BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS (BTNews)

20 JANUARY 2020

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COMMENT: Flybe

Two Irishmen walk into a pub …

It’s the start of several familiar jokes but its slightly-altered application to last week’s turmoil over Flybe is anything but funny.

For pub, read 10 Downing Street. Appearing as the Irishmen are Willie Walsh, soon to depart as chief executive of BA’s parent company IAG, and his counterpart at Ryanair, Michael O’Leary. They are unhappy about what they see as the special treatment meted out to Flybe to save it from what most observers agreed was its impending collapse, with the consequent loss of at least 2,400 jobs.

The deal was reported to involve deferment by the government of a £100m tax bill, a possible government loan to the airline and an undertaking by ministers to review in the March Budget the impact on the aviation industry of APD.

On Friday, it was reported the deal struck by Flybe involved £10m not £100m-plus and the airline had been given “a matter of months” to pay, an arrangement Flybe described as “a standard arrangement with HMRC that any business in financial difficulties may use”. It didn’t stop the arguments.  In any event APD is collected at the time of booking but not due until the flight is actualy taken, which can be many months away. 

While saving an historic airline and a lot of jobs sounds a good idea to many, the rescue deal provoked a furious backlash from Walsh and O’Leary, among others. Walsh called it “a blatant misuse of public funds” and said taxpayers were being asked to pick up the bill for “mismanagement” of Flybe.

O’Leary went further and threatened legal action against the government over its rescue of an airline he said was “owned by billionaires”. In a letter to chancellor Sajid Javid, he said any APD "holiday" given to Flybe should be extended to other airlines, otherwise the deal would breach rules on state aid and competition.

In a strange twist, Flybe hardly seemed to be helping itself at the weekend when it was reported to have decided to switch its London – Newquay flights from Heathrow to Gatwick. The Times noted the flights are taxpayer-funded and said Flybe was facing a new backlash as rivals feared the decision could benefit Virgin Atlantic, one of Flybe’s main investors, because it would release slots at Heathrow, to Virgin’s advantage. That was a nonsense, as the slots are owned by British Airways part of the Lufthansa - BMI deal. Did someone forget to tell Willie?

While Walsh and O’Leary grabbed the headlines last week, the measured tones of the government statement on the affair, with its repeated emphasis on reviewing the UK’s regional connectivity, went largely unnoticed.

The statement said the review was a sign of the prime minister’s commitment to levelling up all regions of the UK and would ensure all nations and regions of the UK had the domestic transport connections local communities rely on, including regional airports.

“As part of this work and ahead of the March Budget, the Treasury will also be reviewing Air Passenger Duty to ensure regional connectivity is strengthened while meeting the UK’s climate change commitments to meet net zero by 2050,” the document continued.

“These measures featured in discussions today with Europe’s largest regional airline, Flybe, which plays an important role in the UK’s connectivity by flying regional routes that other providers do not operate.”

The statement added that in light of the discussions, Flybe had confirmed it would continue to operate as normal, “preserving flights to airports such as Southampton, Belfast and Birmingham”.

Among groups with whom the deal did find favour was the pilots’ union BALPA, which said the rescue had secured the jobs of 2,400 staff and helped regional communities which would have lost their air connectivity had the airline collapsed.

"BALPA looks forward to discussing the airline's future plans in detail with management; meanwhile, passengers can be confident that Flybe remains an excellent choice for regional flying," it added.

See also Flybe – further thoughts plus And some additional observations.

And some additional observations

FLYBE – What went wrong?

The following is from an observer of the British regional airline scene who would prefer to be anonymous. See also COMMENT and Flybe – further thoughts.

Willie Walsh’s rather ‘holier than thou’ comments regarding the Flybe situation, which he asserted was down entirely to their very poor management of regional air services, is far from the truth. Historically their performance was bad. Walsh continued the policy of keeping away, with the exception of Leeds-Bradford, which in 2018 lost one third of its traffic and is now probably half of Newquay (the 2019 figures will be published in mid-February).

It’s worth remembering how the present Flybe actually came into existence, originally Jersey European Airways (JEA), becoming Flybe in 2002.

British Airways, after years of continuous and heavy losses on their regional domestic services, finally decided that same year to purchase the British Regional Airlines group plc, which was an independent publicly listed company having severed all ties with BMI and the Airlines of Britain Group in 1997.  It merged with BA-owned Brymon Airways. Profits were around £10m and £6m respectively.

With the joining of these two broadly similar carriers, significant savings on overheads would be made, giving an annual profit of around £20m. To this they later added the remainder of BA’s non-trunk domestic and some European routes.

Within two years of BA trying once more to operate short-haul and domestic services, this projected profit of £20m had somehow become a loss of £40m. 

In some desperation, after stripping out the LCY-based City Express (subsequently BA Cityflyer with its own AOC), BA approached Flybe (which, after BA’s purchase of BRAL/Manx, had become the country’s largest regional operation) and basically begged them to take the regional operation off their hands. 

Variously publicly described as a ‘merger’, or a ‘sale to Flybe’, in fact BA offered a huge cash incentive, rumoured to be more than £200m, to enable the deal to be concluded.

With all that money in the bank, Jim French, long-time Flybe CEO, then rushed off and purchased a fleet of Embraer E195s, sexy 118 seat jets non-compliant with London City Airport and the wrong aircraft for his routes. Flybe took on the smaller Emb 175 too, this aircraft also lacking a LCY capability.  He fortunately retained his de Havilland Canada Q400s.

The acquisition of the Embraer's was the beginning of Flybe’s downfall but not before an IPO.

On 10 December 2010, Flybe floated on the London Stock Exchange, the issue share price set at 295p, valuing the company at approximately £215 million.

In 2013, French was replaced by Saad Hammad, short-term at easyJet, with Simon Laffin, ex-Safeway, as chairman. By October 2016, Hammad was shown the door and Laffin then appointed Christine Ourmières-Widener, ex-Air France, previously ineffective at CityJet.

By the middle of 2019, the airline was in crisis, sold to the Connect Airlines consortium, one of several would-be saviours. A figure of £2.4m has been quoted, not a great sum. Having burnt its fingers with Little Red, Virgin Atlantic did not immediately re-brand the airline. Virgin Connect was to emerge as the preferred new name of the to be reinvigorated company. But not yet. Why?

Mark Anderson, ex-Virgin Holidays, has been in the job just over six months and yet to prove himself in sorting out a very complex situation, now with a fleet of 54 de Havilland Q400s and down to the last nine Embraers. Flybe’s numbers are substantial. It directly employs around 2,400 staff and last year carried 8m passengers. In my opinion, it is saveable with patience.

On the overall agreement reached on Tuesday to keep Flybe operating, I’ve listened with mounting frustration to various ‘phone-ins’ with so many virtuous contributors claiming that no-one should be using air services domestically, with trains being a far more acceptable means of transport.

That might well be true, but there is no apparent recognition of the fact that literally hundreds of thousands of people live in communities without any access to decent rail services, or the islands which form part of the British Isles, and for whom no realistic alternative means of transport exists for so many business, social, and medical reasons.

This applies even if one completely discounts the huge leisure and tourist traffic which is vital to the economies of many of these areas. The only way to get from the Isle of Anglesey to Cardiff in any sensible time is by Flybe. Likewise London City Airport to Belfast City.

Take for example the Isle of Man. Every weekday morning, around 40 people requiring major medical treatments will have been scheduled to fly from the island at government expense, to have treatment or consultations in hospitals in the Merseyside area. Almost all would be back home that evening. 

The alternative is a 3hr 30min (sometimes very rough) ferry crossing to Heysham, followed by a 3hr coach transfer to Liverpool with an arrival time of around 16:00, meaning appointments would have to be scheduled for the following day, with the complications that would bring.  

Flybe accounts for 93% of all airline services at Southampton Airport. There are many other regional airports that rely on Flybe for the majority of services (see Flybe – further thoughts). 

On the other side of the coin, Flybe competes with British Airways on the lucrative and busy Aberdeen and Edinburgh routes to Heathrow. Has Walsh thought it out? Does he want easyJet taking over the flights? BA Cityflyer from LCY would have a monopoly on certain routes.  Is that good for the traveller?

For whatever reasons Flybe launched its Heathrow – Guernsey service very low key last spring, again with Q400 from T3.  Will that continue?  It competes with Aurigny, owned by the States of Guernsey, a nationalised airline who fly to Gatwick and Stansted.  Industry rumour is that Flybe will introduce Heathrow – Dusseldorf using the Newquay slots, a somewhat odd choice, turboprop v BA A320 and Lufthansa’s Eurowings.  Clearly the independent Channel Island airline Blue Islands is also carefully monitoring the situation.  It operates certain routes on behalf of Flybe.

Also worth considering is that the 78-seat Q400 uses the same slots as a 500-seat A380, although admittedly its runway lingering time is much shorter.  Heathrow Airport Ltd, to its credit, is an advocate of regional services.

Walsh is not the boss of British Airways, as depicted by much of the media, but the outgoing chief executive of a holding company for a number of airlines. You would not expect the Lufthansa Group chairman to rant about Austrian Airlines, which they own.

The ‘state subsidy' to Flybe, as I’ve heard it described many times, is merely an agreement to defer payment of an admittedly very significant sum owed for Air Passenger Duty (APD). Many businesses have ‘discussions’ with HM Revenue and Customs when they have a cash shortfall, not just airlines. The Treasury, often the major creditor, then makes a payment decision.

It is surely for the government to take another look at the iniquity of the ‘double payment’ of APD on domestic routes, for which so many have been calling. No Brexit rules to break at the end of the month.

Travellers on the domestic services of BA, easyJet, Ryanair, and others would benefit by any changes as much as Flybe passengers. It’s hard to understand why these airlines should be against this, other than the opportunity to leap upon a convenient passing bandwagon. 

Comparison with the government’s failure to act to save Monarch or Thomas Cook is also irrelevant. Very sad as it may have been to the staff and passengers involved in these collapses, two holiday airlines operating leisure routes cannot have the same significance to the UK as an airline providing vital services to so many parts of the country isolated by the sea, lack of rail services, poor infrastructure or sheer distance. Most Flybe passengers are protected against financial loss by direct bookings paid by credit card.

The country needs Flybe. And Flybe needs the country!

Flybe – further thoughts

Running a domestic and short-haul regional airline is not easy and both easyJet and Ryanair have revised their UK internal services in recent times. Here is a list of some prominent carriers that have either failed or merged in recent times. There are plenty of others. Also the current slot situation at UK airports for Flybe.

Our advice to potential Flybe customers is do use the airline but make sure you pay with a credit card as a form of insurance. See also COMMENT plus And some additional observations.

Air Anglia
Air Bristol
Air UK
Air Wales
BMI Regional
British Air Ferries
British Airways Regional
British Regional
Buzz
Brymon Airways
CityFlyer Express
Debonair
Flybmi
Dan Air
Gill Airways
Go
London City Airlines/EuroCity Express
Manx
Scot Airways
Suckling

Plus (Virgin) Little Red

Besides Flybe, this leaves Loganair and Eastern as the UK's only domestic airlines of any size.

These are the figures for the Flybe UK airport slots. These should not be used as passenger ratios, as that will depend on the aircraft used. Belfast and Southampton stand out as the premier Flybe airports. The Newquay slots actually belong to BA, which makes Willie Walsh's outburst even more peculiar.

Column1

Slots
W19-S20

% of airport
total

Aberdeen

              14,405

28%

Belfast City

              27,265

81%

Birmingham

              28,623

27%

Cardiff

                7,508

49%

Durham Tees Valley

                1,518

45%

Edinburgh

              23,523

18%

East Midlands

                3,197

6%

Exeter

                8,839

70%

Glasgow

              10,577

13%

Jersey

              12,918

51%

Leeds Bradford

                4,652

16%

London City

                8,953

11%

Manchester

              31,317

15%

Newcastle

                5,705

13%

Southampton

              27,339

93%

 

Figures supplied by Airport Co-ordination Ltd.  At other major airports, Flybe has only a small proportion (less than 3%) of total slots.

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Airbus vision-based take-off success

Following its unveiling of touchscreens for the A350 (BTN 6 January), Airbus has successfully performed the first fully-automatic vision-based take-off using an Airbus Family test aircraft at Toulouse-Blagnac airport.

It was enabled by image recognition technology installed directly on the aircraft rather than relying on an Instrument Landing System (ILS) ground equipment used by in-service passenger aircraft in airports where the technology is present.

The test crew led by Captain Yann Beaufils was made up of two pilots, two flight test engineers and a test flight engineer and the sortie conducted a total of eight take-offs over a period of 4.5hr.

Beaufils said: “The aircraft performed as expected beginning with engaging the autopilot as we completed alignment on the runway waiting for clearance from air traffic control.

“We moved the throttle levers to the take-off setting and monitored the aircraft as it started to move and accelerate automatically maintaining the runway centre line at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system.

“The nose of the aircraft began to lift automatically to take the expected take-off pitch value and a few seconds later we were airborne.”

Automatic take-off is one step in the Airbus Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off & Landing (ATTOL) project being tested to understand the impact of autonomy on aircraft. Next steps will see automatic vision-based taxi and landing sequences later this year.

www.airbus.com

Aviation Club to feature MAX

As American Airlines again delays the date for bringing its Boeing B737 MAX fleet into service, next month’s Aviation Club lunch will be highly topical with the head of America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, as guest speaker.

Bookings are now open for the 6 February event, the club’s first lunch at its new venue at the Royal Automobile Club building in Pall Mall London, and a curtain-raiser for the organisation’s 30th anniversary this year.

As administrator of the FAA, Dickson leads the US equivalent of the UK’s CAA and will be speaking about the MAX and the wider issue of safety regulatory issues post Brexit.

He was sworn in as FAA administrator last August after being confirmed for a five-year term by the US Senate and having recently retired as senior VP of flight operations for Delta Air Lines. He is known as a strong advocate for commercial aviation safety and improvements to the US national airspace system.

■ American Airlines said last week that “based on latest guidance”, it expected the resumption of scheduled commercial service on its MAX fleet would be on 4 June this year.

The airline said once the aircraft was certified, it would operate flights for staff members and invited guests before the MAX was entered into commercial service.

https://aviationclub.org.uk

www.faa.gov

www.aa.com

Biggest year yet for Hamad International

Among airport results announced this month, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (below) revealed it served a record 38.8m passengers last year, the highest number since the facility opened in 2014. The total shows year-on-year growth of 12.4% compared to passenger numbers in 2018.

Eight new passenger destinations were added to the airport’s global network in 2019 – Davao, Rabat, Izmir, Gaborone, Langkawi, Mogadishu, Malta and Lisbon. Three new cargo destinations were also added – Istanbul, New York and Almaty.

Of the airlines operating at Hamad International, 15 increased their weekly flight frequencies including Kuwait Airways, Salam Air, Philippine Airlines, Oman Air and Air India Express. Two new carriers, Air India and Tarco Aviation, joined the line-up.

Chief operating officer Badr Mohammed Al Meer said: “Last year was a spectacular one for HIA as the gateway to some of the world’s biggest sporting events including the IAAF World Athletics Championships and the FIFA Club World Cup.

“Looking ahead, we’re focused on increasing our operational capacity through our major expansion project which is a vital part of the airport’s rapid growth and the country’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup and beyond.”

HIA announced its airport expansion plan in 2019 with the first phase comprising a central concourse linking concourses D and E to increase the airport’s capacity to more than 53m passengers a year by 2022.

https://dohahamadairport.com

Curio No 4 heads for London

A fourth London property for Hilton’s Curio brand opens next month with the arrival of the 126-room Hart Shoreditch near Old Street station in the east of the capital and named for the building’s previous cabinetmaker occupants, the Harts.

Features include what the company calls “simplistic, modern furnishings” plus a fitness centre, Mediterranean-themed restaurant, a deli and bar. There are three meeting spaces and guests are also promised a nightclub set to open shortly.

The three other Curio by Hilton properties in London are 100 Queen’s Gate, formerly the DoubleTree by Hilton London Kensington, The Trafalgar St James London, and Lincoln Plaza London.

Other hotels in the pipeline for the brand portfolio include a Curio property provisionally called The London Gantry in Stratford, also in east London, and another as yet unnamed development near St Paul’s Cathedral.

Hart Shoreditch general manager Lina Zakzeckyte said: “We are incredibly excited for the opening of Hart Shoreditch in February.

"The hotel itself really is one-of-a-kind, with a design that acts as a celebration of the local area and its rich heritage; so we hope that our appreciation of great craftsmanship shows through.”

www.hilton.com/en/curio

Eastern back in E-Jet market

Significant growth in demand for jets of 70-100 seats has persuaded Eastern Airways, which operates flights from Southampton Airport, to re-enter the E-Jet market with the initial return of the Embraer E170 to its fleet.

General manager commercial and operations Roger Hage said: “The return of the E-Jets gives us an entry into new ad-hoc charter and ACMI markets, alongside an option to evolve our scheduled-service network.”

The E170-100 LR has a range of more than 1,800mi and a maximum cruise speed of 553mph, bringing routes such as Norwich – Aberdeen within a 1hr flight time and most European destinations including the Mediterranean to a little over 2hr.

Eastern says it also plans to add three larger Embraer E190s during the year. Already common with UK and European airlines, the aircraft offers opportunities for larger-capacity scheduled and charter operations.

Both aircraft have the capability for steep approaches to restricted airports, good short-field performance and long-range operations, making them one of the most flexible aircraft in the up-to-100-seat market.

Yorkshire and Humber-based Eastern was formed in 1997 and operates scheduled flights including between Southampton and Leeds Bradford as well as specialising in charter services for the energy industry and corporate and sports contracts.

www.easternairways.com

https://embraer.com

EasyJet returning to Sharm el Sheikh

Flights to Sharm el Sheikh (below) are being resumed by easyJet this year for the first time since November 2015 following the recent lifting of government restrictions on UK flights to the destination.

The airline will operate two flights a week year-round from 7 June from Manchester and from 30 September from Gatwick. Expansion at Manchester will also see two more new routes – Menorca twice weekly from 4 June and Rome three times a week from 7 June.

EasyJet says with Egypt proving popular in the North West, it is also extending its winter flights to Hurghada to operate year-round three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays with the first flight departing on 1 June.

The airline has invested steadily in the region and now operates 70 routes from Manchester and bases 19 aircraft there. It expects to carry 37,000-plus passengers on the new routes in the first 12 months, meaning it will now fly almost 5m a year to and from the airport.

UK country manager Ali Gayward said: “Our investment at Manchester has provided economic benefits for the local community, including more jobs, so we are delighted to be continuing our expansion at the airport.”

www.easyjet.com

www.manchesterairport.co.uk

Etihad joins worldwide partnership

In its first use of the high-tech NDC (New Distribution Capability) platform, Etihad Airways last week became the most recent airline to partner with easyJet to give passengers the option to buy tickets through the easyJet worldwide website.

The deal connects the two airlines’ networks to open fresh possibilities for travel between Europe, Africa, the Azores and the UAE and follows easyJet’s accelerated roll-out programme with flight comparison search engine Dohop.

This powers the easyJet worldwide website connecting its European network with long-haul flights, while the NDC platform provides technical capability for new partnerships which were previously not possible.

Etihad vice-president alliances and partnerships Ali Saleh said: “This new collaboration is a logical leap forward for both our companies as easyJet is a perfect launch partner for us in Europe.

“The partnership allows us to increase the breadth of our continental reach reliably to and from Abu Dhabi as we enhance ways of connecting directly with more airlines and travel partners around the world.

“The ability to provide end-to-end booking capabilities through our NDC platform will provide customers with ‘one stop’ solutions for seamless travel with partners, whether legacy or low-cost, through Etihad’s global gateways.”

www.etihad.com

www.easyjet.com

www.dohop.com

Executive jet sets polar record

A new world circumnavigation speed record is being claimed by Qatar Airways’ private jet division, Qatar Executive, after one of its Gulfstream G650ER fleet completed a pole-to-pole flight in 46hr 40min. The previous record was set in 2008 at 52hr 32min.

Codenamed One More Orbit, the flight also included on board a member of the Qatar attendant team, who became the first woman in history to complete a polar circumnavigation.

The itinerary took in three stops, starting and ending at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and also included former International Space Station (ISS) commander Colonel Terry Virts among the crew.

The mission was split into four sectors – from the NASA shuttle landing facility in Florida to Astana, Astana to Mauritius, Mauritius to Chile and Chile back to NASA, with pit stops in each location for maintenance checks and refuelling.

Qatar Executive vice-president Ettore Rodaro said: “Thanks to the Qatar Airways network around the globe, we were able to prepare every fuel stop efficiently and swiftly, a major component in breaking world speed records.

“The mission was made possible by the Gulfstream G650ER, the fastest ultra-long-range business jet available. It was an appropriate choice since Qatar Executive is the world’s largest carrier to own and operate the aircraft, currently holding six.”

www.qatarexec.com.qa

www.gulfstream.com/aircraft/gulfstream-g650er

Gatwick short cut

A much quicker connection from the Gatwick South Terminal to a new local transport hub has been completed by the airport.

This follows a complaint to Business Travel News and passed on to CEO Stuart Wingate.

Improvements include two new lifts from the southbound road-level bus stops on the A23 into the South Terminal – and Gatwick’s train station – for people travelling with luggage, parents with pushchairs and passengers with reduced mobility.

Further improvements have been made to the bus stop areas on both the northbound and southbound A23, including pedestrian and wheelchair accessible routes, new seating and improved lighting and signage in and out of the terminal.  Help points have also been installed with the live information screens also updated.

The new infrastructure improves an important transport hub for local passengers who arrive by bus and for workers employed at the airport. More than 650 bus departures currently operate from the hub, each week including high frequency, 24hr services connecting the airport to Horley, Redhill and Horsham, with other services linking to East Grinstead and Reigate.

More than 30% of airport staff who live locally take the bus to work. The improved access will also benefit 1m regular commuters who live locally and use Gatwick’s train station every year to get to work. 

www.gatwickairport.com

Heathrow promises 'decade of delivery'

An “outstanding end” to 2019 with more than 6.7m passengers handled during the festive season was hailed by Heathrow last month, with the airport saying it was now turning its attention to a “decade of delivery”.

Officials said Christmas and New Year reunions fuelled growth last month. The passenger total made it the airport’s busiest December yet, 3.1% up over the same time the year before and the strongest monthly increase of 2019.

The figures brought the passenger total for 2019 to a record 80.9m, the ninth consecutive year of growth, with the airport attributing the increase to larger and fuller aircraft.

UK services saw the biggest surge in December (+10.6%) as many took advantage of Flybe’s routes to Newquay and Guernsey during the holiday rush. British Airways also increased the frequency and aircraft size of its Scottish flights.

The Middle East saw growth of 7.3%, followed by the US (+7.1%), as many took advantage of new services.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “The past decade has been transformational but it doesn’t end there.

“By the end of this new decade of delivery, a third runway will have given Britain more hub capacity than our rivals in France or Germany, making this country a winner and the best-connected country in the world.”

www.heathrow.com

JFK T8 transformation takes off

A $344m transformation of Terminal 8 at New York JFK Airport has begun with joint business partners American Airlines and British Airways celebrating the start of construction.

American president Robert Isom said the investment would put the 14 daily flights between JFK and London offered in partnership with BA in the same terminal and offer premium check-in space, new joint lounges and more retail and dining options.

“We will be adding more than 70,000sq ft to customer and operational spaces to create a truly world-class experience at JFK,” Isom added, while staff would also benefit from more co-located long-haul aircraft gates and an enhanced baggage system.

American and BA are the first airlines to mark the start of a planned transformation of JFK into what New York officials say will be a state-of-the-art global hub. The Terminal 8 construction is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

The upgrades to the building include the addition of five widebody gates and four adjacent widebody hard stands – ramp parking where customers are transported to and from the terminal by bus) – enhanced baggage systems and new lounges.

www.jfkairport.com

www.aa.com

www.britishairways.com

Manchester – Nova Scotia by WestJet

The quickest transatlantic route to date to link the North West with North America will launch in June with four-times-weekly WestJet service between Manchester Airport and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Canadian carrier will use a two-class Boeing B737-700 on the route with flights timed at 6hr outbound and 5hr inbound. WestJet also offers good onward connectivity including Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton.

It will be Manchester Airport’s shortest long-haul route and likely to be of special interest to the 1,600-plus companies in the North West that do business with Canada.

Airport CEO Andrew Cowan said: “This will be the fifth long-haul route for the airport in 2020 after Dhaka, Sylhet, Shanghai and Boston, underlining our role in giving businesses and people across our region direct access to key economic and tourism destinations.

“North America is a hugely popular market for the 22m people living and working in our catchment area and I am sure this service to Halifax will be welcomed by business and leisure passengers alike.

“We look forward to welcoming WestJet and supporting their growth here in the years ahead. It is an exciting time to start flying from Manchester, with our £1bn investment under way and new state-of-the-art facilities opening later this year.”

www.manchesterairport.co.uk

www.westjet.com

Manston decision delayed until spring

A decision expected on Saturday (18 January) on the proposed reopening and development of Manston Airport by RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) following a planning inquiry has been delayed for a further four months.

The Department for Transport said the extension to 18 May was to enable further information to be provided by RSP and other interested parties before the development company’s application was decided.

The inquiry followed an application by RSP for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to retain the aerodrome as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and allow it to be revived as an air cargo facility.

RSP told the inquiry Manston could provide air freight operators with "a realistic alternative to the overcrowded London airports (and) ease the road congestion caused by lorries carrying freight through the channel tunnel to European airports".

The company said it had not ruled out the possibility of passenger flights being operated but its initial focus was on the airfreight market, whose revival would also boost economic growth and jobs in Kent.

The airport closed in May 2014 with the loss of 144 jobs a month after the last passenger flight out of Manston, operated by KLM.

https://rsp.co.uk

www.supportmanstonairport.org

Meliá reopens in West London

West London has a new-look boutique hotel with the opening after a complete refurbishment and rebranding of the Meliá Kensington, formerly the Rydges Kensington London and after that the London Kensington Hotel.

The building was renovated in the first quarter of 2019 and adapted to Meliá Hotels & Resorts brand standards before its re-emergence and is ideally situated for visits to the museums of South Kensington, and Underground connections to central London and Heathrow.

The 76 rooms are divided into seven categories – Standard, Superior, Premium, Family, Junior Suites, Suites and a Master Suite.

Each features luxury linens, complimentary minibar, bathrobes and slippers, amenities by Rituals and coffee and tea facilities. Interiors are inspired by the wallpaper designs of William Morris, one of the famous names featured in the nearby V&A Museum.

The hotel also offers three meeting rooms with natural light for corporate and private events and a 24hr gym with the latest Technogym equipment.

The standalone SW7 restaurant, which opened in November, offers a brasserie and bar-style dining experience in a relaxed environment, showcasing British cuisine with a Mediterranean flavour.

With capacity to seat 74 diners, the facility is open for full breakfasts, elaborate brunches, lunches, traditional Sunday roasts and refined dinners.

www.melia.com

Newcastle – Munich from Lufthansa

A start date of set 3 February as been set by Lufthansa for its Newcastle – Munich service, one of two new European routes out of the German hub. The second, to Estonian capital Tallinn, was launched in November. Both are served by the Airbus A319.

Hub Munich CEO Wilken Bormann said: "We are continuously expanding our route network within Europe and our latest two additions are particularly interesting for business travellers while also offering tourist highlights."

The Newcastle – Munich link, which will operate daily except Saturdays, has already won a vote of confidence from frequent flyer Richard Swart, who works for a Munich-based German multi-national corporation and takes some 150 flights a year.

He said: “We have many meetings through the year and the new Lufthansa route will make getting there much easier. It will probably save around half a day each time we use it as this is how long it often takes to connect.

“On top of that, Munich as an airport is good for global connectivity and gives a more open choice for people starting their journeys in Newcastle.”

Munich’s other new destination, Tallinn, with flights on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, is also an important business destination as it is considered the economically strongest city in Estonia and is home to the largest banking sector in the Baltic states.

www.lufthansa.com

www.newcastleairport.com

Public unveiling for Air Canada A220

The newest member of the Air Canada fleet, the Airbus A220-300, was officially unveiled last week to employees and special guests at the airline's Montreal headquarters.

As reported earlier (BTN 6 January), the Bombardier-designed aircraft built in Mirabel, Quebec, is a key part of Air Canada's fleet modernisation with state-of-the-art design and cabin and a 20% reduction in fuel consumption per seat.

Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu said: "This is an historic moment for Air Canada as we become the first airline in Canada to operate this next-generation aircraft.

“Our passengers will enjoy a level of comfort unrivalled on a single-aisle aircraft and the A220's operating efficiencies promise meaningful environmental and cost benefits.

“The arrival of the first of our order of 45 A220s, with a list price value of US$3.8bn at the time it was made, underscores our contribution to Canada's aerospace industry and its economy.”

The aircraft entered service on Thursday between Montreal and Calgary. As more enter the fleet, they will initially be deployed from Montreal and Toronto on existing Canadian and transborder routes including Ottawa and New York La Guardia.

The first two new A220 routes for Air Canada begin on 4 May with the launch of Montreal – Seattle and Toronto – San Jose, California, the only non-stop service between these city pairs.

www.aircanada.com

www.airbus.com

www.bombardier.com

Qatar's star billing in Kuwait

New destination plans for 2020 helped Qatar Airways to wow the crowds on the opening day of the Kuwait Aviation Show last week while also showcasing two Boeing B787-9 Dreamliners, the newest aircraft in its fleet.

Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker announced eight new destinations will be joining the network this year in addition to the recently-announced gateways of Santorini, Dubrovnik and Osaka.

He added: “With these new routes, our operations will expand to 177 destinations, reinforcing our position as one of the world’s most connected airlines and ensuring we can continue to provide passengers more options and flexibility in business and leisure travel.”

The new destinations include Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan (two weekly from 30 March); Almaty, Kazakhstan (two weekly from 1 April, increasing to four weekly from 25 May), and Cebu, Philippines (three weekly from 8 April).

Also on the list are Accra, Ghana (daily from 15 April); Trabzon, Turkey (three weekly from 20 May); Lyon, France (five weekly from 23 June); Luanda, Angola (four weekly from 14 October); Siem Reap, Cambodia (five weekly from 16 November).

Elsewhere, Qatar Airways is increasing its frequency from Edinburgh from 10 to 14 flights a week later this year in a move country manager UK and Ireland Gary Kershaw said was to underline the airline’s commitment to Scotland.

www.qatarairways.com

Royal Air Maroc signs on for oneworld

Celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the oneworld airline alliance (BTN 6 January) are continuing with Royal Air Maroc signing up with effect from 1 April as the first full member on the African continent.

With regional subsidiary Royal Air Maroc Express also joining as an affiliate from the same date, the development adds 39 new destinations in 23 countries to the oneworld network, offering more flights and options for the frequent flyers of member airlines.

The national carrier of Morocco, Royal Air Maroc connects its base in Casablanca with more than 100 destinations in more than 50 countries over six regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America and South America.

These include oneworld hubs at Amman, Doha, Heathrow, Madrid, Miami, Moscow Domodedovo and New York JFK.

Effective 1 April, oneworld frequent flyers will enjoy all alliance benefits and services with the new recruit, with the 1m-plus members of Royal Air Maroc’s Safar Flyer loyalty programme able to earn and redeem awards on all oneworld member airlines.

Royal Air Maroc already codeshares with five oneworld members – American Airlines, Iberia, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian and S7 Airlines – with more partnerships expected. American has also announced service to Casablanca from 4 June.

www.oneworld.com

www.royalairmaroc.com

Sleepods come to Istanbul Airport

Following the growing trend for relaxation facilities for passengers who want to rest before, after or between flights, Istanbul Airport (iGA) has launched its 'Sleepod' service, a unit of 25 sleeping cabins that can be rented on an hourly basis.

Disposable sheets are used for the cabins and are included in the price, along with one pillow. Passengers can buy extra pillows, disposable pillowcases and blankets for an additional charge.

Other amenities include carpeting in the cabins, round-the-clock cleaning staff and blankets sent for dry cleaning after each use.

Each of the cabins has a USB port and a socket, allowing users to charge mobile phones and other electronic devices. Each cabin also has a special screened area where passengers can store their hand luggage and personal items.

Passengers can complete the rental process at the sales counter in front of the Sleepod area. Each cabin costs €6 an hour between 07:00 and 19:00 or €9 an hour between 19:00 and 07:00. The additional services such as blankets, pillows or pillowcases are available for €2.

Another option at iGA for transit passengers is a Yotelair inside the duty-free area, after security and passport control.

www.igairport.com/en

www.yotel.com

Stansted – Mumbai for Air India

Air India is launching direct flights from Stansted to India’s economic capital Mumbai (below) from 21 February using the state-of-the-art Boeing B787 Dreamliner, just three months after the airline launched its Amritsar service from the airport (BTN 4 November 2019).

The news has been welcomed by business leaders and tourism chiefs who say the new link will generate significant trade and tourism opportunities.

It will also benefit the 200,000 people from Stansted’s catchment area who currently travel to Mumbai each year from other UK airports.

The new three times a week service is running initially for the winter season and will be operated by a 256-seater Dreamliner offering both Business and Economy classes.

Airport CEO Ken O’Toole said: “With Stansted sitting in one of the most vibrant, exciting and innovative regions in the UK, it should come as no surprise that Air India has decided to launch this new service to one of the world’s most important economic hubs.

“This new route is further evidence of the growing demand from businesses and passengers across the region for more long-haul connections from their local airport.

“Some 200,000 people from our region travel to Mumbai every year from other airports, so the new service will provide greater choice and help to cut down unnecessary journeys.”

www.stanstedairport.com

www.airindia.in

ON TOUR: London to Glasgow (or vice versa)

Travel from London to Glasgow (and for that matter Glasgow to London) really depends on your requirements – essentially where are you starting from (or finishing) and the cost? There are three ways of making the journey. By car (or even coach), by air or by train.

Let us eliminate the car first of all. Via the M1, and using the toll road past Birmingham, it is 400 miles, 7hr driving if all goes well, plus two 30min stops. A day return is not practical and, again, it depends on the actual start/finish point.

Reckon on £60 for fuel each way using what we call in the aviation business DOCs (direct operating costs), which does not take into account the vehicle expenses. You can divide the cost by the number of people on board.

Plane or rail? Read on. It can be done in a day by air with no accommodation costs, but with an early start and finish, or by late-night train, with no hotel expenses.

Last week BTN took a day out (in fact an overnight) visiting Glasgow Airport via the Caledonian Sleeper (23:50 from Euston arriving 07:20 Glasgow Central – on time), and back on the 16:00 BA into London City Airport (LCY), away on time and landside within a few minutes of touchdown.

On BA Cityflyer, there is passable nutrition depending on the time of day, and a full courtesy bar service in the evening. There are currently eight return trips every weekday and with only around 100 passengers, it is very comfortable. To get in a full day at the other end means an early start and late homecoming.

Besides LCY, other alternatives by air are Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Southend and Stansted airports, all with frequent services.

There are 35 outbound flights from Glasgow to London. It all depends where you start from or want to go to.

CALEDONIAN SLEEPER

Night-sleeper services between London and Scotland date back to 1874. Tthe latest incarnation, The Caledonian Sleeper, a franchise operated by Serco, was introduced in April last year. For the most part, the teething problems have been eradicated.

A 16-coach service to Glasgow and Edinburgh leaves Euston at 23:50 (there are variations), splits at Carstairs in southern Scotland and arrives around 07:20 at both destinations.

At London Euston, you can use the Avanti (former Virgin) lounge and board from 22:30. Glasgow has an Avanti lounge too, available for a quick coffee when you arrive.

First impressions count and the Glasgow train sits at the front of the one for Edinburgh. The carriages differ in their arrangement with the Caledonian Double and twin-bunk Club Rooms (the top one can be folded away) offering an en-suite shower, but for those in the Classic Rooms it means a trip down the corridor if a visit to the loo is needed in the night. All have a wash-hand basin. A wheelchair accessible room is available.

My reservation was in carriage N, two from the front and a long walk.

This turned out to be a bunk bedroom, the solo booked losing its sink water supply.

The corridor is very narrow with a handrail on the window side and recessed door handles fitted in the previous units replaced by protruding ones. Why not an electronic card system now gaining popularity in hotels (and ships)? Special fobs unlock the doors but nobody supplied BTN with one and a hostess had to be found. There are no passing places.

Each carriage has a small kitchenette and a public loo.

Once inside, the cabin it is tight but with all the facilities needed. A table pulls out and various electrical connections are offered, but no TV or radio. There is a sink and various complimentary Scottish toiletries and a cleverly-designed combined restroom and shower unit but again too tight for a really relaxed wash. Tea and a wake-up call are available, with the last full breakfast served in the Club Car at 07:00. 

Further down the train was accommodation for what is termed 'Comfort Seats', reclining with individual reading lights (the cabin dims as well), charging points and USB, call button, secure locker and no leg room problems. The courtesy wi-fi works well throughout the train.

Once under way, the fun (if that is the right word) began.  Air travellers are used to a less-than-smooth introduction into a flight as the plane manoeuvres for the runway, lines up and takes off. It is all smooth from there on. With the train, departure was bumpy as we got away from Euston, and then it continued, a sort of flight turbulence, all the way to Glasgow. LNER’s Azumas are far smoother. Why the disturbance on a new state-of-the-art train? To be fair, BTN slept the whole way except for the occasional ‘shake rattle and rock’. 

From a practical point of view, a night return offers a full day at either end without recourse to a hotel. It is probably better southbound, with Euston well connected for the London Underground, or taxis. You can dine out or even go to a show and make the train in time.

A fine Highland breakfast was served in the Club Car and then it was out on to the sparkling clean and active Glasgow Central concourse.

The visit was to Glasgow International Airport (a report will follow). The express bus point, a less than 5min easy walk, was badly signposted. The airport was less than a 15min ride, but cost £9. Compare that with the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow T5. Oyster can take you all the way to anywhere on the Tube in London for £3.10 off-peak (£6 for a plain single journey).

 

SOME FURTHER COMMENTS

The problems regarding the ride (this in motoring terms) may take a little longer to sort out but a couple of quick remedies would be to provide the customer service staff with bright uniforms that can be spotted on the platform late at night, and for the team to show the same courtesy expected in a 5-star hotel to explain to customers the cabin intricacies, the operation of the pull-out table and suggest a nightcap from the room service menu. There is a nicely laid out accommodation guide, but it does not even mention the call button.

A separate room service menu offers a variety of sandwiches and some fine malt whiskies. Or you can walk down the (already mentioned) narrow corridor to the nicely laid out Club Car for a limited late-night hot snacks menu.

Carlisle is a stop and the Glasgow service also calls at Motherwell.

If your destination is Aberdeen, Inverness, Fort William and a number of highland stations (plus Crewe and Preston), there is a 21:15 Caledonian Express departure which, as with the Edinburgh – Glasgow train, also picks up at Watford, 20min out from Euston.

www.sleeper.scot

www.britishairways.com


SOME IDEAS ON COSTS FOR TUESDAY 28 JANUARY (train Monday night)

These are all single prices and are FROM. Travel to and from the departure/arrival point should be added.

London City to Glasgow  (early morning)
    Euro Traveller £69
    Club World £133

Heathrow to Glasgow
    Euro Traveller £133
    Club World £240

Caledonian Sleeper
    Double £335
    Club £205
    Classic £160
    Standard £48

AND FINALLY: Nothing new in aviation

As if to prove there is nothing new in the aviation business, echoes of Qantas’ Project Sunrise could be heard last Tuesday, 14 January, as enthusiasts marked the 62nd anniversary of the airline beginning its round-the-world (RTW) services.

The feat was accomplished by two Super Constellations taking off from Melbourne’s Essendon Airport, one heading west and the other east so passengers could choose which way they wanted to fly.

According to Australia’s Airways Museum magazine, Qantas (then known as Qantas Empire Airways, or QEA) was ‘determined’ to have RTW flights going in alternative directions.

The magazine noted that the logistics and distances involved at the time meant the flights were at the cutting edge of what could be done and Qantas even ran a test flight beforehand to prove the Super Constellation could make it.

Sound familiar?

www.qantas.com

www.airwaysmuseum.com