16 APRIL 2012

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Aéroports de Paris and Air France at Paris-Charles de Gaulle

Air France and Aéroports de Paris have unveiled plans to make Charles de Gaulle airport more user friendly.  To do this, they have come up with a collaborative programme, Hub 2012, which it is claimed offers a complementary approach to passenger service.  Key to the programme is a new Business Class departure lounge at terminal 2E, satellite 4, opening later in the summer this year.  It will be dedicated to long haul flights and wide-bodied aircraft and accommodate up to 7.8m passengers per annum.

At the end of 2012, terminal F will be reconfigured to accommodate only flights dedicated to European traffic.  Passengers from the Schengen area will use dedicated easier and faster connecting channels.

Aéroports de Paris will also be innovating with new services in a large area devoted to shopping and relaxation.  Before the end of the year, satellite 4 will see the launch of a museum exhibiting original works of art.  There will also be an airside service area of 4,500sqm located in the ‘Galerie Parisienne’ (satellite 3).  This will be dedicated to connecting passengers and will include a hotel. www.aeroportsdeparis.fr www.airfrance.com

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Bath gains 5-star hotel

Accor is getting ready to launch its second UK MGallery hotel.  The Francis Hotel Bath is due to open in May.  Last October it very successfully introduced the St Ermin’s Hotel in St James’s, London.  The MGallery Collection started in 2008 and today encompasses almost 50 upmarket hotels in 18 countries around the world.

The 98-room Francis Hotel is a Georgian Grade I listed property located in Queen Square, part of Bath’s World Heritage Site.  The opening follows an intensive £6m refurbishment transforming what was previously the Mercure Bath Francis Hotel to its former glory.
 
Jonathan Sheard, Managing Director Operations for MGallery and Mercure Hotels, commented: “The opening of our second MGallery hotel in just six months is further evidence of Accor's commitment to growing the MGallery collection in the UK."
 
"The MGallery collection stands for quality and distinction, and this hotel has both as well as being located in the centre of historic Bath.  Guests who stay at the Francis Hotel will experience the truly special personality of this totally transformed hotel.” www.mgallery.com

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British Airways Airbus A380

The maiden Airbus A380 for British Airways is now on its way to assembly at Toulouse and is expected to be in service “sometime in 2013”. 

BA claims it will be the first airline to operate both the Boeing 787 and the mammoth Airbus, but this will depend on when Qatar Airways receives its first A380.  Don’t be surprised to see both aircraft in the home airline’s colours at Doha on 12-12-12.

The arrival of the A380 (and the 787 Dreamliner) in 2013 marks a new dawn for British Airways.  It will be about the 10th carrier to receive the A380 which is now a regular sight at Heathrow.  As such it would have learnt from mistakes (never admitted) by other airlines as they rushed to put their planes into service.  Based on both current 747 and 777 layouts the new BA flagship will be four-class.  With the competition extremely strong regarding the premier cabin, BA will need to consider either re-branding First (Concorde Class?), or making it so outstanding that it leaves the others behind.  It will however have the North Atlantic route to itself out of the UK, no American carrier yet committed, and Virgin seemingly in a quandary over its future plans. www.ba.com www.airbus.com

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Norwich to Exeter air route

One of the UK’s most difficult road routes has been eliminated with the re-introduction of a daily Norwich to Exeter air service, flown by Loganair under a Flybe franchise.  Flight time is 75 minutes.  By road the journey is around 320 miles (5½hrs minimum) along some of the UK busiest motorways.

Commenting at the launch, Loganair’s Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Hinkles said: “Today’s launch is a significant step in the development of Flybe’s network of services from Norwich International Airport. 
 
“We were delighted with the level of advance ticket sales ahead of the launch and are confident the re-instatement of this daily route will offer our customers a speedy and cost-effective service between Norwich and Exeter.

With the introduction of the Dornier, Flybe has now also increased the daily Manchester service to three flights each way on weekdays.  The aircraft will also operate the first ever direct service from Norwich to the Isle of Man from Saturday, 26 May. www.flybe.com

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Servisair becomes ‘Aspire’ Gatwick & Liverpool

With 43 airport lounges worldwide, Servisair is pushing ahead with its upmarket Aspire product.  Open are new Aspire lounges at Gatwick North and Liverpool. 

Shaun Weston, Travel Services Director, Servisair, said: “Our aim with the new Aspire lounge is simple and has formed our mission statement; to operate airport lounges that deliver the best possible customer experience through a smooth booking procedure, a comfortable and modern environment, a fantastic range of food and drink with superb facilities at a reasonable cost – all underpinned by great customer service.”

Servisair is the largest airport lounge operator in the UK with 20 outlets. 

The Aspire lounges offer a freshly prepared complementary menu, including hot food, snacks, treats, drinks and free wi-fi.  The design aims to provide a range of zones to meet the needs of different travellers.  Whether guests are travelling for business or leisure, there is an area specifically developed around their needs, ensuring that each journey begins with “the perfect start.”  Customers will benefit from carefully designed side tables within the seating areas, facilitating laptop, iPad or gaming console charging facilities.  Lounge access is provided by some airlines or from £17.49 per visit. www.executivelounges.com/aspire

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Travel managers gather

With its annual conference due in Doha shortly (11-13 May) the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) held a media briefing last week. Chief Executive Anne Godfrey hosted the session with the support of Ajaya Sodha of Key Travel, the current Chairman.  Akbar Al Baker, Chairman of Qatar Airways, will open the conference no doubt with an invitation to view Doha’s  nearly completed new airport. Keynote speakers include Scott Field, Head of Online Travel at Google, Laurie Kirschner of LinkedIn and Diane Bouzeziba, Managing Director, Amadeus.  Tim Montgomerie, Editor of Conservative Home, will talk politics.

The GTMC represents 33 of the UK’s top travel management companies accounting for some 80% of business travel spend in the UK with members facilitating over 11m transactions, including around 6m airline tickets annually.

Ms Godfrey announced at the briefing the latest IATA travel figures retrieved from BSP (Bank Settlement Plan).  Members' sales and unique transactions were down by 3% and 7% respectively in March but the average year on year transaction value rose by 3.97%.  Astonishingly car hire business was up by 40%.  One explanation could be the higher APD, effective 1 April, but collected over the last six months.  Higher train fares were also noted. www.gtmc.org

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Wuhan – China from Paris

Air France has introduced a three times per week service from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Wuhan.  It is its fifth route into China.  A three-class (Business, Premium Voyageur and Voyageur) Boeing 777-200ER is used on the 10hr 30mins service.

With seven daily flights to Paris from Heathrow and frequent connections from 10 UK regional airports, Air France says it offers UK travellers easy access to the world’s second-largest economic region. 

Air France was the first European carrier to start services between Europe and China when it inaugurated its Paris – Shanghai service in 1966.  The Air France-KLM Group, together with its SkyTeam alliance partners, China Southern and China Eastern, now offer 135 weekly flights to nine destinations in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Xiamen, Wuhan and Taipei) including onward services to Chinese provinces.  Last year the group carried almost two million passengers on the routes.
 
In a dig at Heathrow, Air France points out that London’s major airport serves only three Greater China destinations: Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. www.airfrance.com

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COMMENT: The case for Northolt

Speaking to the BBC in Indonesia during his Far Eastern tour last week British Prime Minister David Cameron reconfirmed his objection to Heathrow’s third runway.  “It will not happen,” he said.

So where are we?

Were you aware dear reader that whilst up to 22 United Kingdom airports are served by Amsterdam only six are linked to Heathrow.  The British Airways takeover of bmi will eliminate competition on these remaining domestic routes into London’s main airport with dire results for the Provinces.  Whilst BA may well be forced to offer some slots to competing carriers the sheer cost of Heathrow and difficulties with interlining will eliminate any real interest.  When bmi dropped Glasgow, Virgin suffered.  This will be replicated.  Virgin has a dilemma.  It is a fine long haul carrier.  Does it want to involve itself in the specialised skills required of short haul services?  All it will say is “we are reviewing all options.”  The investment would be heavy.

AERBT believes that the short to medium term answer for the Heathrow capacity problem is to resurrect what was once Europe’s busiest airport, Northolt (NHT), as a point to point operation.  Perhaps at a later date a monorail system could be introduced for hub traffic.  The four-mile (say six minutes) distance is just about practical for connecting passengers.

A parallel can be drawn with London City Airport (LCY).  It was a brown field site in a rundown industrial and port area 30 years ago.  Brymon Airways, landing on Herons Quay, Sunday 27 June 1992, changed all that.  The idea of an airport was opposed by some, led by Ken Livingstone.  Mr Livingstone later, in an about turn, was to open the highly successful DLR extension to the airport.  Take away London City today and there would be uproar. 

LCY as an enterprise has worked for three reasons. 

The political requirement (LDDC)
The airline (Brymon)
The developer (Mowlem)

All three (more or less) worked together as a team for the common good.

This should be the way forward for Northolt.

Very briefly, from a political position NHT satisfies the ‘no new runway’ policy, deals with the Defence cost problem, involves no houses being knocked down, supports the regions with routes into London, and of course relieves Heathrow.  It also adds revenue to the local community and council.  Just like Stansted no government cash is involved either.  Yes there will be very limited additional noise but the Embraer 190 and Bombardier Q400 are even quieter than the Dash 7 that opened up London City.  The technical problems can be overcome.

From an airline point of view it would be (initially) a West London version of LCY, point to point, with strong inbound traffic (and European airports within one hour’s flight time) and outbound routes to the UK regions.  There is an Underground/Overground station (Ruislip Gardens) close by the present entrance/guardhouse and the A40 runs parallel to the runway.  Several market analyses have indicated strong market potential.

For the investor/developer half the land could be turned over to housing and either the existing runway used (1687m), or part of it as per London City (1199m) limiting the aircraft types somewhat.  A more ambitious project for a 2,500m strip with an Airbus A330/Boeing 777 capability is possible, but it would be much more expensive and take a great deal longer to go through the planning process.  However the longer runway construction could be undertaken at night time with normal operations during the day.

In financial terms turning the military operation into a civil airport is not mega money.  Yes, the aerodrome rules are different, but given enthusiasm to drive the project forward none of the technical problems are insurmountable.  Stobart has proven how quickly you can put up a 2m-passenger terminal at Southend and the other infrastructure work is minimal.  Yes, NATS will initiate all sorts of air traffic difficulties, but there is plenty of separation in the technological age.  Just take a look at Los Angeles International with its four parallel runways. 

The Prime Minister has said no to Heathrow’s third runway.  He has also acknowledged that something needs to be done urgently regarding airport capacity in the South East.  Northolt could be the answer.  It will give the UK breathing space whilst the future of our worldwide air connections is properly sorted out.

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Airbus A350 production

Final assembly of the first A350 XWB is now underway at a brand new final assembly line in Toulouse.  This latest step in the A350 XWB’s progress was achieved as Airbus started joining the 19.7 metre long centre fuselage with the 21 metre long front fuselage.
 
This initial A350 XWB airframe will be used for the static structural tests that all new aircraft undergo as part of their certification process.  The assembly of the first flying A350 XWB, MSN1, will start during summer.

The A350 will be the first Airbus with both fuselage and wing structures made primarily of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer.  It will carry 270 to 350 passengers in three-class seating, depending on variant.

As seemingly with all new large commercial aircraft programmes the engineers have again proved to be too optimistic with the design schedule.  The A350 was first announced at the Paris Air Show of 2005, Qatar Airways coming in with an order for 60.  As things stand airline service is now anticipated for 2014.  Airbus currently has 561 firm orders. www.airbus.com

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bmi losses are £3m per week says British Airways

British Airways confirmed last Thursday (12 April) that consultation with trade unions had begun on proposals to integrate bmi mainline into its Heathrow operations.  However yesterday (Sunday 15 April) Virgin Atlantic announced that it will appeal the European Commission’s decision to pass the takeover after waving through the deal in just 35 working days.

The acquisition of bmi by British Airways owner, International Airlines Group (IAG), was given regulatory approval in late March.  bmi is claimed to be losing more than £3m a week and, without this acquisition, was facing closure with the potential loss of all 2,700 UK-based jobs.

Keith Williams, British Airways Chief Executive, said: “bmi is heavily loss making and is not a viable business as it stands today.  Our proposals would secure around 1,500 jobs that would otherwise have been lost.”  

BA says “business as usual”.  An entirely new flight schedule will be published for October but assuming the deal goes ahead which of bmi’s solo routes will remain, and from which terminal?

The acquisition of bmi mainline will give BA an additional 56 daily slot pairs at Heathrow, of which up to 14 will be available to other carriers.  Discussions with potential buyers for bmibaby and bmi Regional are continuing. www.ba.com

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Hong Kong Airlines private jet

Want to hire an Airbus A330 with a two-class, Club Premier (34 seats) and Club Classic (82 seats) layout?  It can take you non-stop to Beijing in one direction or Los Angeles in the other.  Or perhaps Nice for the Monaco Grand Prix.  Hong Kong Airlines is adding a third aircraft, all 'J' Class, to its fleet in June as a back-up for its successful daily Gatwick – Hong Kong flights.  The aircraft will be available for charter.

The airline says it is pleased with the response to the new UK service launched on 8 March.  Traffic is originating around 50/50 at both ends.  In London the City sales office is in Tower 42.  “Whilst we don’t expect our business travel clients to actually visit this 10th floor suite,  what we are demonstrating is our commitment to that market,” said General Manager Gerard Clarke, a long time Emirates stalwart.  He points out that whilst a chauffeur car service is available for Club Premier passengers within 45 miles of Gatwick (or the London postal region) London Bridge/First Capital Connect offers a 40-minute frequent one stop service to Gatwick.  At Hong Kong the airline serves 15 cities in China. www.hongkongairlines.com

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Rex Smith OBE 1922-2012

In the nineteen sixties, seventies and eighties Rex Smith was Mr General Aviation.  He was instrumental in the creation of GAMTA (now the British Business and General Aviation Association) and in the development of the Oxford Air Training School, the first educational establishment to gain the Queen's Award for Industry.  He was Chief Executive of CSE Aviation, distributors of Piper Aircraft, Bell Helicopters, Learjet, and, as the agent for Embraer, responsible for the introduction of the Tucano trainer to the Royal Air Force.  He was a member of the Airworthiness Requirements Board and, with the certification of Concorde, the ARB insisted that for once they ought to fly as passengers. 

Rex was a ‘stay at home type’ and his only other major overseas trip was to Japan to collect an award for the training of ANA pilots.  Rex chaired the British Civil Aviation Standing Conference (now BATA) for many years, establishing it as the principal interface between UK aviation and the government.  It was then a natural progression for him to join the CAA as a non-executive Director.  Rex was a warm soul whose counsel was sought by many and always enthusiastically given.  He was predeceased by his wife Di.

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Singapore goes all A380 from London

As its last Boeing 747 made its final revenue flight on 6 April, Singapore Airlines announced that from 1 June all its three Heathrow daily departures will be by Airbus A380.  Replacing a 777-300, this third rotation represents a 17% capacity increase on the route.

It was on 25 October 2007 that Singapore Airlines made the first commercial A380 service.  Besides London the A380 serves routes from Singapore to Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo and Zurich.

Singapore Airlines has configured its A380s with 12 First Class Suites at the front of the main deck (1+2+1) and 311 Economy (3+4+3).  Upstairs there are 60 Business Class seats (1+2+1) with, in the rear cabin, 88 seats (2+4+2), clearly the ones to go for if travelling in Economy.  The airline has 16 A380s in service with another three due. www.singaporeair.com

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UK border controls “a national embarrassment” say airlines

In a very stark press release the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK), calls the latest forecast by the Immigration Services Union that passport queues to enter the UK could regularly extend to three or four hours “a national embarrassment and a serious blow to the UK economy”.

Mike Carrivick, Chief Executive, said: “The efforts of the Border Force to handle peak periods such as bank holidays and the Olympics are well-recognised but cannot be sustained without necessary changes.  The airline community already co-operates by providing advance access to the passport data of approximately 90m travellers each year, all of whom can be checked against a watch list to identify those who pose a threat or who should not be in the UK.”

Carrivick added “Allied to that, airlines would also like to see an increase in the number of smart gates, that permit automated entry through the use of chip-enabled passports, and the re-introduction of smartzones.  Collectively, huge improvements can be made to the queues to enter the UK without compromising the Government’s need for full border controls.  We call upon the Government to speed up entry into the UK by investing now in the technology.” www.bar-uk.org

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ON TOUR: A family holiday to Spain and Gibraltar

Sharon Ross reports

We had friends who had just moved out to Gibraltar and thought this would be an excellent opportunity to check out this small British overseas territory that is not part of the European Community.  Indeed British is the only way to describe Gibraltar as it seemed more British than multi-cultural diverse Britain; it has one main high street with no empty units (the out of town outlet stores are in Spain – it is an inconvenience to shop across the border.  Since few Gibraltarians have a car one needs to hire on the other side and then carry the  purchases across the border, or drive through and then return the vehicle. 

Crime rates are low and Gibraltarians were very friendly and made us feel most welcome to what for practical purposes is an island with a causeway.

What to wear?  The weather never drops below 60°F or goes much over 80°F.  We give these details in the traditional style, which sums up Gibraltar.  The weather too is very British.  Rain in the winter and mostly sun in the summer.

Gibraltar was ceded to Britain "in perpetuity" under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.  Gibraltarians rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002.  Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the UK Government.  Spain blows hot and cold regarding the territory. 

Whilst the airport, which sits on reclaimed land, is supposed to operate in a similar manner to Basle with dual exit, and a new terminal has been built, the way out to Spain is made difficult and the border crossing can be protracted.  Spain is the loser as it could do further business with the Gibraltar community and in terms of tourism.

From London getting to Gibraltar by air is very easy with British Airways offering a daily service from Heathrow, easyJet at Gatwick and Monarch coming in from Luton.  EasyJet provides services from Liverpool whilst Manchester is Monarch’s northern gateway.  bmibaby flies from East Midlands.

Several years back flights from Gibraltar to Madrid were launched by both BA and Iberia but they proved unviable. 

Cruise ships are now a steady business with the town square an easy walk from the terminal.  Even here, from time to time, Spain can make life difficult, occasionally finding a reason to ban ships from Spanish ports that have visited the enclave.

Gibraltar is a fine place for a long weekend type break or two-day stop, part of a longer tour of Spain or Morocco.  It is in total 2.4 sq miles in area with 30,000 permanent inhabitants.  Activities are limited.  But those one or two days can be jam packed. 

A trip to the Upper Rock is a must.  On the Rock are the amazing defensive tunnels, further strengthened in 1940 when Winston Churchill believed that an attack on Gibraltar was imminent.  The Fascist dictator Franco proved pragmatic and desisted.

Also on the Rock are the famous rock apes which will be amazing for those children not scared by animals.

Finally there is Europa point – the southernmost tip of Europe with its breathtaking views across the Strait to North Africa – a recent addition, it now has a fantastic play park. 

Hotel selection is limited but we must mention The Rock, very colonial, overlooking the town; The O’Callaghan Eliott, central, and Caleta, Gibraltar’s only ‘beach hotel’.

Without a young family, we might have ventured from Gibraltar to Morocco but instead we decided to go to Seville – a 2½-hour drive away.  We opted for a self-catering villa.  These are brilliant for holidays with kids – they usually come equipped with a washing machine, plenty of space for the kids to run around and a separate room for you to enjoy once the kids have gone to bed. 

The history of Spain is fascinating, much under the influence of the Moors for 500 years until 1492 when both the Moslems and Jews were expelled followed by the Inquisition.  Both have left their mark all around the Iberian peninsula particularly in the south west.  For the Jewish tourist it was fascinating and slightly unsettling to visit Seville’s Jewish quarter.  The church of Saint Bartholomew was originally built as a synagogue 800 years ago.  We also went to Cordova, where famous doctor and scholar Maimonides was born in 1135.  Again apart from the old synagogue, statute of Maimonides and the Jewish museum there were no obvious traces of Jewish life.

Today Spain has a small but vibrant Jewish community and recognises Israel.

As for the rest of Seville, Alcazar, a Moorish palace, was the main attraction – it was indeed pretty enough if you like that kind of thing.  Another tourist favourite is the Isla Magica theme park – but look at their website before a visit to find out when it is open.  Seville is getting on for 150 miles north of Gibraltar but you can also stop in Cadiz either way, an interesting fortified port city with plenty of history.

Seville was a great base to drive to Spain’s undiscovered beaches.  We went to three – Matalscanas, Barbate and Escopona.  Some of the drives were an adventure in themselves – the views were picturesque and the roads were great to drive on.  And when we got to the beaches they were empty (OK it wasn’t height of season but it wasn’t cold either), clean and beautiful.  Altogether, a holiday to Spain/Gibraltar is certain to captivate any tourist. www.gibraltar.gov.uk www.spain.info www.islamagica.es/?idioma=en

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787 to make UK visit

Boeing has announced the latest programme for its 787 Dreamliner world tour which includes visits to Gatwick (25 April), Heathrow (22 and 27 April) and Manchester (23 April) airports.

First port of call will be Heathrow, not its inaugural visit since being introduced into service by ANA late last year, an aircraft diverting from Frankfurt during inclement weather in March.  It was also shown at Farnborough 2010. 

Customers, employees, partners, government officials and other stakeholders will be invited to view the aircraft at each location.  There are no general public opportunities.  The tour also includes Oslo (1 May), Taranto (Italy 4 May) and nearer to its base at Seattle, Ronald Reagan Washington National (7 May), Dallas (11 May) and St Louis (14 May).

The Dream Tour aircraft, powered by Rolls-Royce, ZA003, is outfitted with the 787's special cabin features including a welcoming entryway, dramatically larger dimmable windows, bigger bins and dynamic LED lighting.  The aircraft is configured with a luxurious Business Class cabin, an overhead crew rest compartment and an Economy Class section.

To date Boeing has 855 firm orders for the aircraft of which eight have been delivered. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Airline to create child-free zone on flights

In its build up to the introduction of the A380 on the London – Kuala Lumpur route, due now 1 July and initially operating three times per week according to OAG, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has confirmed it is to ban children from the top deck.  The airline will impose a minimum age limit of 12 years for passengers sitting upstairs, where there are 66 Business Class seats and 70 in Economy.  Child-free areas will be added on flights to Sydney from September.  Quite what happens to Business Class passengers with fully paid for youngsters remains to be seen.  The lower deck is configured with eight First Class seats and 350 Economy.

MAS said the decision followed numerous complaints from passengers about noisy children.  Other airlines will be watching the response with interest.

MAS is keeping under wraps more details of its A380 in what is a fiercely competitive market to operate the best A380.  With a 13-hour plus sector it is one of the longest flights' on the giant Airbus out of Heathrow. www.malaysiaairlines.com

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Boeing briefs on MAX

With “Next Generation” 737 number 4,000 delivered to China Southern Airlines last week Boeing also released more details of the MAX upgrade. 

"The 737 MAX is on-track to deliver substantial fuel-savings to customers starting in 2017," said Beverly Wyse, Vice President and General Manager, 737 Program. "We've made several design decisions that support the performance targets for the MAX and evolve the Next-Generation 737's design within the scope of the 737 MAX program."

Of a whole series of innovations and improvements the most obvious is the engine installation.  The CFM International LEAP-1B engines are integrated into the wing similar to the aerodynamic lines of the 787 Dreamliner.  A new pylon and strut, along with an 8-inch nose gear extension, will maintain similar ground clearance to today's 737 while accommodating the larger engine fan.

Also distinguishing the aircraft will be a tail cone extension, the section above the elevator thickened to improve steadiness of air flow.  This will eliminate the need for vortex generators on the tail resulting in less drag, giving the aircraft better performance.  Not seen but active are fly-by-wire spoilers and an electronic cabin bleed air system both allowing for increased optimization.  Total sales of the 737 are now 9,375. www.boeing.com/newairplane/737/737Max

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Marriott Courtyard in France

France is the latest target for Marriott with its Courtyard budget brand.  New are the Courtyard Montpellier and Courtyard Paris Boulogne.

The 123-room Courtyard Montpellier is located next to the City Hall and close range of shops and restaurants.  Montpellier’s historical centre and local attractions such as the Fabre Museum and Convention Centre are just a short tram-ride away.  Guests can also take advantage of the heated outdoor pool, running track, and exercise room.  Business needs are well catered for with an on-site business centre and five conference rooms accommodating up to 180 people.

The 113-room Courtyard Paris Boulogne is situated just a 15-minute Metro ride from Paris city centre and its many attractions.  The hotel is at the centre of three of the most thriving business districts in Paris and features 200m² of multi-purpose meeting facilities for all manner of seminars and events as well as a roof-top terrace with a panoramic view over the city.

With the addition of these two new hotels, Marriott now operates 17 properties in France and 47 Courtyards across Europe. www.marriott.com

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Ryanair brings bad news and good

Said by some to be the world’s most aggravating airline, Ryanair has fallen out with Edinburgh Airport and conversely added to its Leeds Bradford operation.

Edinburgh is to lose eight routes and 60 flights from October.  The Dublin-based airline’s announcement comes at a particularly sensitive time.  Edinburgh, up for a forced sale by BAA, now has two contenders vying to purchase.  At Edinburgh Ryanair is left with 17 winter destinations and 106 weekly flights, although it says it is open for discussion “if a competitive and realistic cost offer becomes available”.  Any possible new owner will take this into consideration as well as other carriers looking for new destinations.

At Leeds Bradford the airline is showing much bluster regarding seven new destinations for this coming summer; Bergamo (for Milan), Reus (for Barcelona), Chania (Greece), Corfu, Dinard, Kos, and Tenerife South – as well as the extension of its popular Kaunas and Riga routes. www.ryanair.com

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Specialist travel store arrives

MUJI to GO, the highly successful Japanese specialist travel store chain has arrived in mainland Europe.  Following the first shop unveiling in North America at New York’s John F Kennedy airport, a shop has recently opened at the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia in Venice followed by a second at St Lazare railway station, after Gare du Nord, Paris, the second busiest terminal serving the Normandy area.  Within the United Kingdom the store is well established with ten currently open and more on the way.

MUJI to GO claims to be a condensed shop of carefully selected items aimed knowingly at the travel market, and those considering travel.  Hosting a comprehensive range of travel accessories, luggage, electricals and stationery, MUJI to GO says its approach is to make your journey a more enjoyable one. www.muji.co.uk

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Virgin goes twin to New York

Twelve months after it introduced the first of 10 Airbus A330s into its fleet Virgin Atlantic is about to launch the type with a three-class layout on its premier Heathrow – Kennedy route.  Until now the airline has only been using two-class aircraft on flights to Orlando from Gatwick, Glasgow, and Manchester.  Virgin currently has five New York services out of Heathrow, three to Kennedy and two to Newark.  The new aircraft will be introduced progressively.  According to OAG, 21 April should see the inaugural service.

Virgin Atlantic currently has ten A330-300s on order and says the twinjet will offer a 15% reduction in fuel burn per seat over the A340-300 which it is replacing. 

The A330-300 will be introduced on the New Delhi route from 10 July replacing the existing A340-300 on a six times weekly basis.  The type will then be used to resume Virgin Atlantic’s daily flight to Mumbai, which will commence from 28 October 2012. 

Its new three-cabin configuration will have seating for 263 passengers, 33 in Upper Class, 45 in Premium Economy and 185 in Economy.  A new 'Upper Class Experience' is being touted as even better than the current 'J' class and the airline has also introduced a new Clubhouse at Kennedy. www.virgin-atlantic.com

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AND FINALLY: Job available

"Do you believe in life after death?" the boss asked one of his employees.

"Yes Sir," the new recruit replied.

"Well, then, that makes everything just fine," the boss went on. "After you left early yesterday to go to your aunt's funeral, she telephoned to talk to you."

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