17 OCTOBER 2011


© 2022 Business Travel News Ltd.

A strange ministerial appointment

Theresa Villiers, Minister of State for Transport, and not popular within the airline industry, has been overlooked again following a British Cabinet reshuffle announced late Friday afternoon. 

With incumbent Transport Secretary moved to Defence following the resignation of Liam Fox surprisingly Justine Greening, MP for Putney on the Heathrow flight path, gains the Cabinet position of Transport Minster without any obvious experience in the area.  In the past she has opposed T5 and will be seen as a negative appointment by the travel sector who had the feeling that Downing Street was beginning to appreciate that the pro-aviation caucus needed senior government representation.  Ms Greening (42), a London Business School MBA, was previously Economic Secretary to the Treasury from May 2010.

Ms Greening was first elected to Parliament in 2005.  During the expenses scandal, Greening was ranked as the ninth best value for money MP in research carried out by the right-wing think tank, the Adam Smith Institute, and of all her expenses claims she was the 599th lowest out of the 645 MPs. www.dft.gov.uk

Index/Home page

Australian air travel problems

Travellers to and from Australia should be aware of serious domestic air travel problems, the result of a breakdown of negotiation between Qantas management and the Union representing maintenance engineers.  The dispute has become particularly difficult with both sides (being Australia) using colourful language.

It is expected that for the next month up to 400 domestic services will be cancelled affecting 60,000 passengers.  Government intervention could require the parties to resolve their issues under the umbrella of the Fair Work Act.

“The co-ordinated attacks on Qantas and our passengers from the pilots’ union, the licensed engineers’ union and the Transport Workers’ Union are continuing to impact the business and our passengers,” said Qantas spokeswomen Olivia Wirth.  “The biggest impact on Qantas and our passengers comes from the overtime bans and ‘go slow’ on work, which have caused the backlog of maintenance.”

Union spokesman Peter Somerville said the airline was shifting the blame following Friday's cancellation of any further strike action until after the Qantas AGM on 28 October. 

Earlier this month, the argument turned violent, with racist threatening letters sent to Qantas chief Alan Joyce and other management, while the cars and homes of staff were damaged after they refused to strike. www.qantas.com

Index/Home page

Gatwick Airport in major upgrades

A new £45m security area has opened at Gatwick South.  Passengers should be able to pass through its confines in under five minutes.  With 19 lanes the target is 5,000 people per hour.  There are 15 standard access points, two dedicated for families with young children and passengers with reduced mobility, and in what in fairness is no more than a marketing move, two lanes for premium travellers (or what is likely to be called by most people “Fast Track”).

The security section upgrade is part of a £1.2bn investment programme to improve the overall airport experience.  To further enhance “its vision for the future” the airport has launched a three-month consultation of its draft master plan that will look ahead to 2020, by which time 40m passengers are expected to use the airport (currently 33m). For September numbers are by 4.9%

Also last week British Airways celebrated the opening of its highly sophisticated new check-in area in the North Terminal, including for the first time what it calls a ‘Fast Travel’ service.  Passengers can now not only self check-in but can do so for their luggage too, the special kiosks printing out destination tags.  AERBT will be taking a close look at the ‘new’ Gatwick in a few weeks' time. www.gatwickairport.com

Index/Home page

Hyatt Regency Jinan China opens

Jinan, the provincial capital of East China’s Shandong Province, now has a Hyatt Regency.  Situated in a landmark 28-storey tower adjacent to the Wanda Plaza retail hub, the hotel is in close proximity to train stations and the airport, as well as some of Jinan’s most well known tourist attractions, including Baotou Spring, Daming Lake and Thousand Buddha Mountain.

Hyatt Regency Jinan offers 343 guestrooms, including 38 suites, created in a contemporary style with unique, localised design elements and high-tech modern amenities.  Rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, with views over Daming Lake, the surrounding mountains or downtown Jinan.

In addition, the hotel features four world-class dining venues: Lobby Bar, a lobby lounge; Market Café, an all-day dining buffet restaurant with show kitchens; Su Yuan, an American-style coffee shop; and Jinan Palace, the hotel’s signature Chinese restaurant, serving Shandongnese and Cantonese cuisines.

The hotel offers two dedicated floors of meeting and event venues, including a pillar-less ballroom of more than 13,000sq ft (1,300sq m) that can accommodate 1,200 people for receptions.  Leisure facilities include a fitness centre, a luxury day spa by Hyatt, and a 32m indoor swimming pool. www.hyatt.com

Index/Home page

KLM TripShake App offers new fun way to find destination

Called TripShake, KLM has introduced an App which offers iPhone and Android users a fun way to explore the many possibilities for their next air journey.  By just shaking their phone, a KLM destination will pop up, along with a ticket price.

On KLM.com, customers can find travel inspiration in KLM’s Destination Guide.  As part of KLM’s multi-channel strategy, the TripShake App now offers the option to explore future destinations via a mobile phone, where and when it suits the user.

The KLM TripShake App gives the option to select a continent and travel date, or all options can also remain open. By shaking the phone, one of over 100 destinations will appear.  For more suggestions, users can shake the phone again and again, until the perfect destination has been found.  Along with the destination, the lowest fare for a return flight will show.  The outcome can be shared on social media or the flight can immediately be booked.

The iPhone App is available now in English, Dutch and German, and can be downloaded for free. www.klm.com

Index/Home page

Routes for Abu Dhabi

Following the success of last week’s Routes airline conference in Berlin, Abu Dhabi will play host to the 2012 event, 30 September through 3 October.  This is the first time Routes has returned to a host city, having previously been held in 1996 in the region.

Abu Dhabi was also named airport of the year at the Berlin Networking Evening which took place at the site of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt, nine months before the new airport for Germany’s capital region is due to open.

Budapest Airport was announced as the winner from the European region, with Los Angeles honoured from the Americas region.  From the Africa region Accra International Airport (Ghana) was ranked top whilst the Asia Region saw top honours going to Abu Dhabi.

Winners of the two newest World Routes Awards were AirAsia X for best network performance by an airline and Malta Tourism Authority in the tourism category.

Additionally, Kenya Airways was named as the winner of the Orbis Social Responsibility Award for their “Change makes Change” programme which enables customers and staff to raise funds to alleviate famine and drought in Northern Kenya. www.routesonline.com

Index/Home page

The Train Line needs a siding

AERBT readers should be very careful when booking rail tickets through thetrainline.com.  The site is excellent when looking up rail times on the UK domestic network, but it becomes very expensive when actually buying tickets. 

And trying to retrieve a pre-purchased ticket from a self-service machine at the departure station is far from easy.

The price asked by thetrainline.com is the same as at a ticket office.  You do save the time spent actually getting in queue and dealing with a transaction.  However there is a £1 booking cost, and if charged to a credit card, a £3.50 fee.  All you get is a receipt and not the actual ticket.  The station machines cannot read a bar code.

The real problem starts at the self-service equipment that should produce your rail authority!  Type in the transaction reference, laid out very clearly on your email receipt and nothing happens.  Try again and the last two figures are not accepted.

Now if you are really bright you will find in very small print a reference number.  That is what the machine requires.  However most people seem to give up and then find their way to the one place they did not want to visit – the ticket office. www.thetrainline.com

Index/Home page

AND FINALLY: From a reader

“Having read your item "Ryanair Cash Passport" I looked at the Ryanair website.

I noticed that it now has clickable small print that says

"Fares don't include optional Fees/Charges".

Clicking that takes you to a table titled

below which is a link


Imagine my surprise when clicking that to receive the message "This web page is not available"


As of late Sunday evening (16 October) that was still the case!

www.ryanair.com  (who will probably announce record site visits after this media exposure)

Index/Home page

COMMENT: An open letter to Richard Branson

Dear Sir Richard

Save the Virgin pepper pot set

Many years ago you were kind enough to offer me a Virgin Atlantic salt and pepper pot on a press inaugural.  I took it home and it has adorned our dining room table ever since.  Guests have even mentioned the pieces and our retort is always the same.  “Fly Upper Class, be nice to the cabin staff, and you too may find yourself the owner of the condiment set.”

Amongst the post (well email in truth) this week was a letter from a former airline Chief Executive, someone you know well, saying that he too had acquired the items, his wife responsible, telling the crew that her husband's operation was thinking of doing something similar (that was what he said!).

Now clearly Virgin Atlantic does not have the marketing budget of some Middle East carriers, who, within their balance sheet can sponsor football teams, the gateway to Heathrow, Newcastle Airport's control tower, and even a cable car across the Thames (just to note a few examples).

I do not know the cost of a salt and pepper pot set, nor the number of Upper Class passengers carried by Virgin Atlantic in a typical year, but to buy them in bulk (presumably from China – and you can fly them back to London for free) cannot be much per unit.

Can I said suggest that you retain the items, even a mark two version, as a promotional item.  Sell them on board at the back end.  It is certainly cheaper than, say, Virgin sponsoring the London Olympic Stadium.

Yours truly would be delighted to be the recipient of a revised edition.

In Upper Class of course!

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

Index/Home page

Air Malta changes check-in times

Passengers on Air Malta should note that the airline is changing its check-in closure times from 1 November 2011, for the most part reducing the waiting time at the airport.

At Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester and Rome Fiumicino, airports will close 45 minutes prior to the scheduled time of departure.  Check-in counters at Tel Aviv Airport close 60 minutes beforehand.  These new timings apply for both Club and Economy Class passengers.

Passengers travelling from Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester airports, and carrying hand luggage only, may check-in up to 30 minutes before the departure times.  The airline notes that its check-in counters at all airports open at least two hours before the scheduled time of departure. www.airmalta.com/at-the-airport

Index/Home page

Aviation Investors Summit 1-2 December

The aircraft leasing industry is now a well-established and profitable business, with over 150 aircraft lessors leasing well over half of the world’s commercial jet population.  (see also above Aviation Club).

The Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch, London, is the venue for what is termed “An Aviation Investors Summit, 1-2 December, organised by Everest Events who are very experienced in this sector.  Speakers include Barrie Humphries of the British Air Transport Association, Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s marketing guru, and Aoife O’Sullivan, of Gates and Partners the specialist aviation lawyers, plus a whole host of leasing companies and bankers.   

To many investors and lenders the aircraft leasing industry is a dark art and thus they tend to shy away from investment opportunities.  The Aviation Investors Summit should shine a light on the potential returns for both the equity investors and lenders, and provide valuable insight into how the investor can secure his investment and redeploy his assets in the event of lessee failure, thereby continuing to generate profitable returns. www.everestevents.co.uk

Index/Home page

Greece and Olympic Air

APG Global Associates has been appointed UK and Ireland general sales agency for Olympic Air.  The airline has no services out of Heathrow to Athens and there are no immediate plans to do so at this current time.  It has however a code share agreement with Aegean Airways departing from Terminal 1 offering a twice daily Airbus A320 series operation.  Olympic Air provides 32 domestic destinations in Greece which is more than any other carrier. 

Olympic Air is now owned by Marfin Investment Group (MIG), the largest business group in south east Europe, active in the fields of transport, tourism, food, healthcare and IT, with more than 56,000 employees and a client base that exceeds 20 million people in 40 countries. 

In a statement when launching the airline investment it said:

“The new Olympic Air will be more modern than ever and have a new vision, a new vigour, a new concept – with brand new cutting-edge aircraft, with innovative and pioneering services, with traditional Greek hospitality, and a renewed passion to offer even more.”  The airline operates eight Airbus A320 series and 15 Bombardier Dash 8s. www.apg-ga.com

Index/Home page

Iberia Express to be created

Spain is to host another budget airline, this one called ‘Iberia Express’.  Owner Iberia already has a 46% stake in carrier Vueling (itself dating back in its present form to 2009, part of a reverse take-over from Clickair) but has no day to day management involvement in the operator. 

‘Iberia Express’ will begin operations in summer 2012, initially with four former Iberia Airbus A320 aircraft, reaching 13 by the end of the year.

“The creation of Iberia Express will not affect the terms and conditions of employment of current employees of Iberia, and will not change the ongoing collaboration with Vueling and Air Nostrum,” said Iberia Chairman Antonio Vázquez, who is also Chairman of Iberia’s owner IAG.  Air Nostrum is independent.

Iberia said the new subsidiary was created with the aim of “competing effectively” in the domestic market in Spain “as well as in Europe” and that it would not affect their partnership agreements with Vueling and the independent airline Air Nostrum. www.iberia.com

Index/Home page

London Hilton on Park Lane unveils its latest high-tech suite

The Penthouse suite on the 26th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane has undergone a half million pound refurbishment.   

Interior designer, Lynne Hunt, was tasked with revamping the luxurious Penthouse Suite that includes a double master bedroom, a dining room for eight people, a lounge with views over Hyde Park, a state-of-the-art bathroom and very spacious connecting room, which turns into a top end two-guest room suite.  To complete the upgrade, the hotel is also introducing an optional butler service available to guests staying in the Penthouse Suite.

The contemporary suite has many stylish and unique features including an electric flame fire in the living room. The master bathroom boasts a TV in the mirror, as well as a Jacuzzi bath and steam shower.  But, one of the real highlights is the unrivalled views over Hyde Park, Mayfair and Buckingham Palace from the comfort of a private balcony.

Starting at around £2,800 a night, the suite has already proved to be extremely popular amongst Middle Eastern, Chinese, British and American guests.

In addition, the entire 27th Presidential Floor, including the impressive Presidential Suite, has also recently been revamped in a quintessentially English style www.hilton.co.uk/londonparklane

Index/Home page

St Vincent and the Grenadines to get international airport

The islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines (Constituency a monarchy with HM The Queen as the Head of State) is to build a major airport capable of taking both Airbus A380 and Boeing 747.  The US$250m project is the single largest ever investment for the archipelago of 32 islands with funds sourced from a diverse range of governments including Cuba, Venezuela, Taiwan – which is paying for the terminal – Trinidad, Qatar, Malaysia and Iran.  The current gateway airport is limited to Airbus A320 series and Boeing 737 size.

Managed by a newly formed coalition of investors under the umbrella group of the International Airport Development Company, the project is expected to be complete by late 2013 with capacity to handle direct flights from Europe and up to one million passengers per year.  Amenities will include a restaurant and a number of retail outlets.  Glen Beache, CEO of the Tourism Authority, says: “The new airport will make access for aircraft up to 747 in size and whilst we will never be a mass market destination we anticipate at least one or two larger flights per week from America, Canada and the UK.”

Up until now neighbour Barbados has been the gateway to the islands, followed by a local flight. www.stvincent.com.vc

Index/Home page

TV first for Gulf Air

Gulf Air, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, has taken delivery of an Airbus A330-200 aircraft retrofitted with Panasonic's Global Communications Suite.  The comprehensive communications and entertainment solution, ‘Sky Hub’, offers passengers onboard full broadband connectivity to access internet, mobile phone services and, for the first time in the world, a global, live television service onboard. The kit is being installed across Gulf Air’s entire fleet of aircraft progressively.

Using the suite Gulf Air will offer two-way broadband connectivity at speeds of up to 50 Mbps to the aircraft, enabling faster browsing, chatting and other internet-based services.  Gulf Air will offer live, uninterrupted television services on routes across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. 

Passengers also will be able to browse the web at broadband speeds, and access social media services.  Business travellers can access their virtual private network (VPN) to send and receive emails while watching live-news and stock market updates.  They simply need to turn on their personal device, connect to the in-flight wi-fi network, and log into the service through Deutsche Telekom, the wireless internet service provider onboard. www.gulfair.com

Index/Home page

Air travel cancelled

This is a new feature for AERBT, which will probably alienate one or two airlines who prefer to keep bad news under wraps.

Flights axed from the start of the winter season at the end of October include Adria from Gatwick to Ljubljana; Flybe Belfast City to Doncaster and Liverpool; Czech Airlines from Bratislava to Barcelona, Brussels and Rome.

Galway Airport, north of Shannon in the west of Ireland, will effectively close as a scheduled service airport from 1 November 2011, at least until the beginning of the summer season in April.  Out goes Aer Arann services to and from Edinburgh, Luton, Manchester, Southend and Waterford.

Airlines (and airports) are always, quite rightly, very eager to promote new routes, but not that keen to announce service withdrawals.  Readers are invited to send even the most basic of confirmed information when they hear of a service demise. info@aerbt.co.uk

Index/Home page

America from Oxford Airport

For the first time ever Oxford Airport is to host quasi-scheduled flights to Dublin and is marketing a connection to New York.  The airport has an ideal position just a few minutes’ drive from the M40 and well located for the whole of the Cotswolds.  Parking is very simple and the terminal is that normally only used for executive flights.

Passengers can select to spend a five-day trip in the Emerald Isle’s capital city, or choose to fly onwards to New York and enjoy shopping for Christmas in the Big Apple.  These exclusive one-off trips will depart on Wednesday 7 December returning on Monday 12 December.  The special packages have been organized by local Oxford tour operator World of Experience Tours which has teamed up with CityJet and Aer Lingus to provide the groundbreaking new service.

The Oxford to Dublin sectors will be flown by fast and comfortable 95-passenger Avro RJ85 regional jet of Air France carrier, Cityjet.  US-bound passengers will enjoy a hassle-free transit at Dublin’s brand new state-of-the-art Terminal 2, before boarding a wide-bodied Aer Lingus flight for the onward journey to New York’s JFK International Airport.  Five-night packages start from £999 per person. www.oxfordairporttravel.co.uk

Index/Home page

Edinburgh or Glasgow airport for sale as Ferrovial dilutes

The Competition Commission has ordered BAA to begin the process of selling one of its Scottish airports, bringing forward an auction first ordered two-and-a-half years ago.  The sale of either Glasgow or Edinburgh will now precede any possible disposal of Stansted, leaving BAA with five airports: Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Aberdeen, and one other.

Which of the two it decides to dispose of is still not known although most industry experts expect it to be Glasgow which has lagged behind in terms of passenger numbers in recent years.

In another move Ferrovial, the Spanish majority shareholder in BAA, has sold 5.9% of its shares to investment group Alinda Capital Partners for €325m, (over) valuing the airport group at US$5.9m.  What this does do is reduce the Ferrovial holding to less than 50%, with various financial and legal implications and reduces the overall BAA debt with Ferrovial Chief Executive Iñigo Meirás Amusco saying that the company had no intention of diluting further, the move “cosmetic”. www.baa.com

Index/Home page

Heathrow pods up and running

Parking at Heathrow Terminal 5 has been revolutionised with the introduction of a “pod” transport between the short-term business car park and the main building.  On trial since April the automatic system is now fully operational and transports passengers in just five minutes.  The travel is free, part of the £26 per day parking charge.

Each unit (pod) can take four passengers and their luggage.  There is space for a wheelchair and guide dogs are permitted.  Also room for a bike.  At the present time up to 1,000 persons a day are using the system (including those taking a return ride from the terminal as a tester) but this is expected to settle down with 250,000 annual passengers a realistic target.

One result of the new system is the withdrawal of the business car park bus service, 50,000 journeys per year, a major environmental saving.  Boarding for the car park is where the bus stop previously was at level two and it really is a question of pressing button A or button B depending on where you want to get off. www.baa.com

Index/Home page

Kefalonia for easyJet

easyJet, has confirmed the addition of a new service from Gatwick to the Greek Island of Kefalonia, bringing its total number of destinations from the airport to 93.  The new three times weekly service will operate from 28 April to the end of October 2012, providing passengers from Gatwick with an even wider choice of affordable destinations to choose from next summer.

Located off the western coast of Greece, Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands.  It is best known for its stunning beaches, picturesque mountain top views and its carved underground lake.  It basks in up to 12 hours of sunshine a day and offers the perfect combination of picture postcard harbours, golden sands and historic Roman ruins for a memorable and relaxing holiday. www.easyjet.com

Index/Home page

Oslo for Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has ventured further into Northern Europe with the launch of scheduled flights to Norway.  Oslo, the capital of one of the top oil nations in the world, becomes Qatar Airways third Scandinavian gateway after Stockholm and Copenhagen, further cementing the carrier’s presence in the Nordic countries.

Oslo becomes destination number 107 in the airline’s global route map and the 27th city served by Qatar Airways in Europe, a continent now representing 25% of the airline’s international reach.

With this new service many popular destinations via Doha are available, including Bali, Bangkok, Colombo, Delhi, Dubai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Melbourne, Shanghai and Singapore.  The facilities at the Qatar Airways hub have been specifically designed with connecting traffic in mind.

The Oslo – Doha route is served five times per week with a wide body state-of-the-art Airbus A330 featuring 24 seats in Business Class and up to 236 seats in Economy.  The aircraft offers seatback TV screens in all classes providing passengers with next generation interactive onboard entertainment, including over 700 audio and video on demand options. www.qatarairways.com

Index/Home page

Starwood at Florence

Florence, perhaps the prettiest of all Italian cities, and certainly the easiest to get around, has witnessed the the opening of the the St Regis hotel, formerly The Grand.  The property has undergone a meticulous 10-month restoration to bring the property back to its historical grandeur and artistic heritage.  Originally designed in 1432 by Filippo Brunelleschi, the architect of the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, the Grand Hotel was the first luxury hotel in Florence and is considered to be one of the most significant buildings in the city for its artistic and historical value.

The St Regis Florence features 81 luxuriously appointed guest rooms and 19 suites, including a spectacular designer suite by Bottega Veneta.  Reflecting Florence's rich artistic heritage, all the hotel's guest rooms feature individually hand carved gold leaf plaques including one of three different colour palettes – Medici, Florentine and Renaissance – with each concept offering a unique selection of custom-designed furniture, paintings, frescos and crystal chandeliers.  In honour of Florence and its traditions, every guest room and suite is named after noted Italian artists, benefactors and nobility. 

The restaurant interiors feature picturesque glassed art ceilings dating back to the 19th century and a spectacular hand-blown Murano glass chandelier. www.stregis.com/florence

Index/Home page

ON TOUR: “To Fly to Serve” A new spirit at British Airways

When the Chief Executive of a major UK company takes time to come to a reception and welcome a visiting journalist you suddenly realise that the man means business.  The occasion was last week and the place BA’s impressive headquarters at Waterside, a short distance from Heathrow Terminal 5.  The welcome by Keith Williams was warm.  On entering the building a certain buzz filled the place.  There is a new spirit at British Airways. “To Fly to Serve” was the airline’s historic motto.  It is back.

This coming January, 13 years ago, a younger Keith Williams (now 55) joined BA.  He now claims to be the first person taken on specifically to work at the then brand new headquarters.

Keith was heavily involved in restructuring the airline’s finances after the aviation slump that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and in the plans that brought the company back to profitability.  Prior to his current position he was Financial Director since 2005.  His CV includes a First at Liverpool University and spells at Apple, Arthur Anderson and Boots Plc.  And he supports West Ham United football club! 

Williams has now been in charge for 12 months, going about the job “his way”, quietly settling the long-running cabin staff dispute, and setting the airline on a new course.  Under the banner of IAG individual company profits are not divulged, the half-year results until June showing an operating profit of £34m on increased revenues up 17.9%.  No big deal, but at least in the right direction.

If British Airways does not quite “fly the flag” these days for many around the world it still symbolises what is the best from the United Kingdom.  Enter a BA plane no matter where it is anywhere on the globe and you suddenly feel at home, even safe.  And you don’t have to be British to get this sensation.  That has to be the logic of a new advertising campaign very much based on nostalgia.

BA has been in some difficult times over the last few years but now is seemingly on the road to recovery, albeit faced with real problems with a world economy that is causing concern.  High fuel prices is another major difficulty.  Finally, the airline has to deal with a Government which has failed so far to appreciate the value of air transport to the British economy.  The appointment of Justine Greening as Transport Secretary just as we all were beginning to appreciate Philip Hammond is far far too early to judge.  On the face of it the placement seems strange.  But she does live in the Heathrow noise zone and was against the third runway!

So where does BA go from here?  In very simple terms it will invest £5bn in new aircraft and upgrades over the next five years.  Having purchased six sets of slots from Lufthansa it now hold 43% of Heathrow movements, still much less than Lufthansa at Frankfurt and Air France/KLM at Charles de Gaulle.  These will be effective from the start of this year’s winter season.  Whilst Williams will give nothing away regarding how they will be used early indications are that initially there will be an expansion of short haul routes.  Loss making bmi now has about 8% of Heathrow slots but what happens for the future lies very much in the hands of its German owners.  Will they sacrifice their position in what is still the world’s number one international airport for possible short-term financial gain?  The airline is for sale but are they serious or just testing the waters?

Williams is adamant that British Airways wants to retain its identity and style in collaboration with sister company Iberia and its US partner American Airlines.  Under the code share arrangements passengers can clearly see which carrier they are booking and the fare.  On Heathrow – Madrid for Business Class flyers it is choice of English or Spanish style meals, BA or Iberia.  However at the back end BA offers free Economy catering, whilst if you are on Iberia everything is chargeable.  Likewise on the North Atlantic the styles of the partner airlines are different.

Asked about diverting passengers to and from South America to Madrid, Mr Williams pointed out that Iberia was the largest carrier across the South Atlantic but BA in recent times has reintroduced non-stop services to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro enabling a capacity increase to Sao Paulo.  Bogotá, Caracas, Lima and Santiago may have to wait but when flown these were a left over from British Caledonian.  Asked about China he says that the three current gateways, Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai are working well, inbound traffic inhibited by passport problems.  Another aviation/economy problem for the Government to sort out. 

At the present time BA has a fleet of 236 aircraft with a very interesting forward order book.  From 2013 onwards both Airbus A380 (12) and 787 (24) arrive.  BA has not confirmed its specifications for the A380 and is certainly watching what others are doing.  Maybe we are in for a surprise.

BA currently has 46 Boeing 777-200s.  Williams confirmed that 18 of the older ones, which have a different IFE system, will be stripped down and refitted with new cabins and the latest IFE system in the next 18 months.  Already proving very popular, the airline has taken delivery of three of the Dash 300 extended range version.  There will be another three to arrive between the end of this month and February. These are all four-class and seat 298 people.

British Airways Boeing 747s are between 14 and 18 years old, 25 years often given as the life of an aircraft.  The airline has 55 in the fleet of which 51 are flying at the moment and four are in desert storage.  Only the First Class is being upgraded.

From December, 14 (out of 21) Boeing 767s used on medium and long haul routes will be the subject of a “deep” cabin transformation, to the same standard as other mainline aircraft, including flat beds and the latest IFE.  Experience with other carriers indicates that when done properly the upgrade transforms the venerable Boeings and gives them a very useful life extension.  At up to six weeks per aircraft the process will be undertaken in a quick 18 months.

Interestingly for the winter 2011/2012 schedule, BA will increase weekly flights on the Heathrow – Glasgow route from 52 to 60 from 30 October.  Its first departure on most days by a 252-seat Boeing 767-300ER, rather than the smaller (189 max) Airbus A320 family aircraft.

Asked about Gatwick, Williams sees a bright (BA) future for the airport noting the £73m high tech “home” that has now opened.  The airport currently provides 45 domestic, European and long haul destinations.  The airport itself is active in developing three Airbus A380 two-tier stands.  He also seems keen on London City and says that announcements will be made shortly concerning its French subsidiary Open Skies, which has dropped its Washington route from Orly.

The era of cost cutting and stripping out some of the frills seems to be at an end, even with a financial man in charge.  A recent short haul trip to Edinburgh was operated by a keen young cabin crew with a very informative flight deck giving something of a running commentary.  The Edinburgh Galleries lounge felt fresh, was most welcoming, and even labelled the sandwiches.

British Airways has launched its biggest brand advertising promotion for a decade to coincide with the five-year programme.  Up to £20m has been set aside for the campaign, not a trivial sum in these harsh times.

The advertisements, on TV, in newspapers and online, showcases the airline’s heritage and highlights the characteristics that make British Airways special: decades of flying know-how, thoughtful service and British style.

“The motto ‘To Fly. To Serve’ is part of the DNA of British Airways,” said Mr Williams.  “It is on our coat of arms, and it is worn in crew uniforms.  And it has real meaning and resonance for today.  It encapsulates our expertise for flying and our commitment to customer service.  It describes our purpose.”

Williams epitomises this strategy.  He has been around the airline for more than a decade, through good times and bad and is in for the long haul.  The last two BA chief s have been short term and parachuted in.  He is probably not as easy going as he appears.  The future looks good for BA.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Index/Home page