CAA proposals could lead to tougher cap on fare rises

The Civil Aviation Authority today proposed to drastically cut how much London’s three main airports can charge airlines in a move that will likely limit the fare rises imposed on passengers.

Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted will have to charge carriers far less in take-off and landing fees between 2014 and 2019 than they were allowed to during the 2009 to 2014 period, if the proposals are approved next year.

The three London airports are the only ones regulated by the CAA, which can cap how much they charge carriers.

Since 2009, Heathrow has been able to charge the RPI rate of inflation plus 7.5 per cent – from next year this could plummet to RPI minus 1.3 per cent.

The situation is different at Gatwick, where “because Gatwick’s market power is weaker than Heathrow’s” the CAA opted to give bosses more time to sort out a suitable flexible system of airport/airline cooperation.

However, should a satisfactory solution not be arrived at, then the CAA will subject the airport to a cap of RPI plus 1 per cent for the five years from April 2014.

At Stansted, the CAA proposes to monitor charges and service quality.

The recommendations have been met with a mixed response by airlines.

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh said: “The Gatwick proposals, which will result in a significant increase in charges, are completely unjustifiable, totally unacceptable and directly contravene the CAA’s new remit to represent customers’ interests.

“Heathrow airport is over-priced, over-rewarded and inefficient and these proposals, which will result in an increase in prices, fail to address this situation.

“In the past the CAA has rewarded Heathrow for inefficiency and it is now the most expensive hub airport in the world. Its charges have tripled in the last 11 years with inflation busting increases year-on-year.

“The CAA must not be allowed to fail again.”

However, Easyjet was more positive about the Gatwick proposals.

A spokesperson said: “Easyjet welcomes the CAA’s announcement that it views Gatwick as a monopoly airport. Continued regulation of Gatwick will protect the interests of all passengers who use the airport.”

Virgin Atlantic was cautiously optimistic about the Heathrow recommendations, but believes they do not go far enough.

A statement said: “Although today’s recommendations from the CAA are a welcome step to address the incredibly steep price rises we have seen in Heathrow airport charges in the last few years, we believe they should have gone even further.

“This move compounds the huge increases that passengers have endured in recent years with prices at Heathrow already triple the level they were ten years ago. Coupled with ever increasing Air Passenger Duty, passengers flying to and from the UK are facing some of the highest travelling charges in the world.”

Andrew Haines, CAA chief executive, said: “Protecting consumers and improving their experience is the core focus of our regulatory decision making.

“Few passengers flying from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted fail to notice their differences, so it should be no surprise that our regulatory approach also differs at each airport.

“The proposals we publish today reflect their individual circumstances, ensure passengers are protected when they travel, and allow for continuing improvements in service and competition.”

For more information, visit caa.co.uk.

Report by Graham Smith

Holiday Inn to open its first Qatar hotel

Qatar’s first Holiday Inn hotel is to open in Doha, it was announced today.

The new-build will be located just 2km from Doha International Airport in The Business Park precinct, the heart of the capital’s business district.

Holiday Inn Doha will contain 347 rooms, a 1,200-metre-squared ballroom, meeting rooms and three restaurants including a lobby lounge.

Pascal Gauvin, of Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), which owns the Holiday Inn chain, said: “Every year 100 million people stay at Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express hotels around the world, and three people check into one every second.

“Out of all our hotel brands, Holiday Inn is one of our biggest and we are confident that it will find success in Qatar.”

Holiday Inn Doha will sit next to the Crowne Plaza Doha, another IHG hotel.

In March, it emerged that Hilton Worldwide’s luxury Waldorf Astoria brand is to open its first property in Doha, located within a 42-storey tower close to the Qatar Stock Exchange and the forthcoming Doha Convention Centre (see online news, March 2013).

The 250-room Waldorf Astoria Doha West Bay will feature a rooftop pool, health club and spa, as well as “a palatial ballroom, state of the art meeting and conference facilities and a wide range of destination bars and restaurants”.

Expected to open in 2016, the property will also house 80 serviced apartments.

For more information, visit holidayinn.com.

Report by Graham Smith

Hilton opens Exeter airport property

Hilton Worldwide has opened its first property in Exeter, located close to the city’s airport.

The 120-room Hampton by Hilton Exeter Airport features a 24-hour business centre, with guests benefitting from free internet access and hot breakfast.

The hotel is located next to regional carrier Flybe’s training academy, and a partnership has been agreed allowing guests access to 26 conference and meeting rooms within the facility.

Flybe offers flights from Exeter to destinations including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Paris.

It’s the third Hampton by Hilton property located by a UK airport, joining hotels at Liverpool John Lennon and London Luton.

For more information visit hilton.com, and for a recent review of the Hampton by Hilton offering at the brand’s Birmingham Broad Street property, click here.

Report by Mark Caswell

TAM to axe European routes?

It is understood that Brazilian airline TAM will axe two of its most important routes to Europe this summer. 

Although TAM has yet to comment officially, airline GDS displays show that services linking Rio de Janeiro with Frankfurt and Paris CDG will cease in August. 

TAM operates four times a week between Rio de Janeiro and Frankfurt and this service (out of Rio) will end on August 11. It links Rio de Janeiro with Paris CDG five times a week. The last flight from Rio will be on August 9.

It is also understood that TAM will downgrade the London route, from what used to be a large three-class B777-300ER, to a more modest two-class B767. It is expected the downgrade will take place in July and more details are awaited.

Why the cutbacks? Well it would appear to be a combination of factors. 

TAM appears to have overexpanded in Europe in recent times while traffic volumes have been further affected not just by the economic downturn here but also by worsening economic conditions in Brazil itself – see this Reuters report.

The winners here are Air France and Lufthansa who will have the direct flight market to themselves once TAM pulls out of France and Germany.

Both carriers may decide to upgrade their flights to larger aircraft like the A380 should the demand be there.

With the FIFA World Cup being held in Brazil next year there must be concern about how European fans will be able to travel there bearing in mind the cutback in flight capacity.

TAM is currently a member of Star Alliance but has announced its intention to leave and join Oneworld in 2014.

Business Traveller will clarify the situation with TAM as soon as we have further news.

For more information visit tam.com.br.

Report by Alex McWhirter

All eight Dreamliner airlines reschedule services

All eight airlines that have Dreamliners in their fleets are to resume Boeing 787 services by the beginning of June.

The schedule announcements arrived after Ethiopian Airlines became the first carrier to operate a commercial 787 flight since regulators grounded all 50 planes in January after batteries overheated on two aircraft.

The Ethiopian flight took off from Addis Ababa on Saturday at 0945 local time and landed in Nairobi, Kenya, two hours later. According to the flight schedule pages on Ethiopian’s website, the normal service from Addis Ababa Bole to Heathrow will switch to a 787 with effect from May 8.

Yesterday, Qatar Airways confirmed it would resume its Dreamliner service between Doha and Dubai from Thursday and between Doha and London Heathrow on May 15 (see online news, April 29).

Now ANA and Japan Airlines, which account for 24 of the 50 Dreamliners delivered so far, have both announced they are to resume commercial 787 services from June 1.

ANA president Osamu Shinobe said: “We are pleased that the Federal Aviation Authority and Japan Civil Aviation Bureau are satisfied with Boeing’s plans to address the battery issues on the 787 aircraft and we are working closely with Boeing and our own engineers to undertake these improvements.

“Only when we are fully satisfied with the safety of our 787 fleet will we return the aircraft to service.”

Japan Airlines will intially serve five international routes – flying daily out of Tokyo to Beijing, Singapore, Boston and San Diego, and twice daily to Singapore. A further six destinations – Delhi, Moscow, Helsinki, San Francisco, Sydney and Bangkok – will be added between July and December.

United Airlines will begin resuming Dreamliner flights from May 31, intially between Denver and Houston and then to international destinations. The airline has set a tentative date of June 10 for its Denver to Tokyo route, according to USA Today.

Polish carrier LOT is sending its two 787s to Ethiopia for battery modification repairs to be carried out and then plans to resume its Warsaw to Chicago route from June 5.

Air India hopes to have two of its six Dreamliners back in operation by May 10 and the remaining four by the end of May.

Chilean airline LAN plans to resume its Dreamliner service from June 1.

Holiday firm Thomson Airways, the first UK carrier scheduled to operate the B787, today rescheduled its Dreamliner routes from Britain to Cancun and Florida to launch from July 8.

Last week, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a formal directive lifting the ban on Dreamliners (see online news, April 26).

According to Thursday’s ruling, airlines can begin using 787s after they modify the lithium-ion battery system. The FAA will be closely monitoring the modification and inspecting the work.

The modified batteries are now housed in a stainless steel box and will run at a much cooler temperature.

There is also a ventilation pipe that leads directly from the box to the outside of the plane, meaning that in the event of any fire, the remainder of the aircraft would be unaffected by smoke.

The three-month grounding of the Dreamliner began in mid-January due to the faulty battery system causing problems in two different planes operated by Japan Airlines and ANA (see online story, January 2013).

There are currently 50 Dreamliners operated by airlines around the world. All are expected to have been modified by mid-May.

A further 840 of the aircraft are on order and will come with the revamped battery system.

Report by Graham Smith

DoubleTree by Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok opens its doors

Hilton Worldwide has today announced the opening of DoubleTree by Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok – the global hospitality group’s 100th property in Asia. This new hotel is situated 400 metres from Phrom Phong Skytrain station on Sukhumvit Soi 26, and is a 40-minute drive from the Suvarnabhumi airport. 

Facilities available include an outdoor swimming pool and a 24-hour fitness centre. For meetings and events there is also a 351 sqm conference room – which can be divided into smaller function rooms – a 56 sqm multi-purpose room and a business centre. 

The 23-storey hotel has 177 rooms which range from 28 sqm guestrooms and 38 sqm superior rooms to 58 sqm suites. Each room is equipped with an iPod dock (but not compatible with iPhone), although in-room wifi is not free. Food and beverage outlets include Dee-Lite, an all-day restaurant serving Thai, Vietnamese and Western food and featuring a private meeting room, and pool-side lounge and cocktail bar Mosaic with live DJs on select nights. 

Hilton Worldwide has more than 170 hotels in the pipeline for the next five years, including Hilton Yangon, Conrad Manila (see story here) and Waldorf Astoria Bangkok. 

For more information visit www.doubletree.com and www.hiltonworldwide.com

Alex Andersson

Emirates expands services to Hong Kong and Bangkok

Emirates (EK) has announced an increase in flight operations to Hong Kong with a fourth daily service, and third non-stop one, set to start on October 27.

Flight EK386 will depart Dubai at 2100 to arrive in Hong Kong at 0805 the following morning. The return leg EK387 will depart the Chinese Special Administrative Region at 0940 for a 1455 touchdown in Dubai.

The new service will initially be operated by an A330-200 in a three class configuration (237 seats) before being upgraded to a Boeing 777-300ER (354 seats) later in the year. The three other flights, with the newest one added in October last year (see story), are served by the A380 and B777.

“We have been steadily increasing the number of services to Hong Kong and this fourth service gives our customers the flexibility to choose a morning arrival or/and departure that fits with their schedule and connect through Dubai to destinations on our ever expanding global network,” said Salem Obaidalla, EK’s senior vice-president, commercial operations Far East & Australasia.

On the same day EK will also launch a second daily non-stop A380 service to Bangkok.

“Earlier this year we launched our fifth daily flight to Bangkok (story) and the passenger demand has led to the decision to upgrade one of the services to the second A380 on the route. Thailand has been part of the Emirates network for over 20 years and in last December we added Phuket as our second Thai destination,” added Obaidalla.

Visit www.emirates.com

Reggie Ho

No.1 Traveller adds fast-track benefit at Gatwick and Birmingham

No.1 Traveller has added fast-track security access as a new benefit for its guests purchasing lounge entry at Gatwick and Birmingham airports.

The lounge provider added the benefit to those using its facilities at Stansted airport in 2011, and has now extended it to its lounges at Gatwick North, Gatwick South and Birmingham airport.

The new benefit will be available for travel through either airport from May 23 – note that it is only available to those travellers booking lounge entry directly at no1traveller.com.

No.1 Traveller opened its latest lounge at Birmingham airport in October last year (see online news October 31, 2012), and now has a total of six facilities at Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports.

For more information visit no1traveller.com, and for a review of the group’s lounge at Gatwick’s North Terminal, click here.

Report by Mark Caswell

United launches San Francisco to Paris service

United Airlines has launched a daily nonstop service from its West Coast hub at San Francisco to Paris.

Flight 990 departs San Francisco daily at 1445 and arrives at Paris Charles de Gaulle at 1045 the next day. The return, flight 991 departs Paris at 1005 and arrives in San Francisco at 1300 the same day.

The service will use Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which offer 30 flat-bed seats in United Business First, 49 seats in United Economy Plus and 135 seats in United Economy. To see a seat plan, click here.

John Slater, vice president of sales Americas for United said: “We are excited to offer customers new service between two of the world’s most culturally and economically diverse cities.”

Air France already operates double daily flights between the two cities, with Delta codesharing on both of the services. United already operates a London to San Francisco service.

For more information visit united.com.

Report by Scott Carey

SPG Double Take promotion

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) members can earn double Starpoints on all eligible stays from May 1 until July 31 at over 1,000 participating hotels and resort.

Members must pre-register online before June 30 at spg.com/doubletake to start earning double points. There is also a 500 Starpoints bonus for each eligible booking made through a spg.com mobile site or the SPG smartphone app. The 500 point bonus is available for all SPG properties.

There are over 100 properties not taking part in the promotion, including the W properties in Barcelona, Chicago, Taipei, Istanbul and London, with a full list available online. London properties Le Meridien Piccadilly, Sheraton Park Tower, The Lanesborough and the Park Lane Hotel are all exempt.

Members will earn an additional two Starpoints per eligible US$1 spent (for a total of four Starpoints per dollar). Elite-level extra Starpoint earnings and other bonuses will not be doubled. There is no limit to the number of points that can be earned during the promotional period.

For more information visit starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest.

Report by Scott Carey