EU approves IAG purchase of Bmi

The EU Commission has approved the purchase of Bmi by the International Airlines Group (IAG), parent company of the merged British Airways and Iberia.

In a statement IAG said that “some technical conditions need to be finalised before completion, which is anticipated to take place around April 20, 2012”. The group will gain an average of 42 daily slots at Heathrow as a result of the deal, excluding the following commitments to the European Commission as part of the regulatory process:

  • Seven daily slot pairs to be used between Heathrow and either Edinburgh and/or Aberdeen
  • Five daily slot pairs to be used between Heathrow and the following destinations – Nice, Cairo, Riyadh, Moscow, Edinburgh and/or Aberdeen
  • Two Heathrow daily slot pairs will be leased to Transaero for use on flights to Moscow
  • Other airlines can apply for seats on the integrated BA/bmi short and midhaul network for their transfer passengers, on normal commercial terms

Confirming the news IAG’s CEO Willie Walsh said the decision was “great news for Britain”, adding that “Over time we will launch new longhaul routes to key trading nations that are currently not served from Heathrow while supporting our shorthaul network”.

Walsh said that expanding IAG’s long-haul network would help Heathrow grow as an international hub “despite its infrastructure constraints”.

The purchase price is £172.5 million as previously reported, but Walsh stressed that this is ” subject to significant price reductions if Lufthansa does not opt to sell Bmibaby”.

For more information visit flybmi.com, iairgroup.com, ba.com, iberia.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Transport the main issue for Gatwick’s future

Gatwick airport has completed the three-month public consultation phase of its ‘Master Plan’ to serve 40 million passengers by 2020 using one runway, with ground transport and noise the pressing issues for local residents.

Respondents want to see more passengers travelling to the airport on public transport but stressed that the already oversaturated rail network must be improved, especially at peak times, to deal with any increase in demand. The Gatwick Express service was singled out as in need of vast improvements.

Around 40 per cent of people travelling to and from the airport use public transport at the moment. However, the number of people travelling between Gatwick and London by rail could increase by 30 per cent in eight years and the number of commuters travelling on the same services could grow by 29 per cent, according to estimation figures by Network Rail.

Gatwick has recently stressed the need for greater cooperation with the Government and rail industry in order to make improvements to its rail links.

A recently published document by independent engineering firm ARUP, entitled Supporting UK growth and global market access: the case for high quality rail access to Gatwick Airport, outlines the need for better integration between the Southern and Thameslink rail networks and the UK’s second largest airport if sustainable growth is to be achieved.

The report proposes that any new rail franchise should seek to ease congestion for passengers and commuters in the South East by improving rail links to Gatwick. Specifically the report suggests any new operator provide a direct, express rail link to London with new carriages and reintroduces an on-board ticketing service.

The report states, “Research shows that airlines rate surface access to an airport as one of the top three critical reasons for locating there,” suggesting that any inefficiency with the UK rail network will stymie global competitiveness for Gatwick and the UK.

Commenting on the report, Guy Stephenson, Gatwick Airport’s chief commercial officer, said: “The report shows that a passenger’s impressions of Gatwick’s rail links lag behind other London airports and the capabilities of the trains on the Gatwick Express rank below equivalents at Heathrow, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Stockholm airports.

“We have the capacity to handle more flights and strengthen our country’s trade links with emerging markets.  But if Gatwick is to continue attracting the new routes the economy needs, its rail links must improve in quality and extent.”

Other issues raised in the consultation included aircraft noise, especially during the summer months. However there is a recognition that aircrafts are becoming quieter and that noise is to be expected when living near to a busy airport.

Other concerns included lack of space and being moved on too quickly by traffic wardens at drop-off zones, the long walking times between these areas and the main terminal buildings, high car parking costs and the ‘monopoly’ enjoyed by the single taxi company at the airport.

The consultation sought out the opinions of local residents, businesses, councils and MPs, with 5,000 people checking in to review the dedicated consultation website and 79 registering an official response. A dedicated free phone line, freepost service, various workshops and a public exhibition were also used to collate opinion.

Kyran Hanks, strategy and regulation director for Gatwick airport said of the consultation: “Their views have been extremely valuable in providing us with a clear indication of the key issues that we will now consider as part of our final Master Plan.”

The final Master Plan will be published this summer where we will gain a better idea of how much attention has been paid to opinions stated during the consultation phase.

Gatwick is currently in the middle of a £53 million joint-funded plan with Network Rail to improve the station facilities at the airport, due to be complete by the end of 2013 (see online news October 15, 2010).

The original document Gatwick Airport: Draft Master Plan Summary Report on Public & Community Consultation is available to read in full at gatwickairport.com/masterplan.

For more information visit gatwickairport.com

Report by Scott Carey

SIA and Virgin Australia expand partnership

Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia have progressed to the next phase of their partnership to include codesharing on SIA-operated flights to and from Singapore, China and South Africa.

The partnership kicked off last year (see story here), which included SIA’s “SQ” code appearing on Virgin Australia’s domestic flights as well as reciprocal frequent flyer benefits, such as mileage accrual and redemption.

From now onwards, Virgin Australia passengers can book SIA flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin and Adelaide to Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing with a single ticket. From April 13, Cape Town and Johannesburg will also be available.

Eventually, the codeshare deal will include more destinations, “including India, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia.” 

For more information, visit www.virginaustralia.com or www.singaporeair.com

Alisha Haridasani

Lufthansa to debut B747-8I on Washington route

Lufthansa is set to debut its Boeing 747-8I aircraft on the Frankfurt-Washington DC route.

The German carrier is the launch customer for the passenger version of the new Boeing jumbo, and CEO Christoph Franz this week said that the first route for aircraft would be to Washington.

According to nazdaq.com, the announcement was made during a speech at the International Aviation Club of Washington yesterday (Thursday March 29).

Lufthansa has a total of 20 B747-8I aircraft on order, with the next-generation jumbo set to feature the carrier’s new fully-flat business class product, which has caused much debate among Business Traveller readers (click here for more details and to join in the discussion).

Lufthansa’s recent-introduced first class product, featuring a separate seat and bed, which also be fitted to the B747-8I (see online news March 21, 2011).

Visit lufthansa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Business Traveller April edition now live

Subscribers to the print version of Business Traveller can access the edition online a whole month before everyone else.

All of our special reports and destination features are uploaded to businesstraveller.com each month, and the April 2012 edition has just gone live.

Subscribe to Business Traveller today, and as an added bonus you’ll receive a Contura suit carrier and 20 per cent off subscription rates. For more information click here.

This month’s packed issue includes:

  • Cutting the cost of car hire
  • A look at what travellers really want in a hotel room
  • Frequent traveller: It’s showtime
  • A round-up of the latest data capture options
  • A look at new hotels and cutting-edge architecture in LA’s Downtown
  • Four hours in Hyderabad
  • Flight options from London to Taipei
  • A destination report on the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
  • A look at non-stop flights between the US and Asia
  • Meeting options in Lyon
  • A report on hub airports worldwide
  • A look at corporate hospitality options at London 2012
  • The latest products available tax-free at the airport
  • A report on seeing Vancouver by bike
  • A look at how business travellers can battle backache

Plus we review three new hotels in Abu Dhabi, and continue our series presenting travel stats in illuminating ways, which this month looks at doing business abroad.

If you are already a subscriber to Business Traveller, simply log in here (using the email address attached to your subscription), then click on the archive button on the navigation bar for full access.

If you are unsure of your log in details, or have any problems accessing the archive as a print subscriber, click here to send us an email.

Malaysia Airlines to accommodate AirAsia X passengers

Malaysia Airlines has announced it will accommodate all passengers affected by the cancellation of AirAsia X’s flights to London, Paris, Mumbai and New Delhi, which were dropped as part of a cost-saving initiative (see story here).

Between March 28 and October 27, all economy and premium economy passengers with confirmed AirAsia X tickets issued before January 13 2012 for any of the four routes will be transferred onto Malaysia Airlines operated flights. While economy class passengers will be in economy on MAS, premium economy passengers will be upgraded to business class on MAS since the carrier does not have a premium economy cabin. 

According to a spokesperson, once the transfer has been confirmed, all AirAsia X passengers will receive the amenities that MAS passengers receive, such as check-in baggage allowance based on class of travel and onboard meals.

Under the agreement, MAS will receive “upfront cash payments and pre-payments on tickets for re-accommodated passengers.” According to an official statement from the carrier, to date MAS has received RM20 million (US$6 million) in cash from AirAsia X. 

For more information, visit www.malaysiaairlines.com

Alisha Haridasani

Hotel De La Paix Siem Reap to become Park Hyatt

Hotel De La Paix Siem Reap (pictured below) will be rebranded as a Park Hyatt Siem Reap, making it the first Hyatt-branded property in Cambodia.

The new hotel management plans to temporarily close the operation down on June 30, 2012 and reopen the property in its new identity in the first quarter of 2013. 

Located close to the Angkor World Heritage Site, the hotel will consist of 107 guest rooms, two restaurants, a bar, meeting spaces, a gym, a spa and two swimming pools.

The announcement for this Park Hyatt hotel comes not too long after Hyatt announced a Park Hyatt for Bangkok (see story here), which will be housed in a coil-shaped multi-purpose complex in the heart of the city. Currently, there are 18 Park Hyatt projects around the world under development, of which 10 are located in Asia-Pacific.

For more information, visit www.hyatt.com

Alisha Haridasani

Easter baggage strike looms at Stansted

Baggage handling staff at Stansted airport have voted to strike during the Easter weekend, over claims that new shift patterns could result in pay cuts of up to £1,000.

The BMG union representing baggage handlers at the airport said that members have voted “overwhelmingly” for strike action, with walkouts set to take place on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday.

GMB official Gary Pearce said that the union “has offered several alternative shift patterns and working arrangements but the company refuses to listen so far”.

“I have notified Swissport of the ballot result and I have asked them for more talks to try to avert action over these pay cuts,” said Pearce.

“GMB members consider that Swissport [employers of the baggage handling staff] is attempting to make savings at their expense and they are not willing to agree to this.

“Unless there is urgent talks and a settlement, this vote for action this will result in disruption over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend.”

For more information visit stanstedairport.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Hilton and Holiday Inn to co-locate in Nuremberg

Foremost Hospitality is to develop Hampton by Hilton and Holiday Inn Express properties in a “double project” located next to Nuremberg’s main rail station.

Both hotels are scheduled to open by the end of 2013, with the Hampton by Hilton hotel featuring 80 rooms, and the Holiday Inn Express hotel offering 124 rooms.

A press release from Foremost Hospitality said that “Both non-smoking hotels will feature their brands signature offerings, with a breakfast area, a bar, a business centre as well as modern amenities in the guest rooms such as flatscreen TVs, complimentary tea and coffee making facilities and power showers”.

Hilton Worldwide currently operates the Hilton Nuremberg Hotel, located 15 minutes from the airport and overlooking the facilities of FC Nuremburg, while Intercontinental Hotels Group operates the Holiday Inn Nuremberg City Centre in the city’s old town.

Air Berlin offers flights from London Gatwick to Nuremberg, with fellow Oneworld partner BA codesharing on the route.

For more information visit hilton.com, ihg.com.

Report by Mark Caswell