12 DECEMBER 2011

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Air France expands on the domestic front

Successfully launched at Marseille last October, the Air France offensive in the French provinces will be extended to Toulouse and Nice in spring 2012, followed by Bordeaux later in 2012.  By next summer Air France will be operating more than 1,200 weekly flights from the three cities

Starting on 1 April, Air France will offer 16 new destinations from Toulouse in Europe and the Mediterranean, in addition to the 12 existing points.  Istanbul, Prague and Tunis are amongst the new routes.  As from 3 April Air France will offer six new destinations from Nice, including Barcelona, Istanbul and Tel Aviv. 

Air France is taking the encroachment of the low-cost airlines very seriously.  On board, passengers will be able to enjoy a free drink and snack, a selection of French and foreign newspapers available free of charge at the boarding gate, one piece of checked baggage in the hold and one piece of cabin baggage, online check-in and choice of seat.

"Air France’s challenges on its medium haul network are considerable: the airline needs to strengthen its competitiveness and continue to develop its operations," declared Alexandre de Juniac, the new Chairman and CEO. www.airfrance.com

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Austrian opening for Kempinski

Kempinski has opened its first hotel in Austria at the tiny village of Kitzbühel, famous for skiing, just in time for the year-end holiday period and the start of the sports season.  Kitzbühel is about 100km east of Innsbruck, the nearest large town and the only 5-star-hotel in the region.

The property offers 118 superior double rooms, 13 junior suites, 16 suites and one Penthouse suite.  Two dining areas with distinctive menus are available, the Steinberg and the Sra Bua by Wini Bruggerrestaurants. Down-to-earth cuisine from the Tyrolean mountains and Asian favourites set the tone for dining.

Swiss-run Kempinski Hotels now has an international portfolio of 62 hotels.  A further 43 hotels are either under final development or construction in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia.  Under private investment Kempinski is majority-owned by the Crown Property Bureau of Thailand. www.kempinski.com

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Branson in Virgin Trains push

Sir Richard Branson last week set out his vision for continuing growth for rail travel in the UK as Virgin Trains welcomed record numbers of passengers and made an emphatic plea to retain the West Coast franchise.

Virgin Trains is expected to carry 30 million customers in the current year, more than doubling numbers in seven years.

Sir Richard said that innovation and quality had been key drivers in growing passenger numbers on West Coast and made clear that a strong bid would be submitted when the franchise comes up for renewal in 2012.  “Bids should be a beauty parade of innovation and quality and not simply judged on bottom line results.  If you just go for the bottom line you will have the cheapest of everything and that’s not what people want.  We are waiting to see whether the new franchise will be based purely on the bottom line, but are hopeful that the Government will be taking innovative ideas into account.”

Asked about plans for UK high-speed rail Sir Richard said there were many good points about HS2 and that Virgin would like to be involved in discussions about developing plans for urgently needed extra capacity. www.virgintrains.co.uk

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Heathrow gains major south side hotel

Initial work has started on a new 583-bedroom, six-storey hotel at Heathrow following approval by the local authority.

Located opposite Hatton Cross tube station, the hotel will likely be of interest to budget and mid-market operators.  Negotiations are said to under way due to the high levels of occupancy possible all year round with an 18-month target date for completion.

“This decision to grant planning consent provides a massive boost to hotel capacity at Heathrow in a micro-location under-supplied with hotels,” said Martin Drage, Director of letting agent Mason Drage Ltd.

“We have already experienced strong levels of interest from budget and mid-market operators who are attracted by the high connectivity of the site and the grant of consent will allow discussions with operators to progress rapidly.”

The hotel has 131 car parking spaces.  The site was acquired from airline caterer Gate Gourmet in December 2009. 

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Iberia sets course for Luanda

Luanda is the latest destination for Iberia, the route also connecting through Madrid with IAG partner British Airways to Heathrow and a further 100+ points throughout Europe.

The first-ever air link to Luanda from Spain and the UK is expected to enhance trade relations with Angola, whose GDP has grown more than 10% during the last decade.  A one time colony of Portugal, the west African country suffered a civil war from 1975–2002, but has in recent times made tremendous progress.  The population of Luanda is now thought to be in access of 5m.

Iberia has scheduled two weekly frequencies – Mondays and Fridays – between both capitals, using Airbus three-class A340-300s.  Luanda is the airline’s 12th destination in Africa and its shortest long haul route with a flying time of about 7:30hrs. www.iberia.com

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Sir Ross Stainton

With the passing last week of Sir Ross Stainton (97) goes the last significant link with Imperial Airways, an airline he joined in 1933.  With its successors he was to stay for 48 years.  He retired as Chairman of British Airways in 1981 having introduced Concorde.

In later years he always took an interest in airline matters and was recently the guest of a less elderly group of BEA, BOAC and BA veterans.

Tall and urbane, educated at Malvern College, he knew the practical side of airline operations inside out having started as a Station Officer at various flying boat points worldwide.  He also helped launch the 747, which was to change the whole world of aviation and, with his “Imperial” experience, can be credited with the long time dominance of British Airways as one of the great global carriers.  Affable and unruffled he would maintain staff morale whenever a crisis evolved, and was as happy with the shop floor as with other airline executives. www.ba.com

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Zurich for Oman Airways

Oman Air has started a four times per week service between Muscat and Zurich, its sixth European destination.  It is the first time that Oman has been linked to Switzerland with non-stop flights.  A two-class Airbus A330 provides the operation, the same layout as used on the Oman – Bangkok route.

Conservative, with a small c, Oman Air serves from Muscat to Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Heathrow, Milan-Malpensa, Munich and now Zurich, most major points within the Middle East, the Indian sub-Continent, and as far east as Kuala Lumpur.  With the A330s the airline offers a 1+2+1 layout in both First and Business Class, and 2+4+2 at the back end.  Short haul operations are by Boeing 737 NG aircraft and Embraer 175, the Business Class in both cases dedicated with the Embraers just 2+1.  On order is a six-strong fleet of Boeing 787s, due for delivery from 2014. www.omanair.com

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AND FINALLY: What is Generation Y?

Your Editor, a man full of vigour but rapidly approaching a somewhat significant birthday, was confronted recently by a contributor's copy mentioning the Y Generation covering the highly successful EIBTM show in Barcelona.

Now he found out about Google years ago, knows all about Facebook (he's seen the film) and is inundated with people who want to 'LinkedIn'.  Blogging he is aware of too, but does not have the time,  The less said about Twitter and Tweets the better!

Generation Y?

According to Wikipedia, which has replaced Encyclopaedia Britannica as the fountain of all knowledge, Generation Y is next after Generation X, which is something to do with Baby Boomers.  What happens after Generation Z we are not sure? Your Editor was a War Baby (WWII), maybe Generation W.

In any event Mr Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) and his world wide crew seem to think that Generation Y is marked by increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies which is a little unfair on the rest of us who have been using virtually all these skills (except digital perhaps) since the beginning.  William Shakespeare was keen on written PR and the social hub. And many before.

Forget Generation Y.

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COMMENT: easyJet is not the airline to AVOID

easyJet is now the UK’s largest airline – a position, and responsibility, it takes very seriously.

Last week the airline invited not only the UK press, but media from some eight European countries within its operational realm, to join senior staff, and outside experts, for a day out in Sicily.  There was a formal briefing on the possible consequences of a major volcanic eruption.  

Indications are that Mount Katla in Iceland shows signs of increased activity and one which is likely to create an explosion around 10 times greater than Eyjafjallajökull (April 2010) or Grimsvotn (May 2011).

Ash particles can severely damage a jet turbine.  Piston engined aircraft are not affected. 

Just to put things in perspective last year’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption cost the air transport industry in excess of £1bn and the seven-day closure of (essentially) European airspace, by politicians on technical advice, caused chaos all around the world. 

For easyJet the outlay was £57m.

Roll on 12 months and Grimsvotn erupted. 

Airspace was closed in the north of England and Scotland for 24hrs.  It could have been far worse but the then Transport Minister Philip Hammond was prepared to listen to what easyJet had to say.

Within hours of the 2010 explosion Ian Davies, easyJet Head of Engineering, was on to Dr Fred Prata a British scientist who works for a Norwegian research foundation.  Fred (Ian and Fred led the group in Sicily) had evolved a satellite model which can predict where, within metrological limits, the particles from a volcano explosion might travel.  It was his figures that convinced the British Minister that the dust could be flown around by normal scheduled flights and that no widespread airspace shut down was required.

Over the last two weeks easyJet has sponsored research using a light aircraft flying around the Etna region.  It has allowed the scientists to accurately investigate the volcanic dust cloud, its strength and potency, and distribution.  easyJet has done this on behalf of the industry.  However the airline is not completely charitable.  The solution will be sold to other carriers.

The easyJet answer is to mount a special infra-red camera on one of its Airbus A320 series fleet which will spot the dust cloud from 35,000ft and up to 60 miles ahead.  It will then be not difficult for the aircraft to circumvent the problem and pass the information on to other ‘planes.  The basis is simple.  All-weather radar has been fitted to aircraft since the early 1940s.  Couple this to satellite surveillance and in the future volcano action avoidance would become a standard airline procedure. The two-seat Etna aircraft had this kit fitted.  It is called AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector).

From a practical point of view, perhaps 20 kits would be built, and placed at strategic easyJet bases.

The airline should be praised for its initiative.  What a pity Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, its founder and major shareholder, was not present.  He would have enjoyed the day and its professionalism.  Past grievances need to be forgotten.  A generous dividend was paid this year.  AVOID is a clear demonstration of the airline’s focus on the future.  More fuel-efficient aircraft are not that far away.  Sir Stelios needs to be part of a constructive input for the way ahead.

Well done easyJet.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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American Airlines offers Five Star service

It may have some serious troubles as far as the ‘back office’ is concerned but American Airlines seems to be pulling out all the stops with regard to keeping its passengers happy.  Last week the airline announced details of its 777-300 plans and now we learn it is to extend its popular Five Star Service internationally.

American Airlines clients can now “travel like a star”, at Heathrow the service providing personal one-on-one airport assistance designed to make travelling hassle-free.

Five Star Service offers a choice of one-on-one arrival, departure or connection assistance and also includes Admirals Club Lounge access; perfect for transiting even the busiest of airports.  From kerbside to boarding and everywhere in between, American’s Five Star representatives work at your request to take care of the details and make your travel more enjoyable. 

The Service, which includes the access to the Admirals Club lounge, costs US$200 (approximately £125) for up to two people aged 18 or over at international locations.  Immediate family members under the age of 18 may accompany the paying Five Star adult at no additional charge, while additional adults are charged at US$125 per person (approximately £78).  Special pricing is available for larger groups. www.aa.com/fivestarservice

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Aviation Club Fellowship to Danny Bernstein

Danny Bernstein, the former Chairman and Managing Director of Monarch Airlines, was presented with the 2011 Aviation Club Fellowship at a luncheon last week. 

Nick West, Chairman, said: “As well as holding prominent positions with a number of British airlines, Danny has provided wider industry leadership in a range of significant capacities.  In 1999, he was elected first Chairman of the Airline Group Ltd, the company representing a consortium of UK airlines which became the Government’s strategic partner in NATS.  Danny became President of the International Air Carrier Association (IACA) in 1998; and served as Chairman of the British Air Transport Association (BATA) between 2003 and 2009, as well as becoming the first Chairman of Sustainable Aviation UK and Flying Matters during this period.”

In his short thank you speech Mr Bernstein said that three people had influenced his 37 years in air travel, Mike Keegan, the late founder of British Air Ferries, Fred Newman of Dan Air, and Sergio Mantegazza of Switzerland, a great supporter of Great Britain, and owner of Monarch Airlines. www.aviationclub.org.uk

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Charges dramatically rise at Ryanair

Already established as the world’s most annoying airline Ryanair seems to be going out of its way to financially catch out unwary passengers.

No press release has been put out but for Christmas and other “peak travel periods” (June, July, August, September and “Christmas”) the hold luggage charge goes up to £25 per bag for a paltry 15kg.  £15 per kg is the charge for overweight.  From January the penalty for forgetting to print out your boarding pass soars to £60.  In a ‘ticketless travel’ the fee for a family of four forgetting the paperwork would be £240 per sector.  In a cynical remark a competitor noted that people had been known to go to jail for extortion with less funds involved.

Online checked baggage fees outside of peak travel periods will remain at £15 per bag and the limit for cabin baggage is 10kg encouraging the use of flimsy paper bags.  easyJet does not have a cabin baggage limit as such.

AERBT’s advice is to store any extra clothes etc around your person even if uncomfortable and security to pass through.  It is illegal to charge travellers by their weight. www.ryanair.com

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Hilton Worldwide goes for expansion

With more than 110 hotels under development in Europe alone Hilton Worldwide says it is bucking the trend and recruiting strongly.  It says it will create more than 8,500 employment opportunities in Europe in the next three years.  An additional 2,500 hospitality careers will be safeguarded through the conversion of existing hotels to Hilton Worldwide brands.  It is focussing on Germany, Poland, Russia, Turkey and the UK.  In Russia alone 25 new hotels are due to open in the next three years.

Simon Vincent, Area President Europe, said: “While unemployment figures in Europe continue to rise, Hilton Worldwide is experiencing an exciting period of growth which will see us continue to offer a wealth of rewarding career options.”

Key hotels due to open within the next 12 months include: Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt (Germany) (Q4 2011); Waldorf Astoria Berlin (Germany) (Q2 2012); Hilton Garden Inn Krasnodar (Russia) (Q2 2012); Doubletree by Hilton Lodz (Poland) (Q4 2012); Hilton Bursa and Hampton by Hilton Bursa (Turkey) (Q1 2012); DoubleTree by Hilton Lincoln (UK) (Q4 2011); and Hilton St George’s Park, Burton on Trent and Hampton by Hilton St George’s Park, Burton on Trent (UK) (Q3 2012). www.hilton.com

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Ryan mixes it

Kel Ryan, brother of the late Tony Ryan, founder of the iniquitous airline of the same name, and an Aviation Club regular, posed a tough question to Antonio Vázquez at the club’s luncheon last week.

“Every time a legacy carrier tried to set up a low-cost division it failed – Go, Snowflake, Buzz, Ted, Song, CentralWings.  They all failed.  What makes Iberia different?”

zquez took it in his stride.  “We have had a very good experience with Vueling and the original clickair (back in 2004) and we know what we are doing.  The important thing is that we have to start with a new set of employment rules and we need to do this as we face more competition from the low-cost carriers and from the high-speed trains.

Clickair founder and current Vueling boss Alex Cruz sat opposite Vázquez at the lunch and came in for praise by the IAL Chairman.

“Iberia’s current high cost structure means that its short haul pilots earn more than British Airways pilots flying long haul routes,” said Vázquez.

The new ‘more cost efficient’ Iberia Express is scheduled to set up next April and will support 13 Airbus A320 aircraft by the end of the year, 40 by 2015. www.aviationclub.org.uk

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Sustainable Aviation at the House of Commons

The House of Commons was the venue for the 2011 “Sustainable Aviation” progress report 2011.  The lobby group is supported by most British airlines and is under the umbrella of the Airport Operators Association.  NATS and a whole host of aerospace and aviation companies are also among its supporters.

Maria Eagles, Shadow Transport Secretary, represented the Opposition and gave a fine positive speech saying that the industry had to work across all parliamentary divisions.  The Government was not represented (see above).

The 2011 report runs to 28 pages and deals in a very clear manner with policy, reducing carbon emissions, noise, air quality and waste.  Figures for 2009 show almost a 3% improvement in fuel economy since 2007 and in the same period nearly a 6% reduction in aggregated CO2 emissions. 

Featured in the publication is the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine now in service with ANA on the Boeing 787 and due to be introduced by both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic in 2013.  This will be 12% more fuel efficient than the Trent 895 fitted to versions of the 777.  The Airbus 350XWB will have a similar engine. www.sustainableaviation.co.uk

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ON TOUR: Goodwood Revival 2011

With people’s minds clearly set on 2012, and this the final motoring edition of AERBT before the turn of the year, it seemed a good time to report on the major autumn motoring event of 2011.  Readers should note the dates for 2012 and be advised there are many other events on the Goodwood calendar and early booking for everything is advised.  The FESTIVAL of SPEED is 28 June-1 July and the Revival itself 14-16 September.

Over 138,000 motor sport enthusiasts and vintage fashion fans flocked to the 2011 Goodwood Revival (16-18 September) to join in the fun and celebrations at the world’s largest historic motor race meeting, which by common consent was deemed the best yet.

The Goodwood Revival is firmly established as a ‘must attend’ event, with visitors travelling from around the world.  The vast majority of the spectators came dressed in their finest 1940s, 1950s and 1960s fashions, with tweed jackets and pleated skirts aplenty in the early autumn sunshine, and occasional rain.

On the track a tribute to the legendary racing driver Juan Manuel Fangio – 100 years after this birth – saw a grid of rare and stunning cars associated with his career, including three spectacular Mercedes-Benz racers, plus two Chevrolets bought over from Argentina specifically for the Revival.  A handful of drivers who knew and raced with Fangio were also on hand.  Additionally, Goodwood staged its largest ever Revival vehicle parade with 100 British-built Fords lapping the circuit as this popular marque celebrated its centenary in the UK.

The 75th anniversary of the Spitfire aircraft was marked with a fitting and emotional tribute as 10 of these iconic machines took to the skies over Goodwood, with others on the ground, as Lord March paid tribute and the RAF Choir sang.  A daily parade of motocross riders from the golden 1950s-60s era of scrambling also delighted the Revival spectators, as did the dedicated motocross course built especially for the event at Lavant Corner.

The variety of racing machines and quality of motor racing was exceptional throughout the Revival weekend, with many nail-biting races and plenty of thrills – plus a few spills – along the way.  Racing highlights included Saturday’s Fordwater Trophy, which this year was awarded to the winner of the Jaguar E-type race to mark the 50th anniversary of this legendary sports car.  The 1964 semi-lightweight E-type of Jon Minshaw and Martin Stretton took the chequered flag.

The thrilling St Mary’s Trophy for 1960s saloon cars saw Richard Shaw anchor a brilliant overall win with track victory in Sunday’s second instalment of this two-part race in the 1965 BMW 1800 TiSA.  Tom Kristensen and Kenny Brack took an emphatic win in the rain in the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy Celebration race for GT cars aboard Daniela Ellerbrock’s Shelby Daytona Cobra.  Duncan Fitchett and Jeremy McWilliams may have finished only fourth in the second part of the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy motorcycle race but they were always going to win overall on aggregate after a brilliant showing in the Part One Saturday race.

Some great vintage fashions included daily prizes being awarded to ‘best dressed’ male and female spectators, with finalists parading each afternoon on the Richmond Lawn car walk.  Ladies Day on Saturday saw a particularly high standard of period dress, and helped seal the unique, fun atmosphere of the 2011 Revival.

The recreation of a typical early 1960s British street scene, with a bus depot and High Street with a Tesco supermarket, clothes shops, the DeLonghi 2i coffee bar and period Kenwood kitchens proved to be hugely popular, with Revival shoppers coming over ‘all nostalgic’ at the sight of period packaging, household brands, live music and fashions that had long been forgotten.  The 1950s-style Butlins was also a huge hit as the famous British holiday camp celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The 1934 Hawker Fury Mk 1 was voted the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation pre-1966 aircraft concours d’elegance winner by a panel of distinguished judges, whilst a stunning dual-tone 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante – owned by William Ainscough – was the public’s choice for ‘the most beautiful car in the world’ in the Earls Court concours d’elegance out of 10,000 entries, with the 1961 Jaguar E-type roadster coming second.

The 2011 Goodwood Revival was clearly a huge success, with Revival-goers already talking with excitement and anticipation about next year’s event.

The 2012 Festival of Speed theme is ‘Young Guns – Born to Win’, celebrating drivers and riders and designers and engineers whose supreme talent and insatiable thirst for speed shocked the establishment, affording them immediate superstar status.  

To mark the 50th anniversary since Carroll Shelby’s introduction of the initial versions of this cult Anglo-American sports car, the 2012 Revival will feature a grid exclusively made up of 30 Cobras and their derivatives.  This special all-Cobra race will be a 45-minute two-driver competition, with driver changes in the pits between 15 and 30 minutes. www.goodwood.co.uk

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Aer Lingus celebrates four years of Belfast success

Last Saturday (10 December) Aer Lingus celebrated four years and over 2.3m customers to London and Europe from Belfast International Airport since operations began in 2007 and has captured 40% of the Heathrow market.

Just over one million customers have flown on the flagship Heathrow route and over one-and-a-quarter million passengers to the continent and the UK regions.

Launching their 4th anniversary celebrations Declan Kearney, Aer Lingus Director of Communications, reaffirmed their commitment to the travelling public in Northern Ireland and said: “Aer Lingus as a company is in great shape and is here to stay.”

He added: “Even though all businesses are battling through an unprecedented period of global economic instability and uncertainty, our Belfast base is a continuing success story.  Over the last four years we have received fantastic support here and we continue to meet our targets and deliver real choice and competition to the marketplace.

“Passengers are increasingly choosing Aer Lingus for their travel to and from Heathrow and we remain committed to our London Heathrow service.”  British Airways does not fly to Northern Ireland.  bmi (Belfast City), bmi baby (Belfast City), easyJet (Belfast International and Flybe (Belfast City) offer alternative services from London. www.aerlingus.com

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APD uproar

The UK Treasury announcement last Tuesday on Air Passenger Duty (APD) turned out to be one of the biggest damp squibs in what has been, politically, the most depressing year ever for the air transport industry.  Expectations were high for beneficial changes following the Prime Minster’s recent promotion of inbound tourism.

As one wag put it: “Mr Cameron clearly wants to help Europe in its hour of need.  Amsterdam and Paris airports must be rubbing their hands with glee, Frankfurt too, with its very low tax."

There will be no change in the way the tax is calculated.  Even those within Government must have been surprised.  The previous evening a senior minister was promised for the launch of Sustainable Aviation Progress Report 2011 (see below), within the confines of the Palace of Westminster.  Maria Eagle, Shadow Minister of Transport, very effectively represented the Opposition, but no member of the Government was anywhere to be seen.

The outburst was predictable, but very strong. 

Keith Williams, Chief Executive of British Airways, summed it up.  "The Government talks about creating the conditions for jobs and growth – but the reality is the opposite.  Its tax policy, which is uniquely hostile to aviation, is costing jobs and growth.”  www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/2011budget_airpassenger.htm

Our unique Chief Executives photo shows (from left to right) Steve Ridgeway (Virgin Atlantic), Carolyn McCall (easyJet), Willie Walsh (IAG) & Michael O’Leary (Ryanair)

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Boeing’s new 747 in Germany

Lead customer Lufthansa and airframe manufacturer Boeing were last week conducting pre-delivery testing of the all new 747-8 Intercontinental at the airline’s main operations base at Frankfurt.  Official delivery is due early in the New Year.

The aircraft known to Boeing as RC021, is one of three that have served in the 747-8 Intercontinental flight test fleet.  It has been specifically used to test interior systems such as heating and air conditioning, cabin lighting and systems and galleys.

Lufthansa conducted a number of tests to help ensure a smooth integration of the newest member of the 747 family into its operations.  Maintenance and engineering personnel rehearsed ground-handling processes.

The 747-8 Intercontinental provides double-digit improvements in fuel economy and carbon emissions per passenger and generates a 30% smaller noise footprint than the 747-400.  The 747-8 Intercontinental applies interior features from the 787 Dreamliner that include a new curved, upswept architecture giving passengers a greater feeling of space and comfort, while adding more room for personal belongings.  Lufthansa has 20 on order. www.lufthansa.com

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Gatwick Express needs a ticket

From today onwards (12 December) Gatwick Express users will have to become used to new ticket gates that have been installed at both London Victoria and Gatwick Airport train stations.  Officially they are on test.  The new gates will be staffed by dedicated Gatwick Express Customer Service Hosts. They will also be enabled to accept smartcard technologies in the future.

This latest system means there will no longer be an option to buy a ticket once onboard the train.  The operator says that more and more customers have been buying their tickets online due to the great offers available, and pre-purchase is now the favoured sales channel. 

As well as online, tickets can easily be bought at ticket machines and ticket offices at both Victoria and Gatwick airport stations.  A number of airlines sell them on board.  The newly created Gatwick Express Customer Service Hosts will also be on hand to sell tickets with their mobile ticket machines.

As well as these new gates and the new staffing role, the non-stop rail service provider is installing eight new ticket machines at Victoria train station and Gatwick Airport train station.

The new gates will be fully operational by the 31 December. www.gatwickexpress.com

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IAG Chairman at the Aviation Club

Antonio Vázquez, Spanish Chairman of the International Aviation Group (IAG – essentially British Airways and Iberia), was an impressive speaker at the Aviation Club’s end of year luncheon at the Institute of Directors.

In a far ranging speech, and a plentiful question and answer session, he noted that the combined European airlines will make US$300m this year, a margin of less than 1%.  IAG’s priority is the use of biofuel, and consolidation “there is still a lot to do”, he said, emphasising both.  The Group’s objective is to strengthen its traffic situation between Europe and Asia, especially the critical markets of China, Japan or Korea.  Africa is also a key aim for IAG.  Increasing frequencies and opening new routes between Europe and Africa was a priority.

“IAG already has a global network, especially when we look at how its capacity is distributed: 31% in North America, 22% in Latin America, 18% in Europe, 16% in Africa and 9% in Asia (the remaining 4% is domestic traffic).”

Iberia short term has an all Airbus fleet but in a couple of years’ time he expected a review of the airlines’ aspirations towards 2020.  BA is already organised with A380 and Boeing 787, planned for 2013.  See also Ryan mixes it. www.iairgroup.com

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Samoa gets Virgin

Whilst the Australasian Virgin carriers are now branded as one, an interloper, of sorts, has arrived.  Virgin Samoa is a new brand and livery for the country’s national airline with the Pacific island itself assisting with the launch.  Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Samoa (formerly Polynesian Blue), Mark Pitt, said: “The new brand and aircraft livery delivers a fresh, contemporary and sophisticated look, consistent with its partner Virgin Australia.”

The Hon Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi noted: “Our vision when entering our Polynesian Blue joint venture in 2005 was to create a national airline that would be financially strong and that would provide growth opportunities and financial stability for our country.  We have achieved these goals.”

“Today our vision is to bring a new level of service and style to our guests as we partner in the evolution of Virgin Australia.  This name and branding provides a new level of professionalism for our national airline; a new style; of which the people of Samoa can be proud.”

Virgin Samoa is owned 49% by the country of the same name.  Its single Boeing 737-800 flies to Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney from Faleolo International Airport in Samoa. www.virginsamoa.com

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UK hotel expansion continues

Despite the recession, the UK hotel industry is continuing to expand with 106 hotels opening in 2011 (11,800 rooms) and a further 170 hotels (21,500 rooms) planned for 2012. 

Since the present hotel building boom started in 2003, over 105,000 new rooms have been added to UK hotel stock.  Just over half (55%) of the new-builds are in the budget sector.  

The figures appear in the British Hospitality Association annual industry review published last week.

The hotel industry is continuing to be a tale of two markets, with London moving ahead with 81.8% occupancy for the year to September 2011 at an average annual achieved room rate (ARR) of £107.72.  Hotels in the regions are lagging behind with 70.5% occupancy at an ARR of £48.27. 

Figures for the catering sector show that, despite the recession, the number of meals served in 2010 continued to increase in all commercial sectors, except pubs.

Ufi Ibrahim, BHA’s Chief Executive, says that the key to the industry’s future is to remove some of the barriers to growth, the main one being the high rate in the UK of VAT on hotel accommodation, attractions and restaurant meals compared with other EU member states. 

“This is making the UK uncompetitive with much of Europe.” www.bha.org.uk

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Mazda CX-7 2.2 D Sport Tech

Mazda’s Crossover Builds on Character
And a special Christmas book review

Mazda has changed the game plan with its second generation CX-7 all-wheel-drive Crossover model. 

About three years ago I tested the original CX-7 powered by an awesome 265 bhp 2.2-litre turbo petrol engine that combined high performance with practicality but at the cost of getting only about 280 miles from its 69-litre (15.17 gallon) fuel tank.

Since then the world has changed drastically, and so has the Mazda CX-7, the former for the worse, the latter for the better I would emphasise.

Of course, the petrol powered CX-7 may have garnered a good return for Mazda on the American market and for a vehicle that is a blend of competent all-terrain abilities allied to near MPV interior space and obvious lifestyle attractions.  The dominant but rather thirsty high performance character clearly limited the sales potential in the UK and Europe where diesel power is generally considered essential for a car maker to prosper in what is a rapidly expanding market sector.

Admittedly, on the UK and European version of the original CX-7, the fully independent suspension system had probably been more finely honed, not only to cope with the abundant performance but also to suit European roads and to attract buyers who remained discerning even when changing to this type of vehicle.

It is no secret that Mazda has been carrying out some extensive engine developments, the early evidence of this is the change to a highly efficient turbocharged 2.2-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine for the CX-7 which is the forerunner to a number exciting new power units for employment in other Mazda models in the none too distant future.  Watch this space!

Developing 171 bhp with enormous flexibility, and well above average refinement, this state of the art Mazda diesel is complemented by a reasonably clean changing 6-speed manual gearbox that provides nicely spaced ratios including an ‘overdrive’ top gear to generate very respectable performance – Mazda claim 0 to 62 mph (100 kph) from rest in11.3 seconds and a top speed of 124 mph.  A combined fuel consumption figure of 37.7 mpg is obviously sensible especially as it the is a full 10 mpg better than the original petrol version.

Put bluntly the 69 litre fuel tank’s range has soared from around 380 miles to about 520 miles.

Yes, this is a real driver’s car, plenty of gusto when requested, a positive ride, good feeling electro powered steering, a very comfortable driving position provided by a well upholstered (leather, of course) seat with power adjustment, vision as good as you get with this type of body and augmented by a wide angle rear view camera plus, as I would expect from a highly effective all-wheel drive transmission system, near class leading ride and road holding qualities.

A lot of effort has gone into improving safety, this vehicle already having an immensely effective braking system based on four ventilated discs and to add to the existing multi air bag system comes such items as an Emergency Rear Stop System (ERS) that automatically activates the hazard warning lights under hard/abrupt braking.  A REAR Vehicle Monitoring system, already in place on some other Mazda models, employs radar to cover blind spot driving situations.  Suffice to say all the usual electronic stability and braking aids are standard.

For this latest CR-7 version Mazda has not messed about with the basic qualities, though there has been some cosmetic improvements, a bit more chrome detailing.  I suspect an upgrade in some trim materials, certainly a bit more equipment (there is only this high specification Sport Tec version on offer and with only a very few extra cost options).  In my opinion, this adds up to a premium class product.

In essence Mazda’s latest CX-7 could be described as a niche model in its market sector.  Consider all these aspects: an immensely comfortable 5-seater with acceptable luggage capacity, executive class equipment, high safety standards, good on the eye looks, a performance character that will please the owner’s pocket as well as provide easy yet entertaining experience and a level of refinement better than a number of very upmarket saloons.

I noted that it did not have roof rails, frankly I think they would spoil the lines of what I think is probably the best looking Crossover I have spent time with.  If a Crossover vehicle is being considered, if the price is in the budget then I suggest the Mazda CX-7 could be a revelation.

Rivals include: Peugeot 3008, Honda CRV, Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Kia Sportage.

START RATINGS
Performance 9
Handling 8
Transmission 8
Noise 9
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 8
Accommodation 9
Styling 8
Brakes 9
Finish 9
TOTAL: 86 %

Price from: £27,580.

 

NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON’S MOTORING DIARY

BOOKS: Motoring orientated books for Christmas gifts?

Here are a few suggestions.

“Art of the Harley Davidson Motorcycle” photography by David Blattel with text by Dain Gingerelli £27.50.  Surely a must for the diehard owners of these iconic machines but also a good tonic for a jaded lifestyle.  Just leave it around the house and let your family and friends guess whether they will see you astride one and, of course, appropriately attired.  For all motorbike fiends, whether they love a Harley, a Norton or a Honda this book doesn’t even have to be read, the pictures strongly argue the Harley’s case.

Michelin Great Britain & Ireland 2012.  For just under £15 this familiar red book gives thousands of reasons for breaking that journey or for starting a journey in the first place.  A bit of browsing through nearly 1,000 pages could be that key to getting out and about.

Also from Michelin is the 2012 edition of “Eating out in Pubs” at £13.99, an ideal ‘tool’ for finding an alternative to the mass-produced offerings of chain hotels and a near guarantee that a visit to any one of the listed establishments won’t leave a nasty taste on your palate or a hole in your pocket.  Both obtainable from www.michelinonline.co.uk/travel

 

MOTORING NEWS 

HONDA: A £40 winter check-up is being offered through Honda dealers. There is also a storage scheme for Honda owners buying winter tyres at £35 plus VAT for up to 12 months including two transfers if required.

LEXUS: Early details have been reached of the new luxury class Lexus GS 250 saloon model due to launch alongside the new Lexus 450h in summer 2012.  Power comes from a 206 bhp 2.5-litre engine driving through a 6-speed selectable automatic gearbox.

SUBARU: The new Subaru XV Crossover model has achieved a 5-star Euro ECAP safety Rating.  The car features an advanced impact energy relay system plus an extensive range of air bags.

VOLKSWAGEN: An electric version of the Volkswagen Golf is planned to reach showrooms in 2013.  A pre-production model has achieved a claimed range of 100 miles, touched 86 mph and reached 62 mph from rest in 11.8 seconds.

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