18 MARCH 2019

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COMMENT: A crisis for Boeing

In the rush to judgment that follows any air accident, theories of all kinds abound. So it has been over the past week as the industry has attempted to come to terms with the fate of two new Boeing B737 Max 8 aircraft crashing within a matter of five months.

One thing for sure. Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s leading air carrier. Its training facilities are impressive and airlines from all over the world send their pilots to Addis Ababa for both ab initio and simulator training. The fact that the co-pilot in last week's accident had reportedly only 200hr line experience is not a factor. All pilots have to build up flight hours and his training would have been to a very high standard.

As of yesterday, the focus was narrowing on the aircraft software. As ever, it is not a good idea to speculate but the cockpit recorder tapes from Ethiopian Airlines’ Flight 302 are due to be released within a few days and then hopefully we shall know more. For the moment, reports indicate suspicion is falling on the automatic nose trim stall-recovery feature that kicks in if software calculates a discrepancy between the wings and the expected air flow.

The industry faces a serious situation and sadly we have been here before. But as we also know from past experience, it can be resolved and it will be. If anything positive can come out of the tragedy, it is the speed of the industry response. The Ethiopian Airlines accident happened on 10 March and the airline grounded the fleet the same day.

Once the two accidents were linked, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) decided to ground all Boeing 737 MAX flight operations in Europe until further notice “as a precautionary measure” as well as suspending all 737 MAX flights by non-European airlines into and out of the region.

On Wednesday, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), while initially criticised for a lack of action, followed suit. It said it made its decision after receiving details of refined satellite tracking data and new physical evidence “that more closely links two crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8s”.

In greater detail than previously released, the FAA said: “On March 13, 2018, the investigation of the ET302 crash developed new information from the wreckage concerning the aircraft’s configuration just after take-off.”

The agency said the information, taken together with newly refined data from satellite-based tracking of the aircraft's flight path, indicated “some similarities between the ET302 and [October 2018 Lion Air JT610] accidents”.

These, the FAA said, “warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed”. Boeing said it agreed with the decision “after consultation with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and aviation authorities and its customers around the world”.

A company statement added: “Boeing has determined – out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety – to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 B737 MAX aircraft. Boeing makes this recommendation and supports the decision by the FAA.”

Some commentators have compared the Max 8 crashes with the Miracle on the Hudson in January 2009 when a US Airways Airbus A320 struck a flock of geese during the climb-out from New York LaGuardia Airport, superb airmanship saving the day. Could the Max 8 disasters also have been avoided by crew training?  IFR (Instrument Flight Training) is undertaken as single crew. Once pilots join an airline, they take a Type Rating. Is there now too much reliance on automation? What are the options when the software fails?

Boeing may have recognised this problem with a statement by chairman, president and CEO Dennis Muilenburg issued yesterday (Sunday 17 April).

"While investigators continue to work to establish definitive conclusions, Boeing is finalizing its development of a previously-announced software update and pilot training revision that will address the MCAS flight control law's behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs".

Next to finding the cause of the accidents, a serious problem is reassuring the public. Airlines flying the B737 model in question have been switching operations to other aircraft whether from their own fleets or leased-in. It is in everyone’s interests the answers are found.

The good news, if that’s the right expression, is that the evidence is to hand. No stone will be unturned. Airbus too will look at its procedures. We learnt from the Comet disasters, DC10 and in more recent times the Boeing B787 and its lithium battery problems. The Boeing 737 Max 8 is fundamentally a fine aircraft.

Let us hope 10 March 2019 can be quickly left behind, if never forgotten.

40 new aircraft for Lufthansa

Orders for 40 state-of-the-art aircraft – 20 Boeing B787-9s and 20 Airbus A350-900s – primarily to replace four-engine aircraft and with delivery dates between 2022 and 2027 were announced by Lufthansa Group last week.

The group said the orders had a list-price of US$12bn but “as is usual with such orders, Lufthansa Group has negotiated a significant price reduction” which the parties had agreed not to disclose.

Adding that it continuously monitors the profitability of its world-wide route network, Lufthansa also confirmed the sale “for economic reasons” of six of its 14 Airbus A380s. They will leave in 2022 and 2023.

On the new order, group chief executive Carsten Spohr said: “By replacing four-engine planes with new models, we are laying a sustainable foundation for our future in the long run.

“In addition to the cost-effectiveness of the A350 and B787, the significantly lower CO2 emissions of this new generation of long-haul aircraft was also a decisive factor in our investment decision.”

Spohr said a decision on which airline will deploy the aircraft at which hub would be made later but “with the A350-900, B777-9 and B787-9, Lufthansa Group will own the most fuel-efficient long-haul aircraft of their class in terms of kerosene consumption per passenger and 100km flown”.

All Nippon and the A380

As one of the last airlines likely to be putting a new Airbus A380 into service, All Nippon Airways (ANA) has set Wednesday (20 March) as the date for the delivery ceremony for the first of three superjumbos it has on order from the manufacturer.

Special events will mark the aircraft’s departure from Toulouse and arrival at Tokyo Narita Airport. Destined for ANA’s Narita – Honolulu route, it will carry the airline’s special Hawaiian sea turtle logo revealed three months ago (BTN 17 December 2018).

ANA executive vice-president Yutaka Ito said: “The introduction of the Airbus A380 into our line-up is something the entire team at ANA is very excited about. It will allow us to offer passengers a new and exciting travel experience.”

The A380, the first in Japan, enters service on 24 May with the sea turtle livery in Hawaiian sky blue. The creature, known as a Honu in the Hawaiian language, symbolises good luck and prosperity.

The second aircraft will have the livery in emerald green, representing Hawaii’s oceans, and is expected to roll out of the Airbus paint shop in Hamburg next Monday (25 March). The third A380 will be orange for the Hawaiian sunset.

E-gate access extended

Citizens from seven new countries – the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea – will be able to use e-gates at UK airports and Eurostar terminals from June, chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed last week.

He also announced landing cards will begin to be abolished from June, a move he said would reduce bureaucracy and accelerate the processing of passengers on arrival in the UK.

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) was among those welcoming the moves. Chief executive Dale Keller said: “Our members will be delighted the outdated process and hassle of landing cards is being abolished.

“We also welcome the extension of ePassport gates to the seven additional countries in time for the summer peak. We will be working with airports and Border Force to monitor the much-needed improvement in queue times.”

On e-gates, Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “We are pleased the government has acted on the concerns of airlines and airports about the deteriorating border experience in recent years with this statement."

On landing cards, she added: “The abolition of these outdated cards is welcome news. This paves the way for further steps to reduce bureaucracy and make the UK border fit for the 21st century.”

Etihad and the Dreamliner

Rome and Frankfurt are gaining more Dreamliner services from Abu Dhabi from 1 June when Etihad Airways extends operations. Rome will gain a new two-class B787-10 Dreamliner, the largest variant of the aircraft, on the scheduled daily morning service.

The flight will complement the second overnight Boeing B777-300ER service, while on the same date Etihad will also introduce the a B787-9 Dreamliner on its two daily services to Frankfurt.

The 336-seat B787-10 features 32 Business studios and 304 Economy smart seats. The two-class B787-9 features Etihad’s next-generation 28-seat Business Class and 271-seat Economy Class cabins.

Etihad Aviation Group chief commercial officer Robin Kamark said: “Introducing more B787s to our fleet is allowing us to enhance the inflight experience, allowing our passengers to enjoy the most highly-customised Dreamliner cabins in the world.”

In another development, Etihad and Saudi Arabian Airlines are to expand their codeshare agreement following positive growth in traffic since the partnership began in November.

Etihad group CEO Tony Douglas said: “We now fly some 150 guests a day across each other’s networks. Our plan is to grow this number considerably through expansion of the codeshare agreement in the coming months, and to deliver more benefits to our customers.”

Fly with the Dambusters

The RAF Museum Hendon has introduced one of the most innovative exhibitions in its history. Visitors can now take a virtual reality ride on an Avro Lancaster to attack the Möhne Dam.

Participants need to don a VR headset and haptic vest bringing the real feel and presence of being in the radio operator’s seat in the bomber. It is so realistic that by standing up one can see the pilot, flight engineer and navigator all at work and view out of the side window the Ruhr valley forests during the low approach. The vest and headset fantasise the vibration and roar of the four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

Unless you have already flown the device, participants seem a little weird jumping up from their seats and clearly looking for something that is in cyberspace.

Olie Kay of All Seeing Eye, the company that created the ride, said: “This experience isn't about explaining all the facts of the mission. It's about exploring the human story of the real people who were on the aircraft and communicating an authentic sense of place what it may have been like to be there.”

Entrance to the RAF Museum and Dambusters exhibition is free. The Lancaster ride is £10. RAF Hendon is a 5min walk from Colindale Station on the Northern Line.

See Inflight virtual reality BTN 11 June 2018 

And Inflight Virtual Reality on Iberia BTN 18 February 2019 

Heathrow summits arrive

As previewed last month (BTN 18 February), Heathrow’s 2018 series of 11 Business Summits kicks off this week with a gathering for the South West region at Saltash in Cornwall on Wednesday (20 March).

A record number of organisations are being invited to work with the airport at the summits to explore new global markets and supply-chain opportunities. After Cornwall, the second session is the East of England meeting on 4 April at Newmarket.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said the summits, organised in conjunction with the Department for International Trade and regional chambers of commerce, will host more than 50 of the airport’s top suppliers.

The objective is to give hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to one-on-one appointments with suppliers and professional trade advisers to give them a chance to cement relationships and forge new connections.

Other venues in chronological order are North East, 3 May, Newcastle; North West, 23 May, Blackburn; East Midlands, 14 June, Nottingham; and Wales, 4 July, Cardiff.

After a summer break, the series moves to Northern Ireland, 17 September, Belfast; Scotland, 10 October, Edinburgh; Yorkshire and Humber, 24 October, York; and West Midlands, 7 November, Stoke-on-Trent.

The series ends with the Flagship Summit on 28 November at Heathrow.

HS2 defended at rail summit

Professor Andrew McNaughton, senior adviser to HS2, presented a robust case for the controversial project at the UK Rail Summit in London last week, writes Andrew Sharp.

The present rail system, he said, resembled a rubber diamond with the four points reflecting capacity, reliability, availability (performance) and speed. "Improving one tends to be at the cost of another – it’s like squeezing a balloon."

HS2, a completely new railway, will help to repurpose the south end of the West Coast Main Line, he said. Getting long-distance high-speed trains off this will maximise capacity.

Some 25% of the economic benefits come from this – hence the need for the creation of a new railway connecting major cities to maximise the number of users, McNaughton pointed out. Trains will run at 360kmh (about 224mph), given that the line should be as fast as necessary, not as fast as possible.

In discussion with other delegates afterwards, it seemed the omission of a link between Manchester, Manchester Airport and Liverpool using HS2 (an important part of Northern Powerhouse Rail) from many of the maps shown in presentation was not ominous – people were just not using the latest maps!

JAL zips into LCC arena

A new low-cost carrier (LCC) came into being last week for Japan Airlines (JAL) with the company officially naming its subsidiary ZipAir. First flights using a Boeing B787-8 Dreamliner are due to take off in summer 2020.

With demand among passengers in Asia growing for budget air travel, JAL said the new medium- to long-haul carrier would start operations with flights linking Tokyo Narita Airport with Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Seoul-Incheon International Airport.

At a launch ceremony in Tokyo, JAL president Shingo Nishida said ZipAir would aim eventually to offer transpacific and European flights as well. The company was expected to become profitable in two years after the maiden flights.

Observers noted JAL, which already operates a short-haul LCC called Jetstar Japan in partnership with Qantas, was setting up ZipAir to compete with its domestic rival ANA Holdings' budget subsidiary Peach.

Other similar players are also moving to cash in on Japan’s growing status as a destination – AirAsia Japan has recently relaunched and airlines such as Hong Kong Express and Scoot from Singapore adding flights to the country.

LNER and Azuma

More facilities for business travellers are on the way as London North Eastern Railway (LNER) prepares for its new Azuma trains to enter service on 15 May on the London King’s Cross – Leeds route.

Further trains are being phased into service on the rest of the network over the coming months. Their arrival will see LNER increasing its total fleet from 45 to 65, delivering more than 12,200 seats on the most in-demand services.

The new trains (below) use Japanese bullet train technology – Azuma means “east” in Japanese – and have been built by Hitachi's UK manufacturing team in County Durham using parts supplied from the North East.

In Standard Class, they will offer what LNER calls the best legroom on the east coast, more overhead and under-seat luggage space, improved wi-fi, a power socket for every seat and electronic seat reservations to help passengers find their seats.

First Class will have wider reclining seats and larger tables for laptops, extra fast wi-fi, power sockets and USB charging points at every seat, free lunches and dinners plus LNER’s popular breakfast menu.

LNER managing director David Horne said: “This is what customers up and down the country have been waiting for and represents a monumental milestone for rail travel.”

Luton and Wizz A321neo

As promised last week on delivery of the aircraft from the manufacturer, fast-growing Wizz Air on Friday welcomed its first brand new Airbus A321neo to the tarmac at Luton Airport (BTN 11 March).

Based in Budapest, the new-generation aircraft, which Wizz has hailed as “ultra-efficient”, will be rostered regularly on the airline’s route between Luton and its home base.

The A321neo is equipped with the latest technology, which in turn will deliver significant environmental benefits, including reduced emissions, lower fuel burn, and an almost 50% reduction in noise footprint compared to previous generation aircraft.

Managing director UK Owain Jones said: “The arrival of our brand new A321neo to our Luton base is a major milestone for Wizz Air in the UK in terms of our industry-leading growth and our ambition to become one of the greenest airlines in the sky."

Wizz followed its A321 news by announcing a new service between Luton and Stavanger. It will begin in September and operate on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Stavanger is the fifth Nordic destination for Wizz out of Luton, following recently announced connections to Bergen and Oslo in Norway, Turku in Finland and Billund in Denmark.

More flights for St Helena

A second weekly flight between Cape Town and the south Atlantic island of St Helena is being launched by SA Airlink for the regions summer season, with a technical stop in Walvis Bay.

The service will operate every Tuesday from 3 December this year to 11 February 2020, a total of up to 10 flights, running in parallel with the year-round weekly Saturday flight between Johannesburg and St Helena, which has a tech stop in Windhoek.

Walvis Bay is close to sea level and does not have the same height/heat conditions as Windhoek. There is no bilateral arrangements between the UK and Namibia precluding passenger access at either airport.

Officials said last week this gives flights via Walvis Bay the advantage of being able to carry a greater payload – either more passengers or cargo or a combination of the two.

A joint statement from St Helena and Airlink said the extra flights provided additional options for people wishing to travel to St Helena during a busy holiday period, particularly options for twin-destination holidays.

It was also a further opportunity to grow the air service as Airlink developed its operations from Cape Town. However, the new service was possible only for a limited time due to aircraft availability, with no decision yet on a 2020-2021 schedule.

Oman Air lands ‘Quiet and Green’ title

Growing use of new-generation aircraft and adjusted flying techniques has led to a reshuffle in the Heathrow league table for eco-friendly operation, with Oman Air landing first place in the latest “Fly Quiet and Green” ratings.

The table covers the fourth quarter of 2018, with the airport noting the Boeing B787 Dreamliner operator airline’s achievement is due to its use of ‘Continuous Descent Approach’ which helps to reduce fuel burn and minimise noise.

A Heathrow official said: “This achievement builds on the strides made in the previous quarter, which saw Oman Air jumping 26 places after phasing out its older aircraft and replacing them with the ultra-quiet and green B787."

In addition to the public rankings, Heathrow encourages new technology through environmental pricing incentives, which reduce landing charges for airlines operating their greenest and quietest aircraft at the airport.

The top environmental performers such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350s now make up more than a tenth of aircraft at Heathrow.

Other airlines in the league table included British Airways short-haul, which jumped to second place. SAS was third after introducing Airbus A320neos while Icelandair was most improved airline, leaping 40 places to 11th.

Premier Inn Hamburg

A second hotel in Germany for the Whitbread group has opened in Hamburg with the arrival of a Premier Inn in the city centre. The group says it plans to operate around 20 hotels in the country by the end of 2020.

The Premier Inn brand already has a foothold in Germany with a 210-bed hotel in Frankfurt, with Whitbread saying further expansion into the country is part of its strategic focus on growing the brand internationally.

The company says the Hamburg property, a new-build near the main train station and major attractions, is another step towards the ambition to have trading in 10 target cities across the country, including Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart.

Managing director property and international Mark Anderson said: “Hamburg is a vibrant destination and we hope Premier Inn will set the city’s new standard for value accommodation as we pursue our ambitious German expansion plans."

The Hamburg development is being followed by two more properties opening in Munich later this year and at least 15 openings during 2020, including the re-branding of 13 trading hotels acquired from Foremost Hospitality Group.

Priority Pass in fast-track trial

Gatwick and Leeds Bradford are among six airports around the world taking part in a trial project from Priority Pass to give members of its airport lounge programme access to express lanes at security and passport control.

UK members of the programme who pre-book will be able to join the new Priority Lane scheme for a fee from £4 on top of their Priority Pass membership fee. Present annual fees are £69 for standard membership, £189 for standard plus or £339 for prestige.

In addition to the UK participants, airports trialling the scheme include Orio al Serio International at Bergamo (Italy); Palermo Falcone Borsellino, Sicily; Muscat International (Oman), and Bahrain International. More are expected to join later.

Priority Pass gives access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world, regardless of airline flown or class of ticket. Facilities include free drinks including alcohol and other refreshments along with pre-flight snacks or more substantial food.

The number of lounges has been growing steadily – in January, Priority Pass added 18 across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America and in December it added a long list of special offers including discounts, gifts and upgrades to its app.

Propliner 2019 date

The 2019 edition of the Propliner Annual will be published on Monday 15 April. 

The eagerly-awaited book is this year extended to 144 pages with 20 feature articles illustrated with more than 300 photographs.

Two aircraft familiar at one time in British skies, but still flying, are in the book and take pride of place in our short preliminary review.

Regulars at Coventry Airport will recall the Lockheed Electra fleet flown by Atlantic Cargo Airlines. Seen in the image is the 1961-built former G-LOFE, which saw UK service from 1982 until 2013 when it crossed the Atlantic, gained a new registration and had what is probably the cheapest makeover of all time. BTN editor-in-chief Malcolm Ginsberg has flown on this aircraft and also a Varig passenger version.

The Buffalo story is written by Electra skipper Tony Jarvis, who has been flying Hercules and Electras in northern Canada for more than 30 years.

With British Airways keen to promote the airlines that helped to create the UK flag carrier in 1974 (don’t forget the 45th anniversary of BA is 1 April 2019 – BTN will be commemorating the event), the Erickson Douglas DC-7 is still being flown in Oregon as an aerial fire tanker. BOAC operated 10 of the type from 1956 to 1965.

Qatar adds luxury to Economy

An upgraded Economy Class featuring a new-style seat and enhanced meals has been unveiled by Qatar Airways. The airline also announced at this year’s ITB Berlin it was adding seven new routes to its global network.

Unveiled by group chief executive Akbar Al Baker, the new Economy Class product (below) features a seat with a 19deg recline system, additional legroom, dual trays, 13.3in wide-screen seatback display and fast-charging USB ports.

In-flight dining, rebranded as ‘Quisine’ and with a big increase in use of recyclable and biodegradable products, has new tableware, more choices on the menu and 25% larger main courses, 20% larger appetisers and 50% larger desserts.

Economy Class passengers will also be offered improved connectivity, including up to 10 times faster broadband, as well as more than 4,000 entertainment options on Qatar Airways’ Oryx One in-flight entertainment system.

Al Baker also revealed new destinations the airline will launch in 2019, including Lisbon, Malta, Rabat, Langkawi, Davao, Izmir and Mogadishu.

He added: “We are very pleased to reveal our new Economy Class experience, proving that our commitment to providing the very finest experience extends to all of our passengers, not only those in premium class.”

Remote tower control milestone

More than 2,200 flights operating into and out of Saarbrücken International Airport have now been handled by air traffic controllers at Germany’s Remote Tower Control (RTC) Centre at Leipzig, 450km away.

The German air navigation service provider, DFS (Deutsche Flugischerung), last December became the first worldwide to introduce RTC at an airport that has more than 15,000 flight movements a year. (see BTN Remote ATC in Germany)

DFS CEO Klaus-Dieter Scheurle said: “The introductory weeks proved successful and the RTC Centre handled all take-offs and landings safely and without traffic delays.

“The system has met our expectations. We are focusing on the integration of Erfurt Airport, which is planned for next year, and Dresden Airport, which has around 36,500 aircraft movements a year – significantly more than the other two – will follow later.”

DFS developed the system with Austrian high-tech specialist Frequentis. The DFS subsidiary, DFS Aviation Services, and Frequentis have now set up a joint venture, Aerosense to deliver turnkey remote sensing solutions combining their expertise.

Scheurle noted that the RTC solution could be customised for different scenarios, making it suitable not only for small and medium-size airports but also for contingency solutions and larger facilities.

Second Emirates daily for Stansted

In what airport CEO Ken O’Toole called “fantastic news”, Emirates is to launch a second daily flight between Dubai and Stansted from 1 July. It means the airline’s passengers will now have 11 daily flight options to and from three London airports.

As with the first, the second Stansted service will be operated by Boeing B777-300ER aircraft in a three-class configuration with six private suites in First Class, 42 fully-flat beds in Business Class (below) and 306 seats in Economy Class.

Emirates divisional senior vice-president for commercial operations Hubert Frach said: “We are increasing Stansted capacity to meet demand from business and leisure travellers to and from the region and international student traffic to Cambridge.

“We continuously seek ways to maximise convenience and flexibility for our customers and the second daily flight combined with the optimal travel schedules will do exactly that; provide a seamless travel experience with Emirates.”

O’Toole added: “The announcement that Emirates is to double the capacity on its Dubai service is fantastic news for passengers and a vote of confidence in both Stansted and the East of England.

“The route has been extremely popular with passengers flying direct to Dubai but also taking advantage of the 150 onward connections and the announcement is further evidence of rising demand for more long-haul services from Stansted.”

Star Alliance Schiphol

Selected passengers at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport now have a new relaxation area available with the opening of the latest Star Alliance-branded lounge. It is the group’s eighth – others include Los Angeles, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Rome Fiumicino.

The Schiphol facility is open to eligible First and Business Class passengers and Star Alliance Gold Card holders as well as eligible paid lounge members of the Air Canada Maple Leaf Worldwide Club and United Club programmes.


The 150-seat lounge is located airside in the Departures 2 Schengen area on the Panorama terrace level. Easy access is provided to the departure gates for alliance member carrier flights to European destinations in the Schengen zone.


Free wi-fi is available throughout the lounge plus a mix of standard and USB power outlets. Other facilities include a luggage storage area, individual work booths, communal work table, dining area, bar area, relaxation area and a wine bar.


There is a serviced bar in the afternoon, beer on tap, a free buffet with hot and cold meal options, flight information, business services such as printing and scanning, free reading material and personal care amenities on request.



SWISS Airbus A340

The first of five Airbus A340s being fitted out with completely refurbished interiors in all three seating cabins by SWISS International Airlines (SWISS) has entered service, flying from Zurich to Tokyo.

The aircraft being given the nose-to-tail treatment are being put into service one after the other, with all five A340s due to be overhauled by this summer. Future routes include Boston, Johannesburg, Shanghai and Tel Aviv.

The refurbishment programme entails the development and installation of new First Class, Business Class and Economy Class seats and a new in-flight entertainment system that offers internet connectivity.

There are also new galleys and a full modernisation of the complete interiors – including what SWISS calls a new lighting concept – in all three seating cabins. In Business Class (below), SWISS has an alternating 1+2+1 and 2+2+1 configuration while Economy Class keeps its 2+4+2 pattern.

SWISS has five A340s in its long-haul fleet, 14 Airbus A330s and ten Boeing 777-300ERs. The airline currently offers 24 long-haul destinations.

The revamped A340 cabins follow the opening last year of a new SWISS First Class lounge at Zurich Airport and the introduction of a new range of Business Class amenity kits.

ON TOUR: UK Business Aviation gathers

“If we don’t focus on the grass roots aviation we can’t foster the next generation into aviation."

This was the message from the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, leader of the All Party Parliamentary Group for General Aviation (APPG-GA) at the annual conference of the British Business General Aviation Association (BBGA). 

Held at Luton Hoo last week the event’s theme was Tomorrow’s People Today.

The APPG-GA is the largest group of its kind in the current Parliament, with 216 members. Shapps, himself a PPL, encouraged delegates to write to their local MPs to join the group.

The gathering covered a number of important issues. 


Alison Chambers writes for Business Travel News.

VAT charged on pilot training is something the BBGA would like to see removed. This is £20,000 on top of £100,000 to CPL, which coupled with the requirement for overseas student visas is affecting pilot training in the UK. This he noted is impacting on training and use of local airports and airfields, some 30-plus of which are under threat from housing. Shapps pledged to address this in the EU rules – whether we are in the EU or out! 

Keeping small airfields open is important, he said, confirming top of the list is Fairoaks Airport in Surrey, citing its increased popularity for SETops with a number of Pilatus PC-12s flying in and out for business. Shapps was hopeful too that Plymouth City Airport will reopen, along with Manston Airport in Kent, supported by CargoLogicAir.

Karen Spencer, chair of the STEM APPG (on Diversity and Inclusion) highlighted bringing aviation to the forefront as a career choice. In the world of education, aviation is often hidden because it cuts across so many different sectors. “Department of Education specialists can’t put you in a neat package or pathway. Work needs to be done on how you become visible as an industry to educationalists,” she added.

A welcome development is that of the new Stansted Airport College, on site at Stansted Airport and backed by Harlow College. Wendy Martin, head of the college, introduced two students who are reaping the benefits from its hands-on training and suggested more businesses come together to create an inspirational aviation hub in their local economies to attract and engage with future generations. “Considering that 90% of our sector is vocationally trained, the academic route has become a small part of the picture,” BBGA CEO Marc Bailey noted.

Roger Gault, board member of Pilot Apprenticeships, Aviation Industry Skills Board, stressed the need to get to young people early. We need to do more to encourage hands-on work experience; get out and talk with schools, he said.

Encouraging young talent is a core pillar of the newly established UK Chapter of Women in Aviation International. At BBGA, led by president Liz Moscrop, with Tessa Naran, FO of Norwegian and Mary Doyle, equality campaigner, they signed 10 new members. More female delegates than ever comprised the 140-strong audience.

On the weary topic of Brexit, Richard Moriarty, UK CAA CEO and Mike Alcock, head of aviation strategy at DfT, acknowledged they have drafted in 50 more personnel to help with a surge in enquiries. The CAA’s licensing department is experiencing a 10-fold increase in paperwork to move pilots from UK to EU pilot licences. “We have never before been in such a state of instability, said SaxonAir CEO Alex Durand. "We are half in, half out, looking at going back to bilaterals and are seriously looking at our options. If this government was a board of directors, it would not be here today.”

Adrian Whitmarsh, managing director of Premier Aviation, a specialist company in big music tours, said he was sorry his charter brokerage had not awarded long-term tour work to a UK operator of late, citing the uncertainty.

Aoife O’Sullivan, partner at the Air Law firm and panel moderator, noted she had not seen any new requests for business aircraft on to the G-registry in the past 18 months. Rather, there had been interest in other registries, including Ireland.

Newly appointed EBAA CEO Athar Hussein Khan said his association was not talking about Brexit any more, but personally he feared for UK operators in a no-deal scenario.

A panel on slots and access, moderated by Jason Hayward, general Manager at Stansted-based Universal Aviation, reiterated it is increasingly difficult to get slots at London’s Luton and Stansted airports. Night-time restrictions meant the only 24/7hr airport in London now is Southend. With RAF Northolt closing from April for six to eight months, there will be more pressure. “The very nature of business aviation being ‘unscheduled’ does not work for our sector,” said Marc Bailey, who advocated a percentage of slots could be ring-fenced for business aviation at slot-allocated airports.

Airport Coordination managing director Edmond Rose said his organisation could not change the rules but urged BBGA to lobby the government and CAA. EasyJet’s delays at Luton last summer, encroaching on slot availability, were caused by ATC, but ACL closely monitors its airlines and if they are not using their slots (under the 80% rule), they will be fined and will lose them, he said.

Nelson Pereira, head of slots desk at NetJets said access was a daily struggle for his organisation, noting the fractional operator is operating less evening flights as a result.

Oxford Airport head of business development James Dillon-Godfray said it could take years and many hours of public inquiries to get opening hours permanently extended. “We can go up to midnight on request, but it is costly with additional rostering fire and fuel cover. In our peak periods, between June and September, it is much easier to justify.”

"At a time of so many challenges in our sector, the role of BBGA as our lobbyist has never been so important", said Penny Stephens, CEO of Inflite The Jet Centre, this year’s recipient of the Michael Wheatley Award for excellence in aviation.

Stephens was recognised for a devoted three decades in the sector, creating and growing, together with her husband Ray, an award-winning FBO and successful independent MRO, specialising in Embraer and Boeing BBJs.

In an example of future-proofing its business, Inflite has just acquired Excellence Aviation, a Bombardier Challenger and Global MRO, which is moving in at the Stansted HQ.

Marwan Khalek, chairman of BBGA these past eight years, whose global business Gama Aviation Plc has been involved with the association for 35 years, originally as GAMTA, announced he was stepping down from the role. Thanking him for his sterling work guiding the association, Bailey said a successor would be confirmed shortly.

Subsequent to this report it was announced in Parliament last week by Defence Minister Tobias Elwood MP that airstrips at Royal Marine’s (RM) Condor, RM Chivenor and MoD Woodbridge would all be retained permanently.  RAF Henlow has had its decommissioning delayed until 2023, while RAF Halton and RAF Colerne have been saved until at least 2025.

Chair of APPG GA Airfields Working Group, Luke Pollard MP, said: “It is fantastic news these historic military airfields are remaining open into the future.

“The sites are all the perfect habitat for light aviation and would make valuable additions to the national strategic network of airfields. The Government needs to seize this opportunity.”

AND FINALLY: The name is Po…

Flushed with pride at the success of its so-called “inimitable talking toilets”, Virgin Trains, far from being drained of ideas, is coming out of the closet and moving to the next stage of development – finding a new voice for the chatty loos, hopefully without provoking a chain reaction.

These are not your bog-standard facilities but ones where passengers, who seem to like and loathe them in fairly equal measure, are greeted with a brisk hello and instructions on what to do next.

Now the hunt is on for someone to perform the voice-over. Apply to Virgin Trains, not BTN, but we have our own suggestion. There is apparently a well-known TV star, a member of the Teletubbies (ask your kids). Her name is Po…

Mind you, Virgin Trains is renowned for its toilet humour. Its notice on the facilities reads: “Please don’t flush nappies, sanitary towels, paper towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes, dreams or goldfish down this toilet.”

Perhaps Virgin Atlantic can come up with something when its first A350 is unveiled shortly. BTN suggests "Do not linger. Please enjoy your proper seat!"