BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS (BTNews)

9 DECEMBER 2019

The Business Travel News
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A reminder that next Monday (16 December) Business Travel News will again be running its hugely popular end-of-year quiz. It will stay live until the closing date for entries, Friday 3 January 2020.

This year’s quiz is again supported by easyJet plus Gatwick Airport and there will also be supplementary prizes. Heathrow Express has also come in with Business First tickets. Rod Simpson of Air-Britain is again the quizmaster.

To enter, you must be a registered with BTN. Subscribe here for free by entering your email address, which we use only for the weekly BTN newsletter and do not pass on to third parties. 

Index/Home page

SOAPBOX SPECIAL: Commercial flights at RAF Northolt

Last week BTN highlighted the recent and controversial reopening of RAF Northolt. ‘Controversial’ because the airport accepted commercial flights on 11 November following a £23m runway renovation without carrying out the necessary regulatory assessments and without consulting local residents – conditions many other commercial airports would have to meet.

It is no secret a number of privately-owned and commercially-operated airports have aired concerns about the lack of a level playing field at RAF Northolt in the context of its primary current use as a business aviation operation, not as a military airport.

Competition is generally a good thing and welcomed when all play by the same rules, but this is not the case here.

In 2013, the government abandoned its previous commitment to cap commercial flights to 7,000 a year at RAF Northolt and raised it to 12,000 a year. At this point, the alternative London business aviation airports sat up and identified that MAA (Military Aviation Authority) rules were different from the CAA’s (or EASA’s) and the promulgation of all the safety-related data relating to its use was either incomplete, out-of-date or not readily available for civil users to inspect and assess.

A subsequent judicial review found the CAA had the power to impose conditions on RAF Northolt as far as its civilian operations were concerned. Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents released as part of that process revealed significant safety concerns, particularly around flight path obstacles. Yet, to date, neither removal of the obstacles nor the recommended shortening of the runway, nor other measures have been seen to happen.

The government claims to be sticking to its self-imposed cap of 12,000 commercial flights a year. However, the closure of the runway for renovation in 2018 left many worried that RAF Northolt intended to expand commercial flights once again, and compete for business. The government could easily change its mind, as it did in 2013.

These concerns have been largely justified. London City Airport is now running commercial flights at RAF Northolt, through its Premier Passenger Service, targeting luxury flyers and is marketing Northolt as “London’s VIP Airport”. But there is an accountability deficit. A recent poll conducted by the Regional Business and Airports Association (RABA) showed 68% of local residents were not even aware the runway was reopening.

Northolt is the only military or government owned airport in the UK to be notified within the UK’s Aeronautical Information Circulars (AIP) – the civilian licensed or EASA-Certificated airport’s ‘data directory’, if you wish.

The implication is that it fully meets UK civil certification standards or EU EASA rules.

That is not the case. Indeed, it is an exceptional case.

Full airfield survey data for obstacles including a typical Type A obstacle chart are not readily available, nor are they up-to-date – everyone else has to update theirs annually. The consequences of this are that both UK-registered and predominantly non-UK registered civil aircraft, many carrying paying passengers, are utilising Northolt (with far more such aircraft versus the military usage) without fully assessing all the performance limitation criteria one would normally be expected to consider.

Furnished with the full, ‘un-redacted’ airfield data, in accordance with normal civil airport certification rules, there is no doubt a number of current civilian users would probably reassess their capabilities in and out of the airfield.

None of this would really be an issue were the volume of civil traffic far less than the military usage, but the facts are Northolt is promoted proactively as a commercial option for business aviation, as a government-funded and operated airport, in competition with others that are fully privately funded. In 2017 for example, there were more than 10,000 commercial flights against 3,600 military. Recent figures since the airport’s reopening suggest this trend is continuing.

For RABA, an organisation that represents 35 smaller commercial airports across the UK, the Northolt story represents the ‘thin end of the wedge’. The MoD’s JSP360 policy is encouraging RAF stations up and down the country to seek civil-aviation activity to offset cuts in defence spending, with little thought to the commercial consequences for privately-owned entities nearby or the impact on the overall network of airfield infrastructure available to UK aviation as a whole in the UK.

The policy also ignores much more innovative solutions that are capable of meeting the MoD's objectives to a far greater degree and without any adverse impacts on operational readiness, flexibility and irreducible capacity.

What RABA members and other civil airport peers would expect from here on is that if RAF Northolt continues to be used and promoted as a commercial alternative for London, and still be notified in the UK AIP, then let it comply fully with exactly the same rules as the rest of us. Basically, have it properly certified for civilian use or if not, then stop promoting it for use as a commercially-available airport and remove it from the civil AIP.

With this in mind, RABA will be seeking an early meeting with relevant government departments once a new administration is in place to set out a revised and much more economically- and operationally-efficient regime that is of significant benefit both to the MoD and its members. And, most importantly, that also addresses the current situation where state-funded assets are being used to compete on unfair terms with privately-owned and financed infrastructure.

Basil O’Fee – Secretariat, Regional and Business Airports Group

www.rabagroup.co.uk

BTN notes that the insurance issue raised in our article 2 December has not been answered.

SPECIAL NOTE: Over the past several years BTN has championed a campaign to allow scheduled domestic flights into Northolt. The London regional access problem has now been partially resolved, with slots being found initially for Inverness and this year also Guernsey and Newquay. Jersey and the Isle of Man still lack access. With these exceptions, BTN commends itself for its success in respect of the provinces.

Aspire Lounge opens at Eindhoven

Swissport International is further expanding its lounge business in Europe with the opening of a new Aspire facility at Eindhoven, its third opening in the past three months after Gatwick South and Edinburgh.

The 200sq m newcomer is airside at Eindhoven Airport, on the first floor near gates 11 and 12. It has seating for 60 guests and a variety of food and drink available throughout the day, including vegetarian and vegan choices.

A special feature is that it and the Edinburgh facility embody a refreshed design which has been introduced for the brand with the idea to give it what the company calls “a more distinguished look”.

Swissport manages 47 lounges at more than 30 airports in 13 countries across Africa, Europe and North America under the Aspire brand as part of its ground services business. All are open to passengers irrespective of class of travel.

Swissport operates Aspire lounges at airports in Africa, Europe and North America. Last year, Aspire welcomed more than 5m passengers across the network, while three more Aspire lounges will open in Ottawa and Halifax in Canada, and Perth, Australia, in the first half of 2020.

www.swissport.com

www.executivelounges.com/aspire-lounges

www.eindhovenairport.nl

Aston Martin Concorde edition

Fans of Concorde and fast cars – and with £321,350 to spare – can now indulge both passions by putting in an order for Aston Martin’s latest creation, the DBS Superleggera Concorde Edition, produced in partnership with British Airways.

You will need to be quick. Just 10 examples of the car, due to be launched next October, will be made, all available through Aston Martin Bristol, just down the road from where Concorde was built.

Each vehicle will feature titanium from compressor blades that were used across BA’s supersonic fleet, a one-off Civil Aviation Authority-approved registration number and BA’s Chatham Flag tailfin incorporated into the design.

Among other Concorde-related features, the exterior will have a bespoke painted livery in the airline’s red, white and blue colours, and a black tinted carbon-fibre roof emblazoned with the aircraft’s streamlined silhouette.

Part of the proceeds from each car will be donated to the Air League Trust, a non-profit organisation that supports underprivileged children and teaches them to fly.

Next June, BA and Aston Martin Bristol, in partnership with the trust, will run a week-long scholarship programme for young people at Cranfield University, funded by proceeds from the cars.

www.astonmartin.com

www.britishairways.com

www.airleague.co.uk   www.cranfield.ac.uk

Aviation Club moves to the RAC

Speaking to a packed lunch last Thursday (5 December) at the Institute of Directors, Aviation Club UK chairman Karl Brünjes announced the club was literally moving down the road to a new home at the RAC. Guest of honour for the lunch was Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East (see Rolls-Royce and the Trent 1000 in this issue)

Brünjes noted 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the club, adding: “It has more than fulfilled the objectives of its founder sponsors, which incidentally included Rolls-Royce, in creating an informal high-level forum for commercial aviation here in London. From all over the world, the great and good in air travel have spoken over the past three decades. 

“Following a long debate by the committee it was decided that the club had outgrown our current home. A detailed search found the Royal Automobile Club most welcoming and I am pleased to say our first guest will be Steve Dickson, FAA administrator, on 6 February. Hopefully he will be able to talk positively about the Boeing MAX”.

Future guest speakers at  the club include Wrenelle Stander of the South African airline Comair on 11 March, followed by Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye on 23 April.

www.aviationclub.org.uk

BA moves forward on accessibility

The Valuable 500, a global movement to make accessibility a business priority, gained a powerful new backer last week after British Airways joined the organisation and pledged its commitment to passengers who need extra help when travelling.

Speaking on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, BA chairman and CEO Alex Cruz said the airline had seen customer satisfaction more than double for travellers with accessibility needs after it put major investment into a new customer care team.

By signing the pledge to The Valuable 500, Cruz has committed to include accessibility on his board agenda and will continue to support investments that improve the journey experience for customers with additional needs.

BA said almost half a million customers requiring assistance fly with it each year and the airline’s analysts predict the figure will grow by a further 8% year on year.

The company said it was aiming to become the airline of choice for such passengers and had this year invested in a number of initiatives to ensure journeys were as simple and easy as possible.

In October, BA became the first airline to partner with the Department for Transport on its initiative to make transport more inclusive and help people with disabilities travel with confidence.

www.britishairways.com

www.thevaluable500.com

Bournemouth West Cliff unveils new look

Results of a major £1.4m refurbishment which has transformed the reception area, bar, lounge, restaurant and indoor swimming pool have been unveiled by Bournemouth’s West Cliff spa hotel.

Following a buy-out of the hotel by membership club Boundless, new general manager Tony Giauna says the refurbishments are just the start, with a new look for the spa area, 83 guestrooms and more enhancements to reception in the pipeline.

He added: “We’re delighted to reveal the fruits of our labour over the past year as we continue to transform the West Cliff into an affordable oasis of calm in central sunny Bournemouth.

“There aren’t many hotels in the area that can boast two swimming pools, a spa and gym as well as a relaxing conservatory and garden – and that makes it a hidden gem. We’re committed to making the West Cliff Hotel the best it can be.”

Business facilities include a number of both day and 24hr delegate packages with a dedicated events team to tailor events to meet clients’ requirements.

Elsewhere, the newly-refurbished restaurant offers a seasonal menu with dishes including traditional British fare as well as more European flavours including pasta and salads with couscous, lentils and roasted vegetables.

https://bournemouthwestcliffhotel.co.uk

Brandenburg opening date maybe

After almost 14 years of construction and delays, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport was reported last week to be on track to open 10 years late at the end of October next year, the start of airlines' winter season.

The airport’s Supervisory Board last week approved a final timetable which should see the first arrivals on the evening of 30 October and the first departures from the new terminals the following morning.

Brandenburg’s new southern runway is due to be inaugurated four days later, on 4 November, beginning an official countdown requiring the existing Berlin Tegel Airport to shut down permanently within 90 days although it is projected to be much sooner.

Schoenefeld, which was opened as a civilian airport in 1947 and served as a gateway for East Berlin, will be incorporated into the new airport with its existing building given a new role as a terminal for low-cost carriers.

With Tegel’s closure, Berlin Brandenburg will become the only commercial airport serving the German capital. Its IATA code will be BER and existing codes for Tegel (TXL) and Schoenefeld (SXF) will be decommissioned.

Supervisory board president Rainer Bretschneider said: “With this announcement of the opening date, a new stage begins in the development of BER and shows the airport company is on the right track.”

www.berlin-airport.de

Branson to keep control of Virgin

Transatlantic expansion plans by Air France-KLM in partnership with Virgin Arantic and Delta are still on track, the group said on Friday, despite Virgin Atlantic chairman Richard Branson’s decision not to sell part of his stake in his airline to it as part of a joint-venture (JV) deal.

Branson, who holds 51% of Virgin with Delta Air Lines holding the remaining 49%, had planned to sell 31% of his stake to Air France-KLM as part of the transatlantic link-up among the three airline companies.

The JV was approved by the US Department of Transportation (BTN 25 November) but Branson said last week Virgin had agreed subject to contract with the partners he would continue to hold the 51% of Virgin shares his family owned. Air France-KLM said it accepted the deal.

In a message on the Virgin blog (see link), Branson said he had always viewed Virgin Atlantic as one of his children and was reluctant to part with it, though initially thinking it might be necessary to get the JV deal done.

He added: “I was willing to do so, reluctantly, to guarantee the long-term success of Virgin Atlantic.” However, following the DoT approval, the new arrangement had now been agreed. The transatlantic JV “remains an essential part of our future and long-term success”.

www.virginatlanic.com

www.airfranceklm.com

www.delta.com

Brooklyn comes to Manchester

A new design-led place to stay that draws inspiration from one of New York’s best-known boroughs is set to open in the heart of Manchester in two months’ time in the shape of the 189-room Hotel Brooklyn.

The name was chosen to reflect the similarities between the two communities in terms of Victorian brownstone houses, buzzing industrial growth and the strength of their identity and culture.

The design of the bedrooms has been inspired by Brooklyn’s loft spaces with the addition of special features emphasising quality and high-spec finishes. Beds have brass adornments, while Turkish rugs contrast with the concrete floors.

Bathrooms have been angled to allow their back walls and semi-opaque windows to look out across the guestrooms, while street-art wall features finish off the bold design direction.

Hotel Brooklyn’s bar and restaurant, named Runyon’s after Damon Runyon, the American writer renowned for his depictions of Brooklyn characters, will present a diverse menu showcasing European and American influences.

On the top floor of the hotel, Salvation is a dedicated events bar, featuring exposed brickwork, pop art and neon lights to create a lively destination space for what general manager Paul Bayliss calls the UK’s pre-eminent Northern city.

www.hotelbrooklyn.co.uk

EasyJet relaunches holiday arm

A choice of more than 5,000 hotels across 100-plus destinations and more than 330 aircraft flying up to 670 routes a day to beach and city locations are features of easyJet’s holidays programme which the airline has just relaunched.

Also offering a 23kg hold baggage allowance per person, the programme is described by chief executive Garry Wilson as aiming to shake up the sector with flexible, value-for-money holidays to handpicked hotels across Europe.

UK customers can book favourite European hotels, together with any easyJet flight, on one platform, Wilson pointed out, helping to reduce the 7hr people spend on average searching for a holiday.

He added: “The business has been built to overcome things that frustrate travellers most, such as time spent looking for good deals (25%), added expense of travelling at preferred times (21%) and lack of flexibility with flight times and dates (17%).

“EasyJet holidays will offer lots of peak-time holiday availability and more weekend flying than anyone else, while customers can choose how many nights they wish to stay thanks to the strength of the easyJet fleet and its flying schedule.”

www.easyjet.com/en/holidays

Grosvenor reopens as an Amba

Fresh from a multi-million pound refurbishment, London’s historic Grosvenor Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road will open its doors tomorrow, 10 December, as the all-new 4-star Amba Hotel Grosvenor.

Operated by the GLH group, which also owns the Guoman, Thistle and Thistle Express brands, it is the third in the Amba London portfolio, with other properties in Charing Cross and at Marble Arch, and opens after extensive customer research.

Hotel features include light and airy guestrooms with artwork reflecting the golden age of travel, Hypnos beds, quality linen and blackout curtains and signature items including VQ Retro digital radios.

Further on-site facilities for business travellers who wish to use the hotel as a personal business base or event location are due to be revealed next spring with a new suite of corporate spaces.

GLH chief executive Alan Morgan said: “We’re excited to be extending our Amba Hotels portfolio and starting a new era with the relaunch of such an historically significant and iconic London venue.

“We can’t wait for our guests to see how we have married the heritage of the property with stylish, modern amenities.”

www.amba-hotel.com

www.glhhotels.com

Hong Kong Airlines back from the brink

Another aviation near-collapse was averted last week after Hong Kong Airlines met a government deadline to raise new funds or risk losing its licence to fly. Local media said on Saturday the carrier had secured the investment in time to head off the sanctions.

The carrier was given four days on Monday to find the money to pay employees or risk having its operating licence suspended or even revoked. The next day, the airline released a statement vowing to take all necessary action to avoid any lay-offs.

The South China Morning Post reported that later the same day, a Shanghai Stock Exchange filing revealed the carrier’s biggest stakeholder had secured a loan of HK$4.4bn (about £420m).

The Air Transport Licensing Authority (ATLA) said it was satisfied the carrier had met two new licence conditions which forced it to find significant new funding. However, the authority said it remained concerned about the carrier’s weak financial situation.

“The government has decided against punishing Hong Kong Airlines (HKA) further over its financial black hole,” the Post said. “With more than 3,500 jobs on the line and hundreds of thousands of bookings at risk ahead of Christmas, staff and customers can breathe a sigh of relief at Saturday’s announcement.”

(See also SAA is given cash lifeline in this issue)

www.hongkongairlines.com

Hyatt luxury brands to the fore

An ambitious programme of more than 20 new luxury hotels and resorts to be opened worldwide by the end of 2020 was announced last week by Hyatt Hotels, covering six brands.

The line-up includes properties under the Park Hyatt, Andaz, Alila, Grand Hyatt, Miraval and The Unbound Collection by Hyatt portfolios, with The Unbound Collection label seeing its strongest growth in Europe to date.

Included in this brand are the newly-opened former Metropolitan Police headquarters Great Scotland Yard in London and the Hotel du Palais Biarritz, former imperial residence of Napoleon III, due to reopen in June 2020 after an extensive renovation.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2020, the Park Hyatt brand is also a key contributor to the luxury expansion, with five hotels in the 2020 pipeline in Doha, Jakarta, Niseko, Suzhou and Auckland.

For the Alila brand, three luxury resorts are scheduled to open in Switzerland, Malaysia and Oman. In addition, six Andaz-branded luxury lifestyle properties are due to open in Palm Springs, Dubai, Prague, Bali, Shenzhen and Xiamen.

The Grand Hyatt brand is also set to continue to grow with openings in Hefei and the Shenzhou Peninsula in China, Kuwait, Gurgaon in India, Jeju in South Korea and Nashville, along with the first Grand Hyatt hotel in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

www.hyatt.com

London City Airport tunnel

Access to London City Airport is on the way to being improved after Transport for London (TfL) finalised the contract for the controversial Silvertown Tunnel project under the Thames between the Royal Docks and Greenwich.

Falling within the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), the £1bn structure (below) is designed to ease congestion around the nearby Blackwall Tunnel. Work is expected to be finished in 2025.

The project has attracted controversy but the news of the contract was welcomed by the London First lobby group, which said the tunnel was “a vital investment in London’s transport infrastructure”.

Director of strategy and policy John Dickie said it was “a significant milestone in redressing the balance which has seen East London severely short-changed when it comes to transport options to cross the river”.

He added: “As well as providing direct relief for the chronically-congested Blackwall Tunnel, it will ensure residents of East London are able to access jobs and business opportunities on the other side of the river.”

TfL director of major projects Stuart Harvey said his organisation would work tirelessly to ensure any disruption to residents or businesses is kept to an absolute minimum during construction.

www.tfl.gov.uk

www.londonfirst.co.uk

www.londoncityairport.com

Manchester Airport new-look preview

A first look inside the new terminal building set to open next summer was unveiled last week by Manchester Airport as it revealed progress to date on its £1bn transformation and what facilities passengers can expect.

Features unveiled by the UK’s third largest airport include a honeycomb light installation illuminating the departure lounge (below). With 16m settings, it will change colours depending on the time of day.

A new 83sq m digital screen will take centre stage in the new extension to provide entertainment and information to passengers. There will also be a children’s play area to help families pass the time before heading on their travels.

Phase one of the terminal extension is set to open next July with a new security hall, departure lounge, immigration hall and arrivals hall. Further facilities coming during the rest of 2020 include new ‘island’ check-in desk banks and baggage reclaim.

As elements of the new extension open, the airport will start to close parts of the existing Terminal Two to allow for that area to be reconfigured to align with the new facilities. The terminal will open in 2022, 150% bigger than the current building.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYGaZG503Ps&feature=youtu.be

www.manchesterairport.co.uk

New CEO as United picks A321

Coinciding with news of a change in leadership and in a blow to Boeing, United Airlines announced last week it was “setting a course for the future” with an order for 50 Airbus A321XLRs, which would "improve operational efficiency and reduce environmental impact".

At the same time, United said CEO Oscar Munoz will step down next May to become executive chairman. The airline’s current president, J Scott Kirby, will take over as CEO.

On the A321, United said the order enabled it to begin replacing and retiring its existing Boeing B757-200s and allow the airline to explore serving more destinations in Europe from its East Coast hubs in New York and Washington.

Executive vice-president and CCO Andrew Nocella said: "The A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network.

"In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR's range capabilities open potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide passengers with more options to travel."

United plans to begin taking delivery of the Airbus A321XLR in 2024. The airline is deferring delivery of an Airbus A350 order until 2027 “to better align with operational needs.”

www.united.com

www.airbus.com

Norwegian granted Heathrow slots

In a surprise decision, Norwegian Air last week was granted take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, giving it a foothold to launch low-fare long-haul services in competition with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, among others.

The carrier said it had secured six slots, adding: “We have a strong track record of disrupting incumbent carriers and alliances by offering low fares and award-winning service on specific routes and destinations previously operated as monopolies”.

The award was confirmed by the slots authority Airport Coordination Ltd in its report for next summer. Norwegian’s six slots – out of 14 it applied for – are valid from 29 March – 24 October 2020.

Most of Norwegian’s ex-UK growth has been concentrated at Gatwick, from where it flies to 30 destinations, 11 in North America and two in South America, through its Norwegian UK subsidiary, carrying more than 4.5m passengers a year.

The number of slots granted is tiny in operational terms and the airline, which is in the middle of a route reorganisation to repair its financial position, has not said how it might use them.

Norwegian has already said it is dropping its long-distance flights from Stockholm and Copenhagen to the US and Thailand after this winter season, with the last services taking off on 29 March 2020.

www.norwegian.com

Qantas adds to First Lounge portfolio

Singapore’s Changi Airport last week became the home to a Qantas First Lounge, a luxury space spread over 1,000sq m which will operate in tandem with the airline’s existing International Business Lounge.

The new facility has capacity for 240 customers as a bespoke offering for Qantas’ First Class passengers and top tier frequent flyers. Singaporean influences in the design as well as the food and beverage offering are features.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the opening reflected the airline’s extensive premium investment in the region. “Since our A380 flights returned to Singapore, we’ve seen an increase in demand for premium travel,” he added.

“This has also translated to an increase in the number of travellers enjoying our lounge hospitality.

“This is our fourth Qantas First Lounge, and each time we build an entire new facility from scratch, we speak to our frequent flyers to get a better understanding of how customers like to spend their time in the lounge and tailor it accordingly.”

Business travellers can choose to work in an open, communal setting or individual lounge chairs with high dividers. USB and charging ports are located throughout, with wireless printing, wi-fi and TV screens.

www.qantas.com

Rolls-Royce and the Trent 1000

Members and guests of the Aviation Club were given a no-holds-barred account of Rolls-Royce’s problems with the Trent 1000 engine last week with the manufacturer’s CEO Warren East appearing as guest speaker at the sold-out December lunch.

Tackling technical difficulties with the engine discovered in 2018 was costing an “eye-watering” amount of money and would cost the company around half a billion pounds this year, he said.

However, East added: “We will address these issues. It’s an excellent engine. It has 99.9% dispatch reliability, but it does have some durability issues, which have caused serious disruption for about 20 or so of our major customers.”

The CEO’s wide-ranging talk at the last lunch of the club’s year also took in Rolls’ approach to sustainability and the future for electric aircraft, in both of which the company is heavily involved.

The Aviation Club 2020 lunch season starts on 6 February with Steve Dickson, administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US, as guest speaker and the Boeing B737 MAX likely to be high on the agenda.

The lunch will be at the club’s new home at the RAC building in Pall Mall, where the organisation is moving after outgrowing its current accommodation at the Institute of Directors headquarters.

See also in current issue Aviation Club moves to the RAC.

www.rolls-royce.com

www.aviationclub.org.uk

SAA given cash lifeline

Hopes of saving South African Airways from possible collapse rose slightly last week after the carrier was given a lifeline with a rescue plan which saw a cash injection of R4bn (about £207m) from the South African government and existing lenders.

The airline has been placed into a form of bankruptcy protection, business rescue, with a specialist taking control to rehabilitate the company to improve its chance of survival or to secure a better return for creditors than they would get from liquidation.

In a statement, the airline said: "SAA understands that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff. The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all employee groups at this difficult time.

"SAA will endeavour to operate a new provisional timetable and will publish details shortly. The company greatly appreciates the continued support of both its customers and partners in the travel industry around the world."

SAA has not made a profit since 2011 and has depended on government bailouts to stay solvent. Its situation was worsened last month when it was hit by an employee strike forcing it to cancel hundreds of flights and pushing it to the brink of collapse.

(See also 'Hong Kong Air back from the brink' in this issue).

www.flysaa.com

SAS reveals routes for A350

Another new Airbus A350-900 takes to the skies in a few weeks with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) introducing the first of eight of the aircraft it has on order to its Copenhagen – Chicago route on 28 January.

Powered by the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine, the 300-seat first in the fleet, Ingegerd Viking, will have a three-class layout with 40 seats in Business Class, 32 in Premium Economy and 228 in Economy.

President and CEO Rickard Gustafson announced earlier this year SAS planned to fly to North America and Asia destinations including Beijing, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and San Francisco during the first 12 months of operating the A350.

Meanwhile, SAS says the first Airbus A321LR of three on order will enter commercial service next September, initially between Copenhagen and Boston, where it will enable the company to operate the route as a high-frequency year-round service.

“New routes will gradually be communicated later in 2020. The aircraft has enough range to reach northeast US, but it can also reach destinations in Canada, the Middle East and India from Scandinavia,” the carrier added.

The 157-seat narrowbody will also have three classes, in keeping with the rest of the long-haul fleet, with 22 seats in Business Class, 12 in SAS Plus class and 123 in the SAS Go cabin.

www.flysas.com

ON TOUR: BTN goes on Air Force One

Air Force One is a flying White House which could become the command centre of the United States in a serious emergency situation.

SAM 27000's last flight as Air Force One was on 29 August 2001 when it took President George W. Bush from San Antonio to Waco, Texas. It was formally decommissioned, flown to San Bernardino International Airport, dismantled and roaded to a permanent display at the museum overlooking the picturesque Simi Valley. In 1983, President Reagan and the Queen toured the US West Coast aboard Air Force One.

The aircraft flew President Reagan more than 660,000 miles to 26 foreign countries and 46 US states. It has a four-man cockpit and the president had to share the restroom with the crew or walk to the other end of the aircraft to the familiar location on narrow-bodied aircraft. A B707 cannot be modified that much.

As visitors saunter through the aircraft, they can see the commander in chief’s private cabin and the working areas for various members of his staff. There is a press section at the rear, five rows on one side with three seats in each, standard B737 Economy. Media pay for their flights at a rate designated as First Class.

Last week during a very short visit to Los Angeles, I was able to walk through the Boeing B707 (military C137), tail number 27000, the star exhibition at the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum, writes Malcolm Ginsberg. It served seven US presidents from 1973 to 2001 – Nixon, Carter, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush. For Ronald Reagan, this was the plane in which he hand-wrote many of his speeches, signed important legislation and even officially started the Daytona Beach, Florida NASCAR race via phone.

The Air Force One Pavilion is also a hospitality centre that can seat up to 1,400 for a dinner or slightly more in theatre style. Also on display is a presidential limousine and visitors can walk through the Sikorsky Marine One helicopter that flew President Johnson. A 120ft mural represents all 22 aircraft that have ever been flown by a US president.  On a more mundane level, there is a replica of the actual Irish pub in Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, which Reagan visited on a trip in 1984. It now serves as a snack shop. There is a larger self-service restaurant in the main building.

On entering the museum proper, the first thing to take in is a hologram of the president. Working with award-winning Hollywood special-effects people, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute created a first-of-its-kind. Visitors can try to catch one of three separate scenarios that rotate throughout the week. They were created using various portions of Ronald Reagan’s speeches and audio recordings. Every word expressed in the holograms was actually spoken by Reagan during his life.

Using photos and video materials, an “introductory” video was created for each scenario that provides background on the environment and location of the presentation.

I viewed a very lifelike presentation of the Oval Office with the president, who had just returned from a trip on Marine One, entering the room and talking to us about the history of the most powerful office in the world, decisions that he made in the office and people that visited him there.

For visitors, there are 18 galleries that pay tribute to America’s 40th president and his accomplishments by capturing his patriotic spirit, his respect for individual liberty, his belief in global democracy and his support of economic opportunity. 

The museum experience integrates hundreds of artefacts and dozens of interactive displays for visitors of all ages to explore, one of which intriguingly allows one to act in a film with the only movie star to become president. If the presentation is not busy, you can ‘take two’, or perhaps even three, takes. As an alternative, Reagan’s inaugural address on the steps of the US Capitol is offered.

What makes the whole museum different from any similar UK offering is the way commerce is built into every display. Each has a sponsor, either a company, or a family. The General Electric Theatre takes you back to the days when Ronnie Reagan was promoting GE products. His great relationship as a horseman with the Queen is shown, and also Maggie Thatcher. On display is a piece of the Berlin Wall famously dismantled during his tenure. Of all the historical events during his time in office, none was more potent that the attempt on his life, with news footage of the 1981 incident shown.

Described as a “Day of Infamy” by President Roosevelt, 7 December 1941 marked the covert attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour. With this in mind, the Reagan Museum on Saturday 7 December 2019 unveiled its latest major exhibit, an F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter. Officially Tail #803, nicknamed “Unexpected Guest,” it flew more combat sorties (78) than all other F-117s combined. The aircraft entered service in May 1984, during Reagan’s administration. Unlike the B707, this exhibit is external.

The F-117 Nighthawk was the world’s first operational stealth aircraft. Between 1981 and 2008, Lockheed Martin produced 59 operational F-117s and five developmental prototypes, but the aircraft weren’t publicly acknowledged until 1988. They became known as “stealth fighters,” the F-117’s angular shape designed to reflect radar waves and bolstered by the use of a radar-absorbing material. Because the aircraft was expected to operate only at night, it was painted black to make it more difficult to discern against the night sky.

Also on display is an F14 Tomcat. With the addition of the F117, the museum is clearly highlighting its Reagan administration-era military aircraft display. Who knows what might be added in the future?

I did not have time to visit, but the museum also mounts on a regular basis a series of exhibitions on other subjects and is currently offering Egypt’s Lost Cities – described as a fascinating look at two ancient civilisations that were lost to natural disasters and the rising tides of the Mediterranean Sea.

Underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team discovered the sites, revealing monumental statues, religious images carved in stone, exquisite jewellery, and delicate ceramics – and a greater understanding of life during the age of the pharaohs. Two hundred of these authentic artefacts are exhibited including colossal 16ft sculptures. The exhibition is on until 12 April 2020.

My visit to the museum was too short. Access from Los Angeles International Airport is easy, with a 60mi drive along the 405 and 118 Freeways. Allow for at least half a day at the museum, although a full day can easily be spent.

The Reagan Library itself houses more than 55m pages of presidential and personal papers and 60,000-plus gifts and pieces chronicling the lives of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. It also serves as the final resting place of America’s 40th president and his First Lady.

www.reaganfoundation.org

www.discoverlosangeles.com

AND FINALLY: Au revoir Virgin Trains

This week, AND FINALLY means what it says – it is the final farewell to Virgin Trains, which handed over the West Coast intercity route to First Trenitalia yesterday, 8 December.

We will miss them, but there is good news to report. Charities are benefiting from the change after rail enthusiasts and employees raised more than £130,000 for sought-after memorabilia, including train nameplates (left).

Teenage Cancer Trust, Rethink Mental Illness and Severn Valley Railway Trust are among the beneficiaries, with winning bids for the nameplates ranging from £500 to more than £4,000. ‘City of Birmingham’ made the highest amount.

Most of the plates clocked up more than 3m miles at up to 125mph before their retirement, adorning Virgin's red Pendolinos and Super Voyagers.

(See Avanti West Coast plans revealed in last week's BTN)

www.avantiwestcoast.co.uk