The UK government’s lack of strategy and long-term planning for the country’s aviation infrastructure has been criticised by a panel of senior aviation experts at the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) conference in Doha, Qatar.
At the core of the criticism is what the members of the panel see as the government dragging its feet on the urgent need to be building more airport capacity, and the fear that the rest of Europe and the world could sideline the UK if it failed to do so.
The chairman of the GTMC Air Working Party, and managing director of Horncastle Executive Travel, Peter Drummond said, ‘It’s incredible that the government does not understand the importance of airports, and has no long-term strategy. If we don’t get this on the agenda, the UK with its Victorian infrastructure will be sidelined.’ He went on to describe current government transport policy as ‘sticking bits of elastoplast over a gaping wound.’
Paul Johannesburg, vice-president of Qatar Airways, confirmed that he was seeing evidence that the UK was losing out on traffic from emerging markets, and the government’s lack of vision was already harming the UK economy.
Guy Stephenson, the Gatwick Airport chief commercial officer, said that there was very little coherence in government strategy, and that ‘raising aviation taxes while the Eurozone is going backwards is a toxic combination.’ He called on the air and business travel sectors to work with government. ‘We have to help the government sell a policy to the voters. We’ve got to try and create a positive climate and give government something positive to work with,’ he said.
Virgin Atlantic Airways, the UK-based airline operator, has become the first Britsh airline to provide access to mobile phone calls for passengers travelling on its new A330 aircraft, and has future plans to extend the service to its B747 aircraft.
Virgin Atlantic intends to have 20 aircraft fitted with the Aeromobile technology by the end of 2012, which will include B747’s that are currently undergoing AGBP50m refurbishment. Passengers in all cabins will be able to make and receive telephone calls, send and receive text messages and access e-mail and the Internet.
Customers choosing to use the service will be charged according to their individual provider’s international roaming rights, though this is currently restricted to 02 and Vodafone with whom the airline has signed agreements, so passengers on other networks will not be able to use the service initially.
Other usage restrictions include no connection while the airplane is taking-off and landing, and in order to comply with Federal restrictions, the service has to be disabled within 250 miles of US airspace.
The idea of passengers using mobile phones while sitting in adjacent seats will undoubtedly be a matter of trepidation for a proportion of travellers who expect rest and relaxation during lengthy flights. How Virgin Atlantic intend to deal with the possible nuisance aspect of in-flight phone calls is not yet known.
Uk-based airline, British Airways does already offer air mobile phone technology on flights to New York from London with its A318 Club World City, but phone calls are currently disabled and only e-mails and text messages can be sent and received.
According to a survey, the UK governments GBP3m investment in an advertising campaign to encourage British citizens to ‘Holiday at Home’ has not had the desired impact.
The campaign was intended to help boost the UK’s domestic tourism industry and the greater economy in what are difficult times financially, but the findings of a poll of over 2,000 adults carried out by YouGov on behalf of prepaid currency card provider, Caxton FX, infer that the message has failed to find its mark. Of those polled, two thirds or 67 percent still intend holidaying abroad this summer. 13 percent of people claimed not to have seen the adverts, and 4 percent of people said that the campaign had actually made them less likely to consider a holiday at home.
The most positive response came from the North East and North West regions, where 19 percent of those polled stated that they were now more likely to holiday in the UK. Scotland fared much worse, however, with 9 percent of Scots saying that the advert had made them less likely to take a UK-based holiday.
The managing director Caxton FX, James Hickman said, ‘In spite of substantial investment, it seems that Brits are still committed to holidays abroad and with the pound currently very high against the Euro, holidays abroad can offer good value – especially for those people who would prefer to avoid the Olympics this summer.’
The findings also come at a time when the unusually bad weather that has been sweeping the British Isles is likely to have impacted on the opinions of holidaymakers.
A strike at Air India, the India-based, state-owned airline company, has now been running for seven days.
The airline continues to face major disruption to the fifty international flights that it schedules each day, as two hundred pilots continue to call in sick in protest at their perceived lack of training privileges. The industrial unrest will affect another thirteen international routes today. To date over fifty international flights have been cancelled, to many of the world’s major cities, including London. The action has lead to many passengers being stranded and Air India has now stopped taking international long-haul flight bookings until May 15.
The dispute is expected to cost the airline USD2m per day, a blow to an organisation that is already struggling financially, and which only recently received a USD6bn bailout package from the Indian government.
The dispute relates to the pilot’s assertion that there is a lack of training privileges for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, compared to domestic route pilots. The airline has refused to recognise the Indian Pilot’s Guild, which is representing the striking airmen, as they did not give strike notice. This has resulted in a total of seventy-six of the pilots now having been sacked for failing to report for work, and the company’s management declaring the strike illegal and refusing to negotiate with the pilots unless they return to work.
A similar strike took place for ten days last year, and is thought to have cost the company in the region of USD3.3m.
Thomas Cook, a UK-based travel company that is currently experiencing much publicised financial difficulties, has issued a circular to its shareholders, highlighting the importance of their backing of the company’s plans for raising funds.
The fundraising plan involves the sale and leaseback of part of its airline fleet, and the sale of five Spanish hotels. The company’s shareholders are to vote on the disposals at a meeting in London on May 29, and the group has stated that it is confident that its investors will decide to back the planned disposals. However, the Daily Telegraph has reported that should the investors fail to support the plan, they will be jeopardising the company’s recently agreed GBP1.4bn deal with lenders, including Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, to extend its bank loan maturity until 2015.
The sell-offs are part of a broader plan for the UK business, to base its recovery on fewer hotels that are of better quality, and to actively generate more on-line bookings.
‘Thomas Cook is doing just fine and our customers’ holidays are completely safe. Our banks have been very supportive and we have a new, flexible three-year banking deal in place. We fully expect the hotel sale and the sale and leaseback to go ahead as planned,’ said a company spokeswoman.
Winter Season losses of GBP262.7m were confirmed in the shareholder’s circular, and blamed on poor performance across the company’s French and North American businesses. Second half bookings were claimed to be more encouraging, but overall figures were said to depend on the strength of late bookings.
Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways parent company, IAG, has expressed his confidence that the UK government has taken control of the problem of long and time-consuming immigration queues at Heathrow Airport.
In recent weeks it has not been uncommon for passengers arriving at the airport to experience waiting times of two hours at the UK Border Control desks. However, Walsh said that he now believes that the British government has taken steps to solve the problem.
Walsh said, ‘We have seen very significant improvement in the performance of immigration at Heathrow and that needs to continue. I’m pretty confident the government will get control of it. The prime minister has got personally involved and that gives us a lot more confidence than if [immigration minister] Damian Green had just been dealing with it. But the government should be ashamed that it tried to convince people that the problem was not as bad as it was.’
The IAG boss was also optimistic about the programme in place for dealing with increased traffic during the Olympic Games, which he described as, ‘pretty robust,’ but was more concerned about the post-game scenario, when staffing levels are once again reduced.
Walsh also spoke out against any suggestion that airlines should pay extra fees to help counter the delays at immigration, other than the possibility of premium customers paying for an additional service to speed them through the formalities.
He said, ‘I see no reason why airlines should have to bear any additional cost over what the Home Office already provides. The cost per person of going through immigration is GBP3.20. They should have sufficient resource within this existing cost if they target these resources on the known flows of traffic.’
Club Atletico Boca Juniors, an Argentinean football club in Buenos Aires, has announced the opening of a football-themed hotel in Buenos Aires.
Boca Juniors is Argentina’s most triumphant football team, successful both at home and internationally, having won 51 official titles at the national and international tournaments. Boca Juniors is the football team where Diego Maradona, Argentina’s most famous football icon, played, and the club has recently opened a luxury hotel in the city centre, in the district of San Telmo, for the cost of GBP9 million. The hotel, which has taken four years to construct, will provide accommodation for team members on nights before matches, with dedicated floors to the players.
The 85-room hotel is offering a decor comprising of Boca Juniors memorabilia, while hotel amenities include a guest lobby, a luxury spa and a fitness facility. The rooms are decorated with photographs of the team players, and room rates range between GBP90 and GBP370 per night.
The hotel also hosts a museum dedicated to the team, and offers documentaries on the team, on demand, to its guests. Fans of the team will be able to relive the nostalgia associated with the team as well as enjoy the excitement of staying with the football team players during home town matches.
The president of Boca Juniors, Daniel Angelici, said in an interview, ‘We predict success for this hotel, as much for its architecture as for its colours, which are our own and represent our passion and love.’
Heathrow Express, a UK-based express train service from London Heathrow Airport to London Paddington station, has announced new features for its smart phone applications.
The company is offering a new feature for the applications, which allows business travellers to purchase tickets for Heathrow Express trains using their smart phones.
Heathrow Express is a part of BAA Ltd, owner and operator of six British airports, including London Heathrow. The company has added new capabilities to its existing Blackberry and Android applications, for buyers to have electronic tickets bought and delivered to their smart phones, as well as receive updates on travel plans.
The upgraded app also allows business travellers to use a corporate trade account for making bookings for the train service, without having to go through their appointed travel agents.
Heathrow Express is implementing new initiatives at a cost of GBP16 million, which also includes new trains and uniforms for employees.
Michael Walker, the company head of commercial development, said, ‘We have a series of continued innovations planned throughout the year to ensure we keep upgrading the online functionality for our business and leisure customers.
These changes are the first in a long line of new developments due to launch throughout the year.’
International Airlines Group (IAG), the UK-based airline holding company that owns British Airways, has announced a growth in traffic in April 2012.
The company has reported that premium traffic increased by 4.8% in April 2012 compared to the same month in 2011. Premium traffic has outgrown the company’s traffic for economic fares, which increased by 2.6% in April 2012, from that in April 2011.
Total traffic for the company increased by 2.9% in April 2012, compared to April 2011, while capacity increased by 0.5% for the month compared to that for April 2011. Passenger load factor in April 2012 has increased by 1.9 point to 81.6% over the prior year period.
The company has reported that the results are not inclusive of its newly acquired Bmi airline from Dutch airline, Lufthansa. The airline acquisition was completed on April 20, 2012.
Earlier, Easyjet, a UK-based airline, reported growth in passenger traffic by 8.6% in April 2012, to 5.1 million, compared to 4.7 million in April 2011. The airline load factors increased from 86.5% in April 2012, to 89.3% in April 2011.
Another UK-based airline, Ryanair, has reported a 6% increase in passenger traffic in April 2012, from 6.8 million in April 2011, to 7.2 million. Load factor in April 2012 has lowered by 1% to 81%, compared to last year.
Ryanair, an Ireland-based low cost airline, has announced the launch of a new route from London Stansted Airport in England, to Paphos International Airport, Cyprus.
The new route commenced from May 3, 2012, with fares commencing at GBP102.41 one way.
As part of the launch of the new route, Cyprus Tourist Office is offering passengers on the flight a taste of celebrated Cypriot wine.
Michelle Lowe, a spokesperson for Ryanair, said, ‘Ryanair is delighted to celebrate the start of its new route to Paphos in Cyprus from London Stansted. This new route will allow London Stansted passengers to beat the recession by choosing Ryanair’s guaranteed lowest fares and no fuel surcharges. This summer Ryanair will offer passengers a choice over 110 top destinations from London Stansted to popular holiday spots including Alicante, Carcassonne, Faro and Palma Mallorca.’
Earlier, the airport announced that it will maintain a base at Paphos, at an investment of GBP86.6 million at Paphos Airport, with two aircraft, which will be flying in 14 routes and around 80 weekly flights.
Mark Souter, the head of airline relations at London Stansted Airport, said, ‘Cyprus is an extremely popular destination and this new Ryanair service is great news for passengers wanting convenient flight connections to Paphos and surrounding region, as well as providing great access to London and the East of England for visitors from Cyprus.
We’re delighted to welcome this new scheduled connection to Cyprus onto our route network today and wish Ryanair every success with the service.’