11 JULY 2011

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Air France to Lima

Lima is the latest South American destination to be linked to the Air France network.  The carrier has inaugurated a five times per week service from Paris Charles de Gaulle, flown by a Boeing 777-200ER.  The aircraft is configured with three cabin classes with 35 seats in the new Business Class, featuring a lie-flat seat bed measuring over 2m in length, 24 pod style seats in Premium Voyageur and 250 in Voyageur (economy) class.  Sister company KLM operates a daily service out of Amsterdam.

Lima is the capital of Peru, has a population approaching and sits at sea leval. The historial site of Machu Picchu is at 8,000ft, similar to the cabin height most airliners operate at.  Another popular tourist attraction, Lake Titicaca, is much higher at 12,500ft, at which the lack of air pressure does become noticeable.  Lima is the fifth largest city in Latin America, behind Mexico City, São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.  It is home to one of the largest financial hubs in Latin America. www.airfrance.com

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British airline goes biofuels

Thomson Airways, essentially a holiday airline, will begin using biofuels on selected routes between the UK and Spain this month, making it the initial UK-based carrier to use sustainable fuels in its fleet.

The airline will operate the UK's first biofuel flight from Birmingham (UK) to Palma (Majorca, Spain), on 28 July, once its testing process has been completed and final safety clearance has been received.

Weekly flights will follow on the same route from September.  Thomson plans to operate the flight to Palma for a year and switch to the Birmingham – Alicante route in winter.

The selected flights will operate on a 50% blend “Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids” (HEFA) fuel in both engines with 50% Jet A1 fuel.  The HEFA fuel will be produced from used cooking oil.

The fuel will be supplied by Dutch firm SkyNrg, which was founded by the Air France/KLM Group, fuel supplier North Sea Group and consultancy group Spring Associates. See last week’s AERBT

In 2012 Thomson Airways will become the first British airline to operate the Boeing 787.

As sustainable biofuels become more commercially viable, Thomson Airways plans to expand its use of sustainable biofuels across its fleet over the next three years. http://flights.thomson.co.uk

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Emissions row continues

A European Union plan to include all airlines flying to Europe in the Emissions Trading Scheme from next year is unfair and contrary to global efforts to fight climate change, China's state-run Xinhua news agency is reported to have said.  Xinhua, whose commentaries are a reflection of government thinking on major issues or controversies, said the scheme had been ill thought out.

"In the name of dealing with climate change, the EU's approach will generate enormous financial benefits at the expense of the rest of the world, including developing countries," it said in an English language commentary.

"Studies show that the extra costs of the EU's plan will amount to US$1.6bn in the first year alone.  The direction of the cash flow is contrary to the spirit of the agreements reached at the UN Cancun climate change conference last year."

In a further move US airlines have taken the European Union to court, arguing that charging foreign companies for carbon permits violates international agreements.  The Luxembourg-based European Court’s Advocate General will deliver her opinion on the case on 6 October, which will be followed by a final judgement by the Court at a later date. http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/court-justice/index_en.htm

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Gatwick wins Vietnam Airlines

Journey time between London and Vietnam will be significantly reduced from next December when Vietnam Airlines introduces non-stop flights between Gatwick and Hanoi and Saigon.  A passage which was previously over 18hrs will be reduced to just 11hrs 30mins.  Modern Vietnam is today an industrialised western looking country keen to overlook its French colonial past and virtually ignore its Chinese communist heritage.

Vietnam Airlines will fly a two-class Boeing 777 on the route offering connections to a comprehensive number of destinations throughout Indochina including Siem Reap (Cambodia), Luang Prabang (Laos), and Yangon (Burma).

Far East experts Bamboo Travel says the new operation will bring a boom to emerging areas that seldom appear in brochures, typically Ba Be Lake in Northwest Vietnam, Khammouane Province in Southern Laos and Mondulkiri in Eastern Cambodia.  Vietnam is fast-becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Asia-Pacific region with just over 5m tourists visiting the country in 2010. www.gatwickairport.com www.vietnamairlines.com

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London cable car project starts

Work began last week on both sides of the river on the London cable car project which only gained approval last March.  It is expected to be ready in time for next year’s Olympics.

The scheme will provide a quick link between the O2 and ExCeL – two of the largest entertainment and exhibition venues in Europe, cutting travel times to five minutes. 

Scheduled for completion in summer 2012 the airborne link will provide spectacular views across the Thames and a new and unique addition to London’s transport network for thousands of commuters and visitors to London.

In order to get the project off the ground Transport for London (TfL) has agreed to provide the upfront costs for the cable car.  TfL will recoup its costs from a range of sources including the appointed commercial partner, fare revenue and advertising.

The cable car will be the UK’s first urban cable car with a crossing every 30 seconds carrying up to 2,500 passengers per hour in each direction.  It will be fully accessible and is designed to be used by those with reduced mobility including wheelchair users and people with pushchairs; in addition bicycles will be allowed onto the link. www.tfl.gov.uk/cablecar

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Suckling and Loganair come together

Loganair has purchased Cambridge-based Suckling Airways, better known up north as Scot Airways with Stagecoach as a previous major shareholder. 

Suckling was founded by the late Roy and Merlyn Suckling in 1984 and these days is essentially a specialist executive and charter operator with a fleet of five 32-seat Dornier turboprops.

“Scotland’s Airline” Loganair is even older and goes back to 1962.  It operates scheduled services under a Flybe franchise in mainland Scotland and to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.  From Dundee it flies to Belfast City and Birmingham.

Commenting on the acquisition, Loganair’s Chairman Scott Grier said: “The acquisition of Suckling Airways is a major change for Loganair, but one which reflects our increasing ambition to diversify and expand our business.  Today’s announcement brings a new, yet mature revenue stream from specialist charter flights into the company.  We look forward to working with Mrs Merlyn Suckling and her team to develop its exciting business over the coming months and years whilst we continue to grow Loganair’s own operations as and when opportunities arise.”

With the deal set to be completed at the end of the month the synergies bring together two of the UK most experienced airlines. www.scotairways.com www.loganair.co.uk

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v-room opens in Manchester

Following the success of its Gatwick v-room leisure customer complex, which opened three years ago, Virgin Atlantic has duplicated the offering at Manchester.  Admission is £20 for adults, and £12 per child (infants are free), with complimentary access for all Virgin Holidays customers staying at a Platinum Collection hotel.

Described as “funky and colourful” the v-room Manchester overlooks the main passenger concourse, just yards from the departure gates.  Once checked in by Virgin Holidays staff at a dedicated reception, guests are free to enjoy three distinct areas:

• v-room for kids:
A water-themed zone for babies, toddlers and little ones to romp around in before boarding the aircraft, featuring soft play facilities, a magnetic wall and interactive games. 

• v-room for tweens:
The gaming zone, where a wall-sized screen will immerse big kids and adults in a selection of X-Box Kinect games, is joined by an ‘outside-inside’ space with free internet access, plasma TVs and funky furniture.

• v-room for adults with quiet relaxation and courtesy wi-fi.

A hot and cold buffet, serving a mixture of breakfast and brunch dishes and beverages every day, is available to all guests and is included in the entry price.  A pay bar is available. www.virginholidays.co.uk

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Renault Wind Roadster 1.6 Dynamique
Cute Wind is exhilarating!

Oh my goodness! What has Renault done now?  It has brought a breath of fresh air to the world of motoring in the form of a two-seat machine aptly called the Wind that has such distinctive looks that it neither suggests a sports car nor a cabriolet, more likely a concept car heavily disguised.

Closer examination and a week behind the wheel, proves that the Wind is a positive car, nothing negative about it for sure.  The high back angular styled body is certainly a credit to its designers and even more so to those who had to fettle this machine at Renault’s Novo Mesto plant in Slovenia.

What this Wind is all about is to provide its occupants with every opportunity to indulge themselves in open air motoring.  The roof panel and rear window cleverly fold/rotate and slot into a storage area in the boot lid without actually stealing any boot space…the top literally disappears from view, replaced by metal mesh wind deflector.

Transformation from snug coupe to open top takes a claimed 12 seconds and involves pressing a release button in the roof panel and turning a central release knob and then holding down the open/close switch and that’s it…commune with nature.  First turn of the weather and reverse the procedure and be cosseted against the elements.

Interestingly I found that the Wind in open form is very quiet enabling civilised conversation at speeds up to 70 mph though I noted that the noise generated by most other cars does not say a lot for their aerodynamics.

With the roof in place there is a degree of drumming at certain speeds but I am not complaining, having cut my teeth on early sports cars where the hood was a crude folding arrangement held in place by nail breaking press studs.

The two seats are low to the kerb and access to the driving seat might be a bit challenging for the less agile having to fit themselves around the steering wheel.

The driving position, aided by a tilt/reach steering column, good pedal positioning and the well contoured sports seats with fixed head rests is very comfortable and provide the driver with generally a sporty/relaxed situation.  The close proximity of the rear bulkhead obviously restricts rearwards adjustment of the seat which could be a problem for longer bodied drivers.  Like a good suit/dress, have a first fitting.

Cockpit presentation is smart, uncluttered and purposeful, highlighted by three conventional circular dials which are clear on read-out though the kph markings on the speedometer are hard to distinguish.  The effect is business like, in keeping with the character of this unusual car.

Two petrol engines are offered for the Wind, a 1.2-litre TCe 100 portrayed by Renault as flexible and a 1.6 VVT 133 lifted from the Renaultsport Twingo and this time described as feisty.

This test involved the top version which proved spirited and yet a refined performer.  Both engines use a short ratio five-speed gearbox (no automatic option) that felt a slightly notchy changer until warmed up and then could either entertain the driver or enable him/her to poodle along in a flexible manner.

Performance?  The Wind is no poser, the claimed top speed is 125 mph with 62 mph reached in a sprightly 9.5 seconds and plenty of gusto between the gears when there is the opportunity to play.

There is plenty of driving character, some inherited from the good handling Clio II Renaultsport platform on which the car is based, some the result of further attention to the sophisticated suspension system.  The end result is a good riding car on low profile Continental Sport tyres that also provides stable and positive handling machine that lives up to its promising looks.  Good grip, well braked in a progressive manner and with strong safety margins but always with a good dose of fun.

Driver vision is a good from the frontal view, horrible from the rear three-quarter angle as a result deep rear pillars - plenty of neck muscle effort required when negotiating angled junctions.

There’s also driver aids in abundance including ABS anti-lock braking, emergency brake assist, stability control and under steer control. Economy is passable for a sporty performer with a an official combined consumption figure of 40.9 mpg which is about par for a medium sized hatch back.  Carbon footprint is 160 g/km - clean but not squeaky clean.

Worthy of note is the cruise/speed control that enables the driver to fine tune the pace by simple + or - finger touches; ideal for those tedious motorway workings where drivers struggle to hold strictly monitored speeds.  Interior oddments stowage is a bit of a joke, being restricted to a non-locking small glove box and possibly a little room behind the rear seats though luggage capacity is an eye-opener - a generous 270 litres that is massive for a small sporting car.

Equipment package at both levels is comprehensive, this top version coming with four alloy wheels (a puncture repair kit - space saver wheel optional extra), powered/heated door mirrors, immobiliser/alarm, automatic headlights/wipers, climate control, Bluetooth and much more.

Just as Peugeot spotted a strongly viable market niche with the 207/8 Cabriolet, Renault has identified a potential sales winner with the Wind. Iconic is an understatement for this real head turner!

Rivals include Mazda MX5, Peugeot 208 Cabrio, MG F, MINI Cabrio.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 8
Noise 8
Economy 8
Ride and Comfort 9
Accommodation 8
Styling 8
Brakes 9
Finish 8
TOTAL: 84 %


NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON’S MOTORING DIARY

VOLVO: The Swedish car maker scoped two awards at the annual British Insurance Vehicle Security Awards 2011 – Thatcham’s International Security Award and the Best Small Car Security Award for the Volvo C30. www.volvo.co.uk

TOYOTA: The third generation Yaris model is due for UK sales launch this summer.  Maker claims compact outside, spacious inside. www.toyota.co.uk

VOLKSWAGEN: A 14% increase in global sales is reported for the first five months of the year. Total sales over the period were in excess of 3 million vehicles for the first time. www.volkswagen.co.uk

PEUGEOT: An expanded range of its Sportium version of the 207 has been launched with the inclusion of two new engine options and upgraded equipment valued at £1,215 but charged at only £350. Package includes a Clarion multi-media navigation system.  Prices from £12,095 on the road. www.peugeot.co.uk

SUZUKI: A launch into Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Linkedin is announced by Suzuki in a drive to generate more consumer interaction. www.suzuki.co.uk

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COMMENT: Advice to family travellers

British Airways sent us a press release last week (see below) which gave advice on travelling with children.  It was relevant as we are just about to enter the holiday season (in the UK at least) when young people, in their millions, descend upon the airports of the country, noisy, excited and without much patience.

The BA offering was very good and set our minds thinking. 

It did not say one thing, which this publication believes is the most important rule of all when travelling with children.

Get to the airport early!

Please please. 

Yes, we know that hanging around in the concrete domain, with the shops very tempting, is possibly not the most pleasant of places with the kids in tow, but that is far better than a late arrival at the departure terminal, harassed, concerned whether one will miss the flight, and possibly not quite sure which way to go.

Under these circumstances even the most experienced of travellers can get stressed.

It has happened to us all.

Thank you British Airways for your well considered advice.  And also for the BA “Aunties” (and presumably “Uncles” too), ready to take over with the little ones once inside the building.

If you are a business traveller our recommendation is to venture forth in September.

So we repeat our advice.

Get to the airport early.  It’s the lesser of two evils.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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ANA gets airborne with the 787

Boeing and Japanese airline ANA have started validation trials of the long awaited 787 Dreamliner.  With the aircraft yet to be certificated passengers are limited to ANA and Boeing personnel climbing around test equipment on ZA002.

“ANA is proud to be the first airline in the world that will operate the 787,” said Shinichiro Ito, ANA President and CEO.  “The Dreamliner is an integral part of our plans to become Asia's number one airline and will allow us to bring new standards of comfort and service to our passengers.  Validating all of our training and preparations for the Dreamliner is critical to help ensure a smoother entry into service for our passengers and crews later this year.”

Throughout a week-long validation programme, the 787 will experience simulated day-to-day airline operations.  Maintenance, servicing and flight crew operations will be conducted at five airports in Tokyo, Osaka (Itami and Kansai), Okayama and Hiroshima.  ANA’s first scheduled service with the 787 will be either the Haneda – Okayama or Haneda – Hiroshima route when deliveries begin later this year.  ANA has 55 Dreamliners on order. www.ana.co.uk

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British Midland v Heathrow Airport

The CAA, in its role as the UK’s airport regulator, has launched a full investigation into whether Heathrow’s passenger charges have unfairly impacted short haul carriers, following a complaint by British Midland International last January.  It plans to reach a decision by the end of October 2011.  Interested parties should make their views know, in writing, by 6 September.

The airline, 100% owned by Lufthansa, welcomed the CAA’s response saying: “BMI maintains that BAA’s increase in domestic charges at London Heathrow will unfairly and unreasonably discriminate against domestic passengers.”

BMI said the fees discriminated by equalising domestic and EU passenger charges, and basing landing charges solely on noise values.  At the start of this year's airline summer season, at the end of March, bmi dropped its Heathrow – Glasgow services. www.baa.com www.flybmi.com

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Finnair to open route to China's largest city, Chongqing

In May 2012 Finnair will introduce a direct route to Chongqing, the largest and fastest-growing city in China.  It will be the airline’s 11th Asian route.  Finnair is the first airline to open a direct flight route from Europe to Chongqing.  Flight time is 8hrs 30mins with a two-class Airbus A340 four times per week.

Situated on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, Greater Chongqing has a population of 32m making it China’s largest city.  The urban population is expected to double over the next five years.

In addition to Chinese companies many Western companies, especially in the electronics, automotive and chemical industries, are currently increasing their operations in the area expanding cargo growth.  By 2015, the airport will be capable of receiving 45m passengers a year.

Although in the early stages of marketing the focus will be in particular on business travellers.  Chongqing also offers much to see for tourists interested in China’s history and nature.  Visitors can enjoy the historical buildings, temples and natural beauty, as well as the Dazu Rock Carvings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and hot springs.  Chongqing also provides convenient access to river cruises on the Jialing and Yangtze. www.finnair.com

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Hilton to open two new London hotels

London is to have two more Hilton Hotels to strengthen its growing presence in the capital.  However the company, owned by the New York Stock Exchange listed Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, has been very careful in its choice of names to avoid confusion.

The Hilton London Southbank is situated next to the Neo Bankside residential development behind the Tate Modern, and is scheduled to open in 2012.  Facilities will include a four-storey glass atrium, 31 suites, an executive lounge, LivingWell fitness centre, swimming pool, over 1,000sqm of meeting space, and a restaurant, bar and café at the front of the property.

London’s first Hampton by Hilton property is set to welcome guests in 2013, and will be located close to Waterloo station on the site of Partnership House.  The hotel will feature 278 rooms, with facilities including complimentary hot breakfast, a 24-hour snack area, and an evening bar. www.hilton.com

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Phuket to Europe

Thai Airways International is to introduce a three times per week direct 10hrs 35mins flight from Copenhagen to Phuket on 11 November, utilizing a Boeing 747-400.  At present Europe to Phuket, Thailand’s premier resort city, is only available via limited services from Berlin (Air Berlin), Frankfurt (Condor), and Moscow (Transaero).  Thai already flies daily from Bangkok to Copenhagen and is stepping up frequencies on the Phuket – Bangkok shuttle.

Mr Pandit Chanapai, Thai Executive VP Commercial, said: “Thai is pleased to offer the first-ever direct flights from Copenhagen to Phuket giving passengers more choices and making it easier than ever to travel from Scandinavia straight into Phuket.”

Thai says that clients booked on the direct flights can use Bangkok as a transit point each way to suit their travel requirements. www.thaiairways.com

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The school holidays

With the school holidays imminent BA has come up with some suggestions.

If you plan to take your child's saftey seat for the flight, check with the airline before travelling. Every one is different.

Before your child’s first flight in their own seat, sit them on the sofa at home with a cushion between you as the armrest, explaining how it is on board.

Take a small compact travel pushchair for easy cabin stowage onboard – standard pushchairs will normally have to go as hold luggage.

Pack their favourite teddy, pillow or comfort blanket – to help them get to sleep more easily and make it feel more like home.

Sometimes waiting for take-off or leaving the aircraft can be boring for young children – a bag of treats can work well at this point as a distraction.

It is no-go for the flight deck – but most crews will try and help after landing.  

If you are flying somewhere with a big time difference try to allow yourselves two days when you get back to give your children time to get back into UK time before school starts.

On long haul flights the airline has a special child friendly menu, which parents can book free in advance.  Children are also offered entertainment packs and electronic games.  Ipods etc can be used in flight as well as the aircraft's in-flight entertainment (IFE). www.ba.com

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Virgin Atlantic strike threat lifted

BALPA, airline pilots trade union, says it is lifting the threat of strike action at Virgin Atlantic which could have affected travellers' summer holiday plans.  This will bring considerable relief to Virgin as a commercial operation, the recent problems at British Airways having an effect with its forward bookings.

BALPA said it had secured a new offer from the airline, which it will present to its members in the coming weeks.  Details of the proposals have not been announced as yet.

Last month, Virgin pilots voted overwhelmingly to go on strike for the first time in the airline's history in a dispute over  pay.

Jim McAuslan, the union General Secretary, said: "Pilots have never wished to inconvenience the travelling public, especially those looking forward to summer holidays. We have therefore lifted the threat of strike action."  Sir Richard Branson had expressed serious concern regarding the airline's future if the strike went ahead. www.balpa.org.uk www.virgin-atlantic.com

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AND FINALLY: Too true

A bloke is stopped by the police one night.  Plod comes round to the driver's window and says,

"Excuse me sir, but your nearside tail light isn't working."

The bloke gives an exasparated sigh, "Oh for heavens sake, haven't you lot got anything better to do?"

He jumps out of the car and goes to the back where he gives the tail light a hard kick.  It comes on.

"There, now are you satisfied?" he says sarcastically.

"Very good," says plod. "Now go round and kick the front and see if a tax disc comes up."

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BAA Stansted sale

According to a report in yesterday’s Sunday Times BAA Ltd is to be officially told by the Competition Commission, within days, that it must start the process of selling Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports.  The watchdog concluded back in March that it requires to sell two airports (which would have been three except that BAA had already offloaded Gatwick).

Whilst BAA has a choice, industry opinion is that the sale of Glasgow is preferred to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital’s airport out performing the west coast complex (which also suffers with competition from Prestwick), and with the tram arrival now under way, far more potential.

Last year 6.5m passengers (-9.4 %) passed through Glasgow Airport dramatically down from its 8.8m 2007 peak when it was the number one Scottish airport.  The loss of bmi’s Heathrow services does not seem to have affected throughput.  Prestwick has also seen a big drop, from 2.4m, again in 2007, to 1.6m last year.  For Edinburgh the number for 2010 was 8.5m passengers (-5%). www.baa.com www.competition-commission.org.uk

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Dubai to Kazan and Ufa

Flydubai has added two new Russian destinations to its network with flights to Kazan and Ufa.  The new routes bring flydubai’s network to 43 destinations across the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council), North Africa, Indian Sub-Continent, Asia and the fringes of Europe.

Kazan is one of the major economic, political and tourist centres in Russia and the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan.  It is one of the most visited cities in Russia thanks to a 1,000-year history and the Kazan Kremlin, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Kazan will host matches during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The city’s main industries, meanwhile, include machinery, chemical, petrochemical, and food production.  It is also home to Russia’s largest IT-park.

Ufa is the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan.  Its economy is based on fuel, energy and engineering complexes.  Ufa is also the largest oil refining centre in the Volga and the Urals, as well as a major transport hub, scientific, cultural and religious centre of Russia.  It is the fourth largest Russian city in terms of retail trade turnover, after Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. www.flydubai.com

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Frankfurt gets Lufthansa’s largest lounge

Lufthansa has opened its largest lounge worldwide at Frankfurt.  It is available to First Class and eligible customers.

Situated in the departure area of Terminal 1 at Frankfurt, top customers can enjoy for the first time a modern wellness area with luxury facilities that include 10 showers and two spa rooms.  Another entirely new addition to this, the Senator Lounge, is the City Lights Bar, whose name – spelled out in one-metre-high letters – forms an effective room divider.

In the centre of the lounge is an atrium that allows natural light to flood into all the areas not fronted by the 130sqm glass facade.  The atrium is surrounded by numerous service facilities, including an inviting wellness area, where Lufthansa Senator Card holders can unwind and enjoy massages, facials, full-body treatments or other beauty treatments.

The whole lounge has a floor space of about 1,800sqm with seating for over 300 guests.  In addition to the comfort zones, bistros and work areas, there is also a generously proportioned, separate relaxing area with leather day beds and a smokers’ room.  Courtesy internet is now available at all Lufthansa lounges. www.lufthansa.com

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Live TV across the Atlantic?

According to an article in last week's Flight International it will not be long before passengers on long haul flights, typically across the North Atlantic, will be able to watch live TV on their own handheld devices or through seat back in-flight entertainment systems. 

Jet Blue is behind the technology which is already operating domestically within the US.  A target date of “late next year” has been suggested.  United-Continental, Frontier Airlines and WestJet already offer the service on some sectors.  Whilst flying within the United States one can watch a sporting event actually taking place in Europe whilst sitting in the Economy (coach class) cabin. 

Passengers will initially be able to access three to five television channels concentrating on news and sports.  From a technical point of view the system is based on Ka-band-based connectivity. www.jetblue.com

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Shenzhen Airlines to join Star Alliance

Star Alliance is to add China’s Shenzhen Airlines to its expanding portfolio of international airlines.  Its integration into the grouping should be completed by the end of next year by which time the total membership is expected to reach 32 carriers.

Shenzhen Airlines started operations in 1993 backed as a major shareholder by Star Alliance member Air China.  Today is has a fleet of more than 100 passenger and cargo aircraft consisting of Boeing 747s and 737s, and Airbus A320s and A319s, flying on over 200 domestic and international routes.  Its headquarters are at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China's second busiest and the world's 19th busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic.  Last year 40m passengers moved through the airport. www.staralliance.com www.shenzhenair.com

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Tibet Airlines takes delivery of its first A319

New Lhasa-based Tibetan Airlines has taken delivery of its first Airbus A319, the aircraft delivered from Hamburg last week.  Powered by CFM56-5B engines the aircraft accommodates 128 passengers in a two-class configuration, with eight seats in premium and 120 in Economy Class.  It is the lead aircraft of three.

The A319s will operate at the highest airports in the world, typically Ali Kunsha (Tibet) which is above 14,000ft, and fly RNP-AR (Required Navigation Performance – Authorisation Required) procedures from Beijing and Chengdu to Lhasa and other regional routes.

RNP-AR procedures represent today the most modern navigation technique, allowing the aircraft to fly precisely along a predefined route using on-board navigation systems and the GPS-based ‘Global Navigation Satellite System’ (GNSS).  RNP-AR is especially important for operators, who have their base at a high altitude airport.  Tibet Airlines has selected Quovadis as its strategic partner for its RNP-AR operations.

“I am confident, the proven high altitude flight performance of the A319 will enable us to offer our passengers the highest level of comfort on the highest altitude routes,” said Xu Bo, Chairman of Tibet Airlines.  “We aim to build a regional network covering all civil airports in Lhasa, Tibetan autonomous region.” www.tibetairlines.com.cn

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ON TOUR: Brooklands makes a comeback

Not since 1939 has Brooklands staged anything like it. 

What was once the home of British Motor Sport was lost with the outbreak of World War II when aircraft production took over.  Or so most people thought.

But not quite. 

In 1987 the Brooklands Museum was created as a charitable trust.  From 1991 the grounds were opened to the general public, a reminder of times gone by not only in terms of motor sport but also one of the most important historical sites in the world of aviation. 

And by one of those strange quirks with which life is all about, a new owner took over most of the balance of the Weybridge land, Mercedes Benz, the old adversary from those pre-war times. 

Opened in 2006 Mercedes-Benz World is a brand experience centre (and a car show room).  At this impressive destination, visitors will find simulator rides, interactive challenges, enthralling exhibits and, most excitingly, the opportunity to take any one of the Mercedes-Benz car models around 2.5km of handling circuits.  For off-road fans, this extends to a 10-acre off-road terrain course complete with deep muddy water and steep, slippery slopes.

Located opposite Brooklands Museum, the Mercedes track offered an ideal sprint venue for the recent annual Brooklands Double Twelve Motorsport Festival.  With the VSCC as co-organisers, the competition element was stepped up this year with the Test Hill Challenge added to the traditional programme of Double Twelve Sprints, Driving Tests and Concours d’Élégance.  Making full use of every available space on the museum site to start up aero engines and parade exotic Alfa Romeo coupés in front of eager crowds, the track gave spectators so much to choose from at this two-day event.

The stars of the 90-car Brooklands Double Twelve Sprint on the Saturday included two of the ERA single-seaters which dominated Mountain-Circuit racing at Brooklands in the 1930s, and one of the stunning Alfa Romeo Tipo B “P3” grand prix cars of the early ‘30s.  Other single-seaters included Robin Tuluie’s aircraft-engined Riley Menasco Pirate.  Large sports cars included Martin Overington’s 4½ litre supercharged Bentley and Ian Ferguson’s Stutz-engined Vauxhall.

In the Double Twelve Driving Concours, which ran on both days, the must-see car was undoubtedly Corrado Lopresto’s Alfa Romeo 2500SS Bertone Coupé, which won this year’s Villa d’Este Concours d’Élégance.  Full invitation classes of E Type Jaguars (marking the model’s 50th anniversary), three-wheeler Morgans (and even a brand-new three-wheeler in support) and Mercedes-Benz (celebrating 125 years of the world’s oldest car company) joined regular classes of veterans, cars with Brooklands history and cars in the Brooklands spirit to deliver an exceptional 12-class field of top-drawer classics.

For many though, the icing on the cake was the dramatic trio of huge Napier Lion engines running simultaneously on the Sunday.  The only three 24-litre Napier Lion engines running in the world today are those fitted to the Museum’s own Napier-Railton and Chris Williams’ Napier-Bentley racing cars, and a third static-running example recently restored by Andy Lloyd.  All 72 litres and 1,600hp of them ran together for the first time on Sunday during the Test Hill Challenge.  They were joined by other massive engines, including the 42-litre Packard engine in Chris Williams’ Bentley special “Mavis” and the WWI Clerget rotary engine of the Museum’s Sopwith Camel replica.

The Brooklands ‘Spirit’ is alive and well and the Double Twelve is now a firm favourite in the Motoring events calendar.  The strokes of its brush are broad and its varied heritage means there is much to celebrate and this two-day extravaganza was the perfect homage to a bygone era that started at Brooklands. 

Brooklands Museum is open every day (except for a few days at Christmas) and displays a wide selection of Brooklands-related motoring and aviation exhibits ranging from giant racing cars, motorcycles and bicycles to an unparalleled collection of Hawker and Vickers/BAC-built aircraft, including the Second World War Wellington Bomber, Viking, Varsity, Viscount, Vanguard, VC10, BAC One-Eleven and not just Concorde but the world’s only working Concorde simulator used to train the pilots. 

To celebrate a century of women’s flying (Britain’s first ladies pilot’s licence was issued to Hilda Hewlett at Brooklands in 1911) the Museum is staging a special weekend 20/21 August (that is during the school holidays) dedicated to the vital role women have played in aviation over the last 100 years.  There will be an exhibition, career advice, seminars and even a hot air balloon (weather permitting). www.brooklandsmuseum.com

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