14 MARCH 2011

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Air China goes for the big Boeing

Boeing has finally landed a third customer for the 747 Intercontinental in passenger form.  Air China announced at Asian Aerospace a contract for five aircraft, joining Lufthansa and Korean Air as lead customers.  Rumours were also spreading that 20 March is the date for the maiden flight of a plane that sits neatly in between the Boeing 777 Twin and the larger Airbus A380.

In what was considered a break with tradition China’s Hainan Airline Group (HNA) called a press briefing itself to announce MoUs for 48 aircraft – 32 Boeing 787s (including two VIP versions) for Hong Kong Airlines and six 777F cargo aircraft.

On the business aircraft front rivals Gulfstream and Dassault shared the limelight with an order for five business jets each – Dassault for the new 7X and Gulfstream for new G450/550s. www.asianaerospace.com

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Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC)

COMAC probably does not mean anything to the average air traveller of today, nor for a few years yet, but as the century continues it may become as famous as Boeing.

The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China has big plans for the future.  The manufacturer is accelerating plans for service entry of the C919, an Airbus A320/Boeing 737-700 size aircraft.

First flight is slated for 2014, followed by service entry in 2016.  COMAC has gained orders so far for up to 100 C919s, powered by Chinese engines to customers Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Hainan Airlines, plus lessors CDB Leasing Company and GECAS. The C919 programme calls for entry into service in 2016.  The C919 can seat 158 in a mixed-class configuration, or 168 in an all-Economy layout. www.comac.cc

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Honolulu introduces mobile phone holding area

Mobile (cell) phone users can now wait to collect inbound passengers in a specially designated holding lay-by prior to the arrival’s area at Honolulu’s International Airport.  There is no charge and whilst the area is monitored by the police they will not normally move drivers on.  However directly outside the actual terminal the law is much more hard-nosed with just five minutes allowed to pick up the passenger(s).  After that it becomes very expensive.

Airports in the UK have expressed an interest in the scheme but point out that finding space for such an operation is not easy, and it is a non-revenue service.  Typical is Luton Airport, which has a single track approach road, and a very congested drop off and arrivals area.  Its remedy is to charge £1 for dropping off passengers and charge a minimum of £3.20 for 15 minutes to use the short term car park.  A holding area system, even with a nominal charge, might work. www.london-luton.com http://hawaii.gov/hnl

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Poland hotel expansion

Wyndham Hotel Group, which claims number one spot as the world's largest hotel company based on the number of properties (IHG has the highest number of actual rooms), and Colliers International, said to be the second biggest real estate consulting firm in the globe, have signed a development agreement for a minimum of ten “Super 8” properties in five years in Poland at the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin.

The Wyndham Hotel Group has approximately 7,210 hotels and 612,700 rooms in 65 countries under the hotel brands: Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Ramada, Days Inn, Super 8, Wingate by Wyndham, Baymont Inn & Suites, Microtel Inns & Suites, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, TRYP by Wyndham, Howard Johnson, Travelodge and Knights Inn.  In addition, the company has a license agreement to franchise the Planet Hollywood Hotels, Dream and Night brands and provide management services globally.  All hotels are independently owned and operated excluding certain Wyndham and international Ramada hotels which are managed by Wyndham Hotel Management, Inc. www.wyndhamworldwide.com

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Renault electric cars to be available at Hertz European outlets

US-based Hertz Corporation has signed a Letter of Intent to add Renault’s new range of electric vehicles (EV) to its European hire fleets and car sharing club Connect by Hertz.  It will be one of the first rental operators to offer Renault’s Twizy for hire, and will also rent the ZOE, Fluence ZE (zero emission) and Kangoo ZE models.

Hertz plans to add 500 units of the Renault range to its fleet over the next two years across Europe.  The partnership will form part of the European development of Hertz’s Global Electric Vehicle Programme, launched in December 2010.  The programme is designed to bring a variety of ZE electric vehicles to the general public.  Vehicles will be available from the beginning of 2012.

The range of Renault EVs caters to a wide range of people, from city dwellers to families.  Twizy is a small, nimble and practical car, ideal for city driving.  Fluence ZE fills the family car segment, while the Kangoo ZE is an electric van for fleets and business users. www.hertz.com

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Kia Sportage MY 10 1.7 CRDi Eco Sat Nav

Smart and Sensible Kia


The original Kia Sportage hit the UK roads well before the term Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) became common language.  I recall that it had plenty of sporty character and the finish was far better than that of a utility vehicle.

Kia has now pulled out the stops with its successor, described as a cross-over between a practical hatch back and a purposeful leisure machine capable of venturing on rough and/or slippery surfaces with near impunity.

Certainly there is a trace of the easy, light feeling yet positive and exceptionally enjoyable driving performance of the ‘old’ version, allied markedly to a superior upmarket package, both mechanically, quality wise and with a specification close to what we used to term executive class.

Kia has also taken on board the fact that there is now much more of a market for this type of vehicle employing front wheel drive as well as an option of 4x4.  You have a choice with the new Sportage.  Power wise the choice is of two excellent latest generation eco-friendly power units in petrol or diesel forms of capacities from 1.6 litres up to 2.0 litres.  There are three mainline specifications plus the all singing and dancing sat-nav version I have been enjoying recently.

According to model you have a choice of 5/6-speed manual gearboxes and automatic and 16, 17 and 18 inch alloy wheels including a full size spare stowed inside the vehicle under the boot floor.  Latest VAT-enhanced prices put the 16-car range around the £17,000 to £27,000 bracket.

Visually the Sportage has a sleek and somewhat domineering appearance and rides quite high off the ground to ensure good clearance when venturing off road.  I thought it would be a bit challenging for shorter drivers to access the driving seat but, despite not having a grab handle on the driver’s side, it is easier than looks suggest.

Inside there is a roomy five-seat accommodation, plenty of luggage space (the usual split folding rear seats offer further loading permutations) and in addition to high comfort levels there is a smack of quality about the product.

The driver’s life is made easy and comfortable with a supportive though slightly narrow seat, plenty of adjustment including height, good pedal positioning and a fully adjustable steering wheel.  Add to that the feel good factor of all-leather upholstery and heating for all seats and it is easy to appreciate that the going is easy.

Fascia presentation is pure and simple in the European style with conventional analogue circular dials offering plenty of useful information.  The minor controls are ‘natural’ and like the air distribution outlets for the air conditioning/dual heating systems are fiddle-free.

Driver vision, apart from slight ¾-front blind spot caused the usual large front pillars on this type of vehicle, is excellent, assisted by large automatic folding exterior mirrors and a rear view camera that shares its screen with the user-friendly sat-nav system.  The hi-tech headlight system virtually turns night into day.

Of course, the real lifestyle of this car is, not the confined usual features that are clearly in abundance but, particularly for the passengers, the twin sun roofs…come summer that’s real street creditability on the school run!

In the early days of 4x4s, SUVs and MPVs the driver’s lot was somewhat challenging and, in my experience, remains so with some current contenders but not this Sportage that feels extremely stable yet easy on the controls, compact to park and with a refined turn of performance from the flexible diesel engine.

Using a light yet positive changing s-speed manual gearbox with a smooth take up clutch pedal, the drive is hardly taxing and further enhanced by a responsive stop+start fuel saving system and a standard fit cruise control.

Kia claim a top speed of 107 mph with 60 mph from rest in a creditable 11.9 seconds while the combined fuel consumption on this 18-inch wheel version is 52.3 mpg so if you can’t see 40 mpg under mixed driving conditions you can’t be trying.

In conclusion this latest Kia Sportage is a very competent performer, whether cruising the motorways in a serene manner or dealing with the harshness of winter where the big wheels and well sorted fully independent suspension system ensure high safety levels in a vehicle that provides a top 5-star NCAP safety rating.

This Kia Sportage is right up there with the best, continuing a familiar trend with successive new Kia products.


Rivals include: Toyota RAV 4, Nissan Qashqai, Honda CRV, Peugeot 3008.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 9
Noise 9
Economy 8
Ride and Comfort 9
Accommodation 9
Styling 8
Brakes 9
Finish 9
TOTAL: 89%

Price From: £23,065

NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON’S MOTORING DIARY

Infiniti Lays Down the Gauntlett
The latest contender in the hard fought premium class market, Infiniti, has clearly matched its unique ‘5-star’ marketing activities with a rapidly expanding range of high tech products.

A prime example is the new M30d s- Premium, F 19 MM saloon, pitched at around £47,590.

I have just driven the 3.0-litre V6 turbo charged 235 bhp turbo diesel version driving the rear wheels through a seamless and very responsive 7-speed automatic transmission.

Not just a luxury car (bespoke the trim to suit your taste) this is a seriously enjoyable car for those who appreciate driving performance – to achieve this it features four-wheel active steering.

Likewise it can also demonstrate a very docile nature.  Top speed is a claimed 155 mph with 62 mph (100 kph) reached from rest in 6.9 seconds and with a combined fuel consumption of 37.7 mpg. www.infiniti.co.uk


ALFA ROMEO: Linking up with its support of UK Athletics, Alfa Romeo has announced a limited edition Sprint version of its MiTo hatch back model. Loaded with £1,500 worth of extras, including cruise control, body customising and Blue Tooth system, the price starts at £13,295 for the 1.4-litre 15-valve 95 bhp version. www.alfaromeo.co.uk

AUDI: The first long wheel base version of the top Audi A8 saloon range has arrived in the UK.  The car is 130 mm longer and includes a flagship 6.3-litre W 12 version.  Price range: £60,000 to £94,000. www.audi.co.uk

HONDA: A revised version of the popular executive class Honda Accord will be unveiled at the forthcoming Geneva Motor Show. Honda will also show a platform for a mid-sized plug-in hybrid car. www.honda.co.uk

JAGUAR will celebrate 50 years of the E type at the Geneva Motor Show in March.  The series 2 car was introduced in 1968 at a price of £2,000.  The Lotus Elan +2, launched at the same time cost £1,200 in kit (tax efficient) form.  In 2008 the original prototype (in fact the second prototype – the first ‘mule’ was destroyed) was sold for US$5.0m. www.jaguar.com

MAZDA: The iconic Mazda MX 5 sports car is set to make history by posting over 900,000 sales, since launch 21 years and 10 months ago.  10% of world wide sales are taken up by UK buyers.  Mazda will be claiming an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. www.mazda.co.uk

NISSAN: Customers waiting more than three months for a new Juke, Qashqai or Qashqai +2 will be offered a free loan car – either a Micra or a Note according to order. www.nissan.co.uk

PEUGEOT: A new eco-friendly development of the top-selling Peugeot 308 will hit UK showrooms this May.  With revised bodywork and mechanicals, the new model line-up will be the cleanest of its class with C02 emissions of only 98 g/km. www.peugeot.co.uk

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COMMENT: Goodbye Tony Tyler

Our guest commentator and regular contributor Alison Chambers makes her observations from Hong Kong and Asian Aerospace.

‘Arrive in better shape,’ was Cathay Pacific’s marketing catchphrase in the 1980s.  The expression may be long gone, but it takes on new relevance today.  Cathay deserves industry applause – not only for its comfortable and attentive in-flight service which begins with the easiest to use self service check-in, but when CEO Tony Tyler departs the airline at the end of this month after three decades it will be left in remarkably good shape. 

Under his stewardship, Cathay delivered a stunning set of results for 2010 with a net profit of US$1.8bn (+19.3%) on revenues of US$11.4bn and a profit margin of 15%, figures most airline CE0s can only dream about.  A 3% profit margin constitutes a good year for most, and if the whole industry makes US$16bn, Cathay alone is contributing 10% of these revenues.

From July Tyler takes the hot seat as Director General of IATA, reinforcing Asia’s prominence as an economic power house in air transport.  At Asian Aerospace 2011 last week we heard that China will account for around a quarter of the world's 800m new travellers by 2014 with passenger numbers expected to soar from 267m in 2010 to 500m by 2015, then up to 1.5bn by 2030.  To support that growth the number of aircraft will reach 2,600 by 2015 and 4,000 by 2020, so it would seem the ongoing expansion in Hong Kong and at Hong Kong International Airport will result in the city ‘punching above its weight’ as a leading gateway to China. 

Hard on the heels of its record profits Cathay just announced orders for 27 new aircraft – 15 more Airbus A330-300s, 10 more B777-300ERs, plus two A350-900s (a new marque in the fleet) on lease from ILFC.  The deal boosts Cathay’s order book to 91 aircraft awaiting delivery.  Older aircraft (21 B747-400s and 11 A340-300s) will be progressively retired as the new deliveries join the fleet from 2013 through to 2015, ensuring Cathay’s, (and Tyler’s) standards will be upheld for the future.

All the new aircraft will sport an even more comfortable business class seat – already acclaimed as the widest and longest in its class.  The objective is to create more space with an advanced adjustable option which enables the seat to move – ideal for companions travelling together.  (The existing lie flat seat is very comfortable, the IFE screens are great, but really designed for single travellers).

Cathay is adamant it will be the last airline to give up First Class – certainly on its core long haul routes.  And you can see why - Hong Kong is just too service orientated, look at the sparkling 5 star hotels, sterling service levels, its smooth running and efficient trains which have benefited from considerable and consistent investment.

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Air France adds Paris Charles de Gaulle to Caribbean Network

The French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique are to be bolstered with services from Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in parallel with those from the alternative Paris airport of Orly.  Twice weekly flights will be introduced on 4 November.  With Orly currently only served by Air France from London City the CDG services will provide much better connections to the islands from UK airports.

With the launch of the services out of CDG, Air France will provide a total of 28 flights a week to and from the region.  These services will be operated by high density 472-passenger Boeing B777-300 ER aircraft. www.airfrance.com

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Dreamliner actually into service?

Boeing is on track to deliver the long-delayed 787 Dreamliner to its first customer, ANA of Japan, in the third quarter of 2011 according to Scott Fancher, who now heads the programme.

Speaking to reporters at Boeing's San Antonio, Texas site, last Friday he also said that no cancellations could be attributed to delays that have put the aircraft nearly three years behind schedule.

Orders for the 787 are robust and still a record for commitments for a commercial jetliner before certification.  The company has 843 booked, well ahead of original expectations.

But the company sees periodic cancellations, including the loss of eight in the most recent week from an unidentified customer.  "Most of the cancellations we've seen have been due to the specific economic conditions or business conditions of our customers," Fancher said.

Air Canada has become the latest carrier to publicly announce a delayed delivery date with its first 787 now not due until late 2013 or early 2014. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Liverpool's First 5-Star Boutique Hotel

The 84-guest room 5-star Layla Hotel Liverpool will open in the summer of 2011, at 6 Sir Thomas Street in the heart of the city, just minutes from Liverpool One and Liverpool Lime Street Station.

The new property is a clever accommodation across three architecturally stunning buildings ingeniously connected both internally and externally coupled with private entrances and exits for discerning guests.  The blend of original architecture and the most up to date touches sees Victorian, Art Deco and contemporary features embrace the buildings’ historic aspects, and the latest in technology.

The primary building originates from the 1920s and is being beautifully restored to its original.  All the rooms lead off from a central striking and majestic 1920s steel-caged lift, which will be carefully revitalized complete with a contemporary glass exterior.  The remainder of this wing will encompass magnificently opulent and contemporary interiors and will also be host to the vast Grand Presidential Suite, Junior Suites, the Layla Health, Beauty and Fitness Spa, heated indoor swimming pool, the state-of-the-art Gymnasium and Layla's very own private movie screening room. www.laylahotel.co.uk

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Pre-book your meals on Finnair

Finnair has expanded its Business Class on-line pre-order meals service, already available on some European regional services, to include all intercontinental flights.
 
Passengers can choose from three different menu options: Wellness and Energy (offering wellbeing and peace of mind), Food Lover’s Treat (wholesome home-cooked food) or Chef’s Gourmet (high-level gourmet cuisine).
 
Orders can be placed at the earliest 14 days and at the latest 24 hours before departure.  Meals can be ordered on-line via the “Manage my Booking” link. www.finnair.com

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Waldorf Astoria opens near Heathrow

Syon Park, half way between Heathrow and central London (it is seven miles to T5 and the same distance to Hyde Park Corner) is the historical location of a brand new Waldorf Astoria which opened last week in west London.

With just 137 guest rooms the hotel brings together a modern luxury hotel experience and the heritage of a Grade I listed building.  Set in 200 acres of beautiful parkland (owned by the Duchy of Northumberland for the past 400 years and to this day) the property provides a tranquil country retreat in the very heart of the London conurbation.

Waldorf Astoria says it is a fitting addition to a very select group of just 20 hotels around the world every one with its own story and identity and each inspired by the level of service that defined the legendary Waldorf-Astoria New York.  Further additions will appear in Berlin later this year and Jerusalem in 2012. www.waldorfastoria.com. www.londonsyonpark.com

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AND FINALLY: Not the most popular night-stop

A British Airways pilot has come up with this one.

He was overflying Aden (once a British colony), and saw an Aeroflot freighter climbing out.

A heavily accented voice came on the frequency: "Hey, English, you used to have Aden?"

BA: "Yes, we did. Why?"

Aeroflot: "Ve have had to overnight there.

You can have it back!"

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737 replacement

Boeing is still playing cat and mouse with its long anticipated 737 replacement, the original single aisle aircraft having first flown in 1967, over 50 years ago.  Recently the 6,600 aircraft was delivered with future confirmed orders standing at over 2,000.

Last week a Boeing spokesman said that the company was leaning towards a new version of the aircraft but the general industry view is that with the original development programmes for both the 787 and the 747 Intercontinental coming to an end it would seem likely that the company’s vast resources could be put to introducing an entirely new aircraft by 2020 using much of the experience and knowledge learnt with the Dreamliner.  Large windows and a 5,000ft cabin altitude would be a must.  Much more environmentally friendly and economical systems of getting aircraft to the end of the runway for take-off (and upon landing too) would also be a prerequisite.  Lead competitor Airbus recently announced the Airbus New Engine Option (NEO) with an in-service date of 2016. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Asian Aerospace attracts Chinese elite

Models of the latest commercial aircraft offerings from China, Japan and Russia took centre stage last week as Asian Aerospace 2011 opened in Hong Kong.  Some 12,000 trade visitors, and more than 270 exhibitors from 32 countries, took part in the three-day biennial event – moved this year to an earlier March date.  And this month, exactly 100 years ago, Belgian-born Charles van den Born piloted a Farman biplane from Sha Tin beach, giving Hong Kong its first powered flight. 

The star turn of the show was an enlarged and dedicated business aviation exhibition and static line up – where 22 leading business aircraft types were on display. www.asianaerospace.com

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Earthquake and tsunami report

Tokyo airport’s report that international flights are returning to normal after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the northern part of Japan.  Travellers should carefully check with their airline and need to take note that the US returned to summer time yesterday, which also affects timetables.

Around the Pacific rim the Japanese disaster was quickly picked up and alarms sounded in what is becoming a well rehearsed drill.  In Hawaii two large cruise ships had to stand off from berthing, each for more than half a day, the ocean in fact the safest place to be at the time.  A tsunami runs at the bottom of the sea and only becomes visible as it approaches a land mass and beach at speeds up to 500mph, at which point it is very dangerous.  With the great depth of the Pacific a tsunami running under a ship is virtually undetectable. www.tsunami.noaa.gov

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Mitsubishi says it is on track with new aircraft

Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MJET) last week said it is hopeful of signing a new aircraft order soon.  Claiming its new regional twinjet MRJ90 will be 40% quieter and produce 20% less CO2 emissions than its closest rival, the Embraer 190, the manufacturer noted that its proposed MRJ100X stretch version is still under study.  A full-size cabin mock up made its debut at Asian Aerospace featuring large luggage bins, LED lighting and slimline seats, some 3-5kg lighter than existing regional jet seats.

Deliveries of the initial MRJ90 are on schedule for delivery in 2014, with first flight slated for mid next year.  The smaller MRJ70 US scope clause compliant MRJ70 will follow, then the MRJ100.  Trans States Holdings, with 50 firm orders and 50 options, has not confirmed the split of the order yet. www.mrj-japan.com

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Qatar Airways expands in Germany

Stuttgart last week became Qatar Airways fourth German gateway and represents the airline’s first step in capacity increases across Germany during March, when additional flights to Frankfurt and Munich will be introduced.  The Berlin route remains daily non-stop from Doha.

Qatar Airways is the only Gulf carrier to operate services to Stuttgart, establishing links between this highly important German automobile centre and the Doha hub.

Also last week the airline increased the number of flights between Doha and Munich from daily to 11 flights a week.  At the end of the month the Frankfurt route will be upgraded from 10 to 13 flights a week.

Germany is the second largest exporter to Qatar.  Recently the tiny gas rich Gulf state, which has an ethnic population of just half a million people, made headlines taking a stake in Stuttgart-based Porsche through its investment vehicle.

The new Stuttgart route is operated with an Airbus A319 aircraft featuring eight seats in Business Class and 102 in Economy.  The aircraft is equipped with a state-of-the-art entertainment system offering individual tv touch screens and over 700 audio video entertainment options.  The aircraft also features OnAir phone and internet system. www.qatarairways.com

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ON TOUR: Toronto plus Porter Airlines

Jane Stanbury has been off to Canada in the Winter as has Chris Cain who reports on Porter Airlines

Pickering, Whitby, Bradford, snow and a bitter cold wind – no not England’s largest county Yorkshire but Southern Ontario and just a few of the many location names in the area paying homage to the region’s English heritage.  At the heart of Southern Ontario sits Toronto, provincial capital, and Canada’s largest city.  Sitting on the edge of Lake Ontario the city is host to a wealth of culture, galleries, shops, world renowned restaurants and is classed as one of the world’s leading financial centres.

Toronto has suffered from the recession like everywhere but 2011 sees an ambitious set of building projects due to restart or complete.  The Ritz Carlton Apartments downtown, when completed will sell for between CAN$1m and CAN$9m a piece.  The Shangri-La has just recommenced building a luxury 5-star on the edge of the entertainment district.  Most noticeable are the amount of condos being erected by the lakeside, just south of the iconic CN Tower, a string of them are rising defiantly into the sky.  With many near completion it is anticipated the strengthening Canadian economy will attract professionals to this part of town particularly those working in finance, telecoms, business services, arts, engineering and aerospace. 

Exploring the city in winter is a hard task, legs become heavy with temperatures reaching minus 27C degrees or more.  However Toronto has developed an ingenious network of under city paths.  Unlike the streets above which follow the classic North American grid system the paths below wind for around 27km and use colour coding to guide you.  Peppering them are cafes, shops, restaurants and bars ensuring a vibrant underground atmosphere through the cold winter days.

Stretching beneath the Financial District the network links the leading Toronto sites including Canada’s leading concert venue, the Roy Thomson Hall, the vast retail venue of the Toronto Eaton Centre with over 250 shops, the imposing Air Canada Centre which seats up to 19,800, and a variety of museums including the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. 

Sitting rather incongruously in a former bank building constructed in 1885 the neo-classic facade belies the array of hockey artefacts within.  The museum honours and recognises those who have supported and raised the profile of the sport both at national and international levels and for the novice presents the perfect initiation into this often brutal and violent game.  You can even take on a life-sized simulated Ed Belfour in a hockey shoot out.

Whilst the hockey museum provides valuable insight into modern day Canadian sport the Museum of Inuit Art, located in the Quayside centre, houses pieces made by the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic.  One of the country’s largest permanent displays of Inuit art the collection features 1,000 year old Thulpe artefacts alongside modern sculpture, jewellery and paintings of the traditional and modern variety.  For children there are interactive workshops demonstrating the roots of the art which encourage attendees to experiment with the art themselves.  Surrounding shops sell Inuit art sourced from Arctic co-operatives.

No trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit to the CN Tower which measures 553.33m in height and has a glass floor situated at 342m. It takes a certain leap of faith, or in this writer’s case a very dry Martini, to pluck up the courage to stand on the transparent floor and view the tiny figures below, an experience which counters every internal instinct to believe that you won’t fall the hundreds of meters to the floor.

On the dining front the recent move of eminent New York chef Scott Conant to The Thompson hotel has ruffled the local dining scene.  Booking a table at Scarpetta for its refined rustic food such as pheasant ravioli, or Sicilian spiced duck, is now an essential for any visitor to the city.  However executive chefs are focusing on local produce to entice guests.  Marc Breton at The Gladstone Hotel has created Harvest Wednesday where the menu is based on fresh produce delivered from a local farm that he’s invested in.  David Garcelon at the Fairmont Royal York is producing honey on the hotel roof, from hives appropriately named the VI Bee Suite or the Honey Moon Suite, served on a delicate slice of cheese or drizzled over scones. 

Toronto Pearson is one of four key North American hubs for Air Canada – Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary are the others – and provides a network connecting over 118 North American cities with daily flights from London.  The airline won SkyTrax Best North American airline in 2010 and continues to improve its schedule offering.  En Route their excellent in-flight entertainment system stays in play until you disembark, no need to miss those final movie moments.  For business travellers Air Canada has just undergone complete refurbishment of its executive class and now features all seats directly accessible from the aisle that become full flat beds. www.aircanada.com

PORTER: The Airline that is Thriving in Air Canada’s Backyard


The public face of Porter Airlines is a cartoon raccoon called ‘Mr Porter’, who features prominently in their marketing material appropriately attired and framed against the backdrop of famous landmarks to provide easily recognizable visual references associated with the 13 destinations (9 Canadian and 4 trans-border), the airline currently serves from its island base in downtown Toronto.

Now raccoons, as those who have experienced them first hand will know, are actually pretty substantial and aggressive pests and very difficult to dislodge once they have set up home.  Mr Porter therefore provides a clever metaphor for the role his eponymous airline plays in Air Canada’s host city market of Toronto.  It is one that many Canadians – who are not known for heaping praise on their national airline – are smiling upon benignly as the continued growth in the airline’s schedule and traffic (to 1.26m passengers from its base at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in 2010), amply demonstrates.

Porter has four new Bombardier Q400 aircraft due for delivery in the second quarter of this year and a further six on option.  With load factors improving substantially (from 49.8 to 62.4 up 12.6% year on year in December 2010 and 7.6% in January), and ambitions to extend its route network, to cities in the North East and Great Lakes regions of the USA such as Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland, it is clear the carrier is going to provide a long term nuisance in Air Canada’s backyard.  New high quality terminal facilities costing CAN$49m are now open.

Air Canada finally seems to have woken up to the threat to their short haul commuter business traffic and is due to start services at Toronto City Airport later this year.

On board the Porter service standard is maintained with comfortable leather seats in subdued cream and dark grey colours in a 2+2 configuration, offering the best leg-room of any cabin in its class because of the 70-seat configuration adopted by Porter, rather than the standard 74-seat fit out offered by Bombardier on the Q400.  The aircraft also has a noise and vibration suppression system to reduce ambient noise levels making the flight relaxing and suitable for on-board working.  The attentive crew, smartly dressed in uniforms harking back to the more glamorous days of airline travel, offer snack and beverage service on all flights, including complimentary soft drinks, wine and beer.

But with 159 of the 202 available slots, a limit imposed as a result of environmental restrictions on the airport’s operation, a high quality service offer encompassing a frequent and convenient Business Class service (all passengers have access to the domestic and trans-border business lounges in the terminal, comfortable leather seats in subdued cream and dark grey colours and extra legroom afforded by the reduced seat configuration adopted by Porter the airline is likely to remain the dominant player Billy Bishop Airport for the foreseeable future.

As such, Porters Aviation Holdings Inc and its investment partners (Edgestone Capital Partners, Omers Strategic Investments, GE Asset Management Incorporated and DANCAP Private Equity Inc) deserve considerable plaudits for recognizing the niche market opportunity offered by the Toronto Port Authority owned, but largely ignored Billy Bishop facility and for developing a unique business model which exploits its considerable potential to the full.  And so whilst there is much yet to be done by Porter in Toronto and in linking their other significant bases in Canada, their thoughts must also be turning to other potential opportunities to develop their airline/downtown city airport concept in similarly attractive markets elsewhere in North America.

You can actually walk to the airport from many parts of the city centre, or it is not much more than five minutes by taxi.  Lester Pearson is at least 45 minutes and can be expensive.  Mind you the two minutes actual ferry time needs to be added although there is talk of a pedestrian subway.  At CAN$45m it will be an expensive walkway.

It would appear therefore that Mr Porter is here to stay, and could even begin to change the perception of the much maligned raccoon in a number of cities across North America during the remainder of the new decade.  And for many that will be a welcome development. www.flyporter.com

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