17 JUNE 2019

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COMMENT: The next Prime Minister

As BTN was saying last week, the forthcoming election of the British prime minister (to hold that position in theory at any rate until 5 May 2022), is of vital importance to the airline industry. This week's events seem to indicate Boris Johnson might be the successful candidate and his apparent change of mind over the future of Heathrow justifies repeating for the benefit of readers who missed it BTN's view on the subject.

By 2022, physical work should have started on Heathrow's third runway (R3), having already cleared parliament, and the airport itself all-electric in terms of infrastructure transport.

Britain’s largest and most important gateway would be well on its way to serving 90m passengers as the airline hub of Europe. Airlines would still be clamouring to get in.

As things stand, there are still a number of candidates for the post being vacated by Theresa May, but we shall concentrate on Boris Johnson, member of parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015, having been the MP for Henley from 2001 to 2008 and seen as a front-runner for the position.

At Henley, he was supportive of Heathrow. His present constituency is very reliant on the airport in terms of employment and in June 2018, when foreign secretary he faced sharp criticism from fellow Conservative MPs over his decision not to vote on Heathrow expansion by flying out of the country on an official visit to Afghanistan. The motion was carried by 415 votes to 119 – a majority of 296.

His tenure as a two-term mayor of London was curious. He took all the plaudits for the Olympics, but it was his predecessor Ken Livingstone who combined with his rival Lord (Sebastian) Coe, the former athlete, to secure the event.

Using public funds, Johnson campaigned vigorously for a Thames Estuary airport, the scheme turned down by the Airports Commission. It has been argued that with the very close-run 2012 mayoral election, Johnson did not win but Livingstone self-defeated, high-profile Labour supporters rejecting his campaign.

Johnson could have stood a third time but with Sadiq Khan as the main opposition, in a predominantly Labour expanse, he clearly felt another safe parliamentary seat was a better platform for his voice to be heard.

Johnson, perhaps with the estuary project in mind, opposed every way possible the expansion of London City Airport, the current development finally given the go-ahead by new mayor Sadiq Khan.

Crossrail, developed during Johnson’s tenure, also failed to replace the existing Silvertown for London City Airport station, with the current situation that the railway runs within 100yd of the terminal building but does not stop. A campaign for a station is still possible.

At the end of the day, Boris Johnson is pragmatic. If he were to become prime minister, he would want to see the country prosper. An expanded Heathrow is the key to that prosperity.

Heathrow The final push

Tomorrow (Tuesday 18 June) is launch day for the statutory consultation on Heathrow's expansion.

One feature of the programme is a model of the future airport which uses augmented reality, and a sound booth to be provided at certain locations featuring virtual reality and demonstrating the effect of noise insulation on properties overflown by aircraft.

Heathrow says it will be holding events in more locations than in the previous campaign and, in addition to an extensive national publicity campaign across newspapers, radio, billboards and digital, has for the first time engaged Spotify to contact 2.6m households directly in the vicinity of the airport with a leaflet encouraging participation.

Heathrow executive director for expansion Emma Gilthorpe said: “Heathrow’s expansion is a project of huge national and local significance, and it is critical to our country’s economic growth. An expanded hub airport will allow the country to access more of the world, create thousands of jobs locally and nationally and it will open up new trading routes.

"But we can’t deliver these plans alone. We urge everyone to have their say in this consultation, to shape our plans, and to help us deliver expansion in the fairest and most sustainable way.”

A380 owner at Aviation Club

Paulo Mirpuri, owner of rapidly-expanding Portuguese charter airline HiFly, was joined at the Aviation Club last week by his wife Luiza. Both are fully-qualified doctors.

In some ways, Mirpuri's and HiFly's success can be paralleled with that of Stelios Haji-Ioannou at easyJet: Wealthy fathers supporting their offspring to get them started in business. However, here the comparison stops.  Mirpuri these days puts much energy into environmental projects, including the world’s first plastic-free flights.

For the most part, HiFly does not own aircraft but operates them on behalf of investors. It is the only A380 charter company.

"There will be a lot of A380s coming back into the market in the next 10 years," he said. "We believe that HiFly is a good platform to manage those assets for their owners and create value for their owners and for our clients."

Mirpuri’s view is that the pre-used A380s will be operated from airports not on the scheduled airlines' itineraries and open up a new market. “Passengers love it” he added, noting that to make it work up to 650 passengers would need to be accommodated.

HiFly will take delivery of the first of two leased Airbus A330-900neos shortly as it finalises plans to order ten of the aircraft via Air Lease Corporation.

Alliances in ERA spotlight

Airline alliances, joint industry ventures and partnerships will be the theme at this year’s European Regions Airline Association (ERA) General Assembly, taking place in Juan Les Pins near Nice from 8–10 October.

Under the leadership of ERA director-general Montserrat Barriga and president Andrew Kelly of ASL Airlines Ireland, the main conference session will ask what is new for the industry and the lessons to be learnt from other regions and different business models.

Chaired by SAS vice-president external production Mikael Wångdahl, the session is expected to provide some stimulating conversations between senior leaders from the industry.

Panellists so far announced include Regional Airline Association USA president and CEO Faye Malarkey-Black and Valter Fernandes, managing director of TAP express, which is operated by Portugália.

ERA member companies will also be presenting their latest news and announcements during the event with the traditional Airline and Airport CEOs' Breakfast taking place at the start of the event.

This is scheduled for 08:00–09:15 on Wednesday 9 October in the Marriott Hotel, next to the conference centre, and is again sponsored by the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation.

BA in double strike threat

A double strike threat was facing British Airways at the weekend with pilots considering taking action after voting to reject the latest pay package and a row over rosters simmering at Gatwick.

On the first, British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) general secretary Brian Strutton said 96% of pilots had voted against the pay proposal and had asked the union to proceed to an official ballot for industrial action.

“We are urgently considering next steps and will make a further statement later this week. Until then we have no further comment.”

A BA spokesman told Mirror Online: "We believe our pay and benefits for pilots are among the best in the industry. Our latest pay proposal of 11.5% over three years is fair and generous, and we continue open discussions with all our trade unions."

At Gatwick, the Unite union published a video in which it said: “There’s a pretty serious dispute happening at British Airways Gatwick – one that could cause a lot of disruption to customers if it isn’t resolved.”

The union said BA had made “many cuts” and now, as it was reporting a £1.9bn profit, it was saying its crew must make even more savings.

Britain's airline heritage celebrated

A joint flypast by the RAF Red Arrows and a specially-decorated jumbo jet will pay tribute at this summer’s Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in the Cotswolds to the part British Airways has played in Britain’s airline heritage.

The BA Boeing B747 in BOAC livery will join the RAF aerobatic team during the flying programme on the show’s second day, Saturday 20 July. It is one of three which have been painted in vintage designs to mark the airline’s history.

The airshow, whose theme this year is 'Air & Space: Inspiring the Next Generation Air Force', first featured a BA aircraft in 1985 when Concorde performed a similar joint flypast.

The theme will also feature at an 'Air League in Parliament' event on 16 July, hosted by Robert Courts MP a few days ahead of the show. The session, from 16:00–18:00 in the Strangers' Dining Room at the House of Commons and free to members, will be a panel debate format with guest speakers from leading UK and international businesses discussing a broad range of topical issues both military and on the commercial airline front.

Connect Airways names CEO

The group that now owns Flybe last week named an executive from one of its constituent companies to be its CEO as it awaits clearance from the European Commission under the EU Merger Regulation to acquire management control of the airline.

Mark Anderson takes the helm at Connect Airways from his current role as executive vice-president – customer at Virgin Atlantic. Virgin is a joint owner of Connect with UK-based airline operator Stobart Group and funds managed by US-based Cyrus Capital Partners.

Anderson is credited with leading the successful strategy, creation and delivery of the Virgin Atlantic customer experience. He joined the airline in 2017 from Virgin Holidays, where he was senior vice-president and managing director.

Connect says once it has merger clearance, it will offer “significant benefits”, including providing a strong foundation to secure the long-term future of Flybe, building on the strong financial backing and expertise of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart and Cyrus.

The new group says it will also offer passengers more choice by linking airports around the UK to Virgin Atlantic’s extensive long-haul network through improved connectivity, particularly at Manchester and Heathrow airports.

Officials say there will be a continued focus on maintaining Stobart Air’s position as a pre-eminent franchise-flying business and, in due course, Connect will use the strength of the Virgin brand to offer an enhanced customer experience.

CWT thumbs-up for business travel

Six in ten travellers feel more creative and productive when travelling for business, according to new research by the Business-to-Business-for-Employees (B2B4E) travel management platform CWT.

Millennial travellers follow the same pattern of thought when away for work the report says. Those in the Americas lead the way (77% feeling more creative and productive).

They are followed closely by those in Asia Pacific (75% feeling more creative, 73% more productive) while European millennials rank third (58% and 57%), the study reveals.

CWT executive vice-president and chief traveller experience officer Niklas Andréen said: “We are in a business that helps bring out the best in people. Travel energises people, fosters fresh thinking, creates connections – and nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.”

Overall, travellers from Asia Pacific say they are more likely to have increased creativity (65%) and productivity (64%) compared to those from the Americas (58% and 60% respectively) and Europe (53% and 51%).

CWT’s research also shows six in ten travellers are most productive when working face-to-face and collaborating with colleagues as opposed to working alone (30%) or remotely (14%).

Asia Pacific travellers’ productivity benefits the most from working face-to-face – 61%, versus 53% for travellers from the Americas and Europe.

Disability dominates airport EXPO

“Wheelchairs are not baggage, they are an extension of our bodies. They are what we need to get around”.

The speaker Frank Gardner OBE, the BBC’s security correspondent, on the subject of disabled air travellers at last week’s British-Irish Airports EXPO. He is now something of an expert, a wheelchair user since being shot six times in an al-Qaeda gun attack in Saudi Arabia in 2004. He related several poor personal experiences with major airlines as he continued determinedly with his difficult job.

In March 2018, Gardner was stuck on an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft at Heathrow for 100min. Immediately afterward, the airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, met him to ask to discuss the way forward. Gardner now rates Heathrow and Gatwick among the best for disabled passengers.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) director of consumer and markets Paul Smith said requests for special assistance were rising across the UK at twice the rate that passenger numbers are increasing. He pointed out that the CAA has set up the world’s first national accessibility framework for airports,

He added: “We at the CAA will continue to push for some of the most vulnerable people in our society to be given a great experience when they use airports and airlines.

“We consider that the community expects nothing less.”

Embraer Fifty at Paris

Embraer will have a remarkable presence at the 53rd International Paris Air Show where the company, founded in 1969 August 19th, will celebrate it’s 50 years anniversary.

At the event, which opens today (17th to June 23rd )at the cities historical Le Bourget airport, Embraer will have a large exhibition area that includes state-of-the-art aircraft in static and in-flight display, as well as a pavilion dedicated to Embraer's history during half of a century in the aviation industry.
Embraer will showcase in the demonstration area the new E195-E2, of Embraer’s second-generation commercial jet family; the multi-mission airlift and in-flight refueling KC-390; the light attack and training aircraft A-29 Super Tucano; and the Praetor 600, the best executive jet of the super-midsize category already developed.
The remarkable events of Embraer's five decades history will be remembered in a pavilion dedicated to exhibit information and images of the Company's products that have made history in the global aviation industry. The public that goes to the space, which occupies a total area of 300m², can watch the video that presents, in a timeline, the most striking moments of the Brazilian Company, displayed in a LED panel of 14 meters wide.

The following is taken from “London City Airport – 30 Years serving the Capital”, pages 139-142 with the special front cover produced for the São José based aircraft company.

Brazil – Aviation and Embraer  

Brazil can rightly say it was one of the pioneer nations when it comes to aviation.   Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873–1932), usually referred to as simply Santos-Dumont, was a Brazilian innovator/inventor, one of the very few people to have contributed significantly to the development of both lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air aircraft.

The son of a wealthy farmer, engineer and inventor Henrique Dumont, known for a time as the ‘Coffee King of Brazil’, Santos-Dumont was educated in Paris.  In his early career he designed, built and flew hot air balloons and early dirigibles, culminating in winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on 19 October 1901 for a flight that circled the Eiffel Tower. This made him world famous.  He then turned to heavier-than-air machines, and on 23 October 1906 his model 14-bis made the first powered heavier-than-air flight in Europe to be certified by the Aéro Club de France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.  It was a project we might call today ‘design – build – fly’.

In 1904, after Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch during flight, Cartier created his first men's wristwatch, thus allowing Santos-Dumont to check his flight performance while keeping both hands on the controls. Cartier still markets a line of Santos-Dumont watches and sunglasses.

On 12 November 1906 he set the first world record recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, by flying 220 metres (722 feet) in 21.5 seconds in his own aircraft.  Just as a comparison Usain Bolt would have kept up with him, the world record for 200m being 19.19 seconds.

By 1910 it was all over.  Santos Dumont gave up aviation and with increasing mental health problems faded away, eventually committing suicide in Brazil.  He was given a state funeral and is today considered the father of Brazilian aviation.  You will not go far in Brazil without seeing something named after Santos-Dumont.

Jump forward to 1969.        In the immediate post World War II period Brazil relied for the most part on surplus military aircraft and aeroplanes developed by the major aircraft manufacturers.  At General Aviation level Beech, Cessna and Piper reigned supreme.  With vast distances between the main conurbations it was a country crying out for a domestic aviation industry.

Seeking to develop a domestic aircraft industry, the Brazilian government made several investments during the 1940s and 1950s without much success.  In 1969 Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Embraer) was created as a State-owned corporation.  Home was to be São José dos Campos, already the site of The Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA) a public institution for higher education and advanced research with emphasis in aerospace science and technology.  ITA is rated as one of the top and most prestigious engineering schools in Brazil.  In a true multi-national country Brazil was able to recruit specialists from all over the world, including Japan. São José is about 50 miles, or a one hour drive north from São Paulo International Airport.

Under the direction of the first President, the dynamic Ozires Silva, an engineer and government appointee, the company initially produced the EMB 110 Bandeirante unveiling it to the world at the Paris Air Show in 1971.

Straight away it was a big success, a simple unpressured 21-seat turboprop commuter aircraft competing with the more basic de Havilland Twin Otter, and the Dornier 228.  When production ceased in 1990 some 500 had been built.

The Bandeirante was succeeded by the EMB 121 Xingu in 1977, with the engines and wings of the Bandeirante and an all new pressurised cabin.  With room for eight passengers maximum it could not compete with the high volume production of the then current US aircraft with similar capacity and performance.  Only 106 were built.

Next up was a 30-seat regional fully pressurised aircraft called the EMB 120 Brasilia selling 354 around the world, the aircraft finding much favour with the military.  It was built in a 15-year period from 1985 onwards. Over/

A mention must be given at this point to the EMB 312 turboprop two-seat basic military trainer.  Now due for retirement, and assembled by Shorts at Belfast, the Tucano has been in RAF service since 1989.  A total of 664 units were produced (504 by Embraer and 160 by Short Brothers), flying in 16 air forces over five continents.

Next up, and launched at the Paris Air Show 1989, came the ERJ 135/145, an evolution of the Brasilia, again with 2+1 seating, but a pure jet with engines at the rear. It was to be the first Embraer to operate scheduled services into London City Airport.  Including Chinese assembled aircraft and the Legacy corporate version 1,225 have been completed.

Embraer into the 21st Century

In 2000, Embraer was listed on the New York Stock Exchange with the government shareholding minimal.

On 29 October 2001 the prototype Embraer E jet was rolled out at São José dos Campos amongst much pomp and ceremony.  On hand to share the limelight with the charismatic Embraer Chairman Maurício Botelho was Moritz Suter, then Chief Executive of London City Airport operator Crossair. 

Embraer had arrived with the big boys with an aircraft that had no direct rival.  Little were we to know then that the E Jet would become in a few short years numerically the largest aircraft at London City Airport, not under a Crossair (later to become part of SWISS) banner, but British Airways.

At the time of writing the combined order book for the original series and the new improved E-Jet E2 family stands at around 1,750 aircraft.  It is it the world’s largest selling small regional jet.

Two variants of the aircraft are approved at London City Airport, the E170 and the larger E190.  Only British Airways flies the smaller plane offering 76 seats at a seat pitch of 30 inches.  Alitalia and KLM also operate the E190 from the airport.  All offer 98-100 seats on the E190 in a 2+2 configuration with slightly more space between the seats than on the E170.  The BA summer service to the Greek island of Santorini is by far the longest non-stop route, 3½ hours and 1,600 miles. 

The fly-by-wire aircraft required no physical modification to perform the approach. The cockpit has a simple switch which commands the number four and five outer wing spoilers to offset slightly while the control column is in a neutral position, creating the drag required to increase the rate of descent.  Passengers hardly notice the increased descent angle, increased from 3-degrees normal to 5.5 in order to meet noise restrictions.

With a very healthy order book for the original aircraft Embraer announced in November 2011 it would be developing revamped versions of the E-Jet family, later to be called the E2.  By 2020 when both the original aircraft and its successor will be flying out of London City Airport passengers will never notice that the aircraft have different engines, the original E jet powered by General Electric CF34 and the new machine with a pair of Pratt & Whitney 1000G geared turbofans.  Embraer says the E2 will offer 16-24% lower fuel burn and maintenance reduced by 15-25%. 

The E190-E2 took its first flight on 23 May 2016 with the prototype one of the stars of Farnborough 2016. By mid-summer 2017 four pre-production aircraft (three E190-E2 and one E19) have accumulated over 700 hours of test flying.

The initial E190-E2 jet is on schedule to be delivered in the first half of 2018 and the launch operator will be Widerøe, the largest Norwegian regional airline.  At present they are not a London City Airport customer but its main hub, Oslo Airport, Gardermoen, is within easy reach of London with the new aircraft.  At LCY the E190-E2 is expected to offer around 100 seats, the same as the earlier model, but with the 195, not an LCY aircraft, a 144-passenger configuration will be the maximum, a 20-seat increase over the earlier aircraft.

For British Airways, the new aircraft could allow for a full complement of passengers to the Greek islands and also possibly The Canaries.

The fly-by-wire system has been revamped but a noticeable feature in the cabin are much larger overhead bins, a 40% increase.  The real giveaway is the longer wingspan for the E190-E2 (33.7m versus 28.72m).  At London City Airport and its rather tight apron space, only the new easterly extension will accommodate the aircraft.  It is nearly as wide as the Airbus A318 (34.1m) but the Bombardier CS100 is broader (35.1m).

One very interesting feature of the new E2 is the Panasonic inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) system offering streaming entertainment and wi-fi connectivity services.  Passengers can enjoy on-board movies, music, news, and in-cabin services through seat back screens or their own personal devices.  The system supports Windows, Mac OS, and iOS devices, as well as browsers including Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

The E2 has accrued 275 firm orders, in addition to 415 options, purchase rights, and letters-of-intent, totalling 690 commitments from airline customers and leasing companies. Currently, the E-Jets are operating with about 70 customers in 50 countries, being the global leader in the segment of aircraft with up to 130 seats, with over 50% market share.

Eurostar grows Amsterdam route

A third direct daily service from London to Amsterdam was introduced by Eurostar last week as the high-speed train service celebrated growing demand for rail travel between the two cities.

The company said more than 300,000 passengers had used the London – Rotterdam – Amsterdam service since it began in April last year. Journey time is 3hr 13min to Rotterdam and 3hr 52min to Amsterdam.

Eurostar chief executive Mike Cooper noted the new service, as well as boosting capacity and offering more flexibility, reflected growing interest in environmentally-responsible travel on the consumer agenda.

He added: “A high-speed rail journey from London to Amsterdam emits 80% less carbon per passenger than the equivalent flight, reinforcing high-speed rail as the most environmentally-friendly choice for European short-haul travel.”

Eurostar claimed more than 16,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions have been saved since the service began a result of passengers choosing to travel by high-seed train rather than by flying.

The company added the third daily service will increase capacity on the route by the equivalent of 12 flights per day, further boosting carbon savings.

Passengers are still required to change trains and undergo customs and immigration checks at Brussels on the return journey.

Heathrow tops 80m passengers

In a flurry of pace-setting results from UK airports, Heathrow last week announced a 31st month of record growth in May, taking its annual passenger total for the year from June 2018 to more than 80m.

The May figure was 6.7m, up 1.4% on the same time last year, helped by two bank holidays in one month which saw more people taking advantage of the long weekends to travel.

Oceania was the best performing region (+10.8%) as Qantas flew fuller aircraft. East Asia (+10.7%) was close behind with new routes to China and Japan, while domestic traffic also grew by 2.2% boosted by new Flybe routes to Newquay and Guernsey.

More than 134,000 metric tonnes of cargo also travelled through the UK’s largest port in May, 94% of it in the hold of passenger aircraft. Latin America saw the most growth (+14%) following additional services to Brazil and Mexico.

Meanwhile, Heathrow expansion is set to reach its next delivery milestone tomorrow, 18 June, as the airport kicks-off a 12-week consultation giving the public the opportunity to see the airport’s latest plan in detail and comment on it.

Hyatt Regency expansion continues

The first Hyatt-branded hotel in Malta is on the way after the company signed a franchise deal with Bay Street Holdings to develop a property in the coastal community of St Julian’s. The resort is expected to open in 2021.

Hyatt regional vice president development for Europe Guido Frederich said Malta was developing quickly as a popular destination for business as well as leisure travel, providing “a great opportunity” to build on the Hyatt Regency presence in southern Europe.

The Hyatt Regency Malta will be a short walk from St Julian’s main attractions and less than 20min from Malta’s international airport and the World Heritage City of Valletta.

Features of the property will include flexible event spaces and a five-storey underground car park, which Frederich said would provide “a stress-free environment for corporate events and social gatherings”.

Bay Street Holdings chief executive Albert Galea added: “St Julian’s is one of Malta’s most in-demand destinations and guests at the Hyatt Regency Malta will enjoy the seamless, intuitive experiences the brand is well recognised for.”

The property joins a growing Hyatt Regency portfolio in Europe, joining the Nice Palais de la Méditerranée, the soon-to-open Barcelona Fira and Hesperia Madrid, and the recently-announced Hyatt Regency Lisbon.

London on the agenda

Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate and London deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander have been named as key speakers for the 2019 London Infrastructure Summit on 12 September. The theme is “Beyond Brexit: Priorities for the 2020s”.

The event this year is at the new £1bn Tottenham Hotspur football stadium in London – with exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours of the structure as part of the programme.

The summit is seen as an opportunity for attendees to network with hundreds of senior private and public sector leaders in transport, infrastructure, property development and investment.

Other speakers include Southwark Council leader and London Councils chair Peter John, National Infrastructure Commission chief executive Phil Graham and Greater London Authority (GLA) chief digital officer Theo Blackwell.

Sessions will include an overview of the National Infrastructure Assessment – the challenges and opportunities for Transport for London (TfL), with TfL commissioner Mike Brown.

The agenda also includes a discussion on “Digital London” – the business and community benefits of a super-connected capital, and unlocking housing through new infrastructure investment.

Rounding off the event will be a post-summit dinner with Crossrail CEO Mark Wild.

Malta AOC move by Ryanair

Post-Brexit plans by Ryanair took another turn last week after the airline said it was investing in a Malta Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) through the purchase of the start-up carrier Malta Air.

Ryanair said it would then “move into” Malta Air and grow its island-based fleet of six Boeing B737s, allow Ryanair to grow its “already sizeable presence” in Malta with 3m passengers a year and access non-EU markets in North Africa from Malta.

Completion of the deal is planned for the end of this month after which Ryanair Holdings said it would switch six Malta-based aircraft worth more than $600m to Maltese register.

The airline says 200 Malta-based crew will move on to local contracts paying local Maltese taxes while the company plans to increase its Malta-based fleet to 10 aircraft within three years and create more than 350 jobs.

Ryanair will brand the fleet in Malta Air colours for summer 2020 and move Ryanair aircraft from France, Italy and Germany to the Malta AOC, allowing crews to pay taxes in France, Italy and Germany instead of Ireland where they are currently required to pay under Ryanair’s Irish AOC.

MAX grounding continues

All 24 Boeing B737 MAX aircraft in the American Airlines fleet have been removed from flight schedules until at least 3 September, with the US carrier becoming the first to announce formally it would not operate the aircraft this summer.

The airline said it “remains confident” a forthcoming software update and new training efforts from Boeing will be enough to get the MAX recertified, but wanted to give passengers “time to plan their future travel”.

Boeing said last month it had completed a software update for the anti-stall system blamed for two B737 MAX accidents in five months and completed test flights but still needs to perform a certification flight as part of the FAA’s formal review process.

American Airlines said it expects to lose $350m as a result of the continued grounding of the MAX during what could be the busiest summer travel season so far in the US. It said it was having to cancel 115 flights a day.

The other two US carriers that fly the MAX, United and Southwest, have also announced the cancellation of thousands of flights at least until the end of August as the worldwide grounding of the MAX fleet continues.

More wide-body domestic flights from JAL

With more than 40m overseas visitors to its home country expected for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan Air Lines (JAL) is bringing in wide-body Boeing B787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350s on domestic routes from this September.

The airline says the move is part of plans to boost capacity and quality of service in time for the Games as it replaces ageing B777s in the fleet with the newer, more comfortable aircraft.

The JAL A350, below, the first of which arrived in Japan on Friday, will start domestic service on 1 September with routes being added as more aircraft come into service. The Dreamliners will join in once deliveries start this autumn.

With large numbers of passengers travelling by air in Asia, using widebody aircraft for domestic routes is becoming common. Japan saw an average 4,719 such flights depart over summer 2018, with China and Hong Kong carriers close behind.

In a linked development, JAL has signed up media, entertainment and content marketing services provider Spafax to licence, curate and deliver its short-form inflight content, including TV shows, documentaries and compilations.

It is the first time in more than a decade the airline has appointed a new in-flight entertainment partner.

No1 Lounges sets Luton date

The first offering from No1 Lounges at Luton Airport is due to open next month. It follows the introduction of The House at Heathrow Terminal 4 (BTN 10 June) and will be the award-winning company’s 12th facility in the UK.

The Luton outlet will carry No1’s premium brand, Clubrooms, and is open to all departing passengers, no matter their airline or class of travel. The lounge is the latest feature in Luton’s terminal upgrade as part of the airport's £160m refurbishment.

Each of No1’s Clubrooms is designed in the style of a modern members’ club, with airside views, hosted table service, à la carte dining, award-winning wines, craft beers, premium spirits and classic cocktails included within the entry price.

The new lounge will be open to guests aged 12 and over and is next to the main departure area, with easy access to all gates. Launch entry price valid until 30 September is £27 against the normal fee of £36 for a stay of up to 3hr.

No1 also operates at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Edinburgh airports. Its arrival at Luton comes at a time of rapid expansion for the company, which also recently opened lounges in Sydney and Melbourne.

Paris Air Show major order from BA?

Speculation is rife that British Airways (Cityflyer), under the IAG banner, will announce a major order at the Paris Air Show for up to 26 aircraft, replacing its present Embraer fleet at London City Airport.

IAG CEO Willie Walsh was quite open at IATA, saying that the choice was between the Airbus A220-100, and the Embraer E190 E2. He also said Cityflyer was very profitable, clearly passengers liking the 2+2 layout and the full "old-fashioned" service in both classes. Even with the current building works, the airport remains very popular.

With the Embraer, the choice is simple, swapping a 98-seat E190 (and 76-seat E170) for an aircraft with a longer range and up to 20% more economical.  

The A220-100 is 116 seats with a similar layout and much the same range, but with the possibility of perhaps up to three of the new aircraft being kitted out with 44 lie-flat Business Class seats with New York, Chicago and the Gulf region as potential target destinations. 

Crews would be common-rated, removing the current non-economic situation where in fact there are two British Airways-licensed operations at London City Airport, “mainline” Airbus A318 via Shannon to New York JFK and the Cityflyer Embraer fleet.

An order for the Airbus would be well received in Northern Ireland, where major components are manufactured.

Plaza Premium heads for US

Airport lounge specialist Plaza Premium Group is marking its debut in the US by introducing its meet-and-greet service Allways at Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DFW) ahead of opening a lounge there early next year. 

The move is part of a US$100m global expansion plan over the next two years covering the US, China, India and Indonesia. China plans include opening Aerotel Beijing in October at the soon-to-open Beijing Daxing International Airport.

Plaza Premium founder and CEO Song Hoi-see said: “We have a proven track record of developing and managing airport hospitality services around the world. It’s time for us to introduce our engaging and welcoming hospitality to the US market.

“DFW Airport is among the busiest airports not only in the US but the world; it is also an internationally renowned transport hub and represents a huge market potential for us to showcase our well-reputed airport hospitality services.”

Plaza says its Allways programme is designed to ensure a seamless airport experience for travellers, corporate clients and government VIPs and offers a range of services including welcome greetings, escort through Customs and security checks and baggage handling.

SAA names new acting CEO

A new head of South African Airways took over last week after the airline board announced the appointment of general manager operations Zuks Ramasia as acting chief executive officer for the carrier.

Ramasia was part of a senior delegation who recently flew to London from Johannesburg to meet with UK trade and key stakeholders. She replaces Vuyani Jarana, who announced his resignation as CEO on 2 June.

SAA said Jarana will stay on with the airline to provide transitional support to the board and management as required “for the duration of his notice period”.

Ramasia takes the helm as the SAA board is in ongoing talks with the South African government and financial institutions to “put in place a financial structure to support the long-term sustainability of the company”.

Ramasia is described as an experienced executive with an extensive aviation background. She will be supported by executive committee members including chief restructuring officer Peter Davies chief financial officer Deon Fredericks.

Despite reported financial troubles, SAA is maintaining operational momentum, announcing last month it planned to launch direct flights between Johannesburg and Guangzhou on 18 September, the first new route since it implemented its turnaround strategy.

ON TOUR: Changi Airport

Singapore’s Changi Airport recently won the World’s Best Airport Award for the seventh consecutive year, making it one of the world’s most awarded. However, it isn’t just the connectivity that Changi offers that makes it special.

Among the secrets of its success is the wide range of amenities the complex boasts for travellers, particularly those on long layovers. Here are 10 attractions that make Changi Airport a special experience – and the best bit is many of them are free.

Changi gardens
There are nine themed gardens at Changi Airport, all free to use. The collection ranges across spaces devoted to butterflies, cactus, sunflowers, orchids and water lilies, an “enchanted garden”, piazza garden, crystal garden and arrival garden. They are spread out across the airport’s various terminals and reflect Singapore’s reputation as a city devoted to green spaces.

Free cinema
There are two cinemas at Changi, one in Terminal 2 and one in Terminal 3. Both play films 24hr a day seven days a week, and they are free to watch. Airport users can check on the Changi website which films are playing and when. For those who would rather watch the latest sports match, there is the Xperience Zone in Terminal 2.

Swimming pool
Another unusual feature at Changi is of special interest to those who want to take a refreshing dip – a rooftop swimming pool at the airport Aerotel in Terminal 1. Hotel guests can use it free. For everyone else, the cost is S$17m (about £9). The pool also features a Jacuzzi hot tub, a poolside bar and showers.

Free Singapore Sling cocktail
Invented at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel, the city’s signature cocktail is served free for Changi Airport passengers by expert barmen at the Long Bar by Raffles in Terminal 3. The offer is limited to one free Sling per person. Nine other cocktails including mojitos and dry martinis are also available on the menu.

Tallest airport slide
The slide is available to ride in the public area at Terminal 3. Besides being the tallest airport slide in the world, it is also the tallest in Singapore. It is free to use but there is a slight entry requirement – airport users wanting a ticket must have spent a minimum of S$10 at any of the airport shops and slide users must be at least 1.3m and no more than 2m tall to ride it.

World’s tallest indoor waterfall
Part of the newly-launched Jewel complex at Changi (see BTN 11 March), the HSBC Rain Vortex is a water feature that comes complete with a free light and sound show every night. Passengers can also view the surrounding indoor forest called the Shiseido Forest Valley, with trail walks available through the landscape.

Free Singapore city tours
Offered for transiting Changi Airport passengers with at least 5½hr to spare during their transit. There are two itineraries, both free, to choose from, the Heritage Tour or the City Sights Tour, each lasting for about 2½hr. Passengers wanting to take part simply head to the registration booths in the transit area with passport and boarding pass and are dropped back to the airport at the end.

Free gaming
For those who like gaming, a free entertainment corner in Terminal 4 includes a free-to-use Xbox360 and Xbox Kinect for interactive play. There is also an arcade with nostalgic games such as virtual pinball and retro arcade machines.

Sculptures, design and art
Artistic types will find lots to enjoy across the airport, including the kinetic rain sculpture at Terminal 1 or the Les Oiseaux bird sculptures in Terminal 4. There is even a 13m-tall flower-shaped propeller called Daisy, designed by the artist and professor Christian Moeller, in Terminal 3, while the Jewel development itself was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.

Sleep time
There are plenty of facilities for passengers who need to take a nap. The Jewel development has a Yotel, where rooms can be booked for 4hr periods at a cost, and there are free-to-use “snooze lounges” scattered across the airport.

As if this isn’t enough, the airport has just introduced a Canopy Park at Jewel, a family-friendly complex with play attractions, gardens, walking trails and dining outlets, all in air-conditioned comfort.

Taking centre stage are three first-of-their-kind play attractions: Sky Nets, Canopy Mazes and Discovery Slides. Entrance is ticketed.

AND FINALLY: The hazards of travel

A film buff as well as travel fanatic, BTN editor Richard Cawthorne was delighted to have a chance on his latest Florida trip to explore the British-built vessel that starred in the Humphrey Bogart classic The African Queen.

It’s moored at Key Largo. The film was made in the then-Belgian Congo and Bogart won the 1951 Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Charlie Allnut.

In a reminder of the hazards of travel, almost everyone in the cast except Bogart and director John Huston came down with dysentery while filming.

As Bogart put it in his Oscar acceptance speech: “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whisky. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.”