27 FEBRUARY 2012

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Air Zimbabwe – don’t book

Reports from southern Africa confirm that Air Zimbabwe is grounded and unlikely to get airborne again whilst the present regime remains in power.  Any agent offering seats on the carrier, which was banned from Heathrow last year, should be treated with the utmost disdain.

 

Workers from the national carrier have not received salaries since September 2011 and are owed over US$35m.  Acting CEO, Innocent Mavhunga, confirmed to the state media last Thursday the indefinite suspension of all flights, blaming it on cash flow problems.

 

“We failed to resume flights as planned on Monday as we still have challenges relating to payment of salaries.  Part of our workers did not report for duty.  We are now grounded indefinitely,” Mavhunga said.

 

International carriers still fly to the capital Harare and earlier this month Emirates made its maiden flight from Dubai starting a five times per week service that includes Lusaka (Zambia – the former Northern Rhodesia).  Air Zimbabwe’s future now looks uncertain, as a new local airline has been granted a licence by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe.  Sol Air is expected to service the Harare – Bulawayo and Harare – Victoria Falls routes. www.airzimbabwe.com

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Atlanta gains downtown Holiday Inn

IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) has announced the opening of the Holiday Inn Express Atlanta Downtown.  The 11-storey, 130-room hotel at 111 Cone Street Northwest, which had previously been the Centennial Inn Atlanta Hotel, underwent a US$7m conversion that included enhancements throughout the hotel.

The newly acquired property is just a short drive from the Hartsfield-Jackson International airport and within walking distance to several major corporations and universities, including Coca-Cola, Georgia-Pacific, SunTrust, Turner Broadcasting, Southern Company, Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University.  It is also near many downtown attractions including the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Underground Atlanta and the Georgia Dome.  Other attractions just a short drive away are the Martin Luther King Jr Museum and Zoo Atlanta.

Aimed towards the budget end of the market, “value conscious” using the latest parlance, the hotel features a complimentary “Express Start” breakfast bar featuring a full range of items including a rotation of egg and meat selections, biscuits, yogurt, fruit and the brand’s proprietary cinnamon roll and “Smart Roast” coffee.  Guests gain free wireless internet and there is also a gym.  The guest rooms have been completely refreshed and offer new furniture, including queen- or king-sized beds, sitting area and an in-room coffee machine. www.hiexpress.com

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China Southern from London to Guangzhou

Guangzhou, China’s third largest and most industrial city, is to be joined to London for the first time.  Skyteam member China Southern Airlines will (from 6 June) offer a three times per week two-class Airbus A330-200 Heathrow service with a flight time of around 10 hours. 

China Southern is already established in western Europe with services from Guangzhou to both Amsterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle.  The airline is listed on the Hong Kong, Shanghai and New York Stock Exchanges.  It currently operates around 350 aircraft mainly Airbus and Boeing, plus a number of Embraer E series on regional routes.

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) is China's 2nd busiest and the world's 19th busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, with 40,975,673 people handled in 2010.  Qatar Airways tells AERBT that it is very pleased with its new services from Doha but curiously Lufthansa will pull the route from Frankfurt at the end of March.  The city, formerly Canton, is in the Pearl River Delta about 75 miles north of Hong Kong, which itself is served by Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic. www.flychinasouthern.com

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Gatwick loses Delta

Delta Air Lines is to drop its Gatwick – Atlanta service from 17 April.  It first flew the route in 1978.  This leaves Air Transat (Toronto all year around plus summer only destinations), charter operator Sun Country (Minneapolis-St Paul) and US Airways (Charlotte) as the only North American airlines now established at the airport.  At the same time Heathrow – Atlanta goes twice daily.

This summer Delta will operate nine daily flights out of Heathrow this summer, including services to Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, New York-JFK and Minneapolis-St Paul, all flown by 246-seat 767-400ER aircraft with the new full flat-bed product in BusinessElite plus Economy Comfort and Economy.

From Manchester, Delta offers daily service to Atlanta and summer seasonal service to New York-JFK.  These are operated with a smaller Boeing 767-300. www.delta.com

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Marriott to open the world’s tallest hotel

Dubai is to have the world’s tallest dedicated hotel later this year when the 1,608-room JW Marriott Marquis welcomes it first guests.  It will open in two phases, with the first section featuring 807 rooms and numerous restaurants and lounges.  At a height of 355m (1,164ft), the property is just 26m (85ft) shorter than the Empire State Building in New York.  Other hotels reach even further into the clouds but they are always part of multi-purpose buildings.

In addition to serving the luxury business traveller, the hotel is targeting the lucrative and increasingly important MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) market, which, according to Marriott, is currently not served in Dubai.

To give this market some context, the United States’ MICE segment, which will be one of the key targets of the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai team, contributes US$106bn to that country’s GDP – higher than automotive manufacturing (US$78bn), performing arts/spectator sports/museums (US$71bn) and information and data processing services (US$76bn).

Dubai’s excellent air links, especially with the emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, are expected to create a rapidly developing meetings market. www.marriott.com

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Rolls-Royce Airbus A350 engine flies for the first time

The Airbus A350 programme took a significant step forward last week with the first flight of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine on the A380 flying test bed, replacing one of its four Trent 900 engines.

According to an Airbus statement “The aircraft took off from Airbus facilities in Toulouse and performed a flight of more than five hours during which the engine covered a wide range of power settings at altitudes up to 43,000ft.  The aircraft handling qualities were evaluated from low speeds to Mach 0.9.  The engine not only operated flawlessly, but also demonstrated its new-generation fuel efficiency and low noise.  The Trent XWB development engine is specially fitted with test sensors to measure hundreds of parameters.”

The A350 will be the first Airbus with both fuselage and wing structures made primarily of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer.  It competes with the Boeing 787 and will carry 270 to 350 passengers depending on variant.  To date Airbus has around 560 firm orders.  The maiden flight is due towards the end of this year but Airbus has refused any commitment on dates. www.rolls-royce.com/civil www.airbus.com

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Virgin Atlantic upgrades and recruits

With UK unemployment climbing again Virgin Atlantic has announced a recruitment drive for 500 cabin crew.  The jobs will be based out of Heathrow and Gatwick airports and new recruits will be taking to the skies on Virgin Atlantic’s new routes of Cancun and Vancouver plus other destinations on the airline’s long haul network including New York, Barbados, Las Vegas and Shanghai.  Also joining the airline during the year are seven further Airbus A330s.  Last year the airline took delivery of its first ever twin jets, configured 59 Upper Class and 255 Economy.

Virgin Atlantic recently announced a £100m investment in its Upper Class product which will commence on its London to New York JFK morning flight before rolling out across all aircraft joining the Heathrow fleet over the next three years.  The onboard enhancements to the initial New York service will be instantly supported by a new multi-million pound Clubhouse at John F. Kennedy airport.

Virgin says its existing Upper Class product continues to be popular, with load factors showing a 5% recovery since the height of the recession in 2009.  Transatlantic Business Class bookings have started strongly for the airline in 2012, with a double-digit growth in demand for New York. www.virgin-atlantic.com

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AND FINALLY: Brits make packing a weighty issue

New research from British Airways shows we are a nation of heavy weights.

Nine out of 10 holiday-makers do not use up to 30% of the items they take on holiday.

Over 40% take three or more pairs of shoes. 

Almost one in five take 10 or more pairs of underwear.

One in eight people take three towels or more for a one week holiday.

People from Scotland and the East of England have paid the most in excess baggage fees.

It seems that plenty of people take tea bags with them, which is probably not a bad idea.

AERBT thinks that maybe three plus pairs of shoes is a good idea, but when it comes to ‘undies’ surely travellers can do a little washing and there is always the hotel laundry service.  Three towels.  Most provide. 

And why did British Airways put out the release?

Very simple.

To emphasise that with their airline 23kg is free for hold baggage, plus two hand held in the cabin. 

Abigail Comber, British Airways Head of Brands and Marketing, said:  “That’s in comparison to the one 10kg cabin bag you can carry on for free on some no frills airlines.”  She could have also mentioned that with the so-called budget carriers during the high season a 15kg suitcase will cost £30, plus hefty charges if you exceed.

When buying luggage you really need to watch the weight.  Strong and light are the requirements.  It is no good wasting 10kg with a heavy bag.

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COMMENT: Noise – Let’s get a balanced view

This will be a short editorial that will probably not go down well in certain quarters.

Your Editor is thoroughly cheesed off with (mainly TV) reporters who interview citizens living near airports complaining about noise. 

Surely the first question is “When did you move to your present location and were you aware that there was an airport nearby?” And as an addition, “Do you use said airport?”

The air transport industry is a responsible business and perfectly aware that aeroplanes make noise and pollution although far less than other engineering outlets.  It has taken enormous strides over the last 50 years.  For those that can remember the early Boeing 707s were notorious for their racket and dark smoke.  Concorde’s Olympus engines roared, and we have even moved on since the Dash 7 and BAe 146 were only allowed into London City Airport 25 years ago due to their much-reduced sound footprint.  The A380 is a quiet neighbour.

The BAA is to be applauded in the way it is conducting trials at Heathrow on the split use of runways.  However if you tell the world in advance what you are doing the world knows and is ready to protest.  Uncorroborated complaint figures were announced on TV.  Going back to London City, trials took place of a new aircraft but an announcement was only made some weeks later when the results of ground monitoring was available.  It was at that point that the whinges came in.

Airports and airlines make for good television.  We all appreciate that.  But let’s have a balanced view in the future.  Aviation is the lifeblood of the country.  If we are to move ahead there has to be some give and take.  And unprejudiced TV.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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Amsterdam and Paris airports tackle Chinese markets

Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle airports have launched the Chinese version of the ‘Schiphol App’, an application designed to navigate passengers through the airports and translate signposting into Mandarin.  The app, developed in association with Aéroports de Paris, can be downloaded by both iPhones and Android telephones.

The app provides passengers with information on product offers, flights, public transport, baggage and medical services, as well as translating maps of the departure lounges.  Above all, passengers can use their Smartphone camera to translate the airport signs directly into Mandarin.

Otto Ambagtsheer, Director of the Business Area Consumers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, said: “Many Chinese passengers do not read or speak English.  By means of this app and indeed our entire campaign, we aim to offer the growing numbers of Chinese passengers a warm welcome and wish them a pleasant arrival at Schiphol.’’

The new app is launched at a time when Air France-KLM is expanding its network into China.  Combined, the airlines now operate 110 flights a week to nine destinations in Greater China – Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, Wuhan (from April) and Xiamen – and claim to operate more routes into China than any other European airline. www.schiphol.nl

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BAA reduces losses and pushes for a third runway at Heathrow

Passenger numbers at Heathrow are running at record levels, 69.4m for 2011(+5%) and further growth limited to aircraft size increases and more efficient use of runway capacity.  Colin Matthews, BAA Chief Executive, has urged Ministers to consider every possibility with its imminent strategic review. 

“I cannot think of any reason why you would not look at all of the options, given every single option has significant difficulties.  None of them are easy.”

BAA last week reported a reduced loss from £316.6m in 2010 to £255.8m for 2011 as it claimed progress with its efforts to persuade the Government to reconsider the case for a third runway at Heathrow, the land involved for the most part still owned by the company.

Under consideration is yet another appeal regarding the sale of Stansted Airport which lost 2.8% of its business last year.  With passenger figures down to 18m there is the prospect of further haemorrhaging as some business transfers to easyJet’s new Southend operation.  Presently about 80% of Stansted passengers are Ryanair customers.

At Heathrow the new Terminal 2 is watertight and work is progressing fast with the fitting out.  However until the bmi/BA situation is resolved there can be no definitive relocation of any airline. www.baa.com

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easyJet celebrates 10 years at Gatwick

Gatwick Airport (LGW) and easyJet have celebrated ten years of operation.  In the decade since the Barcelona inaugural the Luton-based carrier has overtaken both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic as the largest operator out of the South London airport.

easyJet now operates 50 aircraft flying around 300 flights a day to and from Gatwick, with a choice of 94 destinations throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.  Since first taking off at LGW, easyJet has flown more than 70m passengers from the airport.  Last Friday (24 February) it celebrated the milestone with commemorative gifts and entertainment for passengers checking in for flights throughout the morning.

Last year alone easyJet added more than 10 new routes from Gatwick including Aberdeen, Amman, Bari, Bologna, Catania, Fuerteventura, Izmir, Seville, Verona and Zagreb. www.easyjet.com

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Japan Air Lines says “cheese”

Cheese might not be something that one associates with Japanese cuisine but the country of the rising sun has many established dairy farms throughout the country, notably in Hokkaido with its cool climate and vast farmlands, and also where the early history of cheese-making in Japan began some 140 years ago.  As this initially-European culinary culture gradually began to find its place among the Japanese people, production of cheese in the country also started taking root, mainly with pasteurized milk used to create mild-flavoured cheese.  Today, to satisfy a more diverse palate for all kinds of cheese, Japan produces a wide variety of world-class quality.

With this in mind from 1 March Japan Air Lines is inviting customers travelling in First and Executive Class to discover the uniqueness of Japanese cheese and through it, also the richness of Japanese culture.

An assortment of 16 types of cheese has been chosen for months up to August – offering five types in First Class and three in Executive, with a change in selection at the end of May. www.uk.jal.com/ukl/en

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New York Times Square hotel upgrade

Apple Core Hotels has announced the soft re-launch of Broadway @ Times Square Hotel in New York.  The hotel described as “budget friendly” will be fully operational by July.  The property is actually on 46th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, four blocks north and a five-minute walk.  Apple Core has four other hotels in the midtown Manhattan area.

Broadway @ Times Square Hotel is completely smoke-free and was in fact the first hotel in NYC to claim that distinction.  It offers a host of complimentary facilities including free wi-fi, national phone calls, continental breakfast and free stays for children aged 12 and under.  The ‘media lounge’ is equipped with a business centre, self-service concierge kiosk, flat screen televisions and an informal seating area.  The hotel offers a no charge facility for calls within the US.  All rooms are equipped with an iron, ironing board, coffee and coffee maker, hairdryer, cordless speakerphone with voicemail, as well as Movies on Demand and Nintendo video games.  There are 79 rooms spread over nine floors. www.applecorehotels.co.uk/hotels/broadway-at-times-square-hotel

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Singapore says bye-bye 747 with special flights

The industry changing Boeing 747 will mark its departure from Singapore Airlines fleet on 6 April 2012 with two special flights.  Flight SQ747 from Singapore to Hong Kong and SQ748 from Hong Kong to Singapore will be operated with the B747-400, replacing existing flights SQ860 and SQ863, which are normally operated with Airbus A330-300s.

In addition to more than 300 commercial passengers, on board will be employees who have worked on the aircraft throughout its storied history, as well as a group of underprivileged children and media.

“Saying farewell to the Queen of the Skies will not be easy.  Over more than 38 years, the B747 has played an important role in helping SIA become the global airline that it is today.  It enabled us to extend our network around the world and introduce innovative new products and services,” said SIA CEO, Mr Goh Choon Phong.

The Boeing 747 entered airline service with Pan Am in 1970 with SIA taking delivery of its first aircraft in 1973.  At one time it was the world’s largest operator with some 60 aircraft.  Bookings are being taken for the final flights. www.siajourneys.com

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ON TOUR: London Southend truly reborn

Arguably Britain’s oldest airport with scheduled operations (it became Royal Flying Corp Rochford in 1916) and during the 1960s the third-busiest airport in the United Kingdom, London Southend Airport is about to literally take-off again.  This follows multi-million investment by the logistics organisation group Stobart and the arrival of easyJet.  From Monday 2 April the airline will base three Airbus A319s at the airport, introducing services to Alicante, Amsterdam, Belfast, Barcelona, Faro, Ibiza, Jersey, Majorca and Malaga.  Up to 70 departures per week are planned.

It was in December 2008 that Stobart Plc purchased Southend from Regional Airports Ltd, operators also of Biggin Hill, for £21m.  Stobart are not just lorries but into all manor of transport including rail.  Alistair Welch had joined from Stansted as Managing Director and quickly started a £100m investment which included a 300m runway extension to 1779m (now complete but not operational), ILS (instrument landing system), and most important of all the building of an on-site railway station and new 21st century terminal building.

Opened last July and sited directly opposite the terminal, the railway station is on the Southend-Victoria to London-Liverpool Street line.  It offers up to eight services to London per hour, taking passengers from the airport into the City of London in just 53 minutes, or to Stratford – venue for the Olympics in 2012 – in 44 minutes.  Readers might like to know it takes just six minutes from Liverpool Street to Stratford, even quicker than the much heralded Javelin train from St Pancras.  And cheaper too.  Use your Oyster card.

AERBT was privileged to be invited on the first ever easyJet passenger flight into Southend, a private operation to enable airline staff to get a feel for the airport.  It was just an 18-minute 6,000ft hop, with the approach across what would have been the site of the Foulness/Maplin London International Airport.  The famous church at Southend Airport remains in position on your right hand side as you land in the favoured westerly direction.

The terminal opens to the public from tomorrow (28 February) when Aer Arann flights to and from Waterford start using the new facility for the first time for its twice daily service. 

The new building is 60m wide and 40m deep with an escalator to the first floor where the security inspection takes place.  It is then down to the large departure lounge with shops and fast food facilities, plus of course duty free (but only on ex-EU flights including Jersey).  The airport has already applied for a 90m extension (towards the brand new control tower) which could be open by this time next year.  This will not affect the operational restraints on the airport but is designed to make passenger transit even easier.  When the original planning approval was submitted the 10-year contract with easyJet was more wishful thinking than fact.  There is plenty of car park space.

Stobart’s realistic target. Two million passengers by 2020.

easyJet says that whilst it has been able to research the amount of departing traffic, inbound passenger numbers are largely an unknown quantity.  The thinking is that the London name for the airport is well deserved and, with the airline’s strong European marketing operation, word will quickly spread that Southend is a practical gateway for East London and the City.

Nearing completion is a 4-star hotel Holiday Inn with an impressive roof-top sound-proofed bar and restaurant with panoramic views of the airport and surrounding area.  The striking 129-room property will be completed in time for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Also on offer is a variety of conference and banqueting facilities, plus a choice of meeting rooms.  It is just a short stroll to the terminal and railway station.  You walk past the airport retail park (landside) including Argos, Carpet Right, Dreams, Harveys, PC World, Pets at Home, Staples and Sports Direct.

In what could hardly be described as a surprise move easyJet has announced it will be the lead sponsor for the 2012 Southend Air Festival.  Around half a million people are expected to attend this year’s popular Air Festival which will take place on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 May 2012.  You can expect another first.  A flypast by an easyJet Airbus A319?  

www.southendairport.com www.tfl.gov.uk/oyster

www.visitsouthend.co.uk/whats-on/southend-air-festival.aspx 

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Abu Dhabi to Washington

Etihad Airways has announced the launch of non-stop daily flights to Washington, DC, the airline’s fourth destination in North America, from 31 March 2013, subject to regulatory approvals.  It will compete with United Airlines who have an established daily service out Dubai.

The Washington region is home to America’s second largest market flying to the Middle East, after New York.

James Hogan, Etihad Airways President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “No other UAE carrier is offering non-stop services between DC and the UAE, so this capital-to-capital link is a huge opportunity for Etihad Airways.”  Last week, the US Department of Commerce released data showing that total trade volume between the US and the UAE rose to US$18.3bn in 2011, a 43% increase from the previous year.

The schedule allows maximum connectivity to key markets in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia.

The 14hr plus non-stop flights will be operated by a three-class A340-500 aircraft.  Each flight will offer 12 Diamond First Class, 28 Pearl Business Class and 200 Coral Class Economy seats, for a total 3,360 seats per week.

Etihad Airways launched Toronto in October 2005, New York in October 2006 and Chicago in September 2009. www.etihad.com

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Amsterdam’s premier music conservatorium now a hotel

The iconic building that once housed Amsterdam's premier music conservatorium has completed a sophisticated transformation into a most unique and fashionable hotel.  The 129-room Conservatorium Hotel Amsterdam is claimed to combine luxury, lifestyle and heritage with an exceptional level of personalized service.

The property, which is part of the new luxury hotel collection The Set, pays tribute to the Amsterdam Conservatorium’s legacy as soothing classical music selections echo through its vaulted ceilings.

First designed by revered Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel at the turn of the 19th century, the Conservatorium’s well-known structure served as a major bank for 77 years before becoming Amsterdam’s premier music conservatory from 1983-2003.  The original lofty ceilings have been left intact in almost half the rooms and transformed into duplexes with large windows and exposed structural beams.  The courtyard is covered entirely in glass creating a contrast between the old and the new, between the classic and the modern.

Conservatorium Hotel Amsterdam has a prime location in the cultural centre of the Museumplein, next to the Stedelijk Museum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.  The hotel is situated opposite the Royal Concertgebouw and parallel to the prestigious shopping district of P.C. Hooftstraat and the famous Vondelpark. www.conservatoriumhotel.com

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Business Travel Market update

Now part of the Reed Exhibition empire (WTM) London’s Business Travel Market is quickly moving ahead with plans to make its fourth annual show at ExCel Centre the biggest and best yet (13-14 June).

Most significant is a raft of additions to its Advisory Board as well as the Education Committee.

Anne Godfrey, GTMC Chief Executive; Chris Crowley, BCD Travel and immediate past President of ACTE; Richard Oliver, Qatar Airways’ Country Manager UK & Ireland; Darren Williams Eurostar’s Head of Global Sales; and Julia Surry from Airplus International all join the Board.

Crowley states “In only three years BTM has established itself as a growing and important annual industry event.  I am delighted to be part of BTM’s Advisory Board involved in the event’s further development.”

The education sessions’ content for the BTM Conference is once again being put together by an independent ACTE-chaired Education Committee.  This Committee of volunteers draws from vast experience across all industry sectors and roles.  They include corporate travel buyers Yves Galimidi (IKEA), Vicky Anderson (Pfizer), Xavier Houart (Atlas Copco) and Emma Delange (Amdocs) as well as Peter Ducker from the HBAA, Barry Fleming of BCD, Deanna Seiffert of HRS and Matt Beck of Reardon Commerce from the industry. www.businesstravelmarket.co.uk

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Edinburgh Airport sale latest

Reuters News Agency reports that BAA, the Spanish owner of Edinburgh Airport, has whittled down the shortlist of bidders to four and will accept final offers in early April.  Edinburgh was the surprise choice by BAA when it was forced to sell one of its two lowland Scottish airports by the Competition Commission.

According to sources with knowledge of events Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), JP Morgan Asset Management and consortia led by Carlyle Group and 3i have made it to the second round after a longer list was cut down in recent days.

"They will be taken onto due diligence next and final offers are due in by early April," said the source.

Ryanair has announced that it is reducing its aircraft fleet base at the Scottish capital from seven aircraft to six and with it the loss of routes to Berlin, Malmo, Murcia, Ibiza and Tallinn.  The airline’s only other base north of the border is Prestwick, which is owned by Infratil, a New Zealand investment company which is also the landlord of Wellington International Airport and Manston Airport, Kent. www.baa.com

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London Heliport gets new owners

The Reuben Brothers have acquired the London Heliport in Battersea from Andrew Davis.  Mr Davis was formerly the owner of Von Essen hotels.

The London Heliport has been in continuous operation since 1959, providing essential service to the business community and emergency services, such as the Air Ambulance (HEMS) and Police Air Support units.  It benefits from an exemption to the no-fly zone during the Olympics, offering an access route to the 2012 Games.  It is limited to 12,000 movements annually and also suffers from being on the South side of the River Thames with difficult road access to Westminster and the City. 

A ferry to Westminster pier has been envisaged from time to time but never implemented.  Should plans to develop the Battersea Power Station site evolve the heliport would be in a prime position.

The Reuben Brothers also own Oxford Airport where PremiAir Aviation, Battersea’s busiest user, and part of Mr Davis investment portfolio, has a major base. 

The Hotel Verta, which likes to call itself “London’s vertical gateway” and was part of Von Essen, adjoins the site.  It is now managed by Hong Kong-based Rhombus International Hotels Group with the ownership in the hands of Nicholas Cowell, the brother of impresario Simon Cowell. www.premiair.co.uk/london-heliport.html

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oneworld goes up to five daily from Heathrow to Dallas

American Airlines is to add a fourth daily flight between Heathrow (LHR) and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) starting on 14 June.  The six times weekly service will be operated using American’s two-class Boeing 767-300 aircraft with 219 seats, including 28 in Business Class.  Including the daily British Airways service – the oneworld carriers American Airlines and British Airways will now offer five daily frequencies between DFW and LHR.

On 19 May 1982, 30 years ago, American Airlines began its first transatlantic operation at Dallas/Fort Worth with a daily flight to Gatwick.  The London service was increased to three daily flights, and in March 2008 was moved to Heathrow.  Following entry into Heathrow, the joint business agreement with oneworld partner British Airways was implemented.  This allowed hundreds of connections at the Heathrow and Dallas hubs in both directions. 

Dallas is a major connecting point for flights to and from South America, whilst Heathrow is the world’s busiest international airport connect with scheduled links to most major points in Europe. www.oneworld.com

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United rebrands premium cabins

With the Continental merger virtually complete (indications are that the technical reservations change-over is imminent) United Airlines is pushing ahead to offer consistency on its services together with cabin service enhancements. 

United is also rebranding its long haul premium cabin flights introducing United Global First, an international first class experience on three-cabin aircraft, and United BusinessFirst, the international business class experience on two- and three-cabin planes.

For customers flying United in North America, between North America and Central America, between North America and northern South America, and on some flights within Asia and the Pacific islands, the airline will continue to offer United First and United Business premium cabin services.

Beginning 3 March, United Airlines customers on three-cabin aircraft will experience United Global First, with a higher level of privacy and comfort, a flat-bed seat, priority airport services and more-personal attention.  The in-flight catering menus have been revised to ensure consistency throughout the network.  On United Express flights longer than two hours, customers seated in the premium cabin can enjoy complimentary snackboxes.

The rebranding and expanded menu options come as United continues with plans to invest more than US$550m to upgrade aircraft interiors. www.united.com

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CRUISE NEWS FEBRUARY 2012

This month’s ship review:  P&O Arcadia
Cruise news update

Following the tragedy of the Costa Concordia the global cruise industry has announced a new emergency drill policy requiring mandatory muster for embarking passengers prior to departure from port.  AERBT called for this in the January issue of CRUISE NEWS. 

The Cruise Lines International Association, European Cruise Council and the Passenger Shipping Association put forward the new procedure with the support of their member cruise lines.  On rare occasions when passengers arrive after the muster has been completed, passengers will be promptly provided with individual or group safety briefings that meet the requirements for musters applicable under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).  The formal policy is designed to help ensure that any mandatory musters or briefings are conducted for the benefit of all newly embarked passengers at the earliest practical opportunity. 

It is the view of AERBT that the policy should be extended to crew members also.  Your Editor is an experienced cruiser and it is clearly obvious that the ships’ staff change at ports along the way.  Whilst muster drills do take place from time to time during a voyage embarking new crew members also need to be acquainted with each ship’s particular requirements and details.  A copy of the new industry muster policy can be viewed at www.cruising.org/regulatory/cruise-industry-policies

THE TELEGRAPH CRUISE SHOW

In spite of the bad headlines experienced just over one month ago the Telegraph Cruise Show will take place at Olympia next month (Saturday-Sunday 24-25 March) amidst high expectations of a record cruising year. 

With some 75 cruise companies and specialist operators signed up, the show covers all aspects of cruising.  If you fancy a trip to the Antarctic you will find a number of real specialists.  The same goes for the Galapagos and the South Sea islands.  Deep sea cruising ranges from Hebridean with just 49 passengers to RCCL megaships catering for up to 6,360.  And everything else in between.  On offer are tiny costal boats where the package can be tailored to individual requirements.  River cruising is gaining in popularity.  China will be represented, the Chobe River between Botswana and Namibia, Russia and the great rivers of Europe.  You can switch off completely or take you own wi-fi.

New are holiday photography seminars, a Scott to the South Pole Gallery, and presentations on shipboard casinos and entertainment.

Spread out over the two days of the show, talks cover all aspects of cruising and are particularly geared to those who have never cruised before.  It is a very heavy programme.

Theatre 1 – Saturday 24 March
10:30 Health and Wellbeing on Your Cruise
11:30 Cruising for the First Time (45mins – also repeated Sunday)
12:30 Exotic Destinations and Cruise Tours (repeated Sunday)
13:30 Family Cruising
14:30 Cruising Down the River
15:30 Cruising and Enrichment (repeated Sunday)

Theatre 1 – Sunday 25 March
10:30 Shore Excursions
11:30 Ultra Luxury Where Everything is Included
12:30 Cruising for the First Time (45mins – a repeat of Saturday
13:30 Cruising and Enrichment” (a repeat of Saturday)
14:30 Exotic Destinations and Cruise Tours (a repeat of Saturday)

Theatre 2 – Saturday 24 March
10:30 Meet the Cruise Lines (a 30mins introduction)
11:15 Carnival, a ‘fun ships’
12:00 Royal Caribbean International
12:45 Celebrity Cruises
13:30 Oceania Cruises luxury ships
14:15 MSC
15:00 Holland Americas Line

Theatre 2 – Sunday 25 March
11:15 Cunard – Most Famous Ocean Liners in the world
12:00 Azamara Club Cruises
12:45 P&O Cruises
13:30 Disney Cruise Line – The Disney Difference
14:15 Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, very traditional and British

There is a “small ship” cruising theatre and a “world of travel” theatre also.  Both have busy programmes.

One final word.  If you are ready to book the show is an ideal opportunity.  There are bound to be plenty of trips on offer at very attractive prices.

With nearly one month to go the line-up is not complete and we suggest you take a look at the web site.  This features a competition with the winner taking a seven-night luxury Mediterranean cruise with MSC Yacht Club. www.cruisingshow.co.uk/london/competition

P&O ARCADIA
John Chatterley reports on his first “adults only” cruise

Spitzbergen and the Fjords

Our cruise on P&O Arcadia was an exception to the family friendly cruise as it is a contemporary adults only ship.  This is the first time we have cruised on a child free ship and we loved it.  On our previous cruise there were over 500 children on board some of whom thought the ship was their playground in the sea.  We all have our own expectations when cruising and without unruly children ours were met more fully.  It also helped that we had an excellent itinerary and were blessed with exceptional table companions.  The currency is Sterling and tipping 10%.

Everyone has a different idea of what luxury means to them.  It might be the impressive service, the outstanding levels of comfort, the fine dining with elegant formal evenings, the range of facilities available, or simply the time to relax.  For us the itinerary provided the luxury.

A summer cruise to the Arctic Circle sounds like a contradiction in terms.  However, it provided breathtaking scenery with 24-hour daylight for three days which was certainly out of the ordinary.  The magnificence of the ship was certainly shown off in the beauty of the fjords of Norway.

The Ship

At 83,500 tonnes, Arcadia is the third largest of the seven ships under the P&O brand.  It was built by Fincantieri in Marghera (Italy), it has 11 decks, with 1,008 cabins and has a maximum passenger capacity of 2,388.  The ship officially entered service with the company in April 2005 and was named by Dame Kelly Holmes.  Arcadia had a major refit at Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven (Germany), when 34 cabins were added to the stern.  It has a three-tier restaurant, a “west end” Palladium Theatre, casino, a 30-seat cinema, an Oasis Spa with hydro pool and thermal suite.  Also for the fitness enthusiasts there is an ocean view gymnasium, a poolside grill and for that relaxing drink the Crow’s Nest bar.

Embarkation

The embarkation was trouble free and most efficient.  We arrived at the terminal at around 12 noon, dropped our cases at the luggage point, our car was then taken to the car park.  A friendly welcome at check-in, then straight through security and we were on the ship.

Cabins

We were advised on arrival that cabins were not available until 14:00, so whilst waiting we had lunch in the Belvedere restaurant.  Our roomy balcony cabin was on the Arcadia deck, it was spotlessly clean and well designed and had a small fridge, TV, settee and a small but adequate en suite bathroom.  Tea and coffee facilities are provided.  Other operators should copy.

Food and Beverages

Sadly this was not as good as on the other P&O ships, although the food in Arcadian Rhodes was superb, as it was in Orchid Restaurant.  In the main restaurant we felt that standards had generally dropped and whilst the food was of a fair standard, it was often only luke warm when reaching the table.  It was really no better than any local restaurant back home and that's not what we have come to expect of P&O ships.

The Belvedere self-service restaurant is available 24 hours a day and ideal for cruisers who don’t wish to use the more formal dining areas.  The food was very uninspiring, poor quality pub food but this may have been exactly what some passengers prefer.  After around 20:00 the service here is very minimal along with the variety.  Many staff in the self-service restaurant looked bored and listless but after being on the ship for many months the motivation must be difficult, but not impressive for a new intake of passengers.

Drinks were very reasonable and compared favourably with UK pub prices. 

Scooters and Wheelchairs

The large number of scooter users/wheelchair users was unavoidable, but made worse by poor and even rude attitudes towards more able bodied passengers; this left a lot to be desired.

However I was indeed privileged to meet Mavis A who has disabilities and is a motorised wheelchair user.  Mavis explained some of the difficulties she has had whilst cruising and it did open one’s eyes to daily occurrences that the able-bodied take for granted.  She said that her communications with P&O were excellent and that they went out of their way to help with any problems.

Itinerary

Our Itinerary included Stavanger, Alesund, Bergen, Trondheim, Tromsø, Ny Alesund and Eidfjord.

The jewel for us was Ny-Ålesund; it is situated on the south side of the deep and sheltered Kongs Fjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen.  It is one of the world’s most northerly settlements, a centre for international Arctic research and environmental monitoring.

We also enjoyed the beauty and tranquillity of Eidfjord, the inner most municipality on the Hardanger Fjor in the south-western , width steep mountains surrounding a beautiful fjord, a mighty powerful waterfall, majestic glaciers and a mountain plateau.

Entertainment

The evening entertainment on board was wide and varied, trying to cater for all tastes.  The shows from the Headliners Theatre Company were excellent, a group of multi-talented singers, actors and dancers who performed three shows.

Thank you P&O Cruises

This was a thoroughly enjoyable cruise, with good ports of call and excellent table companions.  Let’s hope that P&O maintain standards and keep the British traditions for which it is renowned.

FUTURE PROGRAMME

Arcadia is presently in Australian waters and will leave Sydney 9 March with Singapore, Cape Town and then Southampton as major ports of call.  Once at her home port it is into a typical summer season of seven to 20-night cruises to both Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.  There is a ‘round Britain’ cruise in June and also 24-night return trip across the North Atlantic, taking in New York, Boston and Quebec amongst a host of interesting places.  In November it is to the Caribbean and back and on 5 January she is off on another World Cruise.  You can book the first 18 nights to Buenos Aires and then fly back direct on British Airways. www.pocruises.co.uk

Cruise news update

The 2013 summer brochures are all out and if you want a special cabin, or indeed passage on a smaller ship now is the right time to book.  You can wait until nearer the embarkation date but there is bound to be no balcony cabins left, although the price may be discounted.


CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES ‘fun ship’ Carnival Legend is returning to Europe next year with a programme that introduces the line’s first Norwegian fjords itinerary, an extended series ex-UK trips, and the Mediterranean.  In total, Carnival Legend will offer 17 European cruises between 22 April and 31 October 2013, visiting 34 ports across 18 countries. www.carnival.com

CRYSTAL CRUISES, known for its ultra-hands-on service, has announced a first-of-its-kind check-in process that will ease embarkation procedures for all guests.  Effective today in every Crystal embarkation port, “Crystal Fast-Track Check-In” eliminates 100% of ship check-in procedures in port terminal waiting areas, transitioning guests from dock security to the Six-Star comfort of Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity lounges. www.crystalcruises.com

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE’S new state-of-the-art 4,000-passenger ship, Norwegian Breakaway, will sail from her year-round homeport of New York City to the Bahamas and Florida and the Caribbean during her inaugural winter season.  She is currently under construction at Meyer Werft in Germany and is scheduled for delivery in April 2013.  At 144,000 tons she is slightly smaller than the 2010 Norwegian Epic. www.ncl.co.uk/project-breakaway

P&O CRUISES recently welcomed Oriana back into the fleet after a month-long dry dock refurbishment which transformed the ship so it is exclusively for adults.  The re-fit saw the addition of 27 new cabins and the introduction of an Ocean Grill restaurant by Marco Pierre White, now proving very popular on P&O Adonia.  A video of the refit can be seen P&O Cruises releases Oriana refit video

PRINCESS has confirmed that its new Royal Princess 3,600-passenger liner will make its debut at Southampton in June of next year.  The 141,000 ton ship is the third with the same title.  Preceding the inaugural programme of 12-night Grand Mediterranean cruises sailing between Barcelona and Venice beginning on Sunday 23 June 2013, Royal Princess will sail on her Maiden Voyage, a seven-night Iberia cruise from Southampton to Barcelona departing Sunday 16 June, 2013.  The Royal Princess maiden season cruises will open for sale on Thursday 15 March, 2012.  There will also be two three-night preview cruises sailing roundtrip from Southampton on Sunday June 10 and Wednesday 13 June 2013 that will be available for booking at a later date. www.princess.com/royalprincess

REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES has launched a new brochure dedicated to what it calls their Grand Voyages 2012/13 collection.  From October 2012 through to June 2013, the ultra-luxury line boasts an impressive series of sailings ranging from seven to 143 nights.  Overnight stays are also offered in more than 25 major cities typically Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Shanghai, Osaka, Taipei, Mumbai, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, giving guests a more enriching destination experience ashore. Many cruises within the Grand Voyages collection offer free excursions.

STAR CLIPPERS whose magnificent full-rigged tall ships turn heads wherever they go is returning with ‘Star Flyer’ to Southampton this year, the first time since 1992.   Departing on 5 May she sets sail to Hamburg, with two days at sea to enjoy life under sail, followed by a full day in Amsterdam.  The five-night cruise holiday, costs from £1,095 per person, and includes a transfer from Hamburg port to the station; and rail travel home in an overnight double sleeper from Hamburg to Paris, followed by Eurostar to London. www.starclippers.co.uk

SILVERSEA was launched in 1994, bringing to the luxury cruise market a class of smaller, purpose-built vessels that are able to slip into more secluded and rarely seen harbours off the beaten path.  It now has six ships ranging from the intimate specialist (134 passenger) Silver Explorer to the new Silver Spirit, but still only 540 guests.  Five of the ships will be based in Europe this summer with Silver Shadow (382 passengers), a Vancouver resident for the Inner Passage season. www.silversea.com

VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY is offering their guests the unique opportunity to be part of the 2012 London Thames flotilla to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Taking place on 3 June 2012, Voyages of Discovery’s mv Discovery will dock in Greenwich to allow guests to board one of two chartered riverboats that will join the official flotilla down the Thames.  Sailing alongside thousands of other boats, the vessels will grace the river against the backdrop of the capital’s most iconic landmarks such as Big Ben, The London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.  Passengers can enjoy perks including a picnic lunch, a glass of champagne to toast the momentous occasion, commemorative goody bags and afternoon tea on-board. www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk

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