26 MARCH 2012


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Airbus presses ahead with Sharklet development

Air New Zealand is expected to become the first customer to take delivery of a Sharklet equipped Airbus A320 by the end of the year.  Trials are currently taking place at the Airbus facility in Toulouse using their own development aircraft retrofitted with the kit.

The device cuts down on aerodynamic drag by helping reduce the spiral-shaped vortices that form at the wingtips of aircraft during flight.  Their introduction on the A320 is expected to result in at least 3.5% less fuel burn over longer sectors – with an annual CO2 reduction of some 700 tonnes.  They also should allow for less thrust to be used during takeoff when runway performance is not “limiting.”  In addition to their environmental benefits, Sharklets will provide aerodynamic improvements resulting in multiple performance advantages for operators.

Air New Zealand is the first customer for Sharklets, which are offered as options on new production A320-series aircraft.  The A320 will be the first model fitted with the devices, to be followed by other A320 Family members beginning in 2013.  Airbus has previously used a less efficient wingtip device and Boeing has fitted what it calls ‘blended winglets’ on the 737 since 2002. www.airbus.com

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Birmingham Airport runway extension work to start

Work will start this summer on an improvement scheme for the A45 trunk road which runs past Birmingham Airport (BHX) and will allow for a 405m runway extension.  When the work is fully completed in the spring of 2014 BHX will have operational a single 3000m long runway allowing for non-stop flights to Los Angeles and Hong Kong with the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 and, for the future, Singapore by Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.

The runway extension works are currently estimated at £33m and will be funded by the airport.  It is making a further investment of £13m for the construction of a new air traffic control tower and radar system, which will be operational in 2013, and £9m in a resurfacing of the current runway.  BHX has a complex ownership arrangement: 49% – seven West Midland Metropolitan District Councils; 48.25% – Airport Group Investments Ltd (AGIL), a limited company owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (Teachers’) and Australia’s Victorian Funds Management Corp (VFMC); 2.75% – Airport staff, through an employee share trust.

The A45 Corridor Improvement works are funded by £10m by the West Midland Transport Authority, £7m from the airport, and potentially £15.7m through the Government’s Regional Growth Fund which is under negotiation. www.bhx.co.uk

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easyJet boost for the south of France

The Nice and the Rivera community really laid out the red carpet for easyJet last week as the carrier introduced new bases at both Nice itself and Toulouse.  The fact that the airline only now operates Airbus aircraft was a small factor in a welcome in which the local mayor called The Rivera “once a British colony”.  Hardly true but English is widely spoken and there is a warm welcome for the Anglos.

Carolyn McCall, easyJet Chief Executive, highlighted the airline’s impact in France since it opened its first base at Paris Orly in 2002.  She told a large audience of French and English media that last year the carrier showed a 19% increase, to over 12m passengers to and from, and within France, taking 12% of the total national air travel market.  easyJet now employs 800 staff in France and is the country’s largest domestic carrier.

From Nice the airline carried 2.4m passengers last year, about 25% of the airport’s throughput.  With the new routes about to be opened the airline will serve 23 destinations this summer.  At Toulouse it will operate 145 flights per week on 16 routes with a target of 1.6m travellers this year. www.easyjet.com

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Heathrow rail access problems

With the Great Western rail franchise replacement consultation open until 31 March, Richard Brown, Managing Director of North Star Consultancy, has highlighted the fact that any Heathrow mention is restricted to details of when the Connect stopping service will become Crossrail and acknowledgement that rail access to Heathrow from the West might be possible by 2020.  He says that the Heathrow Express could be downgraded to allow services on the fast lines to serve the Thames Valley.

With the end of the Heathrow Express track access agreement in sight (2023) and the 2030 vision of capacity, Mr Brown has some sympathy with the suggestion that Heathrow could be served by a 10 trains per hour Crossrail service to Central London.  But he asks “Can Crossrail become a proxy rail service for 6m travellers who use the Heathrow Express?”.  Crossrail trains are not designed for airline passengers with their luggage but commuters, a different type of passenger.

The paper also highlights the planned western access to Terminal 5 (Staines/Waterloo) has a very low priority with a link to Slough and Reading now on the agenda. www.northstarconsultancy.com

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Madrid gets a new airline

Iberia Express, Iberia’s new short- and medium-haul offspring, began operations yesterday (25 March) with flights between Madrid and Palma de Majorca, Alicante, Malaga, and Seville.  A total of 17 destinations will be served during the summer season, including Amsterdam, Dublin, Fuerteventura, Ibiza, Lanzarote, Minorca, Naples, Palma and Vigo.

The airline held a press conference in Madrid last Friday hosted by the Iberia CEO Rafael Sánchez-Lozano and Iberia Express CEO Luis Gallego.

The new unit is designed to restore profitability to short and medium haul routes, operating initially with four A320s on domestic and European routes.  A total of 14 A320s and a staff of 500 people is expected by year’s end.

At the press conference, Iberia CEO Rafael Sánchez-Lozano stressed that Iberia Express “will be a success story that adds value to the Iberia Group.  It will restore profitability to short and medium haul routes, add new destinations and connections, and feed traffic to the long haul network where Iberia is focusing its growth strategy.”

Iberia Express CEO Luis Gallego pointed out that “Iberia Express will have the best of Iberia and new attributes associated with the ‘express’ concept”.  The new airline will be managed independently, but will use Iberia’s maintenance and other services. www.iberiaexpress.com 

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Olympic worries by the airlines

The heads of the UK’s four major airlines have warned the British Government that there could be chaos at London's airports during this summer's Olympic Games, which would cause major embarrassment to the country unless a deal can be reached over their concerns.

In a blunt letter to the Department for Transport, British Airways, bmi, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet said time was running out to tackle the expected surge in air traffic and its impact.

According to the airlines’ bosses, failure to address their concerns could bring misery to millions of travellers including those coming to London for the world's biggest sporting event.

"As the situation currently stands the industry believes that there is a significant risk of severe delay and disruption at all of London's major airports unless urgent action is taken," they wrote in a letter to the Government.  "Time is running out to ensure that any changes to procedures and the appropriate training are in place prior to the Games."

The Civil Aviation Authority told a meeting of airline executives on Thursday that their call for their scheduled flights to be given priority over business jets and smaller aircraft would be difficult to execute and legally questionable. www.caa.co.uk

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TNT Express gobbled up by UPS

UPS, the US package delivery company, has agreed a deal to buy its European rival TNT Express for €5.1bn.  It is already the world's largest package delivery company.  Speculation has been rife of a tie-up between the two delivery companies.  UPS has been tracking TNT for some time and made an aborted bid in 2008.  The move would increase the American operator’s presence in Europe and would also give the US company a domestic network in China, where it has been keen to expand.

Last year the former TNT, Dutch-owned, was broken up into two distinct companies, TNT Express and the postal company PostNL.  

Scott Davis, UPS Chairman and CEO said that the TNT brand will eventually be dropped.  He intended to retain the Cologne-Bonn Airport operations as the main UPS air cargo hub in Europe.  The TNT Liege facility, which employs 1,400 people, will stay.  Currently TNT Express has fully owned operations in 65 countries.  Whilst for the most part traditional mail/post has declined, package delivery is booming, thanks to internet buying which has no real national barriers. www.ups.com

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COMMENT: The lost aviation years! An about turn?

Confused regarding the Government’s policy on Air Transport?  Or does it have a policy on aviation?

Last Wednesday’s Budget hardly mentioned the business of airlines, the life blood of the country.  Pleas regarding Air Passenger Duty (APD) were totally ignored.  Chancellor George Osborne did acknowledge that something had to happen.  Was this an about-turn?  On Thursday the Department for Transport (Strategic Information Officer) issued what was termed “The Aviation Policy Framework and Hub Call for Evidence” confirming action “in the summer”.  By Friday the Budget debate was under way in the House with the Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening telling MPs the Government was determined to ensure the UK remained internationally competitive.

She said: "We should remember that our country and our capital are right up there with the very best when it comes to international connections."  Some would argue that point.

It looks like we have lost a decade.  When it came to power this Government hastily jumped in and scrapped the 2003 Aviation White Paper.  A scoping document was published in March 2011 with the closing date for evidence 20 October last year.  Five months on and nothing.  With this latest delay and no fixed date for publication the London Mayoral election has been taken out of the scenario.  Will something be announced hours before the recess?  We then have the party conferences.  By the end of the year Westminster will be already looking towards May 2015 and an election.  If Ms Greening, MP for Putney, still holds the transport portfolio will she be campaigning for the nation, Heathrow, or her own seat?  In case anyone has forgotten, the excellent Gatwick – Heathrow helicopter link was destroyed for constituency requirements, not for its undoubted value?

Outside Parliament every business orientated lobby group is shouting for action and wanting to be heard.

However we may have a white knight from an unexpected source.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Aviation (APPGA), chaired by Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Ayr, has today announced its own enquiry, which will last for seven weeks, inviting a wide range of aviation stakeholders to provide written evidence by 16 May. 

The House itself has recognised the urgency of the situation.  Mr Donohoe sums up.

“The UK’s aviation industry is at a crucial juncture.  Air Passenger Duty will rise next week by twice the rate of inflation and the Government has announced that it is re-igniting the debate on airport capacity in the South East.

The aviation industry makes an enormous contribution to the UK economy, directly employing more than 352,000 people and paying in excess of £8.6bn in tax each year as well as contributing more than £50bn to GDP.  Its impact is far reaching: supporting a further 600,000 jobs indirectly, acting as the gateway for the vast majority of Britain’s inbound tourism and driving economic growth more widely.

However, the sad truth is that it is simply not competitive internationally: the World Economic Forum’s recent tourism competitiveness report ranked the UK 134th out of 138 countries for air ticket taxes and airport charges.  This inquiry will explore to what extent Government policy-making is responsible for this and what more can be done to improve the long-term prospect of the UK as an important international aviation hub.”

AERBT believes the Government must, as soon as possible, declare the policy of “no new runway in the South East” dead and then make a rational decision to either build a new airport, expand an existing operation, including Heathrow, or our own favoured quick mid-term cash positive/low-cost solution, turn RAF Northolt into a civilian operation.

Ten years have been lost.  Thankfully we have had the about-turn.  No more delays please.  Let us all march forward together.

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Arik drops London – .Abuja route

Effective last weekend (25 March 2012) Arik Air, privately-owned and Nigeria’s largest airline, again suspended its service between the Federal capital Abuja Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and Heathrow.  Lagos – Heathrow, operated by a two-class Airbus A340, continues with a daily flight.  The airline also has a successful New York (JFK) – Lagos operation both services connecting to many west African destinations including Luanda (Angola), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Cotonou (Benin) and Bamako (Mali).  The carrier also flies to Johannesburg.

The airline had initially suspended operations at the end of the last summer schedule (2011) but UK authorities facilitated the temporary continuation of the commercial lease of these slots.  This interim solution was only available up until the end of the winter schedule and there has been no further agreement.  The Boeing 737-800 used for the flights will be retained for regional services.  In the meantime British Airways offers a three-class Boeing 777 on the route, which has now gone daily. www.arikair.com

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Cabair fails again

AERBT has to report that that Cabair International (UK) Ltd has ceased trading.  The Directors have appointed BRI Business Recovery and Insolvency to assist the company in being formally wound up and has convened shareholders and creditors meetings for 27 March 2012.

A CAA spokesman said that Cabair International met all the financial criteria when it applied to the CAA to operate as a flight training organisation.  A request has been made for the student records to be forwarded to the authority.

“Once a student has identified where they plan to resume their training we will forward their records to the new flight school.

The training school hit difficulties late last year when it announced it was going into administration.  Investment was found at the last minute, which meant it could keep its Cranfield operations going.  This has now ceased.

All queries in relation to the company should now be addressed to Marco Piacquadio, BRI Business Recovery and Insolvency, Oak House, Woodlands Business Park, Milton Keynes MK14 6EY. www.briuk.co.uk

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Emirates goes to Washington

America’s capital city will soon have enhanced non-stop flights to the Gulf area when Emirates introduces flights from Dubai to Washington Dulles International Airport from 12 September 2012.  The carrier will compete with the well established and revitalised United Airlines operation.  Flight time is around 13 hours.

Emirates will operate a Boeing 777-300 ER aircraft on its DC route, providing eight private suites in First Class, 42 lie-flat beds in Business Class and 304 seats in Economy Class.

“As Emirates seventh US gateway and our third new American route to launch in 2012, Washington, DC is a significant next step as we continue to expand our services across the country,” said His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline & Group.  “This new route will provide further impetus to the vibrant trade relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the United States, boosting exports and imports and increasing opportunities for business, industry and tourism.” www.emirates.com

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Iceland flights

easyJet will tomorrow (27 March) introduce a three times a week service to Keflavik International Airport (Iceland) from Luton.  An Airbus A319 will be used for the three-hour flight to Keflavik International Airport about 30 miles south west of the capital Reykjavík which has its own city centre airport serving domestic flights.

The market to and from Iceland is very competitive considering the country has a population of just 320,000 with three carriers competing.  Iceland is also very expensive and not really ideal for stag weekends with beer at around €8 a pint. 

Icelandair will next winter increase its schedule from London adding twice weekly winter Gatwick departures to its current twice daily Heathrow services.  Flights connect with the carrier’s transatlantic programme to Boston, Denver, New York and Seattle.

In the meantime Iceland Express offers a daily service also from Gatwick. www.easyjet.com  www.icelandair.com  www.icelandexpress.com

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Manchester hub for Flybe

Flybe, which claims to be Europe’s largest regional airline, has introduced last weekend a new Manchester hub operation that offers an additional 86 regional point to point connections and 12 new flights through the airport.  It also coincides with the clocks going forward in most of western Europe and airlines changing over to the summer timetables.  Key to the initiative is improved connecting times both domestically and for onward international travel.  Passengers travelling to and from Aberdeen, Belfast City, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Inverness and the Isle of Man as well as those flying with its franchise partner Loganair from Norwich will benefit in particular.

Regional highlights for summer include two new summer routes from Manchester to Newquay and Knock in Western Ireland, to where a new service from Leeds Bradford will also start; also Newcastle to Bergen (Norway); Newquay to Belfast City and Norwich; between Birmingham and Waterford (Ireland) and from Southampton to Tours (France).  In addition, Loganair are offering four new flights out of Norwich (to Exeter, the Isle of Man, Manchester and Southampton). www.flybe.com

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Qatar reveals 787 interior

ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel exhibition, was the venue for the public unveiling of Qatar Airways new Boeing 787 interior.  The actual first aircraft is expected to be unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in July and shortly afterwards go into service on the airline's blue ribbon Heathrow – Doha route.  Very noticeable to passengers will be the much larger than normal windows and ergonomic interior design.

Qatar Airways 787s will feature a total of 254 seats in a two-class configuration of 22 in Business Class and 232 in Economy.  With a 1+2+1 configuration in Business Class, the aircraft layout features two less seats than competitors on conventional wide body aircraft, more typical of a First Class cabin where each passenger is assured of direct aisle access.  The seats have been designed exclusively for Qatar Airways.

The seat offers considerable personal space – almost double existing business cabins – allowing passengers to sit back and relax in a 22-inch wide armchair that converts at a touch of a button into different cradle positions before reaching an extremely generous 80-inch long, 30-inch wide flat bed offering exceptional legroom. www.qatarairways.com also see Qatar reveals 787 interior - above

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ON TOUR: New Doha International Airport

On Wednesday 12 December 2012 (12-12-12) it is very likely that the ruler of Qatar, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, will declare open New Doha International Airport (NDIA).  The occasion (and the date) will be Hollywood at its best, and had they been still around both Ziegfeld and Goldwyn would have applauded.  The big difference with this show is that it is for real and not just a celluloid fantasy. 

Standing discretely back, and taking the plaudits of those who know, will be Akbar Al Baker, CEO of the airport and of course Qatar Airways, which he has bossed since 1997 and shaped into one of the world’s great airlines.  Al Baker is a showman, hands on at all times, with enormous vision, enthusiasm and energy.  Qatar’s new Boeing 787s will be seen at the opening, and no doubt an Airbus A380 too.

Judging by a recent visit New Doha International Airport will be an impressive gateway and will quickly become one of the world’s finest hubs with excellent connecting facilities.

AERBT has always held that the world’s best airports are those designed for at least twice the number of passengers that use them.  NDIA meets that criteria easily, the central core capable of handling over 50m travellers every year.  In 2011 the current airport handled 18m passengers and even without a planned extension 28m should be lost in the massive complex. Ten years ago the number was 4.4m. 

Whilst of a fleeting nature the existing airport, including its Premier Terminal exclusive to Qatar Airways, is a world leader, US$100m being spent on what is a short-term high-class remedy to a serious potential overcrowding problem.  Elsewhere all efforts would have been diverted into the new project.  Not so in Qatar. The current operation is top class in every way.

The new airport
The new 2,200 hectare airport has been built partially on reclaimed land 4kms to the east of the current complex allowing the flight path to take planes away from Doha itself and allowing for a 24-hour operation.  The three-storey 600,000sq m terminal has 41 airbridge gates, six specifically designed for the Airbus A380, and 22 remote stands.  There are more than 40,000sq m of retail facilities and passenger lounges.  Careful consideration has taken place from an ecological point of view and for the future a metro operation will be added to the complex making Downtown access very easy.  Within the design is scope for adding 50% more building capacity which could be ready for 2015.  There are two runways 4,850m and 4,250m.

Over 6.2 million cubic meters of improperly disposed household waste was removed from the site and disposed of properly in an engineered landfill.  This is the largest such environmental programme ever in the Gulf region.

To conserve energy the passenger terminal curtain walls are coated to reduce solar exposure, the roof overhang provides shade and is insulated.  The mechanical systems include CO2 sensors to regulate air intake based on occupancy.  The electrical arrangement has daylight monitoring and occupancy sensors.  The landscaping uses desert-adopted species and irrigation water from recycled waste water.

The Emiri Terminal
From an airside view it is the Emiri (Royal) Terminal that stands out with its elegant sail design and unique architecture.  The facilities include private quarters for the noble family, press and business centres, and significant security features.  The main entrance overlooks a spectacular lagoon with distinguished water features.

For VIPs with their own aircraft the Emiri Terminal includes a separate private area with passport facilities and security.  There are positions for up to seven aircraft and two airbridges.

Close by is the aircraft maintenance centre with a hangar that can accommodate up to 13 aircraft at any one time including the Airbus A380.  A general aviation hangar and facilities are provided for and a massive cargo facility with a capacity of 1.4m tonnes a year including 11 apron positions.

Passenger building
The main passenger terminal reflects its ocean-side setting, the roof wave-like in structure.  The transparent façade of the terminal beneath, further emphasises its curves.  Inside the terminal, the design focus has been on the creation of a spacious, but efficient and convenient airport experience.  The result is a multi-level building with arched columns, skylights and highlighted finishes that truly enhance the feeling of space.  With short walking distances between gates, and shorter connection times between flights, the airport says passenger waiting and walking times are minimised, all helping to ensure an effortless experience within the facility.

The extensive central area has been designed for duty free, other retail, food and beverage, amenities and airline lounges.  All departing passengers will walk through this area.  The terminal will also have a 100-room transit hotel with health and entertainment facilities.

When he unveiled the Premium Terminal just before the opening of the Asian Games in November 2006 Al Baker described the then new building as “Exceeding passenger’s expectations.  It’s innovative, it’s unique and it’s truly one of a kind.”  New Doha International Airport will be even more so. www.ndiaproject.com

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Airbus and Boeing – the WTO’s verdict

Last week the World Trade Organisation (WTO) pronounced on the alleged subsidy row between Airbus and Boeing with both sides claiming victory.  AERBT, rather like all watchers of the air transport scene, was confused.  There is fierce competition between airlines and the suppliers of their aircraft.  Airlines seek fuel-efficient aircraft at the best price.  Thus, the Boeing/Airbus subsidies cases at the WTO matter greatly.  Clearly the only ones to benefit are the lawyers.  So we asked our tame legal experts to clarify.

Gates and Partners explain.

“The WTO examined both sides’ allegations and asked: was there a subsidy?  Was it “specific”?  Did specific subsidies cause “adverse effects” and what remedies apply?

The US alleged that the EU and France, Germany, Spain and the UK had subsidised Airbus over 300 times in 40 years.  The EU complained that the US had subsidised Boeing for up to US$19.1bn between 1989 and 2006.

The WTO Panel in both cases partly upheld and partly dismissed the two sides’ complaints.  The Appellate Body upheld key Panel findings and dismissed others.  There is a sense that Airbus has edged a narrow victory at the WTO, complementing its recent lead over Boeing in orders and deliveries.” www.gatesandpartners.com

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Belfast City Airport withdraws runway extension plan

A planning application by George Best Belfast City Airport for a 590m runway extension has been withdrawn by the airport authority.  In a statement on Friday (23 March), the airport's Chief Executive Brian Ambrose said that some of the information in the original plan was "out-dated".

"As the planning process relating to the runway application is now in its fourth year and some of the information contained within is now out-dated given our current operations, we have taken the decision to withdraw the current application.

Our shareholder has therefore reprioritised capital expenditure within its extensive portfolio.

Re-submitting the runway application in the future remains an option as the airport reviews its operations on an on-going basis.”

The cancellation of the present application is seen as a victory by certain local groups and is likely to be welcomed by Belfast International Airport, the longer runway at the George Best seen as a challenge, with numbers at the former Aldergrove now declined by over one million since its record 5.272m in 2007. www.belfastcityairport.com

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City of London mid-range hotel

Apex Hotels has added a third property in the City of London.  The Apex Temple Court is situated at 1-2 Serjeants’ Inn, Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1LL, a boutique hotel offering 184 rooms centred around an outdoor courtyard.  It is on land actually owned by the Inner Temple.  Deluxe, Junior Suites and Master Suites boast 3D HD TVs with dedicated Sky boxes and the hotel also offers complimentary wi-fi and free local calls.  All these grades have the availability of a Club Lounge, available 24 hours a day.  There is also a small gym.  The hotel is a very short walk from City Thameslink Station with regular fast services to Gatwick (40 minutes).

The Apex Temple Court joins the Apex London Wall in Copthall Avenue, near Moorgate, with just 89 rooms, and the Apex City of London hotel in Seething Lane, close to Fenchurch Street Station, offering 179 rooms.  All the properties are 4-star and mid-range in price. www.apexhotels.co.uk

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Gatwick adds to Milan

New for the vastly invigorated and improved Gatwick Airport at the start of the summer schedules yesterday (Sunday 25 March) are flights to Milan (Malpensa) by Air One.  AERBT reported on BA changes last week.

Part of the Alitalia Group since January 2009 the airline has introduced twice daily flight services to what is Milan’s long haul and low-cost airport located about 25 miles outside the city.  The carrier operates single class Airbus A320 aircraft but sells the first three rows with pre-selected seats, and also those by the emergency exists. 

It will have plenty of competition with both easyJet and Monarch established on the route although easyJet also offers the Milan city centre airport of Linate. www.flyairone.com www.monarch.co.uk

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Kenya Airways to New Delhi

New Delhi, capital of India, is to be Kenya Airways newest destination starting 15 May 2012.  The much anticipated service from Nairobi marks Kenya Airways 57th global destination and 2nd in the Indian subcontinent.

The airline will operate the eight-hour flight four times a week with a two-class Boeing 767-300.

The new route highlights Kenya Airways ambitious growth plans, according to Dr Titus Naikuni, Chief Executive Officer.  "New Delhi is the second city after Mumbai that we will be flying to India, we intend to open four more destinations in the sub-continent as part of our 10-year expansion strategy."

Dr Naikuni noted that the destination has great business prospects as New Delhi is one of the largest cities in India, and the most preferred city in terms of information technology, investments, healthcare and government relations.

India is Kenya's sixth largest trading partner, with a vast business presence in the country.  Recently, Kenya-India relations have improved, buoyed by increasing bilateral trade that hit US$4.8bn in 2010/2011. www.kenya-airways.com

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Nice Airport booms

With a throughput of 10m passengers last year, and now firmly established as the number three French airport, after CDG and Orly, Nice Côte d’Azur (NCE) is embarking on a major terminal development programme.  This is not due to be completed until 2019.  Also underway nearby is an 80,000 sq m convention centre, linked and inland from the airport’s railway station.  With two parallel runways (but not operational at the same time) NCE has no airspace congestion problems and claims to be Europe’s third busiest executive jet operation, this time after Le Bourget and Geneva.

In addition to increased flight schedules the airport has introduced a number of new initiatives designed to improve the passenger airport experience.  Among these is a free new iphone application, which was launched in December and provides customers with up-to-date news on flight status and helpful telephone numbers for the airport’s public services.

Proving very popular is the scheduled helicopter link to both Monaco and Cannes (and St Tropez in the peak summer months).  The airport says that it now hosts 59 airlines connecting to 105 destinations including Delta to New York (summer only), Emirates to Dubai, Aeroflot to Moscow and Ukraine International Airlines to Kiev. www.nice.aeroport.fr

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Ryanair in safety probe

Whilst Ryanair is always very conscious of its safety requirements it is under scrutiny for the way it allocates passenger seating.  Passengers are now charged an extra £10 for the first four rows and using the seats amidships by the emergency doors over the wings.  However if these are not taken people seated the next closest position to the escape routes are briefed on how to operate the doors.  They could be several rows away.

The issue has been raised both by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA).  The UK CAA said that the issue was a "grey area" and has asked for clarification.

Stephen McNamara, Head of Communications at Ryanair said: “We do not believe this to be an issue as all Ryanair passengers are provided with the same safety and evacuation information.  We will continue to discuss the matter with the IAA.”

Ryanair has for a long time on lightly loaded flights cordoned off sections of the aircraft, not thought to be a technical requirement but possibly due to load-factor massaging.  With most carriers passengers are usually allowed to spread themselves out when aircraft are not busy. www.ryanair.com

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AND FINALLY: A Travel joke

An Englishman, a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Welshman, a Latvian, a Turk, a German, an Indian, several Americans (including a southerner, a New Englander and a Californian), an Argentinean, a Dane, an Australian, a Slovakian, an Egyptian, a Japanese, a Moroccan, a Frenchman, a New Zealander, a Spaniard, a Russian, a Guatemalan, a Colombian, a Pakistani, a Malaysian, a Croatian, an Uzbek, a Cypriot, a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Chinese, a Sri Lankan, a Lebanese, a Cayman Islander, a Ugandan, a Vietnamese, a Korean, a Uruguayan, a Czech, an Icelander, a Mexican, a Finn, a Honduran, a Panamanian, an Andorran, an Israeli, a Venezuelan, a Fijian, a Peruvian, an Estonian, a Brazilian, a Portuguese, a Liechtensteiner, a Mongolian, a Hungarian, a Canadian, a Moldovan, a Haitian, a Norfolk Islander, a Macedonian, a Bolivian, a Cook Islander, a Tajikistani, a Samoan, an Armenian, an Aruban, an Albanian, a Greenlander, a Micronesian, a Virgin Islander, a Georgian, a Bahamian, a Belarusian, a Cuban, a Tongan, a Cambodian, a Qatari, an Azerbaijani, a Romanian, a Chilean, a Kyrgyzstani, a Jamaican, a Filipino, a Ukrainian, a Dutchman, an Ecuadorian, a Costa Rican, a Swede, a Bulgarian, a Serb, a Swiss, a Greek, a Belgian, a Singaporean, an Italian, a Norwegian and 47 Africans walk into a fine restaurant ...
"I'm sorry," says the maître d' – scrutinizing the group one by one and barring their entrance - "you can't come in here without a Thai."

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