30 MAY 2011

YOUR WORDS


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Advice for pregnant flyers

Holidays can be the last chance to spend time alone for a couple before baby arrives.  But pregnant when travelling can be stressful and clearly a new experience.  A survey by Netmums and The London Ultrasound Centre shows that mums-to-be are confused by the lack of consistent guidance on when it is safe to travel during pregnancy, with 20% unsure whether it is safe to fly at all when expecting. 

Some airlines allow mums-to-be to fly up to 37 weeks of pregnancy, while for others the cut-off date is 34 weeks or even earlier.  The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends 37 weeks.  It is not surprising that the majority (85%) of women surveyed want standard guidance to make it easier to plan their pre-baby holidays. 

The survey found that mums-to-be are taking matters into their own hands rather than relying on inconsistent airline guidance.  Nearly two-thirds (61%) of women surveyed stressed the importance of checking their pregnancy health before they travel, with 81% talking to their midwife before confirming travel plans. www.thelondonultrasoundcentre.co.uk

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Aviation English is neither English nor American

“Roger and out”, may sound twee in some ancient Hollywood film thriller but to a Japanese, or maybe Russian, trying to find his way around the airwaves as he struggles to learn how to fly and use the English language, it is utterly confusing.

The Oxford Air Academy (OAA) is running two one-day seminars on the subject of aviation English training and testing.  The class will include talks given by representatives of airlines and air traffic control, and the authors of the world’s best selling aviation English training materials, on key issues in language training and testing for the aviation industry of today.

From programme design and management, materials, and the regulatory environment, these information-exchange seminars will cover language training and testing for pilots, maintenance engineers, cabin crew and air traffic controllers, and are designed for managers tasked with language proficiency issues within airlines, navigation services providers and MROs (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul).  They may also be equally useful for ground staff, language teachers and representatives of civil aviation authorities.

The events are sponsored by Macmillan Education and Oxford University Press. www.oaa.com

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easyJet joins the 200 club

In a ceremony at Toulouse last week Luton-based easyJet became the world’s youngest and quickest airline to reach the 200 Airbus milestone.  CEO Carolyn McCall put it emphatically: “easyJet has grown from two aircraft at our launch 15 years ago to 200 in our fleet today.  I’d like to thank all our staff, Airbus, CFM (our engine manufacturer) and all our partners and suppliers.”  The airline initially operated Boeing 737 aircraft.  Today just two are left and these will be gone by November.

“Our ambition is to become Europe’s preferred airline.  We’re already Britain’s biggest – carrying more passengers than BA, Virgin and bmi put together.  We aim to Turn Europe Orange and the special livery on our 200th aircraft embodies that ambition!”

easyJet already operates the world’s largest fleet of A319s with over 160 in service.  Including its A320s, which have recently joined the fleet, the airline has grown to be Europe’s largest A320 Family operator.  Since easyJet took delivery of its first Airbus A319 in September 2003, one aircraft has arrived on average every 14 days over the last eight years. www.easyjet.com www.airbus.com

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London gets a budget hotel in its very heart

Premier Inn, part of the Whitbread Group, and the UK’s biggest budget hotel chain, has announced that it is building a brand new property in the heart of London’s West End.   No 1 Leicester Square will feature what is calls “floating bedrooms” that ‘float’ on thick engineered neoprene pads so that noise from the Square and a nightclub below does not disturb guests.  The innovative bedroom design has been created by an expert team of acoustic engineers, architects and construction specialists.

Each of the 84 rooms will be formed from an independent box with no contact with the neighbouring rooms or hallway.  Acoustic linings to the walls and ceilings will provide sound insulation between bedrooms; building services are isolated; and windows will have quadruple glazing.

Premier Inn has spent six months perfecting the design to ensure it meets the standards set by the company’s ‘Good Night Guarantee’.  Two trial bedrooms – one with a timber frame and a second with a metal frame – have been built at the site and studies have been undertaken to establish their performance.

Construction work has started and the hotel is scheduled to open in February 2012. www.premierinn.com

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Marriott in London upgrade

Situated in the heart of Mayfair, the 5-star London Marriott Grosvenor Square has completed a multi-million pound refurbishment following its 25th Anniversary celebration last year.  Originally built as a stately townhouse, and previously part of Maxwell Joseph’s Grand Metropolitan Group, the second phase of refurbishments has seen the hotel reinvented to become what is termed “an elegantly styled urban retreat”.  The hotel is in Duke Street virtually opposite Selfridges.

All 237 rooms are now of contemporary design.  The accommodation is integrated with the modern style of Gordon Ramsay’s award winning Maze Restaurant and Maze Grill – both also located within the property. 

Readers ought to note that the Grosvenor Square Marriott should not be confused with the Park Lane property, which is near Marble Arch, nor The Grosvenor House, also in Park Lane.  There are also Marriott hotels at County Hall, opposite the House of Commons, near Westfield in Kensington, and Swiss Cottage (Regents Park) plus Canary Wharf.  All use the “London” tag line. www.thelondonmarriott.com

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Overground railway boost for London

Visitors to London and residents are to benefit from the completion of a major upgrade to the Overground network which, although promoted as an Olympic improvement, was a necessity that would have probably taken place in any event.

The three-year £550m project delivers up to double the number of trains on key Olympic rail routes.  London Overground services from Richmond and Clapham Junction to Stratford will run four times an hour every day, increasing the total number between Willesden Junction and Stratford to eight trains per hour in the peak.  In addition four trains per hour will run every day on the Gospel Oak to Barking line and up to eight trains an hour between Highbury & Islington and Dalston Junction on the East London route.

As part of the upgrade Transport for London also funded a fleet of 57 brand new air-conditioned trains, and an impressive station refurbishment programme.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “Three years ago London Overground was rundown, neglected and an embarrassment to the capital.  Three years later we have transformed it into one of the nation’s top performing railways.  It will be of benefit to Londoners for many years beyond the Olympics.” www.tfl.gov.uk

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Virgin Australia rolls out new lounges

Melbourne has become the first airport to host Virgin Australia’s new showcase lounge.  These will be rolled out in the coming months at all the major airports in the sub-continent.  The lounge upgrade coincides with the single rebranding of the former Virgin operations down under and the introduction of the wide body Airbus A330 on the Sydney – Perth route.

Featuring multiple zones for meetings, wireless internet capabilities and a “quiet library”, the lounge is well equipped to cater for modern business needs; while a high bar acts as the dynamic hub where guests can celebrate and socialise.

A continental breakfast with fresh fruit is served in the morning; seasonal salads and soups are offered throughout the day (with hot treats) and in the evening Australian cheeses, mini cakes and gourmet biscuits are provided. 

Virgin Australia launched the lounge programme in May 2006 and now has six lounges in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney domestic terminals. www.virginaustralia.com

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AND FINALLY: Donít buy duty free!

Don’t buy Duty Free if you have to pass through Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport whether connecting or going landside.  To be fair all US airports confiscate liquids of over 100mm if you are transferring but at Atlanta they go one further by banning it at the final arrivals security point too.

“I am very sorry sir”, said the lady, “but you can’t bring Scotch (or anything liquid) into the United States at this point.  However if you go back to the Delta help desk I am sure those nice people will allow your roller-bag to join the hold baggage on its way to the arrivals baggage hall”.

An exasperating two hours wait.  Bag and drink arrive OK.

And International passengers have to pay tax on food purchased whilst waiting for boarding too.

All will change next year we are told when the world’s busiest airport actually gets a terminal for foreign flights.  The quicker the better!

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COMMENT: Making entry easy

Kazakhstan is a country far away from the United Kingdom, deep into Asia, that is having a ‘love in’ with the West.  It has been independent from Soviet Russia since 1991. 

Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has made significant progress toward developing a market economy.  The country has enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000, partly due to its large oil, gas and mineral reserves.

Kazakhstan is nothing like the country portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen in the film Borat.  The actual location was Romania and the Kazakhstan view was that as a caricature it was good publicity for the country.

The problem with Kazakhstan is not the people, or the national airline Air Astana, which flies into Heathrow twice a week from Almaty and offers a service as good as, if not better than, British Airways.  The problem is the effort involved with raising the paperwork to actually get into the country.

If a nation wants to attract leisure tourists and business people it has to be flexible in the way it handles its borders.  No country wants people looking for troubles or those who will be a drain on the economy.  The USA has ESTA which works well; for Australia it is all done via a computer, and the UAE makes life very simple when you arrive in the Gulf.  The Chinese are well organised in London.  At Tel Aviv ask that your passport is not stamped and Israel will issue you with a piece of disposable paper.  That might save embarrassment at some Middle East gateways.  Typically Turkey has recently gone out of its way to make entry simple from many African countries.

If you want to go to Kazakhstan you need to personally visit the Embassy in London’s South Kensington during the passport offices limited opening hours and pay a minimum £35.  You will require an invitation from the other end.  A hotel will do.  Once at the Embassy the office, deep down in a basement, is perpetually busy, and friendly, but be prepared to queue.  There are no seats and the room is dreary.  However they will process your passport in three days but what an effort, particularly if you live outside London.  You, as an individual, have to attend no matter who you are.

Now here is the catch.  Nowhere in the paperwork does it say they will mail the completed passport back.  The suggestion is that you must collect it.  Not true.  Hand the clerk a stamped addressed recorded delivery envelope and it will be put in the post, saving another trip to Kensington. 

If you have read to this point, you will probably say “Is it worthwhile planning to visit Kazakhstan?”

The answer is yes.

Turn up at Heathrow for Air Astana (or bmi who also fly the route) without a visa and you will be allowed on the aircraft.

When arriving at Almaty just go to the special visa desk and in less than five minutes all will be done.

Mr Nazarbayev sort out your border control officials.  The Brits (and others too) will enjoy Kazakhstan.  Providing the welcome within the country extends to your passport people!

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Air France crash update

Preliminary findings from the recorders of the AF447 Airbus A330 which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 have found that the pilots became distracted with malfunctioning airspeed indicators and failed to properly manage other critical systems. 

Operating as a three-man crew the Captain was in a rest period when the aircraft experienced both turbulence and icing problems.  Dropping at 10,000ft per minute the cockpit voice recorders show that the pilots apparently became confused by the alarms blaring from their instruments and despite trying to systematically respond to each warning, were unable to cope.  The descent lasted 3mins 30secs during which time the engines acted normally.

A full report is expected in several months.  What appears not to be highlighted at this time is the work of the search teams in locating and rescuing the 'black box' recorders at a depth of well over 10,000ft, a truly magnificent effort which will help air safety for the future. www.airbus.com www.airfrance.com

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Bizjet Guide for the iPad

It does seem that the weighty reference books could be a thing of the past (although we’ve all been proved wrong before – many still use the massive OAG route guide). 

Upcast Jetbook for iPad, claims to completely change the way aircraft owners, charter flyers, and aviation enthusiasts view and compare business jet specifications.  The graphic interface of the Apple’s iPad will let users enjoy images, 360° views, videos, cabin diagrams, and even range maps based on their current location!

Upcast co-owner Ivan Veretennikov says: “Upcast JetBook does what no paper reference can: just a few pushes of the finger, and you have the bizjets you’re interested in all on one screen.”

Alexey Korolev, a co-owner of the company, adds: “The iPad is a game-changer in modern media, and we are sure that our product will bring its benefits to the aviation community in a new way.”

Upcast JetBook is now well into the final production stage the specification and is expected to include 50 business jet models, 12 manufacturers and seven aircraft classes.  Produced in English, details will be offered in both metric and imperial measurements.  Aircraft range details will be shown for over 30 cities worldwide for each type.  http://jetbook.upcast-media.com

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Hyatt Regency New Orleans sets October target for re-opening

Almost six years since the devastating floods, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans is now accepting reservations to welcome its first guests on 19 October 2011.  This follows a US$275m redesign and what it calls “a revitalization”.  Upon completion, the hotel will boast 1,193 all-new, sophisticated guest rooms, 200,000sq ft of state-of-the-art, flexible event space, plus expansive food and beverage offerings. 

As one of the most significant hospitality developments in New Orleans in over a decade, the newly restored Hyatt Regency New Orleans will re-open as the city’s premier meeting and convention hotel.  Having doubled its meeting and exhibition space, the 32-storey hotel will offer the most meeting space of any hotel in the city, as well as the unique ability to self-contain group events of all sizes.  This includes two 25,000sq ft ballrooms, 64 versatile meeting and banquet rooms, 21 executive level meeting rooms, seven permanent boardrooms, and more than 80,000sq ft of exhibition space, highlighted by a new 50,000sq ft exhibit hall.

The hotel is located adjacent to the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans Arena and the new Medical District; and just blocks from the French Quarter, Morial Convention Centre and Mississippi Riverfront. www.neworleans.hyatt.com

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Lufthansa changes its Italy strategy

Air Dolomiti, together with parent company Lufthansa, is to take over the Lufthansa Italia brand at the end of the summer season.  The Airbus A319 aircraft, currently operated by Lufthansa Italia, will be deployed elsewhere within the Lufthansa Group from the start of the 2011/2012 winter timetable.

Lufthansa is forecasting double-digit growth in its services to Italy, which it already serves frequently from its Frankfurt and Munich hubs.  Air Dolomiti will also increase flight frequencies to Germany with its own route network, which focuses on connecting the major economic centres in northern Italy and Lufthansa's Munich base.  Together, Lufthansa and Air Dolomiti currently serve 19 destinations in Italy.

Air Dolomiti dates back to 1989 and became 100% owned by Lufthansa in 2003.  Although most Lufthansa regional subsidiaries operate under their parent's name and colours, Air Dolomiti retains its own identity.  All of Air Dolomiti's aircraft are named after titles of famous Italian operas as a tribute to the city of Verona and its famous ancient theatre, the 'Arena di Verona'.  It currently operates 11 ATR 42s and five Embraer 195s. www.airdolomiti.it

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OAG adds flight times

Apps are becoming the norm for busy travellers on the move and IT departments are getting very clever with information passed on to customers.  Now OAG has come out with “FlightTimes”, the heavy, old (and still used) compendium compressed into the interface of a Blackberry, iPhone or android pda. 

Users with smartphones will be able to view flight schedules for every airport and airline in the world.  The app will be available to the general public and also companies wishing to rebrand and customise its content.

Users with iPhones will have the additional interactive global navigation feature, allowing them to save search results and access saved results with updates each time they open the app.  Both direct and connecting flights can be searched in the app including full details on the carrier, terminals, flights numbers and journey times.  The OAG database holds information on over 4,000 airports and more than 1,000 airlines including the so-called budget carriers that are not members of IATA. www.oag.com

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Ryanair to ground 80 aircraft this winter

No-frills carrier Ryanair sometimes called “The World’s most annoying airline” plans to take 80 aircraft out of service this coming winter, twice the number than for 2010/2011.

The announcement came as the airline revealed a full-year profit after tax of €401m, up 26% on the figure for the previous financial year.  Traffic in the financial year between April 2010 and March 2011 grew by 8%, while fares rose 12%.

The move to reduce its winter programme comes at a time when Ryanair seems to be changing its tactics.  Its policy was to keep away from the major hubs seeking out little used airports looking for business and renaming them after the nearest large conurbation (Carcassonne became Toulouse, a city 60 miles away).  Last September it moved into El Prat Barcelona although it has been heavily promoting Girona and Reus both distant from the city.  The airline is also experimenting with booked seats on some sectors out of Dublin. www.ryanair.com

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ON TOUR: EBACE 2011

Jane Stanbury and Alison Chambers of Emerald Media report:

Figures from EBACE 2011 suggest that European business aviation has begun the road to recovery.  At this year’s Geneva show nearly 13,000 industry delegates, representing 108 countries visited a record 511 exhibitors.  Some 62 aircraft displayed on the static and EBAA President Brian Humphries said he had just one complaint – “it was a shame the three-day event couldn’t go on for one more day.”  The upward trend reflected latest Eurocontrol statistics that private aviation was up 5.5% this year.  British business jet operators including Gama Aviation, LEA and PremiAir noted that financiers are back flying again.  “Business clients have not fallen out of love with private aviation, but with a lack of business to chase last year they had no reason to fly,” said Gama CEO Marwan Khalek who also reported that business aircraft owners are flying more too – up to 20-30% more hours than in 2010.

The 11th edition of EBACE also saw the return to nine-digit aircraft orders.  Bombardier confirmed the mystery buyer of two Challenger 605s and six Global 6000 business jets earlier this year was VistaJet, while predicting that the sector will deliver around 24,000 business jets between now and 2030.

VistaJet, which operates a dedicated Bombardier fleet, disclosed its overall order covered 12 Globals and Challengers, plus six Learjet 60 XRs valued at US$383m with deliveries expected to begin in 2012.  Thomas Flohr, Chairman of VistaJet, stated that the aircraft would support the growing sectors of “fast-growth markets” such as Brazil, Russia, India, Nigeria, China and the Middle East.  It was a good show too for Embraer, which announced orders for three Embraer Legacy 650 business jets from Switzerland’s Comlux, replacing their Bombardier 605s.  Comlux also placed a further four large-cabin aircraft options.  Airbus showed both a K5 Aviation GmbH Airbus ACJ319 cabin and a Comlux Airbus ACJ320 in a first time appearance for both at any air show, announcing that its corporate jet sales have now surpassed 170, flying on every continent, including Antarctica.

Whilst announcements for large jets confirmed demand is still greatest at the heavy end of the market, Globair of Austria quelled any suspected demise of the light jet market by announcing an increase of its fleet size to 11 Cessna Mustangs, making it the world’s largest Mustang operator.  The company, which claims a 25% share of Europe’s light jet charter market, is anticipating a doubling in passenger numbers over the next year.  A new kid on the block making its presence known at EBACE was Portugal’s Everjets, a subsidiary of fashion and textiles specialist Ricon Group, which announced the purchase of an Embraer Phenom 300, plus a second on option.  The new aircraft will be delivered in December, bringing a stylish offer to the southern European market.

As the European light jet market settles, the first Phenom commercial operator in Europe, Oxford-based FlairJet, announced a new initiative to support those operating in the sector by sharing its expertise and expanding its third party training department.  “We have identified an opportunity as more Phenoms come into Europe, which provides operators with third-party training and offers a flexible menu format that owners and pilots can pick and choose from,” said David Fletcher, CEO.  FlairJet announced at EBACE that it would base a Phenom 300 at Cannes Airport this summer, and so did Czech Republic-based operator Grossmann Jet, which will position its newest Cessna Citation II from June.  Edwin Brenninkmeyer of Oriens Advisors, specialists in the entry level jet field, commented: “We’ve not seen any light jet operators fail because of wrong aircraft choice.  Our experience shows that those who focus on costs, keeping lean and knowing their customer, as well as maximising IT are those that will survive.”

A number of new aircraft types were also unveiled at the show.  Dassault previewed its new mid-size cabin Falcon 2000S, which will have two engines and carry 10 passengers.  Service entry is planned for 2013.  Eurocopter unveiled a luxurious new EC145 Mercedes-Benz Style helicopter, which can seat up to eight passengers, offering a sleek design and large storage space in the tail area.  TBM Daher SOCATA, celebrating its 100th anniversary at EBACE, showcased a special edition of its TBM 850 single high-speed turboprop, featuring an eye catching paint scheme.  However, the French company was keeping tight-lipped about its ultimate plans for the Grob Spn light jet.  Nicolas Chabert, VP Sales and Marketing said that their evaluation could go beyond June, but acknowledged that Prototype 3 had now flown successfully over 25 hours and the evaluation concerning restarting the light jet programme was still in progress.  Meanwhile, there were positive noises from Piaggio’s new Managing Director, Eligio Trombetta, who said that final design of their planned new light jet, dubbed the P1XX, should be agreed by mid-year.  Expect to hear more about that at NBAA in October.

There was also a buzz surrounding the sectors supporting business aviation. ExecuJet Europe, which marked 10 years in Switzerland during the show, announced the opening of three new Spanish-based FBOs in Girona Ibiza Palma, which join its existing group of eight European FBOs.  The Middle East’s only dedicated business aviation airport, Al Bateen Executive at Abu Dhabi, announced a new brand for its FBO – DhabiJet, while Gama Aviation signed an agreement with worldwide catering services provider Private Flight which will support catering operations of its 80 business aircraft in its three key markets – Europe, the Middle East and the United States.  Flying Colours, the Canadian-based VIP interiors specialist, announced a partnership with List of Austria as their preferred completion centre in North America to carry out installations of its unique stone flooring products.

Wednesday afternoon was given over to the Olympics and the overall message was be prepared, book slots early and make provision for extra staff well in advance.  Fourteen UK airports have been allocated specific numbers of movements beyond their general levels.  Whilst London City has been given just eight, secondary airports such as Cambridge and Oxford have been allocated 520 and 382 slots respectively.  “High demand is expected at key times, particularly around the opening and closing ceremonies, it is therefore important that clients secure their desired landing and departure slots as early as possible.  There are certainly enough high quality jets available in Europe to meet demand.  Our advice to our individual or corporate clients travelling to the Olympics is to plan in advance to ensure they get the arrival and departure times they require.  Advance booking by users will alleviate the anticipated runway capacity problems,” suggested David Macdonald, Director Private Jets at Air Partner plc.

In preparation, Oxford Airport announced its decision to install the latest generation radar system from Thales, a precursor to the next major phase of redevelopment at the airport which will be implemented in time for the Games.  Cambridge Airport announced an initiative which sees operators that prepay receiving guaranteed parking slots which are anticipated to be at a premium during the summer.  Aviator, the TAG owned Farnborough-based hotel, has already received crew bookings and is suggesting that early reservations should be made with them, as well as the airport. 

The Olympics will undoubtedly test UK and European business aviation’s prowess but after this year’s optimistic EBACE the future looks bright for this part of the aviation sector.  www.ebace.aero

jane@emeraldmedia.co.uk

alison@emeraldmedia.co.uk www.emeraldmedia.co.uk

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787 at Paris and nears first delivery

Boeing’s brand new 787 is expected to be the star of the Paris Air Show which gets under way Monday 20 June.  Details have still to be released of Le Bourget happenings which will probably include a fully configured ready for service passenger aircraft.  Boeing, together with launch customer ANA, unveiled plans last week for a series of route proving flights from 4 July with the aircraft based at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

Using the second flight test aircraft, known as ZA002, they will simulate in-service operations across several airports in Japan in a service ready operational validation.  Anticipated city pairs include trips between Haneda and airports in Osaka (Itami and Kansai), Okayama and Hiroshima.

First rolled out in August 2007 the 787 was initially planned for introduction during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  In spite of production delays the aircraft has still set pre-certification records with 835 firm orders to date and options taking it well past the 1,000 mark. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Ash latest

As AERBT was being distributed at midnight British Summer Time the latest ash problem resulting from the eruption of a volcano in Iceland seems to have dissipated.  Two million passengers are expected to pass through British airports over what is a Bank Holiday weekend.

The good news follows a week of controversy in which a whole series of regional flights were cancelled with airline chiefs accusing the Met Office of putting out misleading information.  Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is bound to come under questioning and deep scrutiny when he speaks to the airline industry next week at London’s Aviation Club at the Institute of Directors.  Members will undoubtedly want to know if the authorities panicked. 

British Airways and Iberia joined the clamour over the handling of the volcanic ash cloud after claiming that a BA test flight "found nothing" after flying through a smoke plume deemed by regulators to be too dangerous for normal commercial flights.  Panic headlines by the national media and general misinformation certainly had a down effect on the travelling public. www.caa.co.uk

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Car pooling comes to the UK

Popular in the USA and in France car pooling is coming to Britain but on a commercial basis. 

French company, Comuto, is launching its successful service BlablaCar following a huge success across the Channel.  The name BlablaCar comes from drivers rating how talkative they are as ‘bla’ (not very chatty), ‘blabla’ (likes a natter) and ‘blablabla’ (won’t shut up).

The service, known as Covoiturage.fr in France, has been a phenomenal success amongst drivers and passengers alike who are frustrated at disruptions to air and rail transport and hard hit by increasing petrol prices and rising public transport costs. The site, founded in 2006, is growing by over 50,000 users per month, not only saving €100m since 2009 but also over 200,000 tons of CO2, making it an environmentally friendly way to travel.

To use the service, drivers post details of their trip and a suggested price, typically a proportionate contribution.  Potential passengers searching for a specific trip then choose whether or not this fits with what they want to pay.  However it is advisable to speak with your insurance company/adviser to ensure that both you and your passenger/s are covered for such trips, which are not hire and reward. www.blablacar.com

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Jersey to Bristol

Blue Islands, the Channel Islands-based airline, has introduced another double week daily service between Jersey and the English mainland, this time to Bristol.  Earlier this month the carrier introduced Jersey to London City.  The schedules for both flights also include a single Sunday return service.  Bristol is operated by a fully pressurised 19-seat BAe Jetstream aircraft.

A convenient onward connection to Zurich is also available with Blue Islands via Jersey, offering the quickest journey time to the Swiss city from the South West.  Bristol Airport offers extensive transfers for Jersey travellers with over 80 scheduled destinations across 22 countries served by direct flights.

Blue Islands’ “no hidden charges” pricing policy includes free ticket changes and no additional charges for baggage or credit card payment. www.blueislands.com

 

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Luton Airport offers free waiting period

It has come in for stiff comment with its £1 minimum drop-off and collection fee if you choose to come right up to the terminal, but Luton Airport is hitting back.  The airport has introduced a free 30-minute waiting period in the Mid-Term Car Park just prior to the runway bridge on the approach road.  Passengers, and their friends, can then use the courtesy shuttle which goes right outside the actual terminal building.  It is not as perfect as Airport Way, as it is known, can get very clogged up, particularly early in the morning when the first wave of aircraft depart, but it is convenient.  The car park is in fact a fairly short walk to the terminal building.

Whilst big efforts have been made to brighten up the whole edifice, and the main departure lounge is now as good as any, Luton, in common with most UK airports, still has a problem with immigration controls.  With the tightening up of the regulations virtually all of them have very inadequate facilities, both space and enough inspectors a problem.  Heathrow’s new electronic system is slower than the parallel personal inspection and is a nuisance for people with sight problems (glasses users). www.london-luton.co.uk

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Oneworld gets ready for its big move

With its move from Vancouver to New York imminent and new CEO Bruce Ashby six months into the job, the oneworld alliance has announced a series of senior managerial appointments. 

Stephen Usery joins as Vice-President Commercial, leading the alliance’s sales and marketing activities, including its frequent flyer offering, consumer fare products, advertising, e-commerce, brand, sales and market development.  He is ex-US Airways as is Dennis Tierney, a veteran 17 years with the airline, most recently as Managing Director Alliances.  Adding to the team is Anita Beier, named Director Finance and Administration and CFO, a new position covering responsibilities previously spread across a number of departments.  Anita was Senior Vice-President and Controller at Intelsat for four years.

The new oneworld headquarters will be at 2 Park Avenue, Manhattan.  The alliance team will share the 46,200sq ft premises with the New York offices of most oneworld member airlines and the unit managing the new transatlantic joint business launched in October between oneworld partners American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia. www.oneworld.com

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United and Continental get closer

Airline owner United Continental Holdings Inc has unveiled a series of changes to provide a more consistent travel experience for customers on United Airlines and Continental Airlines.  The changes – many introduced first at United’s hub at Chicago O’Hare International Airport – will roll out at airports across the airlines’ global network over the next several months.

At the larger airports of Chicago, New York/Newark, Houston and San Francisco, customers may now check in and print boarding passes for flights on either airline using any United- or Continental-operated self-service check-in kiosk.

Also introduced is “Premier Access”, a new package of priority airport services, including designated check-in counters, priority security screening, “front of the line” boarding through special Premier Access lanes and priority baggage handling, for elite-level frequent flyers and premium-cabin customers.  Premier Access re-branding will roll out through the system over the next several months.  Until airports are re-branded, elite-level frequent flyers and customers travelling in First, Business and BusinessFirst cabins have access to United’s premium airport services and Continental’s EliteAccess benefits.

United Continental Holdings was created on 1 October 2010. www.continental.com www.united.com

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CRUISE NEWS MAY 2011

Our 10-story news review follows.

Please ensure that AERBT is on your mailing list for cruise news.  We are particularly interested in off-beat stories for our discerning audience. 

With our small staff AERBT cannot report on a different ship every month.  Reviews are welcome from travellers on ships big and small, the more specialised the better.  River vessels too.  But in submitting your piece please don’t gloss over any inadequacies.  This month's review says that the majority of the cabins are a little undersized, but it takes away nothing from a joyful cruise. info@aerbt.co.uk

This month's review:  Swan Hellenic Minerva


You have to go back well over 50 years to trace the history of Swan Hellenic.  Combining cruising and cultural tourism in Greek waters seemed a good idea to the fledging Swan travel company in the 1950s.  Persuade renowned archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler to become a guest lecturer, make the trip all-inclusive and you had to be on to a winner.  The idea was to market the package as an educational holiday for discerning and generally mature travellers who wanted no hassle and a seamless experience.

The early ships were not the latest in terms of amenities and luxury, but offered good value as long as you looked the other way in some respects.  Nothing has really changed regarding ship or product.  Nor clientele.

Minerva, the current “Swanners” (the name given to Swan clients) vessel, was built in 1989 for the Russian Navy to be used in Northern waters.  Before completion the hull was sold and a major conversion undertaken by an Italian shipyard emerging much as it is now, a 12,500-ton 320-passenger specialist cruise ship.

Swann Hellenic is today owned by all Leisure Group’s Voyages of Discovery which seems to specialise with ships of curious ancestry.  Its fleet includes Hebridean Princess, as chartered by The Queen, which started life as a Scottish inter-island car ferry.  Last year it purchased the equally alluring Alexander von Humboldt, 15,000 tons and currently under a travel trade charter.

Minerva is a finely tuned splendid little vessel, clients happy to put up with its idiosyncrasies, in particular the cabins, the majority small by the standards of modern cruise ships.  Two owner's suites are provided and ten further balcony cabins.  The better accommodation is generally booked up very quickly.  All accommodation is well provided for with flat screen TV, safe and hair dryers.  Because of its size Minerva can get into ports unsuitable for the majority of cruise boats.  Big ship cruising regulars will note that often ports are overwhelmed when their vessel has docked as passengers roam around.  This is never the case with Minerva.  When mooring offshore Zodiac tenders are available for the more adventurous.

Minerva has a sea water ‘dip’ pool, a pair of hot tubs and outstanding library “open all hours” and trusting of passengers' honour.  It is probably unique in that its history includes two different spells under the same (Swan) brand.  In 2001 the company was purchased by P&O, and the ship replaced by Minerva II (now Adonia), one of the R class Renaissance vessels.  Swan Hellenic did not fit in when Carnival purchased P&O and the brand was sold to Lord Sterling/Roger Allard’s emerging Discovery cruise company who promptly chartered back the original Minerva.  “Swanners” gave three cheers. There was nothing wrong with Minerva II except it was perhaps too big.  “Swanners” clearly require something more discerning.

So what do you get with Swan Hellenic and Minerva?

On offer is a total all-inclusive holiday from the moment you arrive at your departing airport (if you are embarking at some foreign point) until you return.  For UK ports a coach service is provided.  You need not put your hand in your pocket again.  The package includes all the tours (with the exception of some alternative specialist visits), and of course the quality briefings that precede each port.  Diplomats, Cambridge dons, experts on rain forests, and marine ecology are the norm.  Depending on the cruise an authority will be on board.  And they can’t escape after their discourse.  They too are part of the “Swanners” family. 

Don’t expect high level evening entertainment.  The ship caters for a mature clientele and except for the occasional lecture and musical recital post dinner time is quiet.  If you have been on a couple of trips during the day enough is enough.  There is tomorrow to look forward to.  A little live light music is sometimes provided.  For the formal nights a black tie dress code is the norm, or a lounge suit.  The ship's brochure calls for a jacket and tie for the dining room in the evening.

Tipping is not required.  Clearly if alcoholic drinks are wanted you pay for them but they are not expensive.  Coffee is served after dinner but some people prefer specialist varieties and this does go on the ‘extras’ bill.

Furnishings around the ship are of top quality and there is a proper cinema on board although the majority of talks are given in the main Darwin lounge.  There is no casino and wheelchair accessible accommodation is very limited.  There is a self-service laundrette and a valet offering.  A small gym and a beauty salon is provided as is an internet facility.  A doctor and nurse are on board.  Smoking is permitted in designated areas.

Dining is open seating and the quality of food matches and is even perhaps superior to the previous management.  Swann Hellenic does not offer special catering as such but if you are a vegetarian, or non-meat eater just inform the maître d' and the kitchen will go out of its way to help you.  You can eat in the restaurant or the more informal veranda area.  Morning coffee and classic afternoon high tea are provided.  The friendly service is exemplary.

PROGRAMME:  For the early part of summer 2011 Minerva is based at Portsmouth and offers mainly 15-day itineraries to France, around the UK, the Baltic and Norway.  It then departs to the eastern Mediterranean and will visit the Black Sea.  In early December there is a passage of the Suez Canal followed by a slow meander which takes the stately little ship as far as Singapore before making its way back to the Gulf, through the Canal once again and on to Alexandria.

By Malcolm Ginsberg with the help of neighbours Linda and David Carr “Swanners”  www.swanhellenic.com

Our 10-story news review

Belfast may have been the birthplace of the most infamous ship of all time (Titanic) and 100 ago the world’s shipbuilding centre.  Today it is making a comeback as a place for large cruise ships to visit marking up 33 vessels for 2011.  Crown Princess, Crystal Serenity, Seven Seas Voyager and the latest Adonia are amongst the many ships calling this coming summer.

Joe O'Neill, Commercial Director at Belfast Harbour, said the harbour had continued to develop and invest in port facilities, which had "enabled Cruise Belfast to successfully attract an increasing number of cruise liners to the city.

"Belfast has transformed over recent years and Belfast Harbour, as the maritime gateway, continues to play its part in helping the city achieve its full economic potential," he said. www.belfast-harbour.co.uk

  
Celebrity fans will be pleased to learn that the cruise operator, part of Royal Caribbean, is to introduce the Far East into its programme.  Celebrity Millennium, a 90,000 tons vessel and these days considered a mid-size cruise ship, will visit nine countries new to the brand, including Vietnam, Thailand and China during the 2012/2013 during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter period.

Celebrity’s inaugural Asia season will consist of a series of 14-night open-jaw cruises between Singapore and Hong Kong.  Overnight stays in ports like Singapore, Bangkok (Thailand), Ho Chi Minh City Halong Bay (Vietnam) and Hong Kong (China) offer more opportunities for travellers to immerse themselves in Asian culture.  The season also will include two 14-night sailings roundtrip from Singapore with overnight stays in Bali (Indonesia), in January 2013. www.celebrity.cruises.co.uk


Disney Cruise Line has unveiled its design plans for the 4,000-passenger Disney Fantasy, which is scheduled for launch next spring.  Whilst essentially as sister ship to Disney Dream (including the AquaDuck, the semi-thrilling water coaster onboard), there are a few new elements.

New is "Animation Magic" a dinner show taking place in the Animator's Palate restaurant and featuring a salute to animation, starring Mickey Mouse.  "Disney's Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular":  Rub the lamp and new stage entertainment appears. This Broadway-style show will occupy the 1,340-seat Walt Disney Theatre.  Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, the theme park stalwart makes the leap to the high seas.  Kids can be transformed into princesses and pirates, courtesy of a staff keen on giving wee ones the royal treatment.

For adults Europa has been added, an adults-only entertainment district including bars and lounges in a European style.  O'Gill's Pub is an Irish bar and Skyline provides bird's-eye views of European capitals. www.disneyworld.co.uk


Grand Princess has returned to service after Princess Cruises most extensive refit ever.  The ship’s 24-day dry dock that transformed it from top to bottom also made the ship a media star with daily video updates that attracted more than a half million views.

Now in Europe for the summer season Grand Princess features a completely new Piazza atrium and several new places to eat – including Alfredo’s Pizzeria and the Crown Grill – and the line’s first specialty tea lounge called Leaves.  Also included in the renovation were seven new window suites; remodelled casino, boutiques and art gallery; enhancements to the Horizon Court, Lotus Spa, and wedding chapel; and the addition of Crooner’s Martini lounge.  The new nightclub, The One5, that replaced the winged Skywalkers high over the stern.  In these days of eco friendly ships the old 'wing' was considered too heavy and physically inefficient. www.princess.com


Hapag-Lloyd, emphasising its desire to been seen as a strong competitor in the British cruise market, chose the Royal Geographical Society in London to unveil its plans for 2012 and especially 2013.

Work will start later this year on Europa 2, not a replacement for Europa (how can you replace the most highly rated ship in the Berlitz/Douglas Ward cruise guide?) described as “casually elegant” rather than “traditional” coming in at around 40,000 tons, 258 suites and 360 staff.  Delivery from the St Nazaire yard in France will be in Spring 2013.

In the meantime Columbus will leave the fleet next year to be replaced by Columbus 2, a totally refurbished R class vessel accommodating just under 700 guests.  Hanseatic, the line's specialist exploration ship is also undergoing a major refit which includes wi-fi in all the cabins.  Hapag-Lloyd emphasised the quality of its product and the fact that it was now very much a dual language operation at the premium end of the market. www.hl-cruises.com


Orion Expedition Cruises has released an expanded range of path less travelled itineraries for 2012 including rarely visited destinations from polar ice cap to the tropics.  In addition to existing itineraries Orion takes a fresh look at New Zealand with new Pure New Zealand and Bay of Islands voyages.

Orion II’s new sailings feature the islands of Micronesia and additional voyages to Japan with Art of Japan and Culinary Voyage of Japan itineraries.  China is included for the first time with expeditions that include the Yangtze Delta (Kobe to Shanghai) and Shanghai to Tawau (Yangtze, Taiwan, Philippines), while an inaugural visit to Java includes Borobudur. www.orionexpeditions.com


P&O has now has a small cruise ship, the first for a very long time.  Named Adonia by Dame Shirley Bassey, one of the former R class vessels, and formerly Royal Princess, the 710 passenger ship will cater exclusively for an adult clientele.  She is currently on a 16 night maiden cruise to the Western Mediterranean, which including calls to Alghero in Sardinia; Portofino in Italy; Sete in France; Port Mahon in Menorca and Barcelona in Spain.

For  entertainment, Adonia has eight bars, including P&O Cruises signature ‘Crow’s Nest’ observation lounge; Andersons, the familiar club-style lounge bar; and Raffles, which also offers a coffee shop menu throughout the day with pastries, chocolates, hot drinks and afternoon tea. There is also a traditional library with fireplace and views on three sides.  UK cruisers will be pleased to know that flat electric plugs have been fitted. www.pocruises.co.uk


Portsmouth International Port has hosted one of the most iconic and legendary cruise ships ‘Sea Cloud’, a spectacular 80-year old four-masted visitor.  Arguably one of the most beautiful vessels available to fare paying passengers her cabins and public areas are the last word in luxury, a modern day cruise experience with a very special old world charm. 

Constructed as a private yacht in 1931 Sea Cloud has had a remarkable history and was even used by the US Navy during WWII.  The one time plaything of the super rich has operated around the world as a premium quality cruise liner since 1979, now under the flag of the German company with the same name.  She spent one day at Portsmouth, arriving from Dartmouth early morning and departing for Guernsey late in the day. www.seacloud.com www.portsmouth-port.co.uk


Star Clippers guests from niche tall ship operator have removed 1,700 pounds of rubbish from North Friar’s Beach and Keys Beach in St Kitts in a beach clean-up operation organised by on-board marine biologist, Mariano Peruzzo.  This is the third time Star Clippers guests have take part in beach clean-ups, on this occasion joining volunteers from a local charity to rid the island’s beaches of plastics and other litter.

This is the latest initiative of an ongoing eco-awareness programme operated by Star Clippers, owned and operated by passionate environmentalist Mikael Krafft, who commented: “We are passionately committed to preserving the environment and by offering more opportunities for our guests to learn and get involved, we hope to pass on our enthusiasm.” www.starclippercruises.co.uk 

 

Swan Hellenic, which is featured in this issue of AERBT, is offering no single supplements on a selection of summer 2011 cruises, perfect for those who wish to travel by themselves in the company of like-minded individuals – but without the extra costs.

For the 21 July departure from Portsmouth Minerva calls at Dublin (Ireland), St Kilda (Scotland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Isafjordur (Iceland), Siglufjordur (Iceland), Akureyri (Iceland), and Torshavn (Faroe Islands).  For those who prefer a more southerly cruise on 8 June she leaves Lisbon and meanders back to its home port over 14 nights including calling at Oporto (Portugal), Gijon (Spain), Bilbao (Spain), Bordeaux (France), St Peter Port (Channel Islands), St Malo (France) and finally Rouen (France).  The package includes flights, gratuities and a shore excursion programme. www.swanhellenic.com

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