14 MAY 2012


© 2022 Business Travel News Ltd.

American Airlines investment

Currently trading in Chapter 11, and the subject of various takeover rumours American Airlines has announced an investment of several hundred million US Dollars to redesign and refresh the airline’s international wide-body fleet.

All of American’s Boeing 777-200ERs will be redesigned to a two-class cabin configuration to better match capacity and demand.  The aircraft cabin will feature unique mood lighting and a dramatic archway and ceiling treatment to create a feeling of spaciousness similar to the airline’s new 777-300ERs, the first of which American plans to receive later this year.  A Business Class stand-up bar, stocked with snacks and refreshments, is for premium customers.  Wi-fi will also be available in-flight.

American intends to retrofit up to half of its existing 767-300ER aircraft.  Those that are redesigned will operate the new configuration with fully lie-flat Business Class seats and all-aisle access.  The remaining 767-300ERs that are not redesigned will be retired over time.

“This is something our people are excited to see as we work toward a new and modern American Airlines,” said Virasb Vahidi, American’s Chief Commercial Officer.  “Our decision to invest in our international wide-body aircraft demonstrates significant forward progress, consistent with our plan, and paints a picture of the future for our customers and people.” www.aa.com

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BAA April figures

Passenger numbers through BAA’s airports in April totalled 9.1m, a 0.1% increase on the same month last year.  Year-on-year comparisons are complicated by the timing of Easter so combining March and April traffic reveals a year-on-year increase of 1.9%.

For Heathrow the figure was 5.8m, marginally up on April 2011, but another record month for the airport.  Heathrow’s load factors continued to increase, rising 0.1 percentage points in April, to 76.4%.  The average number of seats per aircraft was also up, rising 1.1% to 197.6.  This can be explained by the airlines better use of capacity and the increasing number of Airbus A380s now in the schedules, usually replacing a smaller Boeing 747.  Cargo movement was down 1.1% across the group and 2.5% at Heathrow, in line with the global economic climate.

The decline in Stansted’s passenger numbers was 2.7%, in fact the lowest level in nearly a year.  Aberdeen passenger numbers improved by 11.0%, reflecting the strength in energy related traffic, whilst Glasgow recorded a 6.7% increase.  Edinburgh Airport, the sale of which was agreed in April to Global Infrastructure Partners for £807.2m, saw passenger numbers down -1.1%. www.baa.com

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Boeing MAX

With total 737 sales edging towards the 10,000 point (9,375 orders and 7,010 delivered) Boeing is pressing on with the development of the latest incarnation, the MAX.

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Budapest terminal changes

Following the collapse of the national airline Malev, Budapest Airport will move all airline operations from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 during the night of 29-30 May 2012.  From 30 May 2012, all easyJet, Germanwings, Jet2.com, Norwegian and Wizz Air passengers will depart from Budapest Airport’s Terminal 2B.  Passengers flying on these airlines will arrive at Terminal 2A (from Schengen countries) or at Terminal 2B (from non-Schengen countries).

In a statement the airport company said that following the demise of Malev it has no other choice but to reduce costs by combining operational areas, and make the best use of the infrastructure at the more modern Terminal 2.

Negotiations are underway with Hungarian state railway company (MÁV) and the Budapest Transport Center (BKK) to offer seamless transport connections between the railway station at Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.  During the first two weeks, Budapest Airport’s ground transport partners, Főtaxi and Airport Shuttle Minibus, will offer special services between the two terminals.  The Budapest Airport’s offices will remain in Terminal 1, and will be accessible via Gate B only.  General aviation and air cargo remain operational in the area near Terminal 1, as before. www.bud.hu/english

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London City and BA

British Airways is to introduce a new service from London City Airport to the Isle of Man.  The airline will operate a single flight from Ronaldsway to the dockland airport from 28 May.  This will increase to three services weekly daily, one on Saturdays and two on Sundays from 25 June.  The operation will be flown by a Eastern Airways single class Saab 2000 under a leasing agreement that includes flight deck and cabin staff all of whom work in BA uniforms.   

In another move CityFlyer is to withdraw its twice daily flights to Copenhagen from 24 May but it is hoped that Sun Air will resurrect the route in September using the smaller (32 seats) Dornier 328 jet.  Sun Air flies from LCY to Billund.

Now very well established, CityFlyer carried 1.1m passengers out of London City in 2011 with a load factor of 68% both up on the previous year.  The owner’s’ confidence in the operation is shown by the acquisition of a further Embraer 190 (98 seats) for the Aberdeen route which starts 23 September and an upping of frequency to some of the carrier’s 22 destinations.  Germany is a possibly for further expansion. www.ba.com

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Qatar expands again

Myanmar and Iraq are among the highlights of new routes announcement by Qatar Airways, emphasising Doha as the hub to and from Europe.

Scheduled flights to Iraq will begin on 23 May with Erbil in the north, followed two weeks later by services to Baghdad on 7 June.  Each route will be served with four-flights-a-week non-stop from Doha.
Effective 25 July, the airline will launch flights to Kilimanjaro, its second gateway in Tanzania.  The daily services operate via Nairobi.

Beginning 15 August, Qatar Airways introduces its third African destination of 2012 with the introduction of services to Mombasa.  Each of the daily flights will operate via the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam.  In March, Qatar Airways began flights to Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, the carrier‘s first African route of the year.
And starting 3 October, Qatar Airways resumes operations to Myanmar following a four-year absence on the route, linking Doha with the capital Yangon.  With political reform taking place in Myanmar at a rapid pace, interest in the South East Asian country has gathered momentum from both a business and tourism perspective.  Perth begins 3 July, three times per week and goes daily in December.  The airline already flies to Perth, also three times per week. www.qatarairways.com

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Westminster aviation enquiry

Readers are reminded that submissions to the All Party Aviation Group (APPG) inquiry into the competitiveness of the UK’s aviation industry have until 16 May to make their written submissions.  AERBT has submitted its suggestions backing Northolt.
Brian Donohoe, Chairman of APPG said: "There is just days to go before our Inquiry stops taking evidence.  We want to hear from the widest possible group of experts from within the aviation sector and beyond.  From airlines and airports, environmental groups, trade associations, think tanks, academics and individuals:  I would encourage everyone with a view on how the UK can maintain our competitiveness in global aviation to get in touch and let us know your thoughts.  What's more, to encourage submissions and make responding as accessible and simple as possible, we have stipulated that responses must be no longer than two pages.  We cannot do our job without the involvement of expert opinion, and we're relying on those people who work in the sector to help contribute to one of the most important debates in UK policy-making.  So please get in touch and let us know your thoughts." Submissions to aviationappg@mhpc.com

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AND FINALLY: Britons love to queue

Forget all this business about the problems at what was Immigration and is now called Border Control.

In truth the British love to queue.  The real idea is to train foreigners on what to expect once they have passed the airport gatekeepers.

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COMMENT: The Sheriff of Nottingham – 2012 style

The row regarding UK Border Controls lingers on.  With the Olympics now only weeks away it is imperative that Government sorts out the whole issue as quickly as possible.  This has been acknowledged by Whitehall. (see Justine Greening below)  Your Editor has travelled through Gatwick (16:00), Heathrow (06:00) and Luton (18:00) with little or no delay.  At Gatwick on a deserted mid-afternoon the electronic machine failed (“it's rubbish” according to a member of the staff).  But there have been well documented serious problems with them.

Since immigration and customs were brought under a single uniformed force in 2008 border control procedures have deteriorated.  Is it time to re-visit this vital area?  The coalition can always blame the previous administration.

The UK Border Agency has a staff of 23,000 people located in over 130 countries.  The agency plans to reduce this by around 5,200 between 2011 and 2015.  Its current budget is £2.2bn.

It is a profitable organisation with the airlines contributing £2.5bn this year and £3.5bn by 2015 by virtue of Air Passenger Duty (APD).  The ports and trains, which also make use of its services, do not contribute a single penny. 

What is not so well publicised are the additional sums generated by visa applications.  If you are from Australia or the US you do not need a visa for a holiday visit, but if originating in Jamaica and South Africa, both members of the Commonwealth, you do.  This is also a major impediment for travel to the UK from many parts of the world.

The total number of visits to the UK by overseas residents last year rose from 29.6m to 30.6m, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  Non-European and non-American visitor numbers increased by 12% to 4.7m – experts believe that this group consists mainly of visitors from China. 

For a six month visa the current cost is £78.  AERBT asked the Treasury how much this generated in a year and were told it was a Home Office figure.  Three calls to the press department were not returned.  We think that visa applications generate about £0.5bn.  It could be more.  We can only surmise and expect our figures to be disputed. 

Because of the difficulties in obtaining a visa the numbers are not what they could be.  The agency says that it will decide 90% within 3 weeks, 98% within 6 weeks and 100% in 12 weeks.  Visit the Chinese visa section at London’s Holborn and you will get your passport back in three days.  Even Kazakhstan is not much slower.

According to the Border Agency the cost of each passenger processed at the point of entry is £3.25.  For all passengers the APD outbound charge is £65 minimum in, typically, the 2,000 mile band. 

Frankly APD and the visa levy is a modern version of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s taxation.  You could add the European eco charge too.  Whether Willie Walsh and Carolyn McCall could be considered Robin Hood and Maid Marion flying the flag for the consumer is a debatable point but they are at least keeping pressure on what is frankly a robber government.  An increase of staff is a quick remedy.  If air travel generated, say, £3bn in 2011 by way of direct taxation some of it must be put back urgently starting with an increase in border check personnel.  We want visitors to come to the UK after the Olympics too.


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Atlanta Mandarin Oriental

With Hartsfield-Jackson Airport due to open its new international terminal airport this week (see AERBT next Monday) the city of Atlanta has celebrated the introduction of a Mandarin Oriental hotel, only the seventh US property of the worldwide luxury group.

Sited in the city’s prestigious Buckhead neighbourhood and housed in an iconic building designed by celebrated American architect Robert A. M. Stern, the new Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta is essentially a boutique hotel with just 127 spacious rooms and suites.

The hotel has a 15,000sq ft spa, indoor lap pool, fitness centre, extensive meeting and event space, plus top quality dining.  It is 35 minutes from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and 10 minutes from the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, which accommodates private aircraft.  The Group now operates, or has under development, 44 hotels representing almost 11,000 rooms in 28 countries, with 18 hotels in Asia, 13 in The Americas and 13 in Europe, Middle East and North Africa. www.mandarinoriental.com

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Berlin Airport delayed

Passengers to Berlin after 3 June, and who thought that they would be going to the new Brandenburg airport, should be aware that Tegel Airport is to remain the city’s main gateway until at least into the autumn.  Described as “technical problems” and thought to be fire safety issues, the new showpiece operation will not open on schedule.  No date has been confirmed for the change-over.

Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin, said: “This is a responsible decision.  In the interest of the tourism and convention destination Berlin, a launch of BER on a safe and comfortable basis is better than a possibly bumpy start, which impairs the arrival and departure of our guests.”

Matthias Platzek, head of the Brandenburg government, told the daily Tagesspiegel that the opening is now planned for the second part of August.

The delay creates additional costs of €15m per month.  “A big opening ceremony (with 10,000 guests) will not happen anymore.  We have no reason to celebrate,” he said.

In the meantime the existing Schönefeld, on the Brandenburg site, continues to serve a number of carriers including Condor, easyJet, El Al, Germanwings and Ryanair. http://preview.berlin-airport.de/en

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Bournemouth to Dublin

Aer Arann, flying on behalf of Aer Lingus, has introduced a six-day per week service from Bournemouth to Dublin.  This new route follows closely the opening of a service between Southend and Dublin.

Flights from Bournemouth depart at 16:20 while the afternoon service from Dublin departs at 14:30 and takes around 1hr 20mins in an ATR72.  With this schedule the flights do not allow for a direct connection to the various Aer Lingus North American destinations from Dublin, but as the airline points out Heathrow is 90 miles away and has parking problems which probably means a night-stop in any event.  For flights booked out of Dublin the tax is only €3.

Speaking at Bournemouth Airport, Aer Arann’s Interim CEO Sean Brogan said: “We are delighted to commence our new Aer Lingus Regional Bournemouth to Dublin service today and we are confident that it will bring increased business and leisure visitors to both Bournemouth and Dublin.”

“Bournemouth customers now have Dublin on their doorstep with easy, convenient and value for money regional connectivity and we look forward to welcoming more and more passengers on board our Aer Lingus Regional services today and in the future.” www.aerlingus.com

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EBACE opens today

The 12th annual EBACE European Business Aviation Convention opened today (Monday 14 May until Wednesday 16 May) at the magnificent Palexpo within the Geneva International Airport terminal building, with record numbers expected.  “It is going to be the biggest show to date,” said EBAA Chief Executive Fabio Gamba, confirming over 11,000 visitors have pre-registered with 491 exhibitors, 17% up on 2011, taking over three halls of the Palexpo venue. 

Some 60 aircraft are on show in the static park and space has been increased some 10% to show heavier metal aircraft including the newest Airbus ACJ just delivered to Middle East operator Comlux.  Tomorrow morning colourful CEO of Qatar Airways, Mr Akbar Al Baker, will host a press conference with Bombardier to talk up a new initiative with the airline's private jet division, Qatar Executive.  Qatar is also believed to be a potential purchaser for the C series and an order now would gain maximum publicity prior to the Farnborough Air Show in July. The journalists are bound to ask questions.  Knowing Al Baker he will have some sort of answer, even if it is "no comment". Alison Chambers is at the show and will be reporting back in full next week. www.ebace.aero

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Monarch steps in

bmiBaby’s demise may have been bad news for the airline and its staff but it has certainly offered an opportunity for Luton-headquartered Monarch.  The airline has established a base at East Midlands Airport, formerly the centre of bmiBaby’s operations.  On 18 May it puts on sale a whole cluster of routes previously flown by its rival. 

Monarch is for the most part a leisure market airline although it does carry a proportion of business travellers.  It says that its new services will account for a quarter of Bmibaby’s existing routes from the Midlands.

The routes include new flights from East Midlands to Alicante, Faro, Malaga and Palma, plus additional frequencies from Birmingham to Alicante, Faro, Malaga and Palma, whilst Barcelona is introduced.

Monarch was founded in 1967 and has grown to be a scheduled service and charter airline which last year carried 5.9m passengers. 

It is now the UK’s longest established airline, and with the same Swiss ownership.  By the summer of 2014 it is likely to be an all Airbus carrier with a mixture of A320 series aircraft plus at least the two A330s it currently operates. www.monarch.co.uk

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Russian Superjet crashes

A demonstration tour of South East Asia by the promising new Russian Sukhoi Superjet has come to an aborted finish with the aircraft crashing in Indonesia.  All on board were lost including senior people from the manufacturer, local politicians, media and industry representatives. 

The operation is marketed as Superjet International and is a joint venture between Alenia Aermacchi (51%) of Italy and Sukhoi Holding Company (49%) of Russia.

First unveiled in 2007 the aircraft has been designed to carry up to 100 passengers on regional routes and compete with the Embraer 170/195 product line and the new Bombardier C series.  To date eight had been delivered to Aeroflot out of a total order backlog of 170 aircraft.  The company, hitherto noted for its jet fighter aircraft, had been optimistic for up to 1,000 sales.  However its entry into service was fraught including numerous technical problems and delays.  Until confirmation of the cause of this disaster has been ascertained the whole programme is in doubt. www.superjetinternational.com

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FLYING AT THE FRONT END: Hong Kong Airlines from Gatwick

Will Hong Kong Airlines (HKA) succeed with a long haul Business Class only service from its home base to Gatwick inaugurated on 8 March 2012? 

The airlines and the travel industry look on, if not with baited breath but at least with a great deal of interest.  Whilst HKA has the south London airport to itself, from Heathrow there is great choice, and a diversity of fares, with Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic on the route. 

To succeed HKA has to offer more in service and price than its competitors.  As essentially a stand alone airline it cannot compete in terms of travel benefits offered by the other carriers, except at the Hong Kong end of the route where it does have very good connections to mainland China via its owner, the country’s fourth largest carrier, Hainan Airlines, and its own regional services.

The history of long haul Business Class only flights is one of disappointment.  Lufthansa tried and failed.  Several attempts for services between New York and Los Angeles have not succeeded.  On that most lucrative of sectors, New York to London, Eos, Maxjet and Silverjet all came and went.  Only the British Airways owned, and curiously named Open Skies, still flies, somewhat secretly even to regular travellers from the Continent.   However it will become a three class carrier from 19 June, operating elderly Boeing 757s from Paris Orly to Newark New York. (see British Airways Open Skies in this issue)

According to HKA UK General Manager Gerard Clarke, previously with Emirates, the airline is very satisfied with the passenger loads to date, originating traffic 50/50 from each end, with some excellent numbers booked for June.  From a marketing point of view the carrier is visible in the City of London, based in Tower 42 just by the Bank of England, and Mr Clarke has an experienced team around him.  He points out that the First Capital Connect service from London Bridge (home of The Shard) to Gatwick is only 28 minutes, quicker than the Gatwick Express.

Hong Kong Airlines has a fleet of 21 aircraft and currently serves 26 destinations in Asia and Europe.  The new Gatwick route is serviced by a pair of Airbus A330s, which will shortly be joined by a third, also available for prestigious charter operations.  In fact it is a two-class carrier, Club Premier (34 seats in two cabins) and Club Classic (82 seats, also two cabins).

Check-in, at the re-modelled Gatwick North, and most passengers will have some sort of hold baggage, is covered by five desks.  There is never likely to be any queues and Fast Track security eliminates any hassle.  All passengers have the use of the award winning No.1 Traveller lounge at Gatwick North, where you can order a quality meal with Champagne, if the 21:30 departure followed by a meal service is too late for you.  A chauffeur service is provided for passengers in Club Premier at the London end.  Club Classic clients can use the Meteor "meet and greet" facility who use the excellent kerb side arrangement developed at Gatwick North, the moving walkway leading straight to the departures area. Remember what level it starts for the way back.

Club Premier is configured 1+2+1 with a 6’ 1” fully flat seat.  Your Editor slept solid for more than seven of the 12-hour flight.  However, the seats are set in an alternative fashion, aisle and inside.  This is for both the centre pair and window offering.  It is a little tight if you are sitting inside.  There is a turndown service with duvets, pyjamas and slippers.  Amenity kits are supplied by Bvlgari.  There is a forward bar for Club Premier guests and one in the rear for Club Classic.  Neither has seats but the crew space can provide a resting place for those who prefer to sit down.

The menus have been created by Michelin-starred Jason Atherton and Hong Kong celebrity chef Chow Chung and provide for at least five courses either European or Chinese, or indeed a mixture and include a vegetarian option.  A hot breakfast is also provided.  The wine selection was excellent but one has to say that in their enthusiasm, both on the outbound and return, the cabin staff could have slowed down a little.  With hours to go a rushed meal is not required, but a Sandeman Ruby Port at the completion of the serving does very well as a sleep enhancer.  The Thales AVIOD on-demand entertainment system gives a fine selection of films and radio with 15.4” screens in Premier and 10.4” for Classic.

For Club Classic traditional cradle seats are used, not fully flat but very comfortable, but they do have the disadvantage of the inclining backrest in front protruding.   Other carriers now use modular units which don’t have quite as much space but offer more privacy, Air New Zealand Premium Economy being an example.  Dining is by the same cordon bleu team with slightly less choices.  No ice cream either but plenty of seasonal fruit.

The OnAir system is provided to give SMS and internet connectivity.

Once in Hong Kong The Langham offered first class accomadation at prices much less than comparable Island hotels.  There is a free bus service to the Kowloon MTR station. For the return flight it is very easy to check-in and your drop off your luggage at the railway, a 15 minute ride, and then slip quickly through immigration and security at the airport.  The lounge at Chep Lap Kop is basic and provides the usual amenities and a snack meal if you want to eat before departure.  Hong Kong Airlines says that a new top grade facility is planned.  The staff did have available a variety of electrical sockets to charge up a flat Blackberry.  This can also be done on the aircraft. On arrival at Gatwick Premier Class passengers can make use of the excellent spa facilities at the adjoining Sofitel Hotel.

One great advantage of Hong Kong Airlines is the fact that there can never be more than 116 passengers travelling at any one time.  It is true that on normal wide-bodies executive class passengers do board first but often those from rear cabins need to push through the business class section and getting off there is always a mad scramble.  Whilst the luggage is marked ‘priority’ that is often but a dream. The limited numbers worked out well at Hong Kong Airport when a tropical storm descended onto Chek  Lap Kok closing the place for 90 minutes.  Once it abated HKA was able to gather up its passengers in double quick time, load them onto the aircraft, and get away as soon as a slot was available.  Impressive. www.hongkongairlines.com

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Audi Q3 2.0 TDI SE Quattro
The Q3 has the solution

With a third of the width of the average suburban road often occupied by parked vehicles, it did not surprise me that my local authority has acted to reduce the number of parked vehicles on this type of road. Problem is cars have got wider and if two large 4x4s, customised pick-up trucks or large People Carriers converge from opposite directions when the road width is reduced by parked cars then there can be a number of problems.

Even more problematical if there is snow or ice on the road and the idiot driving downhill does not give way to the uphill driver!

It was under these circumstances that I was glad that I was driving the latest 4x4 or Quattro model from Audi, the compact sized Q3 powered by a mightily efficient 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine.

Usually I say that snow is only for skiers or to be pictured on Christmas cards but, by jove, I was delighted to have it visit while using the Q3.

Here is a premium class product I (actually made in the ultra-modern SEAT factory outside Barcelona though maintaining the high quality standards that is the Audi hall-mark) that proved to have impressive competence in these conditions yet had the road driving performance qualities of an immensely competent medium sized hatch back.

Yes, two idiots barged downhill in that snow forcing me to stop and though irritating it proved that the traction provided by the Quattro all-drive system and the grip from the Continental tyres on the optionally larger 18inch alloy wheels were able to regain traction.

It is obvious that the immense flexibility of this powerful 174 bhp diesel engine (there are also a pair of 2.0 petrol units in the model line-up) working through the highly rated 7-speed DSG selectable automatic transmission has the ability to provide the performance potential to cope with some pretty awful driving conditions.

That said, apart from a slightly firm ride, the handling qualities under more standard conditions are excellent, the road grip, of course, hard to challenge and the response through the controls, notably the steering, very satisfactory.

It feels an easy driving and safe machine (it has a 5-star NCAP safety rating) and has plenty to  offer the discerning driver with one eye on the budget. Top speed is in the 132+ mph region with 60 mph reached from rest in a shade under 8.5 seconds which are good figures for a car of this size/weight and with an official combined fuel consumption of  42.9 mpg is reduced to a real world figure nearer to 35mpg.

I think Audi’s designers have worked closely with the marketing men to ensure that the Q3, though smaller, has an imposing appearance rather like its larger Q5 and Q7 siblings, thus ensuring a good degree of the wow factor that some buyers find essential with this type of vehicle.  As one who is conditioned to judging a car more for what it can do rather than what it looks like I suggest that the Q3 is the right balance of sensible size and status just about right.

As I expected when first driving the Q3 I found that the driving position has all the right adjustment facilities to ‘tailor’ a high degree of driver comfort suitable for hours of relaxed and tireless driving.  Driver’s forward vision is better than average, rearwards is challenged by the high rear window though parking sensors and visual parking graphics combined with the satellite navigation on the test car complemented the large exterior mirror.  Above all, the compact dimensions make for easy parking access.

Add to that a feelgood factor provided by the business-like yet exquisitely finished fascia and instrument cluster that has clearly been designed to cope with a number of cost-extra options requiring fascia space without compromising the overall appearance.

Higher ground clearance make for a slightly loftier height although the interior height is average rather than generous and with seating space for five occupants the rear accommodation is passable both for head and leg space providing the occupants are none too tall.

Luggage capacity at around 450+ litres with all seats in use is about that of an average boot on a medium sized car but with the 60/40 split folding rear seats and the ski hatch the practicality is obvious.  A metal threshold to the luggage area, incorporating a protective system to prevent the tail-gate catch snagging items when loading is a very sensible innovation, and the practical and logical oddments stowage facility around the car’s interior also indicated thoughtful planning.

All Audis are bespoke ordered rather than off the showroom shelf and on this test car were many of the items that buyers add for their own preferences and according to their budget.  Thus this added to a pretty comprehensive basic package items like voice operated satellite navigation, panoramic glass roof panel, leather upholstery,  BOSE sound system, larger alloy wheels (but no spare) and glacier white paint and more.

So here’s Audi’s first venture in the competitive so-called SUV market and, believe you me, it has hit the ground running. www.audi.co.uk
Rivals include: Toyota RAV 4, Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga, VW Tiguan 2.0 TDi, Land Rover Evoque
Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 9
Noise 9
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 8
Accommodation 8
Styling 9
Brakes 9
Finish 9
TOTAL: 89 %
Price from: £28,460 on the road – as tested: £40,040.

BENTLEY: The luxury car brand is claiming that its global sales have increased year on year by 47% with the USA and China vying for top market spot. www.bentley.co.uk

HYUNDAI: A new hybrid model called the  i-ONIQ is revealed in concept form. It uses a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine linked to a generator that is mated to a lithium iron electric motor to produce 98.5 bhp. Range in electric only mode is approx 62 miles and approx 430 miles in joint power mode. Emissions are claimed to be 47 g/km. www.hyundai.co.uk

SEAT: The Spanish SEAT car maker will be introducing a new Toledo model in the near future. It will be a medium size car, saloon-like in appearance but with a hatch back and, as with previous models bearing the name will have well above average boot capacity. www.seat.co.uk

SUZUKI: A special 500 off version of the Suzuki Swift has been launched. Called the Attitude model it is based on Sz3 hatch back  powered by a dual VVTi 1.2 litre petrol engine developing a bench mark 93 bhp and loaded with items like air conditioning, 7 airbags USP port and rear privacy glass.  Rated at insurance Group 9, with a combined  consumption figure of  56.5 mpg it also  gets in the £30 VED bracket. Price is £10.750. www.suzuki.co.uk

TOYOTA: A sporty Toyota GT86 model is soon to be launched in the UK.  Powered by a 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ engine driving the rear wheels via either a 6-speedf manual gearbox or a 6 speed automatic, it will be priced from £24,995. www.toyota.co.uk

VOLKSWAGEN: All VW production plants world-wide are targeted to reduce environmental impact from production by 25% by 2018. www.volkswagen.co.uk

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ABTA Travel Matters

The Millbank Media Centre, Westminster, was the venue for ABTA’s annual Travel Matters forum, with the great and the good from the industry turning out.

Keynote speaker Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport, is clearly warming to her new role but in truth she had very little to say, acknowledging that the current queuing problems at passport control at Heathrow and other UK airports was “a problem that needs to be fixed.”  Ms Greening was responding to questions from the floor following the release of a report highly critical of the level of service provided by the UK Border Force.

The Minister, not for the first time, ruled out the option of a third runway at Heathrow and permission for mixed mode use of runways where runways can be used for both take-off and landing.

Discussing the need for extra airport capacity she confirmed that this “was a nettle that needed to be grasped” but there was also need for a more informed, less heated debate on the issue.  She also asserted that capacity issues needed to be looked at throughout the country not just in the South East. www.abta.com/events/travelmatters

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BA & bmi

Nine bmi destinations are to change from a bmi (BD) to a British Airways (BA) code and flight number from 23 May.  Passengers booked up to 10 May will be able to use the bmi baggage allowances.  But all other British Airways policies, including those relating to check-in times, medical clearance, children travelling alone and customers travelling when pregnant will apply to any bookings moved from a BD to BA code irrespective of when they were booked.

The changes will affect bmi flights to and from Agadir, Basel, Bergen, Casablanca, Hanover, Marrakech, Nice, Stavangar and Vienna.

The flight schedule, including time, date and terminal, will remain the same, it is simply the code that is changing.  British Airways plans to operate bmi’s summer schedule to and from Heathrow.

Customers who have booked directly with bmi will receive an email advising them of the new flight number.  They should check-in online at ba.com and travel as normal.  Customers booked through a travel agency should contact them directly if they have any questions.

Further routes will be changed over to British Airways’ system in the coming weeks and customers will receive emails advising them of the change. www.ba.com

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bmi Regional sold

International Airlines Group (IAG) has signed a binding agreement to sell bmi Regional.  Aberdeen-based Sector Aviation Holdings Ltd (SAH) is the purchaser with the price published as £8m in cash.  The sale includes all bmi Regional's fixed assets and long-term liabilities, including owned and operating lease aircraft.  As predicted in last week's AERBT a third party airline has got involved, Loganair.

bmi Regional operates a fleet of 18 Embraer regional jets on scheduled services throughout the UK and Northern Europe.

The sale is conditional upon CAA approval and it is anticipated that ownership will be transferred to SAH within two weeks.

Sector Aviation is a consortium of businessmen with considerable aviation experience.  These include Ian Woodley, a one time professional pilot who helped set up Business Air, from which bmi Regional developed. in 1987.  The take-over is being funded by Stephen and Peter Bond, of Bond Helicopters, who are investors in Loganair.  They also sit on the board of the World Helicopters Group which Bond is part of, operating a fleet of over 360 aircraft. www.iairgroup.com

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British Airways OpenSkies

OpenSkies, the French subsidiary of British Airways, is adding a new ‘Eco’ cabin class to its aircraft and dropping its Business Class only configuration.  Its aircraft remains the single aisle Boeing 757-200.  The airline flies twice daily between Orly Paris and Newark New York.

Beginning 19 June OpenSkies will operate with ‘Biz Bed’, 20 seats lie-flat Business Class, 28 seats ‘Prem Plus’, a traditional cradle offering, and 66 leather seats in what is termed ‘Eco’ Class.

“OpenSkies is a unique product on the market. The investments that we are announcing today aim to improve this airline so that it will be even closer to the expectations of our clients,” said Patrick Malval, the recently appointed Managing Director of OpenSkies.  “The introduction of Eco Class is the first of a long series of investments, on the ground and in the air, from which OpenSkies will benefit and which our passengers will undoubtedly be able to appreciate.”

In New York ‘Biz Bed’ and ‘Prem Plus’ clients in effect become British Airways passengers with the use of all facilities including the check-in, access to priority lanes at security check points and the option to dine before the flight to maximize  resting time whilst travelling. www.flyopenskies.com

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Finnair to Chongqing

Finnair has begun flying direct to Chongqing, one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in China.  The new route is a logical next step in the carrier’s strategy of offering the shortest connections between Asia and Europe via Helsinki. Finnair is the first carrier to open a direct flight route between Europe and Chongqing.

Situated on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, greater Chongqing is one of China’s four province-level municipalities, and the only one located in inland China. With a total population of 32m residing in an area about the size of Austria, Chongqing’s urban population is expected to double over the next five years.

“China is a key part of our Asia-Europe strategy,” says Finnair's CEO Mika Vehviläinen, “We believe Chongqing has the potential of developing into a hub for travel between Western China and Europe, both for business and leisure travellers.”

The 8.5hrs flight is operated by both Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft.  In addition to four flights per week to Chongqing, Finnair flies daily to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from Helsinki.  This summer Finnair will operate 81 flights per week to 11 destinations in Asia. www.finnair.com

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Olympic News

London City Airport’s executive centre, in line with Biggin Hill, says that there are still plenty of slots available for the period of the Olympic Games but these are likely to be taken up, although they are on a first come first served basis.  The private jet base is totally separate from the main terminal with its own security and lounge areas.

The airport’s largest operator, British Airways CityFlyer, reports that bookings for the period are running at normal levels but expects a rush for seats as the event gets closer.  Besides the Olympic Park itself, London City is the nearest airport for Excel (boxing, fencing, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling), Millennium Dome Centre (artistic gymnastics, basketball final and trampoline), the equestrian events at Greenwich and even the beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade.  Via DLR to Canning Town and the Jubilee Line, Westminster Underground, the nearest station, is just 30 minutes, much nearer than Heathrow.

By DLR direct to Stratford the journey time can be as little as 12 minutes.  The most direct road journey is just 4.5 miles, a minimum of 15 minutes. www.londoncityairport.com

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VW Golf Cabriolet for hire

Avis is to make available the widely acclaimed Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet for hire through its premium Select Series range.  Launched by Volkswagen in September last year, this is the first time that the impressive Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet will be available to hire in the UK.

With the Avis ‘Select Series’, customers can choose the make and model of their hire car at the time of booking, appealing to motoring enthusiasts looking to hire a specific vehicle.  The Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is the first soft top vehicle on the scheme and will join the Audi A4, Audi A4 Avant, Audi A1, Alfa Romeo Giulietta, BMW 5 Series, BMW 1 Series, Fiat 500, Volkswagen Scirocco, Volkswagen Sharan, Volvo XC90, Citroen DS3 and the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion.
Having already received impressive reviews and awards including the title of CarBuyer’s Best Convertible, the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is an apt addition to Avis’ existing range of vehicles and 90 of the new cars have been introduced to  locations including Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, London City and Manchester airports and London's Euston, Victoria and Waterloo stations. www.avis.com

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