10 MARCH 2014

YOUR WORDS


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ON THE SOAPBOX Sir Howard Davies Chairman of the Airports Commission

The Airport Commission, chaired by economist Sir Howard Davies, has been much in the news over the last few months and will eventually submit its report to Downing Street at some point after the 2015 General Election.

Sir Howard has been most open in speaking to both the media and other interested parties.  Since BTN is an electronic publication it seemed to us an interview by email would be both original and enterprising.  We have limited the number of questions.


Sir Howard:

 1) Whilst IATA can provide a broad industry view, it's not in a position to speak on any individual airline's behalf. Will the Commission therefore send a questionnaire to all scheduled airlines at Heathrow (LHR) and Gatwick (LGW) and ask them:

(a) As an investor in LHR and/or LGW, and to meet their customer/operating needs, which airport do they favour for expansion?

(b) If LHR was the favoured option, would LHR airlines foresee themselves

   i) expanding their own services, potentially with flights to new destinations, or
   ii) if a LGW airline, foresee relocating from LGW to LHR, or
   iii) retaining the status quo?

(c) If LGW was the favoured option, would LGW airlines foresee themselves

   i)  expanding their own services, potentially with flights to new destinations, or
   ii)  if an LHR airline, foresee relocating from LHR to LGW, or
   iii) retaining the status quo?

2) As bilateral agreements underpin air links between nations, and airlines wait years to get slots at LHR (eg Avianca), will the Commission request feedback/concerns from the UK Diplomatic Community (ie foreign embassies and High Commissions) about their perceived lack of trading capacity, including freight. And along the same lines, can the Commission ask IATA to request member airlines who currently do not/cannot get into Heathrow, but could under a bilateral, to do so. Non IATA members should also be brought into the fold.

It is important for the Commission to have a strong understanding of how airlines operate. We need to look at history to understand how the sector has developed, as well as considering what its priorities are today and – hardest of all – how it may respond to a changing environment in future. That is why we engaged with a wide range of airlines, including low-cost and legacy carriers, and airline alliances, in the course of the work leading up to our interim report. We intend to continue that engagement over the coming year to inform our final report, both through umbrella groups such as IATA and through discussions with individual airlines.

Might the Commission review its prognosis that only one new runway is required in SE England by 2030, and another not before 2050, a finding that does not enjoy common acclaim amongst those in the industry. Even if that prognosis may not change before a recommendation is made to government, will the Commission recommend regular and formal reviews of the situation? You state a new runway is needed by 2030 but at the same time acknowledge that both Gatwick and Heathrow are full. What is the rationale?

The London and SE airports system has responded dynamically to increasing demand for aviation and will continue to do so. Although Heathrow’s runways are full, it continues to accommodate growing numbers of passengers. Other airports are attracting new carriers and services, including new long haul routes at Gatwick. Competition within the sector is likely to continue to drive innovation and growth. Therefore, we do not believe that capacity to expand within the system is exhausted. However, our forecasts indicate that the limits of what can be achieved may be reached over the coming decade and a half, at which point some runway capacity will be required.

This assessment is broadly in line with the submissions made to us by the owners of the UK’s major airports – and reflects the fact that in a largely privatised and competitive airports sector, investors will not pay for expensive new capacity unless they are confident it will be well-used.

The Commission’s assessment of need was arrived at after a thorough process which took into account a range of forecasts and potential scenarios for the future development of the aviation industries. This included considering various models for airline growth, a range of scenarios for global economic and technological developments and some plausible options around global action to control carbon emissions from aviation.

Of course, no forecasts are perfect, which is why we have indicated that we do not think it would be appropriate at this stage to reach a view on the potential location, or exact timing, of any second additional runway. There is too much uncertainty regarding the long-term development of the industry and the global economy. Instead, we have said that we will suggest to Government in our final report when and how this question should be reviewed.

If the Commission were to recommend LHR for the first additional runway, a situation that would not enjoy all political consent, would a completely new hub airport elsewhere still be a consideration?

Our Interim Report ruled out most of the options for building a completely new airport, but identified the need for further work to understand whether a new airport in the inner Thames Estuary might be viable. Our intention, in the second half of this year, is to reach a conclusion that will allow us either to identify a credible proposal for a new airport in the inner Thames Estuary, or to demonstrate clearly why the concept is not feasible. But ultimately it will be for the Government to decide what decisions it wishes to take once the Commission has provided its final report next year.

When do you think the earliest date a new runway can be operational?

Our initial estimates – based on the submissions we received last year – is that a second runway at Gatwick would be possible by 2025. Heathrow Airport Ltd’s proposed north west runway would be possible by 2026. For Heathrow Hub’s runway extension, we think the safety case might take longer to develop as this is a previously untried operational concept, so we assumed a date of opening of 2028. However, we will be doing more work to examine all three options ahead of our final report and it is possible that all three of those dates could change.

There are no airline/airport experts acting as advisors to the Commission although the railway industry is represented. Why is this?

We have benefited from a wide range of discussions with both airports and airlines (as with other stakeholders) over the course of our work, and this has given us a wide perspective on the operations of the aviation industry, and the issues and challenges facing it. The industry accommodates a wide range of perspectives and views, and it was crucially important to us to have a sense of the breadth of opinion on these key issues. We intend to continue with this engagement and dialogue in the next phase of our work.

Other than the two selected, 55 other ideas/schemes were turned down including Stansted. How is it that only the Mayor’s project has been highlighted for further review?

Our reasons for rejecting schemes varied considerably. In some cases, we rejected proposals because they were very similar to other proposals which either contained more detail or were simply a better way of providing new capacity at a particular site. This was the case with some of the proposals we considered around Heathrow, for example. In other cases, proposals would not have provided any new capacity at all, once their implications on the wider airport system were taken into account.

A number of locations for new hub airports with four or more runways were proposed to us, including sites in Oxfordshire, at Stansted and in the inner and outer Thames Estuary. In all cases bar the inner Estuary, we found that there were significant challenges, which did not appear to be outweighed by the potential benefits offered. The position in relation to an inner Estuary airport however was more nuanced. The challenges remain, but the potential benefits, especially in relation to noise and regeneration, appear stronger than for other new hub sites. We have therefore stated that we will carry out additional analysis of these options, looking not just at the proposal from the Mayor but also those from private sector promoters, to properly understand some of the implications of a new hub airport at those sites.

AND FINALLY: Would you have taken the task on if you had really appreciated its complexity?

No comment (though I think it is easier than assembling a competitive England team for the World Cup).

 

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Avro returns for CityFlyer

British Airways passengers at London City Airport should not be alarmed to find themselves flying once again in an Avro RJ85 over the next couple of months.

In the past Cello has supported a number of airlines both in the UK and Europe on an ad-hoc basis but this agreement with the British Airways operator marks a major vindication of Cello’s strategy of diversification.  Cello was launched in 2010 and has established its reputation in the VIP charter sector carrying top musicians, sportsmen and women, royalty and corporate customers.
 
Luke Hayhoe GM Commercial and Customer, BA CityFlyer said: “We have been working with Cello utilising their aircraft on an ad hoc basis for some time.  We are happy with the quality of service and the flexibility they provide and are therefore delighted to be able to work with them on this contract until one of our new Embraer aircraft is delivered in May.”  www.flycello.com

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DB9 from Hertz

Motoring enthusiasts with deep pockets can now whisk away a car of their dreams, including the Bentley Continental GT, Bentley Flying Spur, Aston Martin DB9, Range Rover Sport, Mercedes C63 AMG, BMW X5, Mercedes SL63 AMG, Mercedes E400 AMG Coupe, Audi Q7 and Maserati Ghibli.

Featuring a VIP customer service and Hertz’s Make and Model Guarantee, the Dream Collection has been rolled out at Hertz’s London Marble Arch and at Heathrow Airport.

Hertz Dream Collection cars are handed over to the customer in person by one of the specially trained Dream team, so that customers can bypass the counter.  The team will also help load bags into the car and configure devices such as NeverLost GPS according to the customer’s requirements.  In addition, each stage of the rental will be closely monitored to ensure complete satisfaction.

Customers must be aged 30 and over and have held their driving licence for a minimum period of five years.  Two credit cards are needed in order to qualify.  Cost for one day is £495, three days £1,275 and seven days £2,400.  www.hertzdreamcollection.co.uk

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Heathrow viewing platform

Passengers at Heathrow can now enjoy some plane spotting as they wait for their own flight to depart.  The new ‘View Heathrow’ platform at Terminal 4 is the first of its kind at Heathrow since the old Terminal 2’s viewing platform was closed along with the building itself.

The new 270 degree observation deck has a view of the southern runway, the control tower and British Airways’ Concorde.  Fixed ipads on the platform show live flight radars so that visitors can identify the aircraft movements in front of them, as well as binoculars to get a better view.

Kathryn Leahy, Director, Terminal 4, said: “We are proud to be opening this viewing facility for passengers.  We know that many travellers enjoy plane spotting and we are pleased to be able to provide them with the opportunity to do so once again.”

The deck, located between gates 15 and 16 was converted from an unused former airline lounge.  The observation deck is open to all passengers in Terminal 4 during normal operating hours.  www.heathrowairport.com

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Oxford to Jersey

A weekly ‘summer only’ service from Oxford Airport to Jersey is being introduced by Channel Islands-based Blue Islands.  It is technically a charter by the C.I. Travel Group and will be flown by a 46-seat ATR42 turboprop.   Flights start 10 May through to mid-September

Flights start 10 May through to mid-September. C.I. Travel says that the route will appeal to residents in Oxfordshire, the South Midlands and the north western Home Counties who can now conveniently fly from Oxford without the hassle of going to Birmingham or one of the London airports.  Some five million people live within an hour’s drive of the airport, which is close to the M40, A34, A40 and A44 road networks.

Departure times for the one hour flight are Oxford 09:40 and Jersey 08:00.  Passengers use the airport’s executive travel facilities and very close by car park.

Blue Islands also fly on a daily basis from Jersey to Bournemouth, Bristol, London City, Manchester and Southampton airports.

Oxford Airport is wholly-owned by the Reuben Brothers.  Their investment activities include private equity, real estate ownership and development.  At the end of February 2012 they purchased the London Heliport at London Battersea, the UK’s only CAA licensed heliport.  www.blueislands.com

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State aid and small airports

The European Business Aviation Association has welcomed the European Commission’s decision concerning operating aid for regional airports, which permits airports receiving less than 700,000 passengers per year, to continue having a range of funding options available to them.  This affects a significant number of UK airports looking for vital assistance on upgrades including Exeter, Bournemouth, Doncaster Sheffield and Inverness, all of which fell just under the threshold in 2013.

This affects a significant number of UK airports looking for vital assistance on upgrades including Bournemouth, Doncaster, Exeter, Sheffield and Inverness, all of which fell just under the threshold in 2013.

“We believe the Commission has taken a sensible approach to a sensitive issue,” says Fabio Gamba, CEO of the Association. “This measure not only fine-tunes and provides greater clarity on the application of State aids, but it as well offers a level of flexibility for the small regional airports that are most dependent on these funds.  As primary users of regional aerodromes, the business aviation sector has always argued that small regional airports hold intrinsic value for local communities, delivering, among other things, jobs and passenger spending power.  This value must be recognised as part of the economic sustainability of small airports; not just self-generated income alone.”

The European Commission has abandoned earlier considerations for limiting operating aid to airports under 300,000 passengers a year.  www.ebaa.org

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ON TOUR: Future of Business Aviation conference

It was a tale of two cities at EVIP’s first Future of Business Aviation conference held at the new Hilton Terminal 5 last week writes Alison Chambers.

On the one hand we had the ebullient New Yorker Kenny Dichter, Chairman of a brand new US fractional company, talking up the benefits of his venture Wheels Up, a business model centred around the venerable King Air – for which he has ordered 105 latest model 350is for his members.  His aim is to more than double the broad base of business aviation industry and refreshingly, he brought his whole family, including mum-in-law along to his presentation.

Martin Lener, Managing Director, Tyrolean Air ServicesOn the other was Martin Lener, Managing Director of Tyrolean Jet Services who, to the audience’s dismay, showed up a slide of a business jet with cobwebs around it to highlight the fact that utilisation was significantly down in Europe.  Yet his company is one of the lucky ones, not least because they have a contract to fly the British Royal family aboard their Airbus ACJ.

In Europe, as we heard at the Corporate Jet and Helicopter Finance conference this month, there are 300 business aviation operators and over 85% of them have just three or less aircraft in their fleets.  No wonder the whole industry is consolidating.  Lux Aviation has acquired UniJet of France to become Europe’s third largest business aviation group with 60 aircraft.  This is hard on the heels of its purchase of Abelag 18 months ago and more recently, Fairjet of Germany.  Eurojet in Birmingham is looking for a new owner.

Expanding Oxford Airport based charter company Hangar8, which acquired International Jet Club of Farnborough 18 months ago has confirmed its intention to join forces with one of the industry’s biggest air charter brokers, Air Charter Services (ACS).  David Savile, Non-Executive Director on the Hangar8 executive board will be able to lend good advice observers noted, calling on his experience with the former Air Partner Private Jets.

There are bright spots in the UK.  Fly Victor, set up by entrepreneur Clive Jackson bemoaning the lack of scheduled services out of Mallorca, claims to be doing rather well.  It now boasts 5,500 high net worth individual members who have just helped the company raise £5.5m to take the business into new territories including Russia and Central Europe.  Next year they take on the USA.  Mike Ryan, Head of Commercial Operations, describes it as the Remington effort.  The model is successful he says because it is fully transparent.  Members see online which operators they are going to fly with, aircraft type and cabin layout.  All are bona fide AOC operators.  Fly Victor works with 110 established operators, including Marshall-owned FlairJet and London-based LEA, and has call on 600 aircraft types from a Cessna Mustang to an Airbus ACJ. “You wouldn’t book a hotel if you didn’t know the name of it would you?,” he said, highlighting that transparency has to be crucial for the future of the charter industry.

Alex Berry, Global Sales and Marketing Director, Chapman Freeborn“We are competing for the same business,” stressed Alex Berry, Group Sales and Marketing Director of Chapman Freeborn.  “We are talking here about the future of air charter, but it is not so complex today.  What the industry really needs to do is to refresh the customer pool.  What are we actually selling?

It’s not champagne, it’s not fancy catering it’s not luxury.  Some of the aircraft we charter aren’t fancy at all.  The Mustang doesn’t have a toilet.  It is the one finite commodity – time.  Buying your life back.  it is time for all of us in the industry to get more people educated on the merits of business – whether they fly NetJets,  PrivateFly, Fly Victor, the numerous charter operators.  We need to be challenging that anyone with significant wealth should have their head examined if they fly Ryanair or easyJet again.”

Transparency is what marketing supremo American Kenny Dichter is about clearly.  Having successfully made his name with Marquis Jet, where he made US$1.4bn of sales in confirmed flight hours, he is positioning Wheels Up as a private member’s club.   The initial membership fee is US$15,750, followed a year later by the first annual membership fee of US$7,250. Kenny Dichter, CEO of Wheels Up, plans to bring his fractional business to Europe within 18 months Then the per occupied flight hour cost is US$3,950 for the first hour and a pro rata percentage charge on any portion of the next hour.  This includes everything, except for certain designated higher charging airports like New York’s JFK, where the additional cost is passed on to the member.  His goal is to obtain 1,200 and 1,400 members in the first year.  Included in the membership is Wheels Down where members enjoy access to events like the Masters (we have Sir Nick Faldo joining us there he proudly told delegates), the Oscars, the Super Bowl where they are entertained in VIP Wheels Down lounges.  “We are attacking the corporate market with this message – CEOs like us, but CFOs love us,” he said.

Squarely on the future theme Richard Lugg, CEO of Hypermach, captured the delegates' imagination as he presented his Sonic Star concept.  Lugg is passionate about aviation and is Richard Lugg, Chairman and CEO, Hypermach, exclaiming the virtues of supersonic business aviationfulfilling a long held wish to design and develop a supersonic craft.  Seven years in development a small but focused team are redefining the jet engine to create an aircraft that can fly Dubai to New York in the time it takes to watch an inflight movie.   Lugg has a heritage of speed having worked in military jet development and for NASA on the space shuttle.  He sees things differently, a vision that enables him to create a propulsion system that will drive a supersonic aircraft.   The first three aircraft he plans for Hypermach to build so removing risk for the eventual airframer – and he is already in discussions with an interested party.  Farnborough 2016 should see the first prototype in the form of an unmanned drone demonstrating the future of flight.

 
Two friendly business aircraft rivals Sean McGeough, President, Nextant and Scott Plumb, VP Sales for EMEA, Beechcraft, shared a platform to talk about light jet and turboprop markets.  Nextant is applying its “reimagined, rebuilt, reborn” philosophy to the Beechcraft C90, although Beechcraft is not so enamoured by the fact that its aircraft require “reimagining”.
 
Richard Coe, Managing Director,- WingX, says that emerging markets are driving business jet salesRichard Koe, CEO of WingX, highlighted the relative opportunity for light jets in emerging markets but acknowledged the continuing predominant preference for large aircraft in RoW.  Lead markets for business jets are Turkey, Nigeria, China and South East Asia.  He also concluded with analysis of the US market, suggesting it to be the most interesting re-emerging market, with the influential come-back of very light jets set to provide the benchmark for future light aircraft business models worldwide.
 
A long and fascinating day.  Will supersonic executive travel come in our lifetime?  Probably.  http://evaint.com
 
Alison Chambers – Emerald Media  www.emeraldmedia.co.uk

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Air France and electronic devices

Joining the ever-growing list of airlines that allow passengers to us their personal electronic devices (PEDs) on board is Air France.  This follows the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)’s decision to authorise the use of PEDs in "flight mode" at all times during the flight.

With this new service, Air France passengers can continue to work or play from the time they board the plane until they arrive at their destination, in total freedom.

Since last July the airline has been offering passengers the opportunity to enjoy the entire in-flight entertainment programme as soon as they board until they arrive at their destination.  Air France says customers can enjoy on average an additional hour of entertainment, independently of the take-off, landing and taxiing phases.

The use of devices and accessories operating in Bluetooth or wi-fi mode is, however, not permitted and PEDs should be turned off if operating conditions require.  The airline does however strongly reaffirm the position of EASA concerning the main priority in terms of flight safety, which is that passengers should be attentive to safety announcements and crew instructions.  Switch off your PED when the safety announcements are being made says the airline.  www.airfrance.com

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Beijing for Waldorf Astoria

Hilton Worldwide has announced the opening of Waldorf Astoria Beijing, marking the second Waldorf Astoria hotel in China and the brand's continued international expansion.

The Waldorf Astoria Beijing is located in the heart of the city on the former site of Xianliang Temple.  It is just 27km from Beijing International Airport, 2.5km from Beijing Railway Station and is within walking distance of the Dengshikou Subway Station.  Guests of the hotel have convenient access to the shopping malls, central business district and historic landmarks, such as the world renowned Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

The 176-room property features three unique restaurants, including Peacock Alley, Brasserie 1893 and Zijin Mansion, 796 sq m of function meeting space, a spa and fitness centre with heated indoor swimming pool.  Guest rooms include 38 suites in the main hotel tower and the Waldorf Hutong Villa, three Hutong studios and a suite housed in two villas with private entrances located in a garden courtyard.

The hotel joins Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund as the brand's portfolio expands in China.  www.waldorfastoria.com

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East Coast Trains

Currently nationalised East Coast Trains is proving to be aggressive with its marketing and progressive with what it offers to its customers.

Passengers travelling Standard Class with East Coast can now enjoy a healthy and greater selection of tasty treats as a refreshing new food and drinks service launches on board its services out of Kings Cross to Scotland, North East England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands.

New menus celebrating the best of British produce have gone on sale from the all-new Foodbar counter on each train.

Recently introduced on board, cooking equipment will be in use to offer passengers what the train operator calls “a menu on the move”, featuring fresh ingredients and products sourced from along the East Coast route.

New products including Asian-inspired beef noodles, fiery penne arrabbiata with a Mediterranean twist and Nescafé Azera coffee are on sale.  They are available alongside established favourites like the British ham and vintage Cheddar cheese toasties, bacon paninis and tasty porridge oats.  www.eastcoast.co.uk

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JAL vegetarian

Vegetarian food lovers can now take advantage of further innovative in-flight menus designed by Japan Airlines and Mos Food Services Inc.  This latest collaboration, Vegetable Air Mos Burger, has been introduced on selected flights to North America and Europe.

Vegetable Air Mos Burger is the fourth collaboration of a series of meals designed by JAL and Mos Burger, following their success with Air Mos Teriyaki Burger, Air Mos Rice Burger and Air Mos Teriyaki Egg Burger.

Passengers will be served warm buns and a hamburger patty wrapped in a special burger wrap, three kinds of vegetables (lettuce, tomato, sliced onion) and original carrot sauce so that they can arrange and make their own hamburger.  The vegetables are produced by Mos Burger’s contracted farmers in Japan and carefully selected by Mos Burger.  Available in all classes JAL says it is a refreshing meal to take before arriving at your destination. www.jal.com/en

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Qatar Airways update

Following non-mention of either the A380, or the new Hamad International Airport, during the A350’s visit to Doha on its way the Singapore International Air Show more news has emerged.

On 1-3 June Doha and Qatar Airways hosts the IATA AGM.  It is very likely that a ‘soft opening’ will take place either during those few days, or just prior.  In recent years new airport and terminal introduction (let alone completions) have been fraught with problems, Heathrow T5 and Madrid T2 being examples.  A slow transfer of service is clearly better for allowing systems to bed in and giving staff the maximum time to learn new procedures and learn typically passenger routings.

On 14-20 July the Farnborough International Air Show takes place, a traditional highlight for the airline.  It is likely that Qatar Airways will have on display fully fitted and in the carrier’s paint scheme an Airbus A380, Airbus A350 XWB, Airbus A320, and a Boeing 787.  This will be the largest single gathering by any airline at a major international air show ever.

Qatar should have by now put into service an A380.  This is now being co-ordinated with the airport opening with the first aircraft not on line until April at the earliest, with two more following quickly.  www.qatarairways.com

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Thai hotel for Doha

One of Thailand’s leading hospitality groups, Centara Hotels & Resorts, has made its first move into the Middle East with the opening of a 5-star property at West Bay, in Qatar’s capital Doha.West Bay is a newly developed district in Doha, noted for its dramatic skyline and with easy access to the Corniche and to the airport.

Centara Grand West Bay Hotel Doha has 264 guest rooms and 96 residences, with a great variety of room and apartment styles all under one roof, featuring many family friendly accommodation options including multiple bedroom units and lock-offs, as well as Club level business rooms and a Club Lounge for the discerning business traveller.

A large multi-level entertainment zone on the 29th and 30th floors features a Spa Cenvaree with his and hers facilities, and a fitness and aerobics centre.

An eclectic mix of meeting facilities including a ballroom and a series of smaller meeting rooms and business centre, all on one dedicated floor, is designed to cater to the local, regional and international meeting and MICE market.

Centara’s 5-star Grand brand includes 10 locations within Thailand, as well as Bali, Maldives and Mauritius, with further developments underway in Addis Ababa, Shanghai and Vietnam. www.centarahotelsresorts.com

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CRUISE NEWS MARCH 2014

The timing of the March BTN Cruising Update is perfect in previewing the London Cruise Show Olympia 22-23 March.  It is also National Ferry Fortnight running from 15-29 March 2014 with the theme “Join Our Ferry Families” highlighting the best family facilities on board the 12 ferry operators, members of Discover Ferries, who welcome thousands of car-borne families every year. CRUISE DEALS completes this months update.

With P&O’s 2015 Britannia programme now on sale this also seemed a fine opportunity to interview boss David Dingle, who doubles as Chief Executive of Carnival UK, whose parent company is the owner of P&O, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Seabourn and in total 10 cruise lines.

David started as a trainee at a then very different P&O 28 years ago and has been much the force behind the growth of the UK cruise holiday market over the last decade.  He expects around 18m bookings for the total British market this year and further growth in 2015 when Britannia and other new ships arrive.

London Cruise Show will host the biggest collection of cruise lines and specialist operators to be found under one roof, certainly this side of the Atlantic, and will be packed with exciting new features and attractions for visitors to enjoy.  There will also be plenty of special bargains available for the shoulder periods if you book up on the day.

Business Travel News readers can also avail themselves of a special discount deal at just £2 per person entry.  Just go to the show website and quote BTN or call 0871 620 4024.  The show is open 10:00-17:00 on the Saturday and 10:00-16:00 on the Sunday.  For those in the Provinces there are further shows at Manchester Central Hall 13-14 September, Birmingham NEC 20-12 September and Glasgow SECC 4-5 October.  There are theatre presentations including Ask the Experts, Meet the Cruise Lines, Small Ship Cruising, the Cruise Show TASTE Experience, all sorts of competitions and upgrade opportunities and what is intriguingly called “The Deck”.  There is wine tasting, fashion shows and entertainment.  Virtually every cruise line is represented, big and small, ocean going and river experts too – for families, the solo traveller and the adventurer.  www.cruisingshow.com  www.nationalferryfortnight.co.uk


BRITANNIA Rules The Waves
March 2015 will see the maiden voyage of Britannia, at 141,000 tons the largest P&O ship ever.  It will also be greenest yet and has been designed to deliver a much greater level of operational and environmental efficiency.  The current ship craze of hull art is taken one step further with a massive Union Jack adorning the bow.  A new hull form reduces unit fuel consumption by up to 20%.

P&O introduced the ship with a spectular party hosted at Folman’s Fish Island by the Olympic Stadium at Stratford with chefs James Martin, Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar and Master patissier Eric Lanlard doing their party pieces and a stunning “Strictly Come Dancing” display on an extremely limited dance floor.

The programme is already on sale with the maiden voyage set to leave Southampton on 14 March 2015, a 14-night trip visiting Gibraltar – Barcelona – Monte Carlo – Civitavecchia – Ajaccio – Cartagena – Cadiz and Southampton.

Mr Dingle is sanguine regarding the cruise market.  He has seen it all before.  Cruising has done well through a tough economic period.  “We are always last in but not always last out,” he says.  “People might be wealthier but then have different priorities.”

P&O is to have a change of strategies for this year with, for the first time, a full ex-UK ‘cruise fly’ programme in the Mediterranean with Ventura.  It will offer a greater appeal to the European market and is modular.  There are one week, two-week and three-week programmes on offer which can be packaged to suit different markets worldwide.  American and Japanese like to take in a seven-night sea trip as part of a longer European tour, the Brits in the main for go for the traditional two weeks, whist the Antipodeans often like to stay on board for three weeks at a tim

In April 2011 P&O reduced agency commissions to 5% as some agents were splitting their fees with customers.  “All that did was make trading conditions difficult for everyone,” said Mr Dingle.  It is now back at 75%.  He acknowledged that direct bookings did go up from the previous 10%.  “We recognised that we would not get it right first time and it has now been fine tuned.”

Mr Dingle noted that a big market for the cruise industry is airline staff (of which BTN has a large readership).  “Barbados is particularly popular,” he said.  Adonia (30,000 tons and 680 passengers), Arcadia (83,000 tons and 2,000 passengers) and Oceana (77,000 tons and 2,000 passengers) are Adult Only ships with Arcadia more ‘contemporary’.

David Dingle ran Cunard for some years and holds a watching brief as part of his Carnival responsibilities.  Queen Mary 2 (150,000 tons and 2,600 passengers) is now 10 years old and had an extensive refit in November 2011.  She has settled in very nicely offering mainly ‘summer only’ North Atlantic crossings, a series out of New York to the St Lawrence, and some short European cruises.  The traditional World Cruise is also fitted in this year to Sydney via Cape Town and back through the Suez Canal.  Queen Elizabeth (90,000 tons and 2,000 passengers) is Mediterranean bound summer 2014 for a series of ‘fly-cruises’ whilst Queen Victoria (90.000 tons and 2,000 passengers) will ‘home port’ at Southampton.  Its programme includes a three-night short break mainly aimed at potential new clients, Scandinavia, and also the Black Sea, 24 nights as far as Yalta in the Black Sea.

For summer 2014 the other major Carnival operator out of the UK is Princess with ships based at Dover (Ocean Princess 30,000 tons and 680 passengers, mainly Scandinavia), and Southampton (Emerald Princess,113,000 tons and 3,000 passengers).  The new, yet to be introduced, Regal Princess (141,000 tons and 3,600 passengers) will link Barcelona and Venice on 12-night cruises and its sister ship Royal Princess is based at Copenhagen for Scandinavia and St Petersburg.  Holland America and Seabourn have very limited ex-UK programmes.

On a wider front as an organisation Carnival is developing in Asia with Costa and Princess Cruises leading the way.  Princess now has a dedicated Japanese programme for the cherry blossom period.  While it is true that Russians tend to act as a closed community on board, this is also the case with all groups and is language-based.  People want familiar language and familiar food.

The Britannia brochure is due to be published at the end of March and your local cruise specialist will have ample supplies.  We will be taking a look at this ‘family friendly’ cruise liner over the coming months.

Will she ever moor near her namesake at Leith, Edinburgh?  Only time will tell.

P&O is making every effort to make sure the new Britannia is worthy of the name.

And will Douglas Ward and Berlitz give her a higher rating than her close cousins Royal Princes and Regal Princess.  Carnival House would like to know!  www.pocruises.com/britannia


CRUISE DEALS MARCH 2014  
The Berlitz rating is shown in brackets with the tonnage and passenger capacity
All prices based on two people sharing a stateroom

Azamara Club Cruises offers Azamara Journey (30,000 tons – 680 passengers – 1548) on a 10-night Baltic Rendezvous fly-cruise from £2,194 per person for 17 July.  Price includes return flights, transfers and a 10-night cruise departing from Stockholm with an overnight stay before calling at Helsinki, St Petersburg (two-night stay), Tallinn, Warnemunde and Lubeck, before arriving in Copenhagen for the flight home.  The cruise also includes selected standard spirits, wines and international beers; complimentary bottled water; soft drinks; speciality teas and coffees; meals and room service; housekeeping and dining gratuities.  www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk


Celebrity Reflection (125,000 tons – 3,000 passengers – 1571) has an 11-night Eastern Mediterranean fly-cruise from £1,694 with a 23 June departure.  The price includes a choice of either a complimentary drinks' package, up to US$300 on board to spend or fully paid gratuities.  Flights and transfers are included Heathrow to Rome calling at Santorini, Istanbul (overnight), Ephesus, Mykonos, Piraeus and Naples before returning to Civitavecchia/Rome.  www.celebritycruises.co.uk


Crystal is 6-star and there is always the debate whether Serenity (69,000 tons – 1090 passengers – 1714) or the slightly smaller Symphony (51000 tons – 960 passengers – 1702) is the better ship.  On 18 April Serenity departs Southampton to Rome for a 12-night cruise visiting Bordeaux (overnight), Le Verdon, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Monte Carlo (overnight), Porto Venere and Florence.  All-inclusive fly-cruise prices from £2,852 per person.  www.crystalcruises.co.uk

Cunard has on offer a number of Atlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2 (150,000 tons – 2,000 passengers – 1673).  No ports to worry about and plenty to do on board.  Seven nights and westbound is probably best saving APD (Air Passenger Duty) and having five 25-hour days (change of clocks), giving extra value.  The next crossing is 9 May with fares from £1,229.  Included are the transfers in New York and US$80 on board credit.  Queen Elizabeth is mentioned above which leaves Queen Victoria (90,000 tons – 2,000 passenger – 1579) Southampton-based with two cruises to highlight, 9 May 14 nights to St Petersburg followed by 'Around the British Isles' 13 nights, both from £1,099.  www.cunard.com

Hebridean Princess is tiny (2,112 tons – 50 passengers – 1678), a cruise vessel which has in the past been chartered by the Queen.  Departing Oban 25 March, a 7-night cruise taking in Fort William and picture postcard villages and breathtaking lochs as they awaken in spring. £3,170.  www.hebridean.co.uk

Marco Polo (22,000 tons – 848 passengers – 1388) passengers reported wonderful views of the Northern Lights (also known as the Aurora Borealis) last week.  There is another opportunity to see this wonder of nature departing London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury 1 March for a 14-night cruise from £799 for an inner cabin and £899pp ocean view cabin.  As you sail up to the Norwegian coastline during your cruise visits are made to the towns of Narvik, Alta and Tromsø.  NASA has already predicted the chances this winter are very good of seeing the lights.  www.cruiseandmaritime.tv

MSC Cruises, MSC Lirica (60,000 tons – 1560 passengers – 1407).  Has departures 7, 14, 21, 28 June – 7 nights from La Spezia calling at Marseille, Palma de Mallorca,  Valletta, Trapani, Civitavecchia and back to La Spezia.  The MSC product is very Italian and all the ships have the same Godmother, Sophia Loren. £749pp including flights.  www.msccruises.co.uk

Oceania’s Marina (66,000 tons – 1258 passengers – 1680) leaves Southampton on 2 September on a 12-night `Nordic Splendours’ voyage, sailing along the north west coast of Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltics, with a two-day / overnight stay in St Petersburg.  Prices start at £1,899 including return UK flight from Copenhagen, all meals, no supplement for speciality dining, gratuities, complimentary soft drinks and bottled water.  A cruise ship built for food lovers.  www.oceaniacruises.com

P&O Cruises is offering a 12-night Canary islands cruise on Oceana (77,000 tons – 1950 passengers – 1388) from £899 for an inside cabin.  Terrific value for a fine distinctly British ship.  Oceana’s facilities include four pools, an Oasis Spa, theatre, gym, sports court housed in the funnel, golf nets, age-specific children’s clubs and a variety of restaurants and bars including Cafe Jardin endorsed by celebrity Chef Marco Pierre White.  From Southampton to Madeira, La Palma, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Lisbon. www.pocruises.com


Seabourn Legend (9961 tons – 212 passengers – 1654) has served Carnival Corporation well but 2014 will be the last season for the ship which has been bought by Windstar.  By next year Seabourn will concentrate on three 32,000 tons ships with 450 passengers and rated at 1700.  Legend departs Barcelona 15 May and with stops at London, Barcelona, Malaga, Cadiz, Portimao, Lisbon, Porto, Villagarcia, La  Coruna, St Malo, Cherbourg, Le Harve and finally under Tower Bridge to moor to  HMS Belfast.  £4,629.  www.seabourn.com

Silversea is a true luxury brand with service charges and bar items included.  Silver Spirit is the largest and latest of the fleet (36,000 tons – 540 passengers – 1762) and has availability on a 12 May seven night cruise from Civitavecchia to Barcelona via Livorno, Alghero, Porto Mahon and Ibiza.  From £2,050 in a very nice sea view cabin. All Silversea prices no longer include the air fare as travellers seem to want to be more and more independent.  Both the company and agents will organise this segment at very competitive prices.  www.silversea.com

Swan Hellenic Minerva (13,000 tons – 380 passengers – 1455) offers an all-inclusive educational package (see BTN 16 December 2013 www.btnarchive.co.uk/article/7123).  Depart Portsmouth 28 April for a 12-day cruise in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society including Frederiksborg Palace, Gothenburg Botanical Gardens, Damsgaard Manor and Gardens in Bergen.  Olso is also visited and Akrafjord. £2180 www.swanhellenic.com

Voyages of Discovery (21,000 tons – 710 passengers – 1112) has a 14-day Natural Wonders and Wildlife cruise, departing Portsmouth 17 May 2014.  This exciting itinerary promises nature, wilderness, wildlife and natural wonders as it takes you on a springtime journey to the Shetland Islands, Iceland, Faroe Islands and Orkney islands. £1,799.  www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk 

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ANA goes wi-fi

The latest airline to offer wi-fi is Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) who introduced the service on its international routes today (3 March).  The airline does charge and not by the hour too.  Up to 5MB - $US6, 10MB - $US12 - 20MB $US24. 

Passengers will be able to use their own devices, such as smartphone or tablet, to surf the web, access email and update social networks including Facebook and Twitter.  The latest Stock Market wire report is available on the portal site for free.

The ANA WiFi Service will be available on all class of selected international flights flown by Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 767-300ER aircraft.

It is provided in partnership with JSAT Mobile Communications which supports the 'OnAir' programme.  www.ana.com

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CityJet to become WX

As reported by BTN at the beginning of the year (BTN 6 January http://www.btnarchive.co.uk/article/7158) CityJet, the Air France Irish registered airline who centre of operations is London City Airport is moving even closer to being sold with confirmation said to be imminent. 

The new owners will be turnaround specialist Intro Aviation, founded by German businessman Hans Rudolf Wöhrl.  Intro has acquired and subsequently sold a number of airlines, including German charter carrier LTU and the former British Airways’ subsidiary Deutsche BA.

Whatever happens, from the start of the summer season CityJet becomes IATA code WX.  It has around 40% of the slots at LCY, a similar number to British Airways.

The current CityJet fleet consists of 19 Avro RJ85 and 18 Fokker 50.  www.cityjet.com  http://introaviation.org

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Germanwings expands

Barcelona, Moscow, Paris and Zagreb will be added to the Germanwings programme this summer from Berlin Tegel.  The airline is owned by Lufthansa but is not part of Star Alliance.  The new routes are part of the handover of certain services from the parent company.  Germanwings is a budget operation rather than a ‘full service’ airline. 

The new routes are part of the handover of certain services from the parent company.  Germanwings is a budget operation rather than a ‘full service’ airline.

From 4 July Germanwings will fly from Berlin Tegel to Barcelona and Zagreb and on the 31 August will launch new services to Moscow Vnukovo and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Since 2013 Germanwings offers three fare types, called Basic, Smart and Best, which offer different services.  While Basic is a classic no-frills offer that features hand-luggage only and no free catering, Best includes hold baggage, free snacks and drinks as well as access to some lounges for tier members of Miles & More, the Lufthansa frequent flyer programme.  Smart and Best are more or less comparable to the product that the airlines offered on the routes taken over by Germanwings.

The fleet is totally A320 series and Economy Class only and offers Sky Bistro (Bord Shop in German), a buy on board programme with food and drinks for purchase.  www.germanwings.com

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New York for 100

Laker Airways splashed the headline 30 years ago “New York for $100”, you had to queue with no reservations system and APD did not exist.

Now Biman Bangladesh Airlines is doing virtually the same from June onwards with a new twice weekly flight from Birmingham Airport to New York JFK.  In fact the initial fare will be £100 each way plus £69 APD from the UK and anything else the airport/handling agent adds, which they also call tax.

The fact that Biman can operate the service is due to the way the various bilaterals are drawn up.  Bangladesh has full ‘Open Skies’ with the US, and has fifth freedom rights out of the UK, with the exception of Heathrow.

The airline will be using a brand new Boeing two-class Boeing 777-300ER with full flat bed in Business Class, a fourth aircraft due from Boeing later this month.

Speaking on the occasion of the final DC10 passenger flight week at Birmingham Airport (See BTN 24 February), Kevin Steele, the airline’s MD said that he was excited with the prospect of operating into New York.  “We are getting a lot of interest,” he said.  At Heathrow Biman charges around £1,000 for a flight to Dhaka, easily undercutting one stop Middle East competitors.  www.biman-airlines.com

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SITA biometrics kiosks

Orlando International Airport has become the first in the US to offer international travellers from visa waiver countries the option to 'land, touch and go', using new SITA's Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks to self-process for faster US border clearance.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority has confirmed that arriving passengers from 37 visa waiver countries can now enjoy quick and easy processing at US customs and immigration.

Orlando is the only airport in the United States to use these kiosks which allow international travellers, from countries that participate in the visa waiver programme, to self-process into the US.  Ten biometric APC kiosks are now available for travellers to complete their Customs Declaration form on a touch-screen, have their passports scanned and fingerprints and photograph taken prior to, and in preparation for, their interview with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer.  The pre-processing significantly reduces the time to complete the clearance process.

The kiosks are complimentary to use and do not require registration in advance; however, travellers must have previously entered the US and have fingerprints on file with CBP.  The airport says that it has already seen a dramatic increase in the total number of travellers processed per minute.  www.sita.aero

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The Thames as a highway

London River Services is a division of Transport for London (TfL).  It does not own or operate any boats but licenses the services of other operators.  These are a mixture of leisure-oriented tourist services and a very successful commuter operation between Putney and The City.  www.tfl.gov.uk/river

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AND FINALLY: It is a monthly cruising update

Amongst the ‘going away presents’ at the recent P&O Britannia unveiling at Fish Island opposite Stratford’s Olympic Stadium was a strange blue container.

Most of the guests found the gift perplexing including Carnival’s UK Chairman David Dingle.

 A sleuth in the BTN office suggested that in fact it was a wine bottle container, which proved correct. However the only problem was that line’s beverage department had also supplied for departure a bottle of exclusive P&O Colture by Prosecco in its distinctive large bottle. The wine did not fit the bag!

David is a keen Portsmouth FC, the former FA Cup winners now lingering in League 2, or the Fourth Division according to traditionalists.

“At least the bottle bag is in Pompey colours – two examples of being not quite fit for purpose!” was all he could add.

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