule includes Copenhagen (up to four times daily), Aalborg, Billund, Stavanger, Reykjavik and the summer time only Stansted route.  It also operates local helicopter services within the 18 Faroe Islands.

Passengers from the UK land at Vagar Airport, built during World War II by British military personnel stationed on the islands as part of the UK's "friendly occupation". https://www.atlantic.fo

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Heathrow - Glasgow flights cut by half

British Midland is to drop in its entirety all services between Glasgow and Heathrow from the start of the summer season at the end of March.  It is a controversial move and leaves British Airways as the only carrier on the route although the Scottish city is also served by BA from Gatwick and London City, easyJet from Gatwick and Luton, and also Ryanair out of Stansted and to Prestwick.

BMI, which is owned by Germany’s Lufthansa, blamed a forthcoming increase in BAA passenger charges at Heathrow for making the loss-making route “unsustainable”.  The airport operator rejected the accusation, saying BMI was making a commercial choice to transfer slots to more profitable long haul routes.  At the same time BMI announced new routes from Heathrow to Bergen (a Heathrow first), Stavanger, Casablanca and Marrakech. 

Without direct competition it is suggested by business leaders in Scotland that fares will inevitably rise.  British Airways will also profit from all passengers arriving in T5, those connecting less likely to change to another carrier and therefore stay with BA for the onward flight. www.flybmi.com 

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Irish flights return to normal

Aer Lingus confirmed last Friday that its industrial dispute with the Impact cabin crew union has been successfully resolved with the full implementation of what is known as the Greenfield plan including changes in rosters to deliver 850 annual flying hours per year per staff member. (see AERBT 21 January)

In practical terms this ‪means that the airline should return to its full schedule in the early part of this week and says that it will be in touch directly with passengers through email and SMS should there be any changes to flight times. www.aerlingus.com

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Southend gains scheduled services

Aer Arann is to introduce twice daily flights (with limited weekend services) from Southend Airport to both Waterford and Galway from 27 March 2011.  These are the first full scheduled routes to be announced since the airport was purchased by the Stobart Group two years ago.  Stobart also has an interest in Aer Arann.  Flight time, by ATR72 turboprops, to Waterford is around 1hr 30mins and Galway 20mins longer.

Airport Managing Director, Alastair Welch, said: “2011 is a very big year for London Southend, with a new airport railway station now complete and gearing up to be fully operational in the coming weeks, a new control tower also now ready, construction of a new passenger terminal underway and work on the runway extension and new airport hotel due to start later this year.  This is the year London Southend Airport goes on the international air travel map as a fast, friendly and hassle-free new gateway to London.  With the new railway station soon to be fully operational, we will be about 50 minutes by train from Liverpool Street, right in the heart of the City of London.” www.southendairport.com

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Travel management moves into a new age

KDS, the travel management company, introduced last week in Paris what it claims is a set of products that will revolutionise travel and expense (T&E) administration.  Created in 1994 KDS is today an international company based in the French capital city.

Speaking at the launch, Chief Executive Yves Weisselberger said: “We’re unveiling technologies that will give companies unprecedented levels of flexibility, visibility, forecasting, ease and efficiency in their travel booking and expense processing.”

Through an on-screen ‘dashboard’, the KDS Executive Suite provides companies with an instant graphic overview of their T&E performance.  In a single glance, a financial director can see many key performance indicators (KPIs), monitoring concerns from whether company policies and processes are being correctly applied by staff to what would happen if those policies were to change. www.kds.com

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AND FINALLY: A quote from my wife

"Have you ever noticed?  Anybody driving slower than you is an fool, and anyone going quicker is a lunatic."

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ON THE SOAPBOX: Vernon Murphy, former Managing Director, BAA Scottish Airports

Snow Snow and More Snow

Vernon Murphy joined BAA as a graduate recruit in 1966 and worked in airport planning, including rail links.  Subsequently he achieved senior management posts at Heathrow, Aberdeen and Gatwick airports before being appointed Managing Director of Scottish Airports in 1988 and later Chairman, Heathrow Express.

Hearing a neighbour’s frustrations when Geneva Airport was shut by snow for a day and a half last November took me back to my first job there in 1963 with Swissair.  Half way there the aircraft was diverted to Zurich as Geneva was shut all morning by snow.

Twenty years later in Aberdeen, severe winters were still frequent.  One winter airport temperatures twice dropped below -25C and the next it snowed on 20 days during one single month.  I spent around 20 hours on snow clearing including runway sweeping driving a plough/broom combination when our small specialist snow team needed to be rested to restart at 04:30 the following morning.  No doubt Health and Safety (H&S) and Working Time Directives would now rule all that out!

I came away with two lessons.  The only way staff can get the necessary experience in snow clearing is to actually work in those conditions (dry runs and snow seminars etc are of limited value).  This is critical with the heavy (ie wet) snow that is the UK’s speciality (being surrounded on all sides by sea).  Sweep speeds and judging when to plough as well as sweep are fundamental to minimising runway sweep times.  The second was when it is snowing hard you just keep sweeping until the snow eases and stops backfilling the runway.  (Very different on the couple of occasions that dry snow fell.)

On the Saturday before Christmas I watched with amazement five or so inches fall on my garden in little over 90 minutes – an intensity I could never recall and certainly not even on 25 recent winter trips to Inner Mongolia and Manchuria.  Living about 10 miles from Heathrow it was no surprise that the airport had shut.

It was fascinating to watch live news coverage from a helicopter over the airfield.  It was immediately apparent the real issue was not runway clearing – with the north runway and taxiways swept.  It seemed that Heathrow had then concentrated on aircraft stands rather than the south runway.  Indeed with no aircraft movements that evening and less than 30 departures and no arrivals all day Sunday, sweeping the southern runway would have been of no help, but the sting in the tail was Sunday night’s freezing temperatures (near here below -19C) which would have locked the snow onto the runway.  This could be why it was not opened until Tuesday afternoon when an unforecasted slight thaw would have helped. 

The normal way to tackle aprons is to start on empty stands and then, as aircraft depart or can be towed off, move onto the remaining ones.  The runway plough/snow broom units are too big to use so a fleet of tractors with ploughs and brooms is utilised.  But piling snow into banks, loading it into contractors’ trucks for transportation to snow dumps on a “live” airport requires a lot of supervision by qualified airfield staff.

However there must have been few if any empty stands.  The previous evening British Airways had cancelled virtually all short haul and domestic departures (even so that same neighbour waited for three hours for his B747 to be de-iced) and on the Saturday, with some foresight, cancelled all departures after 00:10 (but arrivals continued for a further couple of hours).  Aircraft de-icing delays had created stand congestion and the last aircraft to land in the snowfall – a Virgin 747 – was held on a taxiway for several hours presumably for the same reason.  Regular de-icing of departing aircraft opens a useful gap on stands to start clearing them, so congested aprons with no empty areas looks to have been the basic problem.

All reminiscent of the last time Heathrow had such serious problems with snow – 1978.  Heavy overnight snow on New Year’s Eve was followed by a hard frost and, with many flights cancelled because of the holiday, the aprons were full.  We spent days supervising teams chipping ice from stands with shovels – with good support from airline staff and contractors.  My experience in the USA was that airlines do take a more active role in stand clearance than in Europe.  Interestingly in Terminal 2 airlines familiar with such conditions led by Scandinavian, Swiss and German carriers operated throughout that period.

These days the airport community is very different – only BA has an apron workforce, 20 years of regulation of BAA has cut down/outsourced most of the workforce who were used as a reserve, and H&S and Airport Security Regulations have restricted the way contractors could readily be brought in.  With severe snowfalls so infrequent staff with the necessary experience are thin on the ground to say the least.

There was another major issue that the media took to like an addict – passenger information and passenger care.  Much of the fuss was that information given out was not what the passengers wanted to hear – which is when their flight will operate or onto which flight they will be rebooked – often that is simply not available.  But telling passengers to contact their airline (when call centres are blocked solid) or visit their websites when passengers are stuck in terminals/hotels with no computer access is of little help.  Whether it is snow, persistent fog, volcanic ash etc this needs an industry wide solution and in this country BAA and BA should be leading it.

And this raises a more deep seated airport problem – terminal design.  Successive tightening of Passenger and Cabin Baggage Security Controls and the remorseless obsession of airports for retail profits growth (often driven by regulatory approach to airport charges) mean airlines and airports want to move passengers airside as early as possible.  Landside waiting areas with passenger facilities have been eliminated from most new passenger terminals worldwide – where can delayed passengers go?

So when the 3,000 or more departing passengers scheduled hourly through both Heathrow’s and Gatwick’s terminals are denied access to airside the dreadful image of temporary tents on forecourts is the only solution.  Fire Authorities have several times given warnings to Heathrow on overcrowding in the terminals on such occasions.  This is also exacerbated by airline ticket conditions – many passengers used to stay at home in bad snow and reclaim fares.  Following the Low Cost Carriers revolution most tickets are now non-changeable, non-refundable.  No wonder passengers are determined to flock into terminals and with Christmas just a week away they were doubly determined not to miss any opportunity of a flight.

The media declared open season on BAA – largely ignoring massive disruption at many other major European airports, riots in Moscow Airport and chaos in the US.

The Times, with leading editorials about Heathrow on successive days, led the pack – not necessarily always with too much insight!  BAA’s response to bring in an independent team of experts has to be right – assuming they are the “right” experts!

Such panels inevitably recommend more equipment and, with such a long period without these weather conditions, it would be surprising if de-icer storage capacity was optimum but spraying de-icer on 6 inches of snow is a pretty futile exercise.

The core problems will be more difficult to resolve.  Heathrow is severely short of acreage and at most times is scheduled to the absolute limits of its capacity.  With a very large disparate community of airlines, handling agents, control authorities, contractors et al managing, co-ordinating, controlling and getting consensus is the most exacting challenge for the airport management team.  In the ‘90’s BAA’s team was becoming inbred.  Now the new owners, Ferrovial, have persistently appointed/moved senior management into Heathrow with no experience in airport management and operations.  Heathrow is simply not the right place to learn it!

Vernon Murphy

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BAE Systems annual regional aircraft briefing

HMS Belfast was the venue for BAE Systems Regional Aircraft Division annual media briefing last week.  Now part of the Imperial War Museum, and moored in the Pool of London, the light cruiser was a fitting venue.  Britain’s tallest building, The Shard, towers above.

BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is today a leasing and air service organisation based on the site of the former de Havilland aircraft factory at Hatfield.  The company has a portfolio of around 146 aircraft, mostly BAe 146/Avro RJ jets, and J31/J41 and ATP turboprops.  It says that in 2010 overall aircraft deliveries were down at 1,128 including 398 Airbus A320 family and 376 Boeing 737NG.  Around 400 aircraft were retired but there is a stock of 600 commercial jets available, much the same as last year.

The division of BAE Systems says that it had a strong performance and cited a deal with SWISS for the extension of six Avro RJ100 leases as an example of good business.  Australia and Peru are taking more BAe 146 aircraft.  Re-marketing continues as a sound business with LOT of Poland announced as a new customer for the disposal of three Embraer ERJ 145.  CityJet has committed to a total support package. www.baesystems.com

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Eastern moves at Birmingham

Tomorrow (Tuesday 8 February) sees Eastern Airways switching all of its flights at Birmingham Airport from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2.  The move by the UK regional airline coincides with the recent opening of the airport’s new centralised security facility.  However, all Eastern Airways passengers will have access to a dedicated fast track security channel to avoid any queues at the search.

A prominent new check-in position in Terminal 2 will be available for Eastern Airways passengers checking in for its three times daily weekday service departing from Birmingham to Newcastle.

Passengers flying on the airline’s services from Birmingham to Newcastle will benefit from check-in closing just 20 minutes before the scheduled departure times.  Eastern first started services from Birmingham in 2003 and currently offers 15 departures a week.  The airline is the UK’s second largest regional carrier and has a fleet of 30 aircraft flying from 21 airports in the UK, Ireland, Norway and France. www.easternairways.com

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Four Seasons Hotel Park Lane opens its doors

After a 28-month multi-million pound rebuilding programme the Four Seasons Park Lane, once Inn on the Park, has (softly) re-opened.  Lead architects for the whole project, ReardonSmith, said that they are highly satisfied with what became an intense assignment.  “It was the first time that the building had been entirely stripped back to its structure since construction some 40 years ago, a task that had become necessary to facilitate a major up-grading of all services, but which also enabled the re-planning of virtually every part of the hotel.”

In the eight accommodation floors, there are 192 guestrooms of which 53 incorporate a large, modern wet room rather than a conventional bathroom with tub.  The percentage of suites is significant.  Before the rebuilding, there were 20; ReardonSmith’s scheme has achieved 45 flexible one-, two-and three-bedrooms offerings to accommodate different permutations, all of them configured to maximise views. 

Some of the suites have working fireplaces and unforgettable views of Hyde Park.  The 12 Conservatory Suites have quite exceptional garden terraces and others have a full-height curving glass wall achieved by integrating the existing balcony space into the room offering a bird’s eye view of Park Lane. www.fourseasons.com/london

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Ibis for Saudi

Accor is going into the Saudi hospitality market with its Ibis brand.  The new property is currently under construction and due to open in 2012.  With 176 guest rooms , the Ibis Riyadh will offer an all-day-dining, a coffee lounge and a meeting room.

Ibis is the worldwide 3- star brand of the Accor group and is designed to meet the needs and expectations of a broad spectrum of customers who travel regularly on business or leisure.  With round-the-clock service and budget prices, Ibis has over 879 hotels worldwide which are always conveniently located in business districts, tourist spots and near airports. www.ibishotel.com

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London air link plea

The Corporation of London has weighed into the controversy regarding the capital’s air links with the publication last week of a comprehensive report by York Aviation detailing the situation.

London's airports have experienced falling passenger demand – particularly business travel – since 2008 due to the economic downturn.  At the height of the market in 2007, around 140m passengers passed through London's airports.  However, after a small decline in 2008 as the global recession set in, demand fell to only around 130m passengers in 2009.

Stuart Fraser, Policy Chairman at the City of London Corporation, said: "As a world leading business hub, London has long been a key national and international gateway for trade. We have traditionally benefited from excellent transport links to destinations all over the world but our competitive edge in this area is being eroded as we wait for decisive action to upgrade our aviation infrastructure.”

The study indicates that extra airport capacity at Heathrow remains the preferred option for the City businesses as it continues to be by far the most important provider of business focussed connectivity – accounting for around 44% of journeys amongst the London airports. www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

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Spanish flights to Brazil increase

Iberia has launched a new service from Madrid to Fortaleza and Recife in the North East of Brazil on the Atlantic coast.  The load factor of the Spanish carrier first flight to both Brazilian cities surpassed the 90% mark, a strong indication of the route’s future potential.  It doubles the number of Iberia destinations in Brazil.  The airline expects to carry some 80,000 passengers on the new service in its first year.

The flights are operated using 254-seat Airbus A340-300s, equipped with a new Business Plus Class including flat beds.  An exquisite gastronomic service and on demand in-flight entertainment system are other features of Iberia’s long haul Business Class.  Routing is Madrid – Fortaleza – Recife – Madrid.

The new operation consolidates Brazil’s status as Iberia’s most important Latin American destination, and the one expected to grow the most in 2011.  Iberia currently offers two daily return flights between Madrid and Sao Paulo as well as the daily service to Río de Janeiro.  In 2010, the Spanish airline carried 492,000 passengers between Europe and Brazil, nearly 7% more than in the previous year. www.iberia.com

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Westminster hotel to re-open

The St Ermin's Hotel, Westminster, one of London’s most iconic 4-star properties, is to re-open in April after a £30m refurbishment.  

The first European hotel from entrepreneurial, US-based Amerimar Enterprises, the new St Ermin's retains its classic Grade II listed architecture, complete with its mix of evocative Art Nouveau styling and dramatic Rococo plasterwork. 

The original courtyard garden has been recreated and lushly replanted providing a distinct sense of arrival before entering the restored historic lobby with theatrical curving staircases, balconies and open fireplaces.  The accommodation has been reconfigured and the hotel now offers 331 spacious, high ceilinged rooms including 40 suites, 53 executive rooms and 18 family housing units.  All have the latest amenities including state-of-the-art LCD TV entertainment system, multi-national electrical sockets, wireless and wired internet plus radio with MP3 docking station and in-room refreshments.

Room service is provided 24 hours a day and guests have access to a fully equipped state-of-the-art gym.  There is a very opulent ballroom too which can host up to 220 guests for banqueting and up to 300 guests for cocktail receptions. www.sterminshotel.co.uk

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The Business Travel & Meetings Show opens its doors tomorrow (Tuesday 8 February) at London’s Earls Court 2.  With 200 world-class suppliers the event is expected to attract more than 6,000 travel buyers and organisers who will be able to take part in as many of the 26 conference sessions as is practical and enjoy unrivalled networking opportunities.

Exhibitors include Air New Zealand, Alitalia, American Express, Advanced Payment Solutions, Barclaycard Commercial, Best Western Hotels, Carey Worldwide, Capita Business Travel, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Cityjet, Click Travel, Concur Technologies, Disneyland Paris Business, East Coast Main Line Company, Egencia, Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, Finnair, First Capital Connect, Flybe, Get There, Gulf Air, Heathrow Express, HRG, Japan Airlines, Kenya Airways, London City Airport, Millennium Hotels, Premier Inn, Priority Pass, Sabre Travel Network, The Serviced Apartment Company, Turkish Airlines, Uniglobe Travel, VATit and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

A most interesting first time exhibitor is easyJet, an indication of the notice that that budget airlines are now taking in this part of the air travel market.  easyJet are expected to participate in the conference programme

The show is open Tuesday 8 February 09:30 – 17:30 and Wednesday 9 February 09:30 – 17:00.  West Brompton is the recommended Underground and Overground station although Earls Court Underground is only a five minute walk. www.businesstravelshow.com

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Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental roll-out

Seattle will see the first roll-out of the all new passenger Boeing 747 Intercontinental next Saturday (14 February).  It is the first major development of the ubiquitous 747 since the -400 series made its maiden flight in 1988.  The 747 itself dates from 1969.  Whilst also available in a successful cargo configuration (Boeing 747-8 Freighter) the Intercontinental has to date sold in small numbers with Lufthansa taking 20, Korean Air 5, and eight earmarked for use as private jets.  Orders for the parallel cargo aircraft stand at 74.

Compared with previous 747s the Dash 8 series has a lengthened fuselage, redesigned wings, and new engines.  A completely rehashed interior incorporates many of the features initially designed for the 787. 

The new aircraft will be capable of carrying up to 467 passengers in a three-class configuration over 8,000nm (15,000km) at a fast Mach 0.855.  Two extra freight pallet positions are offered with 26% more cargo volume than the 747-400.  Boeing has stated that compared to the 747-400, the Dash 8 will be 30% quieter, 16% more fuel-efficient, and have 13% lower seat-mile costs with nearly the same cost per trip. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Euronews in the air

Air France has introduced a new in-flight news bulletin, exclusively produced for them by Euronews. 

Starting on 29 January 2011 this bulletin offers a 40-minute round-up of the week’s main news.  Accessible in French and English versions as part of the in-flight entertainment programme, it covers worldwide, economic, cultural and sports news, from an international angle.  This innovative service will replace the different news programmes available to date.

“With our customers’ changing expectations, who read the daily news on the internet or via their smartphones, this new Euronews programme provides viewers with in-depth, contextual reporting on the major stories, complementing the daily news bulletin,” stated Christian Herzog, SVP Marketing, Air France-KLM. 

Air France offers on board its long haul flights a 'VOD' (video-on-demand) in-flight entertainment system, comprising over 500 hours of programmes, including 85 feature films – some of them translated into nine languages, 30 hours of TV programmes and a juke-box selection of 200 CDs, 23 radio channels, video clips and music programmes.  17 interactive games are also offered plus the Berlitz® language learning programme. http://corporate.airfrance.com

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Frankfurt Airport comes up with new baggage system

Users of Frankfurt Airport (FRA) should note that very shortly the airport will be introducing a new baggage cart concept with a refundable deposit system.  Trolleys at FRA will still be essentially free while availability and ease of finding them will greatly improve says the airport.  All of the approximately 2,000 baggage carts in the public areas of the terminal complex will be adapted to the deposit system by April.

More than 100 storage points will be available particularly in the check-in and baggage claim halls, at the Terminal 1 and 2 forecourts, and at the parking garages.  Users will be required to pay a €2 deposit by cash or credit card, which is refunded in cash when returning the cart to one of the depot stations. 

Cart availability at each depot is monitored by computer, allowing staff at the control centre to keep a close eye on requirements and to respond accordingly.  Improved passenger flow and guidance in the terminals will be another benefit of the new system. www.fraport.de

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Interiors Exhibition at Hamburg

Hamburg Messe Aircraft Interiors Expo is being held from 5 to 7 April this year.  The organisers say that an improving economic environment and rising passenger expectations are two of the factors expected to help fuel the cabin service industry during 2011.  The event is the world’s largest gathering of airline procurement representatives.  Examples of new Business Class seating and advanced in-flight entertainment and connectivity systems are expected to be two of the trends that airlines are particularly interested in seeing this time around.

In terms of passenger numbers, both of the major airframe manufacturers – Airbus and Boeing – are predicting passenger growth levels of around 4.8% over the next 18 years.  Many airlines have been holding onto legacy fleets that are now not only less fuel efficient than modern aircraft but are also starting to look tired and dilapidated inside. www.aircraftinteriorsexpo.com

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Sky Lanterns are a danger to aircraft

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued guidance on the release of sky lanterns in UK airspace.  The growing popularity of releasing large number at private or commercial events is creating a potential hazard for aviation, in much the same way as mass balloon releases and firework displays says the CAA.  It is calling on all organisers of sky lantern releases to register their event in advance so that it can warn aerodrome authorities, and they in turn airspace users of the possibility of encountering these aerial beacons.

Sky lanterns, sometimes known as Chinese lanterns, vary in size and performance and when released can travel considerable distances at unpredictable heights on prevailing winds from the point of release.  They can be ingested into the engines of airborne aircraft, or, as they fall to the ground, they have the potential to become debris on runways and also on roads and motorways.

Guidance on sky lanterns is contained in the updated version of Civil Aviation Publication 736. www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP736.pdf

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Thessaloniki for Ryanair

Ryanair is to fly to Greece for the first time, instigating a three times per week Stansted to Thessaloniki route on 13 April.  Flight time for a Boeing 737-800 is around 3hrs 30mins.  As Greece's second major economic, industrial, commercial and political centre it is already served from London but strangely only from Gatwick, British Airways, easyJet and Olympic Air all competing on the route.

Thessaloniki, also called Salonika, is in many ways a Balkan city, and 500km north of Athens.  A city of great historical interest it has been since 1988 a UNESCO World Heritage site. www.ryanair.com

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ON TOUR: Northolt revisited

Last week’s COMMENT “Is Northolt the answer?” produced a record postbag (if that is the right term in this electronic age).  There were no remarks of discord.  

Terry Liddiard was Managing Director of Manx Airways, as sister company of British Midland Airways in the short lived Airlines of Britain Group.  He was in South Africa last week when he read AERBT, as usual, and sent in this observation.  His covering note makes the point that the words are from memory and written “on the hoof”. 

“What goes around, comes around!

Manx Airlines used to operate three services daily to Heathrow from the Isle of Man, slots which were always under pressure in one form or another.  We were obviously keen to protect this important link, as well as to start a Belfast City – Heathrow service, and to operate five times a day from Liverpool, but slot constraints meant that this was impossible.  And so, in the early 1990s we undertook a complete commercial, operational, and technical evaluation of using Northolt for all domestic and Irish services, as well as a separate and independent survey of the ATC implications.

The results were very positive.

There appeared to be no insurmountable ATC problems, helped by the fact that all the services affected, other than those from the Channel Islands and Plymouth/Newquay approached from the North, and could be brought in at a lower level under the main Heathrow traffic. 

Logistically, by sitting the terminal building on the north side of the airfield there was very easy access to the Central Line and the A40.  The terminal itself,  the runway, and all other services could be based on a maximum aircraft size of 150 seats thereby keeping infrastructure costs to a minimum.  And, very surprisingly, there was also a comparatively easy route for monorail access to Heathrow Central – there is (or was) a clearly defined path, almost devoid of any buildings in what is a fairly well built up area (which can be seen on Google Earth – Editor).

There was some debate whether the current runway could be enhanced for use, or whether it would be necessary to realign it by 3.7 degrees, but, other than that, it could have been a very inexpensive solution, releasing, at that time, some 70,000 movements per year, freeing them up to be made available for more international services and larger aircraft, whilst at the same time preserving or reintroducing the important links to all regions of the British Isles.

The study was sent to the then Aviation Minister, and received the usual promise of 'due consideration'.

Some years later, following the change of Government, and when the Inverness – Heathrow route had become the latest casualty, I appeared before a Select Committee looking into the allocation of slots at the London Airports.  The Chair of the Committee, the late and much missed Gwyneth Dunwoody, was extremely concerned that neither she nor any of her officials had ever seen the Northolt review we had produced, and promised it would be resurrected and considered.  Nothing further was heard. 

Heathrow North, as we called it, will still tick a lot of boxes.  It would free up a very significant expansion of international services at Heathrow, substantially increase the average passenger load per movement there, and provide the opportunity for every region of the British Isles to have direct access, subject to commercial viability, to the country's major hub, increasing traffic feed to international services substantially, recovering it from its present routeings over Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, etc.  

RAF Northolt as such would close saving a substantial amount of money and the tender for a private Heathrow North would have to include a certain number  of gratis slots for Government and military flghts, plus the use of an enclave on the airport, likewise free

The Government could take the plaudits of increasing airport capacity without compromising their stance on a third runway, and gain an income. A win-win situation which is good for the country, and shows that the coalition is aware of the air aviaton problems.

Terry Liddiard

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