BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS (BTNews)

1 JUNE 2020

The Business Travel News
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ON THE SOAPBOX: BBGA CEO Marc Bailey

Mr Bailey advocates that the business aviation sector is uniquely placed to be a test model for commercial airlines as they chart their long recovery.

Marc Bailey, CEO of British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA), celebrates 10 years with the organisation in December. The UK’s national trade body, its members span all facets of the sector and represents 180 companies, including airports, FBOs, corporate flight departments, operators, aviation services organisations and aircraft manufacturers.

"We are seeing a major downsizing by the airlines. With less than 15% of scheduled routes currently operating, recovery from this global pandemic is not going to be swift. It is unlikely that airlines will be back to pre-Covid levels until at least 2025. There is nervousness too about flying and the fear of infection.   And, just as the airlines make plans to resume flying, along comes the prohibitive 14-day quarantine espoused by UK and other governments to safeguard their borders.

Business aviation is also being hit, but not so hard, as we are smaller and leaner. This presents a perfect storm to demonstrate the business enabler role we do so well – to aid the airlines.

For far too long we have had to defend our sector from negative public perception (that business aviation is just for fat cats, the elite and celebrities). That is a small proportion of our work (less than 5% actually) but it is the only work we do that creates attention-grabbing headlines in tabloid newspapers.

These past few months our operator members have been active supplying vital transportation services, cargo, medical and repatriation flights as part of the essential critical infrastructure all over the UK and Ireland.  Medical flights have seen our business jets transporting Covid-19 patients in EpiShuttle transportation pods. Business aviation (through one of our Stansted FBOs) for example, was instrumental in transporting 25 nurses to support the outbreak in Gibraltar.  Many of our FBO terminals remained open.  We quickly changed our working practices to incorporate social distancing, sanitisation, enhanced cleaning and improved support for vulnerable customers.

Innovation is in our DNA too.  Before Coronavirus struck – and in readiness for Brexit – we were working to further our outreach in the UK. We have been supporting the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and others at smaller airports on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), next gen navigation.  We are confident we can equip a further 50 to 60 more airfields in the future (for smaller jets and turboprop aircraft use) with GNSS  (versus ILS) approaches, delivering quiet, fly-in quickly, fuel efficient, closer to desired locations. An initial 15 airfields have been identified for updating, CAA approval permitting.

One of the big consistent barriers to our growth has been airport access.  But now, with the lack of airline flying, the big hub airports are welcoming us and there is no shortage of slots.

This is why we are lobbying the Government and Department for Transport that business aviation can provide a sound, low-risk test model for safe, efficient and cost-effective air transport for essential business needs.  Our member operators and FBOs can chart a recovery path for the airlines.   We can provide a blueprint as they have to contend with recommendations such as the use of isolation rooms at every stage of the journey.  (See Quarantine uproar in BTN this week).

The model we run is conducive with keeping passengers safe and should not spread infection to passengers when they fly.  Through our quiet and discreet FBOs we can carry small groups of travellers, abiding by all the health measures with a major emphasis on aircraft disinfection, cleaning and screening, observing social distancing (much easier in an environment where you know the people you are flying with).

Our sector has a diverse range of aircraft.  Ultra-long, long, medium-range business jets, converted airliner bizjets, offered by Boeing and Airbus.  However, the backbone of our flying, and the sector that is far less affected by the downturn is the light jets and next gen turboprop models like the King Air and Pilatus PC-12.  We can far more easily meet the social distancing requirements.

The process we can deliver at our private FBOs, situated outside the main hub airports and at key business aviation airports like Biggin Hill, Oxford and Farnborough, won’t exacerbate the infection risk in air travel. Let us be the low-risk pioneer for the airlines.  We are ready and equipped to start this today welcoming international arrivals at our facilities.  We can handle passengers safely, from pick-up where appropriate to getting them on board, observing social distancing and best practice to ensure a safe and healthy environment for FBO staff, customers and business partners.

As a value added benefit to the airlines too, business aviation can help them move crews, parts, executives and generally keep the supply chain moving.

Our recommendations – the result of teleconference lockdown work with a cluster of senior industry and medical experts * – offer an intelligent pathway we believe.

We would adhere to an “As Low as Reasonably Practicable” (ALARP) service, including assuring that our passengers are free of Covid-19 prior to boarding.  As a minimum, passengers must self-certify they are symptom-free and have not been in contact with a suspected case of Covid-19 within the previous seven days.   We have the ability to make local arrangements for a PCR test prior to departure.  (We are working on an advanced technology solution for a 15min test which should be available shortly).  This is similar to the model recently adopted at Vienna Airport and its subsidiary Vienna Airport handling.  It performs PCR tests which can give test findings between three to six hours, priced at €190 (coronatest@viennaairport.com).

Until that time arriving passengers would still have to go to their UK address and isolate until the results come through – not less than 48hr.

Passengers should present a medical certificate confirming negative test results. Passengers with no symptoms and a completed declaration of health would fly to the UK through our FBOs, but could be subject to a molecular biological (PCR) test on arrival and only released into the UK following a Covid-19 negative test result.  Flight crews would also be subject to seven-day testing.

The implementation of this process would only be accepted once all the stages have been confirmed and declared to the UK Government.

The unified goal in all this is to help the UK economy and safely bring in individuals who want to do business in Britain.

Consider this – if we are denied the opportunity to play an early role in getting the City turning – we may lose out to opportunities as entrepreneurs and business executives turn their focus to interests in France, Germany, etc, instead. And once these new habits are established they are hard to break.

BBGA is looking forward to taking its message to UK Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst on 2 June and hopes that our Home Secretary will consider our alternate means of compliance in the way it is intended – to get the UK back in business”.

*Our working group comprised senior industry representatives from MedAire; International SOS; Signature Flight Support; Universal Aviation; SaxonAir; Oxford Airport; Emerald Media and BBGA.


www.bbga.aero

COMMENT SPECIAL: Is British Airways still flying?

This is BTN’s shortest ever COMMENT. 

What is happening to the once proud British national airline?  And is Mr Cruz still in charge?

Following numerous readers' enquiries and requests to the press office and senior personnel Business Travel News has been unable to establish BA’s flying programme for this week.  Yes, you can go to the booking site and find out there is a single service to Edinburgh today, and go elsewhere to see what is happening at Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and even Newcastle as alternatives. EasyJet has published its programme and will pick up the BA business.

PS.  The press office web site was updated 29 May 2020 with a cargo story.  No other news in May?

https://mediacentre.britishairways.com/?articleType=Latestnews

Loganair & Ryanair on Webinar

BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS, as a new official media partner and exhibitor at this year’s British-Irish Airports EXPO 5-6 October at ExCeL London is pleased to announce two free Webinars in June, in association with anna.aero.

  • 14:00-14:30 BST, 11 June 2020 – Loganair's CEO Jonathan Hinkles.
    “Where to Next: Loganair’s post-Covid network and airport partnership aspirations.”
  • 14:00-14:30 BST, 25 June 2020 – Ryanair’s Director of Route Development Niall O’Connor.
    “Time to get Ryanair flying again: Who will be our airport partners now – and what will it take to be one?”

The Ryanair webinar takes place just days before the airline’s 1 July restart of 40% of normal flight schedules from most of its 80 bases.

We encourage BTN readers to register for both webinars. These ‘fast and furious’ talks and Q&A last just 30min each, with rapid-fire interviews conducted by anna.aero Chief Analyst and Editor James Pearson, razor-sharp network analysis, and 15min of questions taken from airports and other stakeholders – questions can be submitted in advance of the Webinars.

REGISTER FOR THE FREE LOGANAIR WEBINAR 

REGISTER FOR FREE RYANAIR WEBINAR

AND SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE TO THE WEEKLY BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS NEWSLETTER

www.airports-expo.com

Quarantine uproar

With the Home Secretary Priti Patel’s proposal for an incoming travellers’ 14-day quarantine now just seven days away the objection to her scheme is reaching a crescendo with senior ministers pushing to have it postponed indefinitely according to The Times

Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, is also understood to have raised concerns about the long-term impact of the proposals if they are not quickly lifted.

Marc Bailey, Chief Executive of the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) highlights in this issue of BTN the efforts of the general aviation sector in supporting the government efforts in attempting to deal with the pandemic, a message it will put to Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst on 2 June.

Headed by Henry Smith MP The Future of Aviation Group has been established as another lobby in the campaign (see in this week’s BTN).

Another influential MP advocating a review of the arrangements is Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Tory backbenchers committee.  He followed the lines initially advocated by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggesting rapid testing and ‘air bridges’ to enable quarantine-free travel to and from countries with low levels of infection.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) and Airlines UK have put forward a series of guidelines which it hopes will form the basis of a way forward with the Home Office.

Summary and outstanding questions:

In the main, the UK commercial aviation sector (airports and airlines represented through AOA and AUK) are aligned on the public health measures that would be practical in an aviation context and mitigate the risk of infection to a certain degree. This includes agreement on pre-check-in procedures, cleaning standards, the applicability of social distancing, the uncertain medical efficacy of temperature testing, airport retail operations, onboard concerns, and measures for arriving passengers, amongst others. Outlined below are areas with outstanding issues:

Passenger Face Masks/Face coverings & gloves

There remains disagreement as to what extent a form of face covering should be mandated in airport terminals and onboard, or strongly recommended. Industry accepts the position that in order to keep passengers safe in areas where social distancing is not practicable, other layers of mitigation, such as mandatory face masks could be needed. There are outstanding questions as to how a mandatory policy would be enforced by airports and airlines and the liabilities this could generate. There is also a concern that a mandatory policy could be seen as inconsistent with current guidance for public transport. Clarity and further discussion needed on UK position on gloves, their efficacy in stopping the spread of Covid-19 and the viability of mass-usage of gloves in aviation.

Enforcement/Resolution of contraventions to health measures

There needs to be clear understanding and a solid legal basis for the enforcement of any public health measures introduced to UK aviation. This thinking applies to example situations such as: a passenger refuses to wear a facemask when mandated; a passenger shows up for their flight despite indicating Covid-19 symptoms on their pre-flight health questionnaire; or, if introduced, a passenger presents a temperature above the threshold. Clear resolution processes for airports, airlines and Border Force would need to be set out in guidance and have a strong legal footing.

Temperature Checks

Whilst there is agreement that there remains uncertainty as to the efficacy of temperature testing, there are diverging views as to the extent that temperature testing might be deployed to affect consumer confidence and add a further layer to the bio-security approach. Clarity on how the guidance might reference temperature testing, if at all, is necessary. As with other measures there remains an issue of resolution for those displaying temperatures over the threshold: what should an airport do with passengers over the temperature? Deny access? Further testing?

Oversight & Quality Assurance

Is there a role for the CAA in auditing/supervising and providing quality assurance on the approach on airports and airlines to health measure implementation? This could help to boost public confidence in the measures that have been adopted. Regardless, a formal policy review cycle, run at regular intervals, would help to incorporate best practice and learning from implementation of the guidance.

Isolation Rooms

The original DfT long-list included the provision of isolation rooms at every stage of the passenger journey. UK airports are clear that this is in no way feasible or operationally possible. While airports can commit to having, at a minimum, one isolation room available, the more pressing issue is why further provision of isolation areas is necessary. The process by which a symptomatic passenger is resolved should be a simple one: either denied flying and sent home to isolate or not. Testing would not be possible within the timeframe of a person’s visit to the airport, and larger-scale testing of symptomatic departing passengers would have a severe impact on operational constraints.

The intention should be to reduce the amount of time any passenger would have to isolate onsite at an airport for.

See also ON THE SOAPBOX in this week's BTN.

http://airlinesuk.org

www.aoa.org.uk

Air BP offers aid

As the impact of Covid-19 touches every corner of the globe, fuel supplier Air BP has been active in assisting communities around the world through a number of initiatives, working with customers and partners.

In France it is supporting an initiative led by Aviation Sans Frontières, an aviation charity providing humanitarian assistance, by donating 60,000 litres of jet fuel for flights dedicated to transporting medical staff and equipment between French hospitals. These flights are carried out free of charge when requested by medical authorities drawing on its 50 locations in the country.

In the UK, Air BP is providing free jet fuel for use by the helicopters of a number of UK air ambulance services, supporting their life-saving work during the pandemic. All these services are charitable organisations it already supplies with jet fuel. Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Great Western Air Ambulance receive fuel directly from Air BP, whilst Wales Air Ambulance and Midlands Air Ambulance Charity are supplied by Air BP customer Babcock International.

Air BP has been working with its procurement team to donate 35,000 N95 masks to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in Australia for their frontline staff. Its donation builds on a long-standing relationship with the organisation which spans decades of providing bespoke fuelling services.

For the US, Air BP is donating three million gallons of jet fuel to customers FedEx and Alaska Airlines to support the timely delivery of medical supplies and other essential goods, such as food and mail, to areas of the US at greatest risk from Covid-19.

www.bp.com

BA cancellations

BTN has learnt that the following routes have been cancelled or have had reopening delayed, including Leeds Bradford.  All are from Heathrow Terminal 5.



Buenos Aires Ezeiza service cancelled until 31 August inclusive.

Calgary service cancelled for the remainder of summer 2020.

Charleston service cancelled for the remainder of summer 2020.

Helsinki route cancelled permanently for the time being.

Podgorica (Montinegro) and Cancan (Mexico) previously planned new routes in July/August 2020 cancelled.

The Leeds Bradford route, now suspended, will not reopen and is unlikely to be transferred to Gatwick or London City when they come to life, essentially a connecting route for long-haul operations, the city offering a fine train service to London.

For many years Leeds Bradford to Heathrow was operated by British Midland Airways, which later became BMI. It dropped the link in 2009, citing lack of profitability.  BA re-launched the service in 2012 but struggled commercially.

According to the BA Press Office website there has only been one newsworthy story worth putting up for the whole of May.  BTN readers (BA regulars) would appreciate somewhere a listing of current operating routes and frequencies.

The British Airways UK contact centre opening hours are 08:00-20:00 Monday to Friday and 09:00-17:00 Saturday and Sunday BST. Travel vouchers are now valid until 30 April 2022 (includes previously issued vouchers).

See also COMMENT SPECIAL in this issue.

https://mediacentre.britishairways.com/?articleType=Latestnews

Boost for World Aviation Festival

John Strickland interviews Wizz CEO Joe Varadi.

The Covid-19 crisis has created a bleak outlook for the airline industry but Wizz is bucking the trend.  John Strickland explored the reasons behind this in a fascinating live webinar with CEO Jozsef Varadi for the World Aviation Festival, now set for late September at ExCel London. 

Varadi founded Wizz in Hungary 16 years ago and now leads a pan European business with over 120 Airbus aircraft and flying over 40m customers.  Profits for 2019 will be announced this week and will top €300m, with the Covid-19 crisis only touching the tail end of the reporting position.

Varadi’s maxim is “cash is king”.  Wizz sits in an enviable position of having sufficient cash and liquidity to survive for two years without operating a single flight, leaving it in prime position to exploit others weakness.  

Added to this, the airline has a massive order book, with its fleet growing to almost 300 aircraft by 2026-27.  The majority will be A321 NEOs, including longer range (LR and XLR) versions, which afford Wizz an opportunity to expand its horizons beyond Europe. Varadi has no intention of cancelling any of his order book.  The airline has in the last few days, announced four new European bases, which will commence operations in a matter of weeks.

Following this Wizz will open a new Joint Venture in Abu Dhabi later in the summer, representing a radically different departure and opening up many new markets.  Up to 50 aircraft will be allocated to this. Currently Wizz serves Dubai from several European bases but these will transfer to Abu Dhabi as the first services ahead of the start of based operations.

Cash reserves and a massive forward aircraft portfolio gives Varadi quiet confidence, but so too does Wizz’s young customer profile and lack of reliance on business passengers.  Varadi said that the airline’s data shows clear evidence of a real hunger to get travelling again and he believes that with the sanitary measures which the airline is taking, people will soon be able to do this with confidence.  His only frustration is the disjointed way which governments are behaving with respect to the opening of borders and quarantine requirements.  No uniform approach.  Where is the EU he asked?

Strickland made one point very clear.  It certainly looks like Wizz will be a winner in the years ahead.

www.wizz.com

www.jlsconsulting.co.uk

www.terrapinn.com/conference/aviation-festival/index.stm

EasyJet shrinks

In a statement to the London Stock Exchange last Thursday (28 May) easyJet confirmed it will resume flying on 15 June, servicing a small number of mainly domestic routes in the UK and France.

The airline went on to say that so far the booking trends on the resumed flights have been encouraging, and the demand indications for summer 2020 are improving, albeit from a low base. Bookings for winter are well ahead of the equivalent point last year, which includes customers who are rebooking coronavirus-disrupted flights for later dates.

Regarding fiscal Q4 2020 capacity, current plans are that easyJet expects to fly around 30% of Q4 2019. This will continue to be evaluated reflecting changing regulations and customer demand.

Looking further forward, easyJet expects its year end 2021 fleet size to be at the bottom end of their fleet range at around 302 aircraft, which is 51 aircraft lower than the anticipated fleet size for year end 2021 which was reported to the market prior to Covid-19.

In line with IATA projections, easyJet believes that the levels of market demand seen in 2019 are not likely to be reached again until 2023.

To affect the restructure of the business the airline says it will shortly launch an employee consultation process on proposals to reduce staff numbers by up to 30%, reflecting the smaller fleet.

https://www.easyjet.com

THIS IS THE FULL EASYJET SCHEDULE FORWARD FROM 15 JUNE.

From To Commencing Frequency Belfast   Birmingham 16 June 3 weekly Belfast  Bristol 15 June 1 daily Belfast  Edinburgh 15 June 1 daily Belfast  Glasgow 15 June 1 daily Belfast  Liverpool 15 June 1 daily Belfast  Gatwick 15 June 1 daily Belfast  Newcastle 15 June 4-5 weekly Gatwick  Edinburgh 15 June 1 daily Gatwick  Glasgow 15 June 1 daily Gatwick  Inverness 15 June 3-4 weekly Gatwick  Isle of Man 15 June 4 weekly Gatwick  Nice 15 June 2-3 weekly Geneva  Porto 16 June 4-6 weekly Geneva  Lisbon 15 June 2-4 weekly Geneva  Nice 15 June 4-7 weekly Liverpool  Isle of Man 15 June 4 weekly Lyon  Bordeaux 16 June 2 weekly Lyon  Nantes 18 June 2 weekly Nice  Bordeaux 16 June 2 weekly Nice  Lille 15 June 2-4 weekly Nice  Nantes 18 June 2 weekly Nice  Paris 16 June 4-5 weekly Nice  Toulouise 15 June 2-3 weekly Paris CDG  Toulouse 16 June 3-5 weekly

Electric aircraft breakthrough

Last Wednesday (27 May) saw the first flight of the world's largest all-electric commuter aircraft yet.

MagniX, founded in Australia, and working with Seattle-based AeroTEC, retrofitted a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan with its 750-horsepower Magni500 propulsion system. The 'e-Caravan' took off from AeroTEC's flight test centre at Moses Lake, Washington State and flew for 30min, climbing up to 2,500ft and performing “flawlessly,” according to Steve Crane, Chief Test Pilot for AeroTEC.

The choice of the Caravan was intentional, according to Ganzarski; it is a widely-used airframe for both passenger and cargo transit that is still in production and has logged more than 20m flight hours. And the eCaravan’s first flight – which took off on time, landed on time, and retained 10% more energy capacity than MagniX and AeroTEC expected it would – was intended to demonstrate “how mature [electric propulsion technology] is and how ready for the world it is.”

Ganzarski believes an electric version of the Caravan will reduce operating costs by 40-80% per flight hour, significantly changing the routes operators are able to fly with it. The 30min test flight, which would normally consume jet fuel exceeding $300 in cost, used less than $6 worth of electricity, according to Ganzarski.

This is the second all-electric aircraft MagniX has retrofitted and flown in the past six months. Last year it teamed with Vancouver, Canada-based seaplane operator Harbour Air to modify a six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver, which flew in December. The two companies have partnered to electrify Harbour Air’s entire fleet.

www.magnix.aero

See BTN 16 December 2019 Electric powered passenger aircraft

Also see BTN 24 June 2019 All-electric Energic takes off

BTN has featured Rolls-Royce plans for electric aircraft but whether these go ahead remains to be seen.

Future of Aviation Group

A new lobby grouping has been created called The Future of Aviation Group, chaired by Henry Smith MP (Conservative – Crawley).

With the support of the Airport Operators Association (AOA), Airlines UK, The Air League, IATA (International Air Transport Association) and other industry organisations it seeks to highlight the importance of a vibrant aviation sector to consumers, businesses and the overall UK economy.

The Group is urging ministers to introduce measures to support the recovery of the UK’s aviation sector and echos the Air League’s call earlier this week for the Government and MPs to spearhead a national awareness campaign to show that the UK is open for business through aviation.

Henry Smith said: “It is of course right that public health concerns remain the Government’s most urgent priority, but the level of support from MPs from all sides and from all regions reflects the pressing need for the Government to provide much more support to our aviation sector, given that aviation is one of the sectors worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Aviation will be vital to our long-term economic recovery at national and local levels and it is high time that Government avoid any further delay and introduce financial measures that support the aviation industry; the businesses, employees and the communities who depend on it.

“We cannot allow Britain’s economic and social recovery to be held back through a failure to support our aviation industry. As a global, island trading nation the consequences of continuing inaction are unthinkable.”

The Group has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, setting out several urgent questions about the Government’s actions to date together with demands for further urgent policy intervention.

The letter to the Secretary of State raises several points, including:

How often will the 14-day quarantine period be reviewed, and will Government prioritise ‘air bridges’ to restart safe travel to and from low risk countries?

What discussions have been held at an international level to find a Common International Standard for aviation health protocols to build consumer confidence?

What discussions have been held with local authorities and airport representatives regarding central Government support for business rates relief?

What consideration has been given to financial measures to support the restart of domestic aviation and to protect vital regional routes?

What additional support can be made available to local authorities and the aviation supply chain until passenger numbers increase?

What assessment has been made of the importance of aviation to the nation’s economic recovery?

What assessment has been made of the likely timescale of the recovery of businesses in the tourism sector who are reliant on international tourism?

What assessment has been made of the opportunity to support low carbon aviation technologies as a way to support UK economic recovery and help aviation deliver its net zero commitment?

www.airleague.co.uk/the-future-of-aviation-group

Greece gets going

Regular ferry services to the Greek Islands have started, while restaurants and bars are reopening, as the country continues efforts to salvage its vital tourism season.

Visitors to Greece are currently required to self-isolate for two weeks, but the country’s low infection rate has encouraged its Government to welcome overseas tourists again from 15 June. Direct flights to the islands have been given permission to resume from 1 July.

Foreign arrivals will no longer be required to self-isolate but they will be subject to Covid-19 testing. Further details will be announced in the coming weeks. Distancing regulations and passenger limits have been imposed both on ferries and at restaurants.

Whether Britons will be among the first tourists to return depends on how long the UK Government retains its own 14-day quarantine policy, due to come into force on 8 June, or whether it offers an exemption or ‘air bridge’ to those arriving from Greece. 

www.visitgreece.gr

Heathrow and cargo

New government data has revealed that a third of the UK’s total imports (by value) of essential medical equipment, PPE and other tools to fight Covid-19, have arrived via Heathrow.

From January through March the airport welcomed 5,269 tonnes of specific medical cargo items urgently needed including hospital equipment, PPE, sterilisation and disinfecting products, medical oxygen, medicines, swabs and test kits.  In March alone the airport imported nearly 33% (32.9%) of the UK’s critical equipment to fight the pandemic by value, compared to all other ports in the UK including rail, air and sea ports.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines are just some of the carriers who have re-invented the use of passenger planes by using seats, overhead lockers and the hold to carry vital supplies.  In total 4,153 cargo-only flights have arrived at Heathrow so far this year – an increase of 304% compared to 2019.

Interestingly as total UK imports fall, Heathrow continues to increase.  

Commenting on the latest figures, Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy, Freight Transport Association (FTA) said: “Air cargo has been vital to maintaining the integrity of the UK’s supply chain, and helped businesses cope with unprecedented demand in areas including medical supplies, food and other essentials.  The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the resilience of the UK’s logistics industry, helped in no small part by the flexibility of air operators via Heathrow to release additional capacity to support UK Plc.”

www.btnews.co.uk

www.heathrow.com

 

Iberia restarts

Starting 1 July, Iberia will gradually resume its short- and medium-haul flight programme.

The airline is also prepared to resume long-haul flights as soon as conditions allow and quarantine and travel restrictions are lifted in the countries served by Iberia.

In June, Iberia is maintaining a minimum level of air connectivity similar to that of May connecting Madrid with the Spanish Islands (Canary Islands and the Balearics), Barcelona, Bilbao, Asturias, Vigo, La Coruña, London and Paris.

In July and August Iberia, Iberia Express, and Iberia Regional will fly to at least 40 and 53 destinations, respectively, with a total of at least 194 return flights per week scheduled in July, and 359 in August.

This amounts to just 21% of normal seat supply on the short- and medium-haul network, which may rise to 35% as demand increases. 

In mainland Spain, services will be resumed to Alicante, Almeria, Asturias, Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada, Jerez, La Coruña, Malaga, Pamplona, San Sebastian, Santander, Santiago, Seville, Valencia, and Vigo. The Iberia Group will also fly to Tenerife Norte, Tenerife Sur, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, and La Palma in the Canary Islands, and to Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza in the Balearics.

Iberia will also resume European flights in July to Athens, Brussels, Dubrovnik, Geneva, Lisbon, London, Milan, Munich, Oporto, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Venice, and Zurich, as well as to Dakar in Senegal in Africa; and in August will add Berlin, Bologna, Copenhagen, Dublin, Faro, Frankfurt, Lyon, Manchester, Marseilles, Prague, Santorini and Toulouse, as well as Marraquesh in Morocco.

www.iberia.com

Irish media and Willie Walsh

International Airlines Group (IAG) Chief Executive Willie Walsh said that the group not would collapse due to the various governmental approaches to their local carriers, specifically underlining that there was neither "a prospect" nor "a reason" for the renationalisation of Aer Lingus.

Always happy to talk to the Dublin media, Mr Walsh, who is with IAG until October, told The Irish Examiner that the privatisation of Aer Lingus was "absolutely the right thing to do" and dismissed as "total nonsense" the idea that as a state-owned carrier it would be more resilient to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic.

IAG has been opposed to state bailouts to airlines during the ongoing crisis. However, Walsh underlined during a hearing at the British House of Commons Transport Committee that it did not mean that the group would not pursue the available help.

"What I have objected to in the past is state bailout. I would define bailout as when you give cash to a company that has failed or is failing. That is not the case in this situation. There are many fine companies that through no fault of their own are suffering significant financial and liquidity crises as a result of the coronavirus, and, more importantly for the airline industry, as a result of the restrictions that governments have imposed on travel. I have been very open in saying that, if there are general facilities that are available, we will, where possible, avail of those facilities if it makes sense to us," Walsh said.

IAG secured a £300m loan from the British Coronavirus Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF), while its two Spanish subsidiaries, Iberia and Vueling Airlines have received €1bn in state-backed loans. Aer Lingus has yet to receive any specific state support.

www.aerlingus.com

LATAM into Chapter 11

It is not the first South American airline to seek a way out of its obligations, that was Avianca (see BTN 18 May), but LATAM has taken Chapter 11 protection in the United States with the support of the Cueto and Amaro families and Qatar Airways, major largest shareholders of the airline.

In the past several major American airlines have taken the same route after financial problems, including American, Delta and United, all (pre-Covid-19) now profitable airlines. Car rental giant Hertz has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US after 102 years of trading. (See BTN 25 May)

In a statement the airline notes: “LATAM Airlines Group SA and its affiliates will continue to operate passenger and cargo flights, subject to demand and travel restrictions.

All current and future tickets, travel vouchers and frequent flyer miles and benefits, as well as flexibility policies, will be honoured.

The group’s employees will continue to be paid and receive benefits as provided in their employment agreements.

Suppliers will be paid in a timely fashion for goods and services delivered from 26 May 2020 forward and throughout this process.

Travel agencies and other commercial partners will experience no disruption in their interactions with the LATAM group”.

www.latam.com

Lufthansa bailout

The German Federal Government has agreed a €9bn bailout with Lufthansa as it seeks to avoid financial collapse in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The airline has been severely affected by a decline in travel during the pandemic.

Under the plans, the Economic Stabilisation Fund (WSF) will take a 20% stake in the airline, which it hopes to sell by 2023.

As part of the package, the German Government will also inject €5.7bn in non-voting capital, known as a ‘silent participation’.

Part of these funds can be converted into an additional 5% equity stake.

This would then enable the German Government to veto any potential hostile takeover bids.

As a result, six Airbus A380s and seven A340-600s, as well as five Boeing 747-400s, will be permanently withdrawn.  Germanwings has permanently ceased operations

The package still requires the final approval of the management board and the supervisory board of Lufthansa and an extraordinary general meeting subject to the approval of the European Commission and any competition-related conditions.

www.lufthansa.com

Project Wingman

Airline crews continue to help.

In spite of the job uncertainly caused by Covid-19 a group of airline crew from across every UK carrier is uniting to help NHS staff during the pandemic. Project Wingman provides a space to unwind, de-compress and destress before, during and after hospital shifts.

Since NHS workers give first class treatment to their patients, ‘First Class Lounges’ is the way airline staff are putting their experience to good use.

Furloughed, grounded or made redundant by the crisis, aircrew find themselves in the unexpected circumstances of having the skills and time to help those most in need of a smile.

Airline staff, flight deck included, are all trained in human factors and how to communicate with colleagues who are in stressful situations. Rather like medics they too work in a highly disciplined, regulated and pressured environment.

One time RAF Flying Officer and England rugby cap Rory Underwood had this to say.    “What a fantastic idea the Project Wingman Foundation is. To hear about the thousands of furloughed Airline Crew volunteers who are supporting the NHS in a multitude of ways is another inspirational example of the quality of people, not only within the aviation industry, but also in our society. Thank you for all that you are doing to assist our NHS heroes in this time of need.”

www.projectwingman.co.uk

SAA Chief Banned

Dudu Myeni, Chairwoman of South African Airways (SAA), has been declared a delinquent director and banned for life by a Pretoria High Court Judge.

The ruling ended a five-year private legal battle, the judge Ronald Tolmay calling her dishonest.  He was robust in his findings.  “She did not have the slightest consideration for her fiduciary duty to SAA.  Her actions caused SAA and the country immense harm”. Despite having no previous experience she was appointed by her close friend, then South African President, Jacob Zuma.

William Gumede, an expert on governance, said the action against Mrs Myeni demonstrated a “lack of political will” to bring the politically connected to justice. “It is a scandal that it has to be individuals and civil society that is driving these processes” he said, “but at least we have a justice system that is playing its role effectively.”

Mrs Myeni must pay all legal costs.

President Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in 2018, has initiated several inquiries into just what happened at SAA but no State prosecutions have been started.

SAA is currently in administration with all flights suspended until at least mid-June.

www.flysaa.com

Tegel The End

Monday 15 June could see the final flight from Tegel Airport Berlin (TXL).  Whatever the authorities might say its closure looks like being permanent rather than temporary. 

Willy Brant Airport, Berlin Brandenburg International (BER), is supposed to open in October and in the meantime all flights to the German capital will operate from Schoenfeld, once the East Berlin airport, and on the same site as Brandenburg, to the north served by its own runway.  Used by low-cost airlines since unification it has direct rail links to the city but will also eventually close.

Tegel was built by French military engineers in just 90 days due to the 1948 Berlin blockade.  It has no rail connections and moved around 20m+ passengers in 2019.  In spite of location difficulties it has remained popular due to its hexagonal main terminal building around an open square, which makes walking distances as short as 30m from the aircraft to the terminal exit.

Berlin was also served by the much more central Tempelhof Airport, which dates from the 1920s, but closed in 2008, some would say prematurely, Brandenburg originally set for opening in 2010.  

www.berlin-airport.de

Transit at Hong Kong and Singapore

New rules to come into effect at Chek Lap Kop and Changi airports.

From today (1 June) passengers will be allowed to transit flights at two of the most important airports in the Far East.  This will greatly benefit the non-stop services from London and other major European points with passengers able to transfer to regional flights and further destinations in South East Asia and the Antipodes.

On 7 April, the Hong Kong government also extended its travel ban on non-Hong Kong residents “until further notice”. As part of the measures, all non-Hong Kong residents coming from overseas countries and regions by plane are banned from entering Hong Kong.  All passengers arriving into Hong Kong are tested for Covid-19.

The announcement came after Hong Kong recorded 11 days in a row without a locally transmitted case of Covid-19.

The city has begun easing its social distancing measures by allowing entertainment venues including nightclubs and karaoke lounges to open this Friday.  (See Tony Tyler in last week’s BTN COMMENT)

The rules at Singapore Changi Airport are also being relaxed.

Currently, foreign passengers can only transit through Singapore if they are on repatriation flights arranged by their governments. Singapore banned all short-term visitors from entering or transiting through the city-state in March in an effort to combat the spread of Covid-19. Only work-pass holders, including their dependents, who are providing essential services such as healthcare and transport are currently allowed to enter the country.

www.hongkongairport.com

www.changiairport.com

Virgin Atlantic return date

Now only at Heathrow, and without its world beating Clubhouse, Virgin Atlantic says it has been forced to delay the resumption of its operations as a result of the UK’s mandatory 14-day self-isolation for arriving international passengers.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said:  “Virgin Atlantic is reviewing its flying programme on a day by day basis and currently operating cargo only flying until 30 June 2020. As we are reviewing our flying programme on an ongoing basis, currently we are cancelling flights up until 12 July.”

When the restrictions take effect as of 8 June, all arriving travellers will be required to isolate with very few exceptions, such as those coming from Ireland, essential medical workers and specialised key staff.

www.virginatlantic.com

ON TOUR: The Waterways of Europe

When putting together the JUNE CRUISE ISSUE: River Ships it quickly became apparent that what was being written about was only half of the European rivership tale. There was a requirement to tell the story of the rivers themselves and ON TOUR was the perfect place to set the scene.

This overview covers the rivers travelled by BTN over the years but does not include Russia (See ON TOUR: St Petersburg to Moscow on the inland waterways), nor the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea.  It is on the “Wish List”.

For a more detailed insight into the rivers of continental Europe Douglas Ward’s ‘River Cruising in Europe & the USA’ is to be recommended.  We have also concentrated on the English-speaking market in the main, which rules out the Elbe and its tributaries, also the Loire, with very limited offerings and perhaps something for the future.

There are no details on the ships with this report (See BTN Cruising) but we must mention here the Christmas Markets.  Hopefully these will be up and running for December and are particularly popular for the German rivers.  Do make sure you take warm clothing as often these are evening affairs. Hot malt wine will keep you warm.

Some holiday river trip packages are totally inclusive and you do not have to spend a penny once on board, others less so. Usually there is a choice of tours, sometimes two in a day, and also off-ship evening activities with local entertainment. Bikes are often on offer for energetic holidaymakers, electric powered ones as well.  You are on water and a safety briefing will be made before leaving the port.  Covid-19 will definitely be noted and virus protection will be a must for the future although without exception health and safety has always featured on river cruises.  Small numbers make it easier.  In the past medical provision has been limited with a hospital never far away.  This will be clearly under review by all operators.

A river cruise provides a unique landscape of Europe passing by ancient castles and ruins, wonderful gorges, vineyards stretching for miles up the steep hillsides, and very modern cities rebuilt since WWII.  At every stop (and lock) there is history to be told.  European rivers encompass the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one end and England’s mediaeval ambitions into France and its dealings with Napoleon at its western edges.  Prague is not linked to the rivers of central Europe but it does feature on itineraries as a ‘before’ or ‘after’ linked by coach or private transport.


Dutch and Belgian Waterways

Sad to say there will be no ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’ this year, but mark it on your calendar for 2021.  That is the best time to visit the Netherlands (Holland does not actually exist today as a country as such but is the name given to the most westerly regions including Amsterdam) than the spring, when the flowers are at their best. The Keukenhof Gardens, just outside Amsterdam, has surely the world’s greatest collection of tulips.  With the distances short the cruising season too is restricted from late April until early June.

There is of course more to see than the daffodils and Antwerp, at the head of the Rhine, is a port of call, served by sea-going ships as well as river craft.  By the time the season comes around again a brand-new cruise terminal should be ready.  It is a converted castle. At the 17th-century Rubens House, period rooms display works by the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. It is a very easy flat walk from the ship, an alternative being an open top hop-on hop-off bus tour, which also takes you past the Antwerp zoo, one of the largest in Europe.

Your itinerary should include the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek, highlighted in Richard Attenborough’s epic ‘A Bridge Too Far’, a perspective of the disaster which cost nearly 2,000 British and Polish military personnel their lives and also dented the reputation of several generals including Montgomery. Delft and its porcelain should be on the trip and also Bruges, another picturesque Dutch town with its canals and graceful bridges

See ON TOUR EXTRA – Cruising the canals


The Seine

There is no better way to be introduced to river cruising than joining the Seine at Paris for the 277mi journey to Le Havre.

It is a voyage full of history, whether it be our own Richard the Lion Heart, Napoleon, John of Arc, the painter Claude Monet, or in times still recalled by some, the Normandy landings and D-Day.  Add to that Honfleur, with its narrow half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and charming old harbour set in a sheltered cove off the tidal estuary. Over the years, many renowned painters and writers have been attracted to the village.

At Rouen, about half way to the sea, you might find yourself moored besides a sea-going cruise ship.  This is as far as they can navigate up the river. As with most towns and cities along the rivers many of the points of interest are but a short walk from the riverside, typified by this city with its massive Gothic cathedral, the final spire, in black, still under construction with completion said to be 2024. It hosts a light and music show providing free entertainment.

See ON TOUR: Paris to Paris on the Seine



Bordeaux – The Garonne and Dordogne

Bordeaux, one of the great cities of France, is the hub of the famed wine-growing region. A city completely re-built in recent times, it is 40mi along the tidal River Garonne from the Bay of Biscay. Full-size cruise ships can now visit a new cruise terminal built on the site of old dockland wharfs after emerging under the vertical-lift Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas. The largest of its type in Europe, it is an impressive way to arrive.  Rivercraft dock a little way up, nearer the city centre and a fine tramway provides transport for those indifferent to walking.

The Cité du Vin exhibition, opened by President Hollande in 2016 is probably the world’s greatest wine exposition. A river cruise out of Bordeaux is a wine taster’s paradise.  Pauillac, on the left bank of the Garonne, is the home of the great estate of Baron Phillipe de Rothchild.  The Dordogne tributary hosts the small town of Libourne, and not far away Saint-Emilion, an impressive ancient fortified town with narrow cobble stone streets, the centre of an area said to host 65 wineries.

The Garonne is one of the few rivers in the world that exhibit a tidal bore.  River cruise ships can make their way as far as Cadillac, linked to an American car brand once thought of as a competitor to Rolls-Royce.   

See ON TOUR: Bordeaux


The Scenic Rhône

The Rhône, southern France, is a very practical river cruise possibility with the current limited accessibility from the United Kingdom.  Eurostar from London St Pancras to Lyon, and back from Marseilles or the reverse routing.

It is not one of Europe’s best known waterways but it stretches for over 500mi from its source in the Swiss Alps, into Lake Geneva, passing by some of France’s finest vineyards, before emerging into the Mediterranean at Port St Louis near Marseilles. For the river ships Avignon, with its bridge featured in the children’s nursery rhyme, is its southern most access port.

Joining your ship at the northern end will probably be at Chalon-sur-Saône a delightful riverside town mostly pedestrianised with the old streets containing a very wide range of shops and cafes including medieval half-timbered houses.  It is a 90min drive and you are in Beaujolais country.

Mâcon and the remains of the massive Benedictine Abbey at Cluny will be on the itinerary before the river joins the Rhône itself at the great city of Lyon, well worth a full visit another time (see ON TOUR: Loafing through Lyon). Châteauneuf du Pape is also on the itinerary and another excuse for a tasting.  Besides the bridge Avignon is famous for the Pope’s Palace dating back from the time when Rome was considered not safe for His Holiness (1309-1377).  It is a massive citadel just a short walk from the dock.  Just further downstream is the little town riverside town of Tarascon with the Roman Arles Arena, now a bullfight centre.

See ON TOUR: The Scenic Rhône



The Douro (Portugal)

Porto is easy to reach by air from the United Kingdom (in normal times) and can be combined with a visit to Lisbon, the two linked by a good road with some nice stopping places (200mi), by air (60min airport to airport), and by train, city centre to city centre (3hr).

Porto is in fact two cities with six famous bridges across the Douro, connecting Porto itself, to the north, with Gaia, essentially the home of Port wine, to the south.

The history of Port is another story with very strong British connections, Taylors were established in 1692 and many other popular brands followed including Dow, Cockburn and Sandeman. Dine and wine in Porto (or Gaia across the river from Porto itself).

Under development is a celebration of Porto’s history by the family owners of the 5-star Yeatman hotel.

The Douro is one of the great rivers of Europe, not that well known, and whilst over 500mi long is navigable for just 130mi.  It is a river of wineries, which stretch up the escarpment for as far as one can see.  Traditionally, the wine was taken down river in flat-bottom boats called rabelos, to be stored in barrels in cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

It was here the British merchants from places such as Bristol established themselves from the 16th century onwards.

During the 1970s and 1980s the Portuguese Douro was changed for ever with the building of five massive dams, the Pocinho, Valeira, Régua, Carrapatelo and Crestuma-Lever.  Vessels with a maximum length of 83m (272ft) and width of 11.4m (37ft) pass through the five locks with the Carrapatelo Dam the largest and a maximum lift of 35m (115ft).  It is very impressive.  Smaller ships than on the rest of Europe’s rivers, but with all the same amenities, make for a more intimate cruise.  It is possible to go one way via Madrid and Salamanca in Spain joining your ship at Vega de Terron on the border.  No formalities and you will not know if you are in Spain or Portugal.

Porto is still developing as a river cruise centre with the ships moored on both sides on the river.  You have to make a choice of operator and whether Porto or Gaia suits.  The friendly rivalry continues.

See PORTUGAL AND RIVER CRUISING



The Rhine Main and Moselle

The Rhine rises in the Swiss canton of Graubünden near the Austrian border and flows for 760mi through Switzerland forming part of the Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then forming the Franco-German border before entering the North Sea in the Netherlands.  It is the second longest river in Western Europe after the Danube.

In 21st century terms it is a motorway on water carrying essential commercial traffic, and leisure ships.  Passageway is not always on the river itself, man-made locks and canals assisting what nature has created.

If you have the time a 14-night trip from Amsterdam to Budapest via the Nuremburg Canal that links the Rhine and Danube is a true European experience.

BTN
has cruised in both directions, from Basle (Switzerland) to Amsterdam, and in reverse, disembarking at Koblenz (Germany), where it is joined by the Moselle, the river that leads towards Luxembourg, navigable by river ships and in some operators’ itineraries.  Reichsburg Castle, high up and overlooking the river was rebuilt by a German industrialist in the latter half of the 19th century and thankfully a coach takes visitors to within a short distance of the gates. You will pass by Trier, said to be Germany’s oldest city and Piesport noted for its wines.

The voyage from Basle takes in some of the great European cities and memorable places.  Make sure your choice of ship and operator offers the sort of tours that meet your requirements. Dusseldorf, Cologne, Koblenz, Mannheim (for Heidelberg), Karlsruhe (Black Forest) and Strasbourg are but some of the places you will pass and may well visit. There will be castles galore and diverse activities including chocolate making, toys and clocks.  At either end the cities themselves are fascinating and well connected.

See ON TOUR: The Scenic Rhine



The Danube

It is Europe’s longest river with 1,500mi of it navigable.  It passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea. In 1992 the Nuremburg Canal was completed, 106mi and 16 locks. Ships could then voyage from the Black Sea to the North Sea.  A whole new market has opened up.  Due to the lock limitations the ‘wide-bodied’ AmaMagna is limited to cruise between the Vilshofen (Germany) and Budapest (Hungary) section.

The Danube has been the artery of Europe since time immemorial.  King Richard the Lionheart, born in England but not an English speaker, was taken prisoner in Vienna and despatched to Dürnstein, on the river, for ‘safe keeping’ and a King’s ransom.  He was on his way back from the Crusades, where he had apparently insulted Leopold V Duke of Babenbury, the Austrian ruler. Perhaps Richard had the last laugh as Leopold was subsequently excommunicated by the then Pope.

Amongst the many riverside towns to visit on the central Europe section of the Danube is Linz with a choice of three possibilities.  Linz itself, an interesting Austrian university town; Ceský Krumlov, a gem of a tiny city, or better described as a ‘large village’ virtually an island surrounded by water; and Salzburg the city of Mozart, made famous by ‘The Sound of Music’.

Further along the river the Benedictine Abbey of Melk is massive and dates back to 1089.  These days it is the home of but 15 pious monks but also houses up to 900 students of both sexes in various disciplines of study. Vienna deserves more than a one day visit and Bratislava, the miniscule capital of Slovakia is also on the Danube, with some ships stopping.  Budapest is either the start or stop of your tour.  Stay for a few days and remember that Buda, is in the west and on top of a hill, whilst Pest is the flat part.

See ON TOUR: The Danube in winter

JUNE CRUISE ISSUE: River Ships

When will the European season re-start?  

See also ON TOUR in this issue.



River cruising and deep sea cruising are two distinct products, and this difference is now even more apparent as we look forward to waterborne holidays again, hopefully soon.

River cruising has often been described as a continental coach tour on water, with the same hotel each night and free wi-fi to keep in touch with home.  Other than being also on water, seaborne holidays are entirely different with only the name of the person in charge the same.  The Captain.

This review is of Mainland Europe (with one UK exception although of course the British rivers are always popular for cruising – but that is another story).  The overall river cruise market covers most countries with navigable rivers including Egypt, Russia, China and Vietnam.

River cruising is big business.   Amsterdam River Cruise Port handled 315,000 passengers from just under 2,000 ship visits in 2019, at an average of just over 150 per vessel.  The ship docking area is within walking distance of Amsterdam Central, up to nine vessels can tie up at the same time.  It is all  very relaxed compared with Amsterdam Cruise Ship Port half a mile away.

The 2019 figures would normally be out by now but as with everything, they have been delayed.

The river cruise industry experienced a boom in 2018.

  • The number of river cruise passengers on European rivers increased by 14.6% to reach 1.64m.
  • North Americans were the most important source market with a share of 37.7%, followed by Germans (28.1%) and British and Irish (12.8%).
  • The ex-UK and Ireland river cruise market expanded at a healthy pace in 2018, reaching 232,300 passengers, a growth of 10.4% out of a total 1.8m.
  • The number of bed nights increased by 12.1%, totalling 1.8m.
  • Europe remains the most popular region with Central and Western European destinations representing the largest share of the market at 64%.
  • The Danube river overtook the Rhine to become the most popular for river cruising but it was still a pretty even split.
  • In third place came the Douro, a much shorter river but with Porto at its head, easy to get to and an attraction in its own right.
  • The Seine is gaining popularity, Paris easy to get to and a great choice of visits along the way, culminating with Normandy.  Bordeaux is for wine lovers.

No European river ship accommodates more than 200 guests.  These holidaymakers are cruising for the delights of the ship, although some provide dining to the highest standards, butler service, and a keep-fit regime is often offered.

For the most part they are on board for seven nights and are taking the trip to view and learn about the river and the region it passes through.

Onboard lectures are usually on offer and limited low-key entertainment is provided and supplemented by local experts.  For those arriving from outside Europe it is often just one part of an extended holiday.

Physical money is no problem.  Cruise ships for years have operated on an internal credit basis and once  off a ship contactless payment is now much the norm.

On the medical front river ships operate rather like hotels with clear hygiene and emergency procedures and the ability to use local hospitals, doctors and ambulance services en route if required.

Most deep ship ships have top grade medical facilities, as good as and sometimes better than a hospital but it is a helicopter ride if things get serious.

Douglas Ward’s 'Berlitz River Cruising in Europe and the USA', and the authoritative reference for the market, was due out about now.  No new date has been set for its publication yet but Douglas strikes an optimistic note with this comment:

"European river cruising is gearing up for a re-start of cruises by some operators, with mid-late June likely. This makes sense because there is a lot of pent-up demand from the domestic market in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. I see the Rivers Danube and Rhine to be the first to open up to near normal river cruises, with enhanced sanitation, a reduction in the number of passengers carried aboard each rivership, and the introduction of other strict controls by the European health authorities."

Most controversial item in the book is always the winner of the ‘Top Performers League’, top last time around AmaKristina, seen mostly on the Rhine, meandering its way from Amsterdam to Basle, via Cologne, Lahnstein and the Black Forest.  BTN says there can only be one winner for 2020, AmaMagna (SEE REVIEW), the only ‘wide-bodied’ rivership and featured in February’s cruise issue.  It is a quantum leap in terms of cabin size, restaurants, amenities and overall personal space. .

Getting river cruising going again after Covid-19 ought to be easier than with the deep-sea operators.  For Europe all should be working under the same rules, although this has not been the case with aviation.  Suddenly the EU member countries have become nationalistic each having its own rules. Once cleared, a ship can moor in its usual riverside point, and as long as any social distancing rules are adhered, the system should work.

There are two big questions: Will the North Americans return this year, and will the Brits want to go on any form of cruising if they have to self-isolate on their return?  Getting to and from the port might prove a problem, except for those places with good rail or air connections.

Some cruise lines are already promoting their forward thinking, including A-Rosa who says measures being put in place include: social distancing protocols for the entire ship, enhanced cleaning procedures; the wearing of mouth and nose coverings in public spaces; pre-screening and temperature checks prior to embarkation; meals to be served at tables, at set times and excursion participant numbers will be reduced.  In addition, all A-Rosa ships are already equipped with an air refreshment system that ensures all cabins and public spaces operate using separate air supplies.

Derek Banks, Managing Director of European Waterways, says that he is already observing increasing interest in family charters on the company’s luxury hotel barges as Europe slowly opens for business again.  He noted they are an ideal option: vessels accommodate just six to 20 passengers maximum, so families or small groups can have the entire boat to themselves.

“Cruising with European Waterways has always been about taking ‘the path less travelled,’ so much of our outdoor activities already take our guests away from crowded tourist attractions to the more exclusive, less populated settings,” said Banks. “Until travel returns to normal, we are even more committed to providing a safe and healthy onboard environment for our guests, with pre-cruise checks for all onboard and the implementation of more stringent cleaning procedures, among other policies.”

The need for changes was highlighted by AmaWaterways co-founders Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst.

Both stressed that the 2020 river cruise season is mostly dependent on how Europe opens back up. They note that it will likely take a longer time, once Europe does open, for Americans to be able to travel there, due to the high presence of Covid-19 cases within the United States. Jimmy's aboard AmaMagna is a family-style eatery, and both Schreiner and Karst expect that model to change given new guidelines around managing the spread of Covid-19 that discourage buffets and shared utensils.

Avalon have introduced a number of new changes that cruisers can expect to see when river cruising resumes in Europe. These include limiting the ship's overall capacity to provide greater space for social distancing onboard (a move that will no doubt make river cruise ships feel even more roomy); hourly disinfection of public areas (at a minimum); and the elimination of buffet and self-serve food options.

Avalon says it will introduce new electrostatic cleaning systems and UV disinfecting systems onboard its fleet. This will go hand-in-hand with new measures that include mandatory health screenings, touch-free temperature checks and luggage disinfection prior to embarkation.

Uniworld has considered how its passengers interact with their onboard environment, crew members and each other in determining how to move forward.

"We have been scrupulous in our process to consider every moment that may present an unnecessary concern and why all coffee table books, magazines and brochures for example, have been removed from public use. Instead, guests will be able to access these reading materials via our complimentary PressReader app on their personal devices," said Ellen Bettridge, Uniworld's President and CEO.

Scylla has resumed the sailing of 34 ships on Europe’s waterways for various European charter clients and says that all necessary safety, security and hygiene standards will be implemented on board all the boats. Only registered passengers who have undergone health checks will be allowed to join and measures will be taken to maintain a safe distance during the entire trip.  Fewer passengers, compulsory facemasks, regular disinfections and meals and drinks served directly to the table are also part of the new measures. A doctor will also be on board for health checks and consultations for all guests and crew members.

One casualty of the 2020 season is new arrival TUI River Cruises whose introduction has been postponed until November.

For the most cautious who don’t want to travel far, cruises on the River Severn in England are likely to start up in August. Owner Richard Clements says: “Our ship the Edward Elgar is the largest accommodation cruiser in England but she only carries 22 passengers so there will be plenty of space available for social distancing. We’re also planning to stop ‘air sharing’ at mealtimes, our cabin air supply is never recycled or mixed and we never have to share our moorings, so guests should feel extra safe – plus, the NHS is always nearby!”

The data above for the most part of this report has been supplied by the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) via Reportlinker, a market intelligence platform, and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

www.berlitzpublishing.com

www.reportlinker.com

https://cruising.org

The river ship cruise companies

BTN accepts it may not be 100% accurate and invites operators to advise re corrections info@btnews.co.uk

A-Rosa Cruises www.arosa-cruises.com/river-cruises.html AmaWaterways www.amawaterways.com Avalon waterways.co.uk
www.avalonwaterways.co.uk CroisiEurope Cruises www.croisieurope.co.uk Crystal River Cruises www.crystalcruises.com DouroAzul www.douroazul.com Emerald Waterways www.emeraldwaterways.co.uk English Holiday Cruises https://river.englishholidaycruises.co.uk European Waterways www.europeanwaterways.com Fred Olsen Cruise Lines
www.fredolsencruises.com Hebridean Island Cruises
www.hebridean.co.uk Noble Caledonia
www.noble-caledonia.co.uk
Riviera Travel www.rivieratravel.co.uk Saga River Cruises
https://travel.saga.co.uk/cruises Scylla https://scylla.ch Scenic River Cruises
www.scenic.co.uk Swiss Excellence River Cruises www.excellence.ch Tauck European River Cruising
www.tauck.co.uk Tui River Cruises www.tui.co.uk/river-cruises Uniworld Boutique River Cruises       
www.uniworld.com Viking River Cruises             www.vikingcruises.co.uk

AND FINALLY: Cummings and goings

Barnard Castle may have topped the charts.

Hotels.com® has reported a bump in searches to Barnard Castle following Dominic Cummings' controversial trip there.

The Prime Minister’s chief advisor has certainly piqued the nation’s interest in the 12th century stone castle, situated just 30min from Durham, following his visit during lockdown which recently made national headlines and taken Twitter by storm. 

The online booking platform has spotted an increase of 160% in searches for accommodation nearby from 22-27 May  compared with the previous week. The rules are not clear.  Once booked postponement/cancelation is possible.

Barnard Castle is in the care of English Heritage and is a Grade I listed building. Dating from the 12th century it fell into disrepair after the reign of Richard III (“My Horse my Horse my Kingdom for my Horse”).  Important visitors over the years have included Walter Scott, Daniel Defoe and William Wordsworth, and in more recent times Bill Bryson.

Barnard Castle is an attractive day out and 21 miles from the equally interesting city of Durham.  What happens to its visitor numbers this year we don’t know.  It clearly is prospering from the old adage. “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/barnard-castle 

https://uk.hotels.com