LAN gears up for Dreamliner delivery

LAN is due to take delivery of its first B787 aircraft later today (August 31), making it the first South American airline to add the Dreamliner to its fleet.

The Chilean carrier has a total of 32 B787-800 and -900 aircraft on order, and is expected to gradually roster the aircraft onto routes including Buenos Aires, Lima, Los Angeles, Madrid, and Frankfurt during its first year of service.

Ahead of the launch Boeing and LAN have created a YouTube video detailing the carrier’s preparations for delivery of the aircraft.

LAN has been a member of Oneworld since 2000, while TAM is a member of Star Alliance – as part of the merger agreement LATAM are required to consolidate both carriers under one of the two alliances, with a decision due imminently.

For more information visit lan.com, boeing.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Aerolineas Argentinas joins Skyteam

The South American carrier has become the 18th member of the alliance, and is the third airline to join Skyteam this year following the inauguration of Saudia and Middle East Airlines.

Aerolineas is the first South American airline to join Skyteam, and will add 40 new destinations to the alliance’s network. The carrier is based in Buenos Aires and serves European cities including Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.

In the last two years Skyteam has embarked on a major expansion, adding Vietnam Airlines and Romanian carrier Tarom in 2010, China Eastern and China Airlines in 2011, and Saudia (see online news May 29) and Middle East Airlines (see online news June 29) in 2012.

Xiamen Airlines is also set to join the alliance later this year (see online news November 11, 2011), and Garuda Indonesia is also slated to become a member in 2014 (see online news November 23, 2010).

For more information visit aerolineas.com, skyteam.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Philippine Airlines aims to build own airport

Not content with embarking on an ambitious refleeting programme, Philippine Airlines (PAL) is planning to build an airport, dedicated to serving future aircraft additions.

After announcing this week a multibillion-dollar deal to acquire up to 50 new planes from Airbus (see news), the carrier revealed that infrastructure was also part of its expansion initiatives. Ramon Ang, president of PAL as well as president of PAL’s controlling shareholder San Miguel Corporation, told local media that they intended to seek government approval for “our own terminal and runway”.  

While he declined to say where the facility would be located, he divulged that it would have two parallel runways, with the option of having two more, and would be exclusive to PAL and subsidiary PAL Express. It would also be able to handle four times as many flights per hour compared with the notoriously congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia). Manila’s old war horse was built in the 1950s and can only process 36 flights per hour.

Naia’s runways are perpendicular, thus preventing aircraft from taking off and landing simultaneously.

Ang believed that Clark Airport (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) in Pampanga province, which has, of late, attracted several low-cost carriers such as AirAsia to set up a base there – was not feasible due to the distance from Manila. With the metro’s famous gridlocks, departing from financial hub Makati would take two hours to reach Clark, the executive pointed out, then passengers would have to wait another two hours for their flight.

The proposed facility would be located in between Manila and Clark, Ang said, and would be accessed by elevated six-lane highways that would also feature hotels, malls and other facilities

PAL currently exclusively operates from the government-run NAIA Terminal 2 (Centennial Terminal), while Cebu Pacific and other carriers use Terminal 3.

For more about the airline, visit www.philippineairlines.com

Margie T Logarta

Best Western sees future in Asia and Middle East

Like many other hotel groups, Best Western International (BWI) sees Asia as where the future lies – at least that’s the impression given by a four-day conference this week among owners and representatives from new and upcoming Best Western properties in Asia and Middle East. The event, namely The 8th Asian and Middle Eastern Members Meeting, took place at the 362-room Best Western Premier Dua Sentral, the brand’s recent debut in Kuala Lumpur. 

Unlike other hotel chains, BWI, boasted as the largest in the world, runs a membership system in which properties pay a fee based on the initial investment cost and the number of rooms. In return, they get support in marketing, reservations and operations. While a set of standards has to be kept, member properties can maintain their own style and identities.

Best Western’s formula also works well in countries where land-ownership rules restrict how international hotel groups can acquire properties. One example is the Philippines.

“Best Western prides itself to be able to work with other developers, who want to have a personal masterpiece, and design their own property. That’s the management edge we have in the market place. It gives developers their final say in design, the look, the feel… as long as from guest expectation standpoint they have what they call minimum standards,” said Glenn Nakamura, area development manager of BWI Philippines.

Other attendees of the conference were from different parts of Asia, including many strong-growth markets. According to Glenn de Souza, BWI’s vice-president international operations Asia & Middle East, Best Western plans to up the number of member properties in the Philippines from 12 to 19 by 2015 and from nine to 15 in Vietnam. In Indonesia, there are currently five Best Western properties, with one in Jakarta, another in Solo and three in Bali. Ten will be added by first quarter of next year, with another 12 in the pipeline.

Japan and South Korea are also two markets looking up, with the former having 16 Best Western properties, which is to rise to 22 by 2015. Figures from the latter are 10 and 14 respectively. Other growth markets include Malaysia and there will also be more properties in Singapore, as well as emerging markets such as Bangladesh and Iraq.

These numbers are not shocking compared to those by other major hotel groups, and BWI’s strongest presence remains in the US, but the rate of expansion is expected to accelerate, especially with the introduction of Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier.

According to Ron Pohl, senior vice-present of brand management of BWI, the two new brands, which are to be more upscale than the Best Western core brand, add a “halo effect” to the entire brand name. He added that these descriptors could vary in meaning based on the region. In the US and Canada, both Best Western and Best Western Plus are limited-service products, with the latter being “upper mid-scale” and competing with Hilton’s Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express.

“When we move into Europe and Asia and Middle East, Best Western Plus moves into a full-service hotel, but ‘limited full-service’ if there is such a thing. It will only have probably only one dining outlet in most cases, and a bar,” he said. Best Western Premier, he added, would be a full-service brand competing with Hilton and Marriott and the likes.

Rohl said that the group believed both Plus and Premier had a lot of viability in Asia.

According to Jariya Sakulkittithamrong, managing director of Best Western Plus Grand Howard (see picture above), which has soft-opened in Bangkok for several months, her hotel has chosen to be a Best Western hotel because of the system’s flexibility, even though it has also been approached by other hotel chains. The property, close to the business area of Sathon Road and Rama III, features 150 suites, more than 1,000 sqm of function space as well as amenities such as an infinity pool that looks out to the city’s skylines.

In Indonesia, the presence of the more premium brands is also expected to increase. “The economy of Indonesia is growing. Currently we operate five properties – one in Jakarta, one in Solo and three in Bali,” said Iwanto Hartojo, chief executive of area development office of Best Western Indonesia. “So far we have only two [Premier properties] in Indonesia, but we will have Plus soon. We target from the middle-class to the middle-upmarket.”

Iwanto said that another 10 Best Western properties are expected by the first quarter of 2013, with an additional 12 hotels in the pipeline.

Other projects presented in the event include a Best Western in Makkah in Saudi Arabia, which is to be part of a mega complex that will include 38 hotels, and Kenton Residences in Ho Chi Minh City, which aspires to be the city’s own Marina Bay Sands.

Visit www.bestwestern.com

 

Reggie Ho

Southeast Asian LCCs increase links with China

Several Asian low-cost carriers are starting new flights to provide increasing connections between their hubs and China.

The Singaporean airline Scoot is launching a three-times weekly service between Singapore and the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang from November 27, with the return leg flying via the eastern seaport of Qingdao.

Flight TZ86 will leave Singapore on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 0200 and land in Shenyang at 0835. Return leg TZ86/85 will then leave Shenyang at 0950, stopping over at Qingdao, before landing back in Singapore at 1845. 

Shenyang is an important hub for heavy and, more recently, high-tech industries, and a strategic gateway to the northeastern region of China. Qingdao, on the other hand, is home to a number of large companies such as electronics firm Haier. It has seen much development in secondary and tertiary industries in recent years and it also produces the world famous Tsingtao beer. Once a German colony, this coastal city is a popular tourist destination for its European architecture and nautral beauty.

Last week Scoot also began flights to Tianjin (see story here).

Meanwhile, AirAsia is also starting new flights linking China with Southeast Asia. Thai AirAsia will begin flying daily between Bangkok Don Meung and the central Chinese city of Wuhan from October 19, according to industry website Airlineroute.net.

Flight FD2570 will leave Don Meung at 0715 and land in Wuhan at 1135, with the return leg leaving at 1220 and landing back in Bangkok at 1510. Wuhan, located in the middle of China, is a major land and air transport hub and home to a large number of international and domestic technology companies. For more on the story, see Business Traveller‘s story here.

AirAsia has also said it plans to introduce new routes between Southeast Asia and the Chinese cities of Xian, Kunming, and Nanning. 

Most of China’s recent economic growth has been seen in inland and second-tier cities. Business Traveller Asia-Pacific is launching a series from September to offer more information on these growing hubs, starting with Xiamen. To subscribe, click here.

Nicholas Olczak

In-flight wifi: what the airlines offer

Business Traveller has compiled details of which carriers currently offer in-flight wifi services, as well as the cost of access, and which aircraft you’ll find the service on.

To download the table, click here.

Subscribers to the print edition of Business Traveller can also read our report on the future of in-flight wifi in the September 2012 issue.

Have we missed any carriers off the list? If you know of any airlines offering wifi access which we haven’t included, leave a comment below and we’ll look into it.

Lufthansa braced for cabin crew strike

Cabin crew members of the UFO union will begin industrial action at Lufthansa tomorrow (Friday August 31), with exact details only being released six hours before the start of the strikes.

The short notice is designed to cause maximum impact, making it more difficult for the carrier to roster non-union crew on to affected services.

Lufthansa admitted that “Details on the scope of the strikes (affected airports and expected duration) will be published by the union at very short notice only”, and said it would “do its utmost best to communicate the details on this page as soon as possible and to minimize the impacts on its customers”.

The carrier said that “wherever possible” it would use SMS and email to inform those passengers who had registered their contact details about delays, cancellations and rebookings.

Passengers due to fly on cancelled domestic flights will be given the option of exchanging their tickets for travel on Deutsche Bahn services.

UFO said it “apologised” to Lufthansa’s passengers for the industrial action but added that it had been unable to reach an agreement with Lufthansa to end the dispute which has been running for 13 months.

“It may be that this labour dispute will continue for a very long time,” warned the union.

For more information visit lufthansa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Ethiopian Airlines starts flights to Kuala Lumpur

Ethiopian Airlines will begin flying between Addis Ababa and Kuala Lumpur via Bangkok from October 31 this year and plans to use a Dreamliner for this service, as well as for its flight to Guangzhou. 

Flight ET618 will take off from Addis Ababa on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 0025, landing in Bangkok at 1320 and leaving at 1430 to arrive in the Malaysian capital at 1900. The return leg will leave Kuala Lumpur on the same day at 2150, arriving in Addis Ababa at 0750 the next morning.  

The airline planned to at first use a 767 aircraft and introduce a Dreamliner 787 once more of them had arrived. It said there has been a steady increase in demand for travel on this route. 

“Trade and travel to this booming South East Asian country from Africa has been increasing for the past few years,” said a spokesperson for the airline. “Ethiopian Airlines’ flight to Kuala Lumpur will help to connect the extensive Malaysian businesses to Africa.”

Trade between Malaysia and Ethiopia has doubled in the past decade and last year trade volume between the two countries totalled US$83.7 million, according to an article by the Ethiopian business portal 2Merkato.com. Ethiopia is a big importer of palm oil from Malaysia, while Asian oil giant Petronas has operations in Ethiopia.

The airline also said it aims for Kuala Lumpur to serve as a hub from which passengers arriving from African destinations can connect to other Southeast Asian nations such as Singapore (see story here) and Indonesia.

Ethiopian Airlines also confirmed it plans to introduce a Dreamliner 787 on flights between Addis Ababa and Guangzhou once it receives delivery of its second new aircraft. 

Business travelers and corporate travelers [between Ethiopia and Guangzhou] are growing by the year,” the spokesperson said. 

More broadly, the airline is looking to increase its connections between Ethiopia and different major Asian cities in the future. 

Asia is one of the important destinations for Ethiopian,” the spokesperson said. “We are constantly exploring new routes and adjusting frequencies on existing destinations. One of the destinations planned for the short term is Chongqing. Ethiopian is also planning to fly to Vietnam in the future.”

For more information, visit www.flyethiopian.com

Nicholas Olczak 

ANA celebrates 60th anniversary with aircraft design contest

Japanese carrier ANA is celebrating its 60th anniversary by inviting passengers to create a design which will be painted onto one of its B767-300 aircraft.

Entrants should download a form from the ANA website with a picture of a blank fuselage, onto which they can draw their design.

There are no criteria for the subject of the design – as ANA puts it “Any kind of illustration is OK!”.

Entries will be judged in three categories – 12 years and under, 13-18 years, and 19 years and over, with an overall grand winner being announced in December.

Entries must be received by September 30, and the grand winner will receive a model aircraft bearing his or her design, as well as two tickets to the unveiling event. Categories winners will also be invited to the unveiling, and in addition 50 entrants will be drawn at random to receive pairs of tickets to the event.

ANA’s history dates back to December 27, 1952, with the formation of the Nippon Helicopter and Aeroplane company. The Star Alliance carrier was the launch airline for the Boeing Dreamliner aircraft last year – for a review of the inaugural B787 passenger service between Tokyo and Hong Kong, click here.

For more information and to enter the competition visit ana60thcontest.jp.

Report by Mark Caswell

Earn double Asia Miles at Shangri-La and Mandarin Oriental hotels

Asia Miles members can earn double points when booking to stay in a suite, Club room or Club suite for a minimum of two consecutive nights at over 70 participating Shangri-La hotels or resorts, Traders hotels or Kerry hotels worldwide.

All stays include complimentary in-room broadband and wifi in public areas. Plus, stays in a Club room or Club suite include access to Club lounge facilities, meeting rooms and complimentary breakfast and early evening cocktails with canapés. Bookings must be made and completed between September 1 and November 30 at the best available rate via Shangri-La’s Worldwide Reservations Centre or at shangri-la.com.

Similarly members can earn double miles when completing a stay at selected Mandarin Oriental hotels up until November 30. Book online at best available rates or bed and breakfast at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo or Hyde Park, London, or just best available rates at Mandarin Oriental, Miami and earn double miles. When booking direct with the hotel remember to quote “Asia Miles Autumn Promotion.”

You will also receive an instant room upgrade to the next category upon check-in (depending on availability) and spa or food and beverage credit when staying two consecutive nights or more at the Mandarin Oriental London or Miami properties.

For more information visit mandarinoriental.com, shangri-la.com.

Report by Scott Carey