BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS (BTNews)

21 MAY 2018

The Business Travel News
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Please note that Monday 28 May is a Bank Holiday in the UK.  BTN will of course be be published as normal.

COMMENT: Airport safety - a bridge too far?

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) has just concluded its third annual UK Airports Safety Week, an initiative supported by the Civil Aviation Authority, designed to make everyone working at airports aware of the hazards posed by moving aircraft and passengers around.

It is ironic that as the project was taking place BTN suffered first-hand experience of one such danger that seems to have escaped notice. We are talking about the situation caused by the lack of jetways or airbridges when loading an aircraft with passengers. Their lack is one element; refusal by some airlines to sign up to their use is another.

The BTN representative concerned was at an airport whose blushes we will spare by keeping it unnamed. This is the account of what happened:

“We were held in the holding lounge for 15min with a diesel bus outside churning out fumes as it waited to take us to the aircraft. Some elderly people secured a seat. Not all.

Next we were driven perhaps 50yd to an aircraft sitting by an airbridge and deposited on to the apron with everybody, including children and the less able, standing around. After about 5min, those for the rear door of the aircraft were marched away. Steps were used to enter the aircraft. Fortunately, it was not raining.

At the other end, everybody, complete with lots of hand baggage, had to climb down the steps of the bus on to the tarmac and then up more steps to the airbridge building. BTN is told airports charge the same whether steps or airbridges are used. On the return leg there were no staff between the bottom of the steps and, this time, the entrance to the building. Not a safe process. 

What has brought the problem to a head is the growing numbers of passengers that can be fitted into a modern aircraft.

Taking Airbus as an example, capacity has grown from 150 seats on an A319 to 180 seats on an A320 and to 235 seats on an A321, a rise in passengers per aircraft of more than 50%. 

While in theory using an aircraft’s rear door speeds things up, that is hardly a solution. Passengers from a lounge should be able to load by seat number. And everybody should be able to use an airbridge to keep them warm and dry – and safe.”

Should the CAA look into this problem, Luton would have to rethink. It has no airbridges. There would have to be dispensation for, say, airports with fewer than 5m passengers. BA is said to be looking at the passenger loading experience, perhaps another way of ‘dumbing down’.

• In more bad news for those who fly, the PA Consulting Group also chipped in on Safety Week by releasing its latest research finding, indicating airports are ill-equipped to deal with a major cyber-attack.

The report, Overcome the Silent Threat, says the emergence of a hyper-connected model – where passengers in airports want fast internet and digital engagement with airlines and retailers – is increasing the opportunities for cyber criminals to exploit.

There are currently around 1,000 cyber-attacks each month on airport and aviation systems worldwide, according to the European Aviation Safety Agency.

According to PA's research, airports are at a higher risk of cyber-attack due to increasing use of technologies and digital infrastructure in day-to-day operations, new data-sharing obligations and greater connectivity across staff and passenger devices within airports.

PA Consulting Group global transport security lead David Oliver said: “Fundamentally, the focus on physical security needs to be applied with the same rigour in the cyber arena if airports are going to build resilience to potentially catastrophic cyber-attacks.

"If the industry does not act now, it will find itself at increased vulnerability to cyber-attacks as new technologies become part of everyday operations.”

www.aoa.org.uk

http://www2.paconsulting.com

Airport merry go round

Neil Garwood was confirmed last week as the new managing director of Southampton Airport. 

He takes over on 1 June from Dave Lees, who has been appointed chief executive of Bristol Airport, beginning in August.

Garwood joined Southampton in October 2010 after six years in the rail freight sector. Initially responsible for management of the terminal facilities, he was promoted to head of customer service in July 2011.

He then took on the role of head of operations in March 2016 with responsibility for all operational activities across the airport including security, airfield, customer experience and the fire service.

Garwood said: “I am taking over at a very exciting time for the airport and I am looking forward to working with the great team here to ensure we continue to deliver for our passengers and the region.”

AGS Airports chief executive Derek Provan said: “During his eight-year career at Southampton Airport, Neil has held a series of senior positions and now takes on the leadership of a hugely dedicated and committed team who are focused on achieving even further success.”

www.southamptonairport.com

BALPA hails easyJet training move

A call for airlines and the government to do more to help to ease the pilot shortage was made last week by the pilots’ union, BALPA, as it welcomed an easyJet initiative to help with training costs.

The move puts ambitious fliers struggling because of financial constraints to enter the profession in line for a helping hand from the carrier. BALPA has previously criticised the high costs of training, saying it limits the pool of talent.

The union notes pilot training costs can reach an “eye-watering” £100,000, and then up to an extra £30,000 for a type-rating, or training on a specific aircraft, once a person has qualified.

The new easyJet initiative aims to support up to 20 newly-qualified pilots by putting up £8,700 towards the type-rating cost.

BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said: “The only thing that should matter in becoming a pilot is ability, not gender, background or financial circumstances, but all too often we’re seeing only those with the deepest pockets having the means to enter the profession.

“This is a small start by easyJet but a very welcome one; now we’d like to see other airlines and the government doing more to support talented people into the profession.”

www.balpa.org

www.easyjet.com

Cathay Dragon on the up

New services are being introduced by regional airline Cathay Dragon to Davao City on 28 October and Medan the following day as the Cathay Pacific Group continues to grow its network.

The cities are the eighth and ninth new destinations the group has announced during what it says has been “an unprecedented year of expansion” and will boost Hong Kong’s connections with two founding member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Davao City, the main trade, business and tourism centre of the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, will be served four times a week, while Medan, the capital of North Sumatra in Indonesia, will be served three times a week.

The new routes, the only non-stop flights between Hong Kong and the two destinations, will both be operated by Airbus A320 aircraft.

Cathay Pacific chief customer and commercial officer Paul Loo said the new services reflected the group’s commitment to growing its reach to destinations not otherwise served directly from Hong Kong.

Already this year, the group has launched services to Nanning, Jinan and Brussels. Other new routes for 2018 include Dublin in June and Washington in September, plus seasonal services to Copenhagen this month and Cape Town in November.

www.cathaypacific.com

CityJet recruitment drive

Another ten trainee pilots are being sought by Irish regional carrier CityJet for entry into its “Climb High” mentored training programme managed by the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy.

The two partners say they are seeking “highly-motivated candidates aspiring to rise as professional pilots within one of Europe’s fastest-growing airlines”. Successful candidates will have CAE training and the opportunity to join CityJet as first officers.

Selected cadets will complete an Integrated ATPL training course at CAE Oxford Aviation academies in Oxford and Arizona with a view to joining a fleet including the 90-seat Bombardier CRJ-900, 98-seat Superjet SSJ100 and 95-seat Avro RJ85.

CityJet operates crew bases in Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Helsinki, London, Paris, Stockholm, Tallinn and Vilnius.

General manager flight operations Robert Campbell Smith, said: “Our mentored cadet pilot programme provides the starting point for an exciting career path as CityJet continues to expand, particularly on our wet-lease operations.

“With three aircraft types providing opportunities throughout our extensive European pilot bases, this is an exciting time to be joining our growing airline and we look forward to welcoming new recruits to our cadet programme later this year.”

www.cae.com/cityjet

Flybe fleet decision

With CEO Christine Ourmières-Widener set to address the Aviation Club on 7 June (BTN 14 May), Flybe last week laid out its future fleet plans, with the Bombardier Q400 destined for a central role.

The airline said it had concluded after a thorough review of regional aircraft options the Q400 “is the best core aircraft for its current and future needs”. It would therefore remain as the backbone of the Flybe fleet for the foreseeable future.

A statement added: “The Q400 is faster than alternative turboprops, with a performance close to jets over the relatively short sectors Flybe operates. With excellent operating economics, it is also cheaper to operate than similar-sized jets.”

The airline added it would also continue to operate “a number” of Embraer E175 jets for longer or busier routes as it continues with its stated strategy to reduce its overall fleet and concentrate on profitable routes only.

“In the past 12 months, Flybe handed back end-of-lease Q400s,” it said. “With a further planned handback of all nine Embraer E195s, the overall fleet is on the way to reducing from 85 at its peak in May 2017 to a target of around 70 by early 2020.”

These and other topics will be on the agenda for the June Aviation Club meeting. Tickets are now available.

www.flybe.com

www.aviationclub.org.uk

Gatwick high-tech bag drop

The UK’s first trial of end-to-end biometrics – where personal data collected at an airport’s self-service bag drops will be recognised by new automated self-boarding gates – is under way at Gatwick.

The airport says the project, being run in partnership with easyJet, Gatwick’s biggest airline, simplifies and accelerates the check-in process for passengers and reduces the risk of human error.

The new self-boarding technology is able to identify each passenger and verify his or her passport, face and boarding card all match in a process that takes less than 20sec.

Passengers wishing to take part in the trial but who are travelling without luggage and do not need to use self-service bag drop, can have their data collected at the entrance to the boarding gate room.

Gatwick says the trial is the first and most extensive of its kind in the UK and will run for at least three months so that around 10,000 passengers take part on the 43 routes the airport serves.

Chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe said: “Gatwick prides itself on providing innovative solutions to enhance the passenger experience. With our growth rate, it is essential we find more efficient ways of processing passengers safely and securely.”

www.gatwickairport.com

Heathrow ‘Connects’ to western London

The little publicised Heathrow Connect services have gained a new lease of life by becoming  part of Transport for London (TfL) from today (21 May) onward. The line runs from the mainline area at London’s Paddington Station via Ealing Broadway, West Ealing, Hanwell, Southall and Hayes & Harlington into Heathrow.

The service starts at Heathrow Terminal 4 and goes via the Central Area and onward using the Heathrow Express tracks out of the airport. It will accept Oyster and contactless payments and will be treated as Zone 6. These services will be operated as TfL Rail, and will become the Elizabeth Line in December this year.

Rail minister Jo Johnson said: “This is a significant milestone in the delivery of the Elizabeth Line, which will transform rail travel for more than 200m passengers every year across the South East, significantly boosting capacity on our network and acting as a catalyst for housing and regeneration.

"When fully open in 2019, the Elizabeth line will provide a faster connection to Heathrow, as well as giving people new interchanges to Gatwick and Luton airports via Thameslink services at Farringdon and helping drive forward economic growth and business opportunities.” 

The line continues to Canary Wharf and finishes at Abbey Wood, but no station is provided in Silvertown, close by London City Airport.

www.heathrowconnect.com

Highways in the sky

The world’s 20 busiest international routes each have an average of more than 35 daily scheduled airline frequencies, and on the busiest, between Kuala Lumpur – Singapore, as many as 84 each day, according to the latest OAG survey.

The report also reveals aircraft types used and shows trends in airline capacity, prevalence of low-cost airlines, on-time performance and the most popular passenger connections at either end of a route.

OAG says it is not surprising 14 of the top 20 routes operate to, from or within Asia, with those which connect Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Osaka to other parts of the region featuring strongly.

Outside Asia, five short-haul routes are operated with a high density of scheduled air service. These are New York LaGuardia – Toronto, Dubai – Kuwait, Dublin –Heathrow, Amsterdam – Heathrow and Chicago – Toronto.

The only long-haul route which features among the Top 20 busiest international routes is New York JFK – Heathrow which supports an average of 38 daily frequencies and is ranked 16th in terms of flights and 14th for passenger traffic.

OAG says the fact such a long-haul route operated by wide-body aircraft does not rank higher for traffic reflects the use of some large aircraft on some of the shorter routes to address airport congestion and slot availability.

www.oag.com/2018-busiest-routes.html

Jet Airways heads North

Hard on the heels of its new African connection (see this issue), Manchester Airport is gaining the first non-stop service linking it with Mumbai. Flights will be operated by Jet Airways and are scheduled to start on 5 November.

The airline will deploy a 254-seat wide-body Airbus A330-200 operating four days every week on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Manchester will become the 21st international addition to the Jet Airways network and with the introduction of the flight, the carrier’s fifth non-stop service to and from the UK, the airline will also become the largest carrier between Mumbai and the UK.

The service will complement Jet Airways’ thrice daily non-stops between Mumbai and Heathrow and daily service between Delhi and Heathrow and comes one year after the airline launched new international services to Amsterdam, Paris and London from Bengaluru, Chennai and Mumbai.

CEO Vinay Dube said: “This new chapter in our decade-long relationship with the UK will bring Manchester into our global network, reinforcing our footprint and expanding our connectivity.

“We are offering more than 8,000 seats a week, making it increasingly convenient for business travellers between India and the UK and deepening commerce as well as tourism ties between the two countries".

www.jetairways.com

www.manchesterairport.co.uk

Ken Cook

Ken Cook, a doyen of the PR department from the time British Airways led the way in communicating with the media, has passed away.

He joined British European Airways (BEA) as a press officer in the early 1960s, based at the airline’s newly-constructed West London Air Terminal on Cromwell Road. He was involved in promoting BEA’s major network development programme with the introduction of the Trident fleet. In 1973, BEA was merged with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) to create British Airways. Cook became a public relations manager with the new national airline, which was eventually privatised in 1987.

After BA’s takeover of British Caledonian Airways in 1988, he served for a period as the press contact at Gatwick. He returned to the airline’s Heathrow headquarters, where he was a senior PR manager with special responsibility for marketing development. 

He retired from BA in the mid-1990s and died aged 84 on 7 May after a long illness. Always helpful and a founder member of the Aviation Club, he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and had been in a nursing home for some while.

Cook's wife, Kirsten, said he died peacefully without pain. The funeral takes place at 13:30 on 30 May at Putney Vale Crematorium. He and his wife had two sons, Rupert (51) and Richard (47).

Loganair Inverness boost

Lobbying by Scotland’s business community led to a decision by Loganair to inaugurate its new year-round three-times-weekly service between Inverness and Bergen, the carrier said last week.

Commercial director Kay Ryan said: “It’s fantastic to be able to create a direct link between Inverness and Bergen, directly benefiting both regions. We’re confident this will be a busy route for customers in Inverness and early bookings are encouraging.

“Equally, we’re excited about opening up Inverness to visitors from Norway, while also making both markets accessible for regional trade.

“There was demand from the business community in Inverness for a link to be established, so we’ve worked to make this happen. Launching our largest schedule to Bergen during summer 2018 shows our commitment to the city remains strong.”

Inverness Airport managing director Graeme Bell added: “These additional services further increase connectivity between Scotland and Norway following our working with local businesses to provide routes that best meet their needs.

“This new Bergen route is a result of that hard work. Scandinavia is a valuable market for business travellers and leisure customers too and we look forward to supporting the new service as we continue to look for additional routes.”

www.loganair.co.uk

www.invernessairport.co.uk

Manchester – Addis Ababa

A landmark route into the heart of Africa with Ethiopian Airlines operating four times a week to Addis Ababa has been secured by Manchester Airport, in a move airport CEO Andrew Cowan said underlined its pivotal role in connecting the North to world markets.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam supported the claim, saying the route would unlock connections to more than 58 countries across Africa with Ethiopian flying to more destinations on the continent than any other carrier.

The airline will operate the ultra-modern Boeing B-787 Dreamliner on the route, which starts on 1 December and will transit initially in Brussels, offering Business Class and Economy Class.

Cowan said the route would serve as a key trade route for Northern businesses, opening up fresh export opportunities and delivering cost and journey time savings to those already operating there.

Gebremariam added: “With vast investment and trade potentials between Africa and the UK, the service promises to boost trade and investment with ample business opportunities for investors and business people from both regions.”

The new service has already been welcomed by Northern businesses and organisations, who point out it will save travel time and unlock vital economic, trade and investment opportunities.

www.ethiopianairlines.com

www.manchesterairport.co.uk

MH370 ‘a criminal event’

The captain of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which went missing with 239 passengers en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in 2014 and has never been found was accused last week of “a deliberate criminal act”.

Aviation experts taking part in the Australian TV programme 60 Minutes said evidence now suggested Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah took special steps to evade detection and ensure the aircraft disappeared in a remote location.

In a follow-up interview with CBC News, a Canadian aviation expert and former crash investigator said he could say "with 100% certainty" MH370 was intentionally ditched in the ocean in an act of murder-suicide.

Larry Vance, a former investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in a phone interview: “This is a criminal event. It's not an accident.

“This was planned and conducted, carried out by one individual who had control of the airplane via his job to have control of the airplane," Vance said.

Either the pilot or co-pilot made the decision, "for whatever reason, to take it to a remote part of the ocean and make it disappear forever".

www.malaysiaairlines.com

www.airlive.net/60-minutes-australia-says-mh370-was-a-planned-act-by-pilot

More flights for St Helena

As forecast last week (BTN 14 May), air services between South Africa and St Helena are to be increased with a further 19 flights being made available during the island’s peak summer season from December this year to April 2019.

The additional Tuesday flights will be added to the SA Airlink schedule serving St Helena for the five-month period, marking the first anniversary since the service was launched and are in addition to the Saturday scheduled service from Johannesburg.

St Helena tourism director Helena Bennett said: “These additional flights are an incredibly positive step as we approach the first anniversary of the service. Visitors will now have the option of three-, four-, seven- and ten-night stays or even longer.”

The St Helena government and Airlink said they had observed “a significant number” of advance bookings for the Christmas/summer period, adding: “This is the first step in growing the successful air access service.”

“While the expectation is that the 19 additional flights will be in place for 2019/20 and beyond, the need for further amendments to the scheduled service will be kept under regular review.”

An additional flight is also planned to Ascension Island in December 2018 and again in January 2019 to meet anticipated demand during the peak period.

www.flyairlink.com

www.sainthelena.gov.sh

New record for Heathrow

A record 78m passengers, 3.1% more than the previous year, helped Heathrow to grow at its fastest rate in five years in 2017, assisting Britain’s economy while retaining its position as Europe’s top-rated major airport for the third year running.

However, airport CEO John Holland-Kaye said the strong performance might still not be enough to enable Heathrow to fend off growing competition from elsewhere, principally Germany and France.

In 2017, Heathrow also recorded a 10.2% increase in cargo volumes, promoting more British trade growth and support for British jobs with nearly £700m invested in the airport over the year and new services to Portland and Santiago.

Financial performance helped to underpin the airport’s expansion plans, with revenue of £2,884m, up 2.7%, and Adjusted EBITDA of £1,760m, up 4.6%, reflecting lower operating costs and strong retail growth while passenger charges were cut by 2.0%.

Holland-Kaye said: “Heathrow had a fantastic 2017 – welcoming record passenger numbers, giving our best service ever and offering better value for customers with lower airport charges.

“But while we are squeezing out small bits of growth, our rivals in France and Germany are overtaking us. For Britain to thrive post-Brexit, the government needs to crack on with Heathrow expansion as quickly as possible with a vote in Parliament before the summer.”

www.heathrow.com

RAF Museum on show

With 2018 marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force, more than 1,000 veterans and current serving personnel have had an exclusive preview of the newly-transformed RAF Museum in Hendon, London.

The award-winning complex will formally reopen on Saturday 30 June with a new Hangar 1 exhibit housing two new galleries exploring the first 100 years of the RAF, its role today and its likely future contribution and technology (BTN 26 February).

As part of its RAF centenary programme, the museum will also be launching a new exhibit called RAF Stories, an online digital project which aims to inspire participants to share accounts of the RAF over the past 100 years.

The project is also seeking to find stories not just from former and serving personnel but also from their friends and family and others who have worked closely with the RAF in the past and the roles they played.

Event organiser Anji Patel, said: “The preview gathering, which we dubbed RAF Day, was a huge success. We want to make this an annual event and look forward to inviting everybody again next year.”

www.rafmuseum.org

Raffles heads for Boston

Made famous by the original in Singapore and now beginning to branch out round the world, the Raffles Hotel brand is set to make its first landfall in North America with a 147-room property opening in Boston in three years’ time.

The Raffles Boston Back Bay Hotel & Residences is being developed by a partnership between Accor, which now owns the brand, Boston hoteliers Gary and Jeffrey Saunders of Saunders Hotel Group and developer Jordan Warshaw of the Noannet Group.

Hotel highlights will include a mixture of signature services such as the Raffles Butler and public spaces, including a two-storey sky lobby above Copley Square, plus five food and beverage venues.

There will also be a state-of-the-art Raffles Spa with a 20m indoor pool, a rooftop garden terrace and lounge, and what are promised to be “expansive” meeting and pre-function space.

AccorHotels North & Central America COO Kevin Frid said: “As the first Raffles property in North America, the hotel, joining a collection of 12 worldwide, will bring to the continent the unparalleled standards of excellence for which the brand is known”.

www.raffles.com/promo/boston   www.accorhotels.com

www.saundershotelgroup.com   www.noannet.com

Shake-up on the trains

Although overshadowed by the temporary renationalisation of the East Coast Mainline, to be rebranded as London North Eastern Railway (LNER), last week's major rail story for most travellers was the UK’s biggest shake-up of train services to date elsewhere. This began yesterday, Sunday, as Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) brought in a major boost to services as part of its RailPlan 20/20 programme.

Ahead of that, the government said the East Coast service was to be temporarily renationalised after operators Virgin Stagecoach could no longer meet the promised payments in the £3.3bn contract.

The London-Edinburgh-Inverness service will be taken back into public control on 24 June, three years since Virgin Trains East Coast started running.

At GTR, meanwhile, changes from yesterday herald almost 400, or 13%, more trains running every day. As Britain’s biggest rail operator, GTR will now be running around 3,600 services – one every 24sec – as part of the network-wide programme to boost capacity.

Departures and arrivals have been re-set across the entire GTR network of Southern Railway, Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern, which together account for almost a quarter of all UK rail journeys and feature several airport links.

Some trains are using different stations, with many King’s Cross London services now calling instead at St Pancras International next door (BTN 14 May), but GTR says passengers will see huge benefits, with space into the capital for an extra 50,000 travellers in the peak.  See also AND FINALLY.

BTN will be trying the Cambridge via Finsbury Park – Gatwick service shortly.

www.virgintrainseastcoast.com  www.southernrailway.com

www.thameslinkrailway.com  www.gatwickexpress.com

www.greatnorthernrail.com

Tryp Fort Lauderdale

Florida has welcomed its third member of the Wyndham Hotel Group’s urban lifestyle brand Tryp by Wyndham as the anchor property for the 4-star Marina Bay luxury yacht marina.

Tryp by Wyndham Maritime Fort Lauderdale has a nautical design in keeping with the brand’s theme of showcasing a destination’s authentic local culture and incorporates references to the local marine life and sailing culture.

The 150-room, new-build hotel has 25 acres of grounds with easy access to the marina facilities and as well as a pool and outdoor patio. Features include a Zen Tea Garden and European-style tapas bar, a trademark of the Tryp brand.

The property is the seventh US location for the brand and follows other newly-opened Tryp hotels in Florida at Miami’s Bay Harbour and St Augustine. Locations in the pipeline include Coral Gables, Orlando and Kissimmee.

Tryp senior vice-president Kate Ashton said: “Fort Lauderdale, symbolised by the surrounding marina, is a city famous for beautiful beaches, boating canals and upscale dining and boutiques.

“Offering a true glimpse into that seafaring style, Tryp by Wyndham Maritime Fort Lauderdale personifies the destination through nautical design, marina-centred amenities and local sea-inspired food and drink.”

www.tryphotelfortlauderdale.com

Vegas switch for Virgin

Increased demand from corporate travellers for Las Vegas, one of the world’s largest conference centres, is one of the reasons Virgin Atlantic is moving its London service to the city to Heathrow next spring.

A Virgin spokesman said moving the route, which has been operating from Gatwick, would also allow better connections for passengers both in the UK and US. The new flights went on sale on Saturday.

In more good news for Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic is also adding a second daily Boston service, and bringing back seasonal flights to Barbados – offering the only direct connection between the London hub and the island.

The new Las Vegas flights will be operated by the Boeing B787 Dreamliner with 31 seats in Upper Class, 35 in Premium and 192 in Economy seats. The Boston service will be operated by an Airbus A330-300, adding 100,000 additional seats between the US East Coast and the UK.

The Heathrow – Las Vegas flights will launch on 29 March next year and the second daily Heathrow – Boston service between Heathrow and Boston two days later. Heathrow – Barbados will operate between 11 December and 19 February.

www.virginatlantic.com

ON TOUR: Indonesia by cruise ship

Readers will be aware editor-in-chief Malcolm Ginsberg (and wife) spent late February cruising on NCL's Jewel from Sydney to Singapore via Newcastle, Brisbane, the Great Barrier Reef and Darwin. The final leg of the journey featured the Indonesian destinations of Komodo, Bali and Semarang. A review of Sydney will follow at the start of the IATA conference on Monday 4 June.

Komodo

The Komodo dragons were first documented by Europeans in 1910, when rumours of a "land crocodile" reached the Dutch colonial administration of Indonesia.

The first two live Komodo dragons to arrive in Europe were exhibited in the Reptile House at London Zoo when it opened in 1927. The animal is the world's largest living lizard, can reach 3m or more in length and weighs more than 70kg.

In 1986, Komodo National Park was declared a World Heritage Site. It covers 390sq km and has a population of around 2,000. Ships moor offshore, then it's a short distance to a pier where a "gateway" centre is being built. Native guides were provided and while the reptiles' normal habitat was not that far from the landing stage, we went on a roundabout route to find them. The other curiosity of the island is a beach with "pink" sand, one of only seven in the world.

Bali

It must be said that Bali, supposedly one of the great holiday centres of the world, was a disappointment. We moored well offshore, the single passenger pier taken up by another cruise ship. Even on eventual arrival, there was no proper information bureau and it had been impossible to pick up any material in London. Our aim was to see just a little of the heritage of the place, perhaps take lunch at a 5-star hotel, of which there were reputed to be many, and spend the afternoon at the beach. 

Some initiative is needed by the Bali resort marketing people towards the cruise lines. The hotels would certainly pick up some passengers wanting a day out and happy to spend dollars. Charge a few dollars for the bus ride and use of the facilities, and the bars and restaurants would prosper too.

As it was, we booked the “Discover Bali” tour, which took us to the inevitable local artwork shop visit, a temple and the Bali Bird Park. It was the bird park that saved the day. It is about 10 miles from Denpasar, the capital of the island.

Covering about half an acre, the complex houses more than 1,000 birds representing more than 250 species, mostly in aviaries but with some non-flyers free to roam on a site that includes three large lakes. If your cruise is northbound, as ours was, in some ways you will be disappointed to see Komodo dragons again close up from a safe bridge overlooking the pen. You have to question whether seeing the reptiles in their natural habitat is worth it. 

The bird park also features a diverse botanical collection including 52 different species of palms, rare jungle fruit trees, cycads, bamboos and cactus. There are various shows and activities throughout the day, including both Lory (a type of parrot) and pelican feeding. There is an animal hospital with experts around to explain. All the staff were very friendly.  

Semarang, Indonesia

Sited on the north coast of Java, Semarang was the last port of call in an 18-day journey.

Semarang was a stepping stone for Sir Stamford Raffles, who was lieutenant-governor of the island on his way to found Singapore. The Semesta Heritage Hotel is on the site of his former home. 

The capital of central Java was a major railway town during the Dutch colonial era, and still is an important regional centre and port today, with a population of 1.8m. Trains connect Semarang to Jakarta (6hr) and the city has an international airport with mainly domestic services but also flights to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

We took the “highlights” tour but for many others a ride on a steam train proved a bigger attraction. We visited the restored former railway company’s imposing head office complex, and also the Great Mosque of Central Java, in its own way just as impressive.

The Chinese influence is everywhere and the famous admiral Zheng He was reputed to have come this way in the 15th century. Sam Poo Kong Temple is Semarang’s largest Chinese temple complex encompassing a handful of large colourful tiered pagodas facing an open courtyard.

What might have been anti-climactic turned out to be a fitting finale to a most enjoyable trip.

www.indonesia-tourism.com/central-java/semarang.html

AND FINALLY: LNER returns

It matters not that LNER disappeared on 31 December 1947 under nationalisation. The acronym has always been around, at least for the train-spotting community. 

The news that the government has resurrected the name due to the failure of Virgin Trains East Coast (see in this issue) will bring tears of joy to some very old folk who can actually remember the coal-fired steam trains that linked London’s King's Cross Station and Edinburgh Waverley. 

If Chris Grayling really wants to be seen as the minister who rescued the railway, all he needs to do is be on the footplate of the Flying Scotsman on 24 June, brought out specially for the new inaugural service. It did the London run last year and has a full programme for 2018.

www.flyingscotsman.org.uk