Heathrow & Gatwick ‘worst places to fly from’

In a customer satisfaction survey involving 9,000 people, carried out between October and November 2008, Which Holiday magazine has BAA’s two principal airports at Heathrow and Gatwick as ‘worst in the UK’.

Finishing plumb last was Heathrow’s Terminal 1, with Terminals 2, 3, and 4 the next least-popular. Just above Heathrow were Gatwick’s two terminals.

The survey follows the UK’s Competition Commission (CC) confirmation of the break-up of airports operator BAA by ordering the company to sell three of its seven facilities; London Gatwick, London Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow. In its provisional report, the CC said it believed the lack of competition between airports owned by BAA was detrimental to passengers – the survey results would seem to suggest it was right.

The sale of Gatwick is already underway and possible buyers are being vetted. BAA, which was purchased by the Spanish company Ferrovial in 2006 for £10bn (US$14.3bn), has seen profits fall during the present economic downturn. Its Chief Executive, Colin Matthews, told the BBC: “We’ve been improving customer service across all airports, [but] we’ve got a long way to go.” Over the next five years, BAA will spend over £6 billion on improving airport infrastructure.

The only good news for BAA was that Heathrow’s Terminal 5 finished around half way up the satisfaction table, scoring particularly well in the shopping and eating categories, despite its disastrous opening a year ago. Southampton was BAA’s best showing in the survey with fifth place.

Regional airports fared best, with eight out of ten saying they were happy with services at Blackpool airport, followed by London City airport, Doncaster Sheffield and Southampton. Which Holiday’s editor, Lorna Cowan, said the survey showed passengers “prefer the experience of flying from smaller regional airports.”

Air Berlin remains positive despite losses

Celebrating its 30th year, Air Berlin increased its turnover in 2008 by nearly 7% with an increase in passenger numbers and remains buoyant about prospects for 2009.

At a press conference in Berlin, Joachim Hunold, Air Berlin’s Chief Executive Officer, said; “In an increasingly deteriorating economic environment, Air Berlin has managed to strengthen its position as the second-largest airline company in Germany. We were the first airline company to implement a multitude of measures, enabling us to react to fluctuations in demand in a highly flexible manner, thereby achieving an improved operating income.”

For the 2008 business year, a loss of 72 million Euros, up from 40 million in 2007, was recorded, essentially from expenses connected with the foreign exchange hedging of US Dollar denominated loans for aircraft financing.

In 2008, the total number of aeroplanes increased by one to 125. However, the composition of the fleet changed drastically as 23 new planes featuring state-of-the-art technology replaced older planes, which had a higher fuel consumption and lower efficiency. Air Berlin has also ordered a total of ten Q400s, two of which coming into service in 2008, with the remaining eight aircraft expected to be put into operation by August 2009.

Eco-efficient A330 for Finnair

March 27, Blagnac, France: Finnair has taken delivery of its first of eight A330-300s to develop its medium and long-haul operation. Powered by General Electric CF6-80E1 engines, the carrier’s new A330 can seat 271 passengers in a two-class cabin (229 seats in Economy and 42 in Business Class).

“With its cost efficiency and the high passenger comfort, we see the A330 as the right aircraft for our ambitious fleet renewal plans,” said Jukka Hienonen, CEO of Finnair. “It will help us to achieve our goal of having one of Europe’s youngest and environmentally friendly fleets. The low fuel burn of the type reduces cost and at the same time the environmental impact of our operations.” The carrier said the A330 will consume 20% less fuel compared to its predecessor.

With the brand new A330-300, the Finnair fleet now numbers 35 Airbus aircraft; the airline was also the first to order the A350 XWB, signing for 11 examples with first delivery due in 2014. The manufacturer claims orders for the A330-300 stand at more than 390 from 38 customers.

Virgin Blue makes cuts

March 27: Virgin Blue, the budget Australian airline, revised its domestic schedule following the decision to mothball five Boeing 737 aircraft from May 7.

The airline said the capacity reduction equated to the removal of 28 flights daily from a total of over 330 domestic daily services. It is not withdrawing from any markets. The reductions are an interim plan due to the continued and forecast deterioration in demand – the five aircraft will be managed as operational spares and will not be returned to scheduled service for at least 12 months.

“We have been very open with our team, outlining in a realistic manner the current operating environment and what we have to do to keep our business sustainable during economic downturn,” said Virgin Blue Chief Executive Officer Brett Godfrey.

“We are very encouraged by the attitude of people. While we started the month of March with a challenge to reduce our operational fleet by five aircraft and therefore 400 jobs, it is because of their flexibility and spirit of co-operation, that we will likely manage our way through this phase with fewer redundancies than initially indicated.”

Air Navigation Service Providers feel the pinch

In an open letter to all Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), Alexander ter Kuile, Secretary General of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), has warned about the economic crisis now affecting aviation and its potential impact on CANSO members. Cost recovery charges are now potentially pitching airlines against ANSPs.

“Demand for air travel is well below previous years with air traffic movements down by as much as 18%,” he writes. “Despite the emergency measures undertaken by ANSPs, navigation charges will rise significantly in future years. In all aviation sectors revenues are falling by extraordinary amounts and ANSPs are not immune to the effects of this decline.

“With negative cash flows from falls of up to 20% in revenues (and with regulations barring many from holding financial reserves or obtaining commercial loans), some ANSPs are facing an unprecedented financial crisis, which may result in them being unable to meet their financial obligations. These ANSPs will be forced to turn to their states to urgently seek alternative funding options.

“The challenge the ANSPs face is to reduce capacity in the short-term while maintaining the flexibility to raise capacity when demand returns. ANSPs have a high fixed cost base, as the Air Traffic Management system must operate and be staffed at all times – even when demand is low. If aircraft operators insist on further cost savings, it is important to recognise that these will only be delivered through an adjustment in service levels – shorter opening times or a lower availability of services.

“Cost recovery was designed when air traffic growth was a given. However, at the first sign of turbulence, the system pitches ANSPs and airlines against each other as if they are age-old enemies. We must work together to resolve these issues.”

First female chair of CAA

The Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon, has appointed Dame Deirdre Hutton CBE as Chair of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) after an open competition. She is the first woman appointed to the post and will take up the position in August 2009 when the term of office of the present Chairman, Sir Roy McNulty, comes to an end after eight years of distinguished service. She will sit on the Board of the Authority during the intervening period.

Dame Deirdre is currently Chair of the Food Standards Agency and accustomed to regulating where safety is the top priority. She will also bring to the CAA expertise in consumer issues and engagement in Europe – her previous appointments include Chair of the National Consumer Council, Deputy Chair of the Financial Services Authority and Deputy Chair of the European Food Safety Authority. She remains a non-executive director of the Treasury.

Dame Deirdre will serve as Non-Executive Chair, working approximately two days per week at the CAA. Her key tasks, as well as maintaining the UK’s excellent aviation safety record, will include guiding the CAA through a period of change following the 2008 strategic review of the Authority and prospective changes to the economic regulation of airports, which are the subject of a current Government consultation. Her appointment is for five years and will initially be at a salary of £130,000 per year.

The Secretary of State intends to appoint a Chief Executive of the CAA to work alongside the new Chair.

airBaltic considers taxi business

Latvian national carrier airBaltic is considering establishing a taxi service to improve the quality of transfers from its base at Riga International Airport to downtown Riga. According to the company there is a high level of dishonesty among existing taxi providers and although it has highlighted the problem to the city’s Mayor Janis Birks and the director of the Riga City Council’s Transport Department, it never received a formal response.

“Our experience shows that taxi service providers in Riga are often highway robbers, and they charge too much,” said airBaltic President and CEO Bertolt Flick. “I think that it is high time to bring greater order to this sector in Latvia, because otherwise it will irreversibly damage people’s views about how Latvia treats tourists who arrive in the country.”

Ryanair opens Munich (West) base

Ryanair will open a new base at Memmingen Airport, approximately 62 miles (100km) from Munich, as it introduces its first connections into the southern German region of Bavaria. It claims in a statement that new routes to Alghero (Sardinia), Alicante, Dublin, Girona, London/Stansted, Pisa and Reus will “at last offer consumers and visitors to the Bavaria region competition, choice and very low airfares compared to the high fares and unjustified fuel surcharges” of existing operators. The flights from Memmingen, dubbed Munich (West) by Ryanair, will begin in May.

European slots ruling

European regulators have proposed ending the stringent ‘use it or lose it’ slot-use requirement, easing pressure on airlines during the economic crisis. Current slot rules require an airline to operate its slots on 80% of occasions in each season, or lose them for the following year. As a result many carriers are often forced to maintain unprofitable routes in fear of losing valuable slots, especially at major hub airports where they can be scarce commodities.

According to the European Commission, under the proposal “carriers will have access during the 2010 summer season to the same slots they had in summer 2009, regardless of whether or not they used them.” These measures will initially only last for the one season but the situation is likely to be reviewed later this year.

First winglet-equipped B767 enters service

US carrier American Airlines has become the first carrier to introduce a winglet-equipped Boeing 767-300ER into passenger operation. The aircraft, N389AA, operated flight AA078 from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to London/Heathrow, departing the US city on March 8 and arriving at the UK international gateway the following morning. The wide-bodied jet was fitted with Aviation Partners Boeing’s (APB) Blended Winglets at American’s Maintenance and Engineering organisation at Kansas City, Missouri last year and has been performing flight trials to secure certification of the performance enhancing devices since.

The increased lift provided by the winglets – without a corresponding increase of engine power – improves fuel efficiency. Each modified airframe is expected to save up to 500,000 gallons (1.9 million lit) of fuel annually and American plans to install winglets on its entire 58-strong B767-300ER fleet by 2011. This will generate annual fuel savings of up to 29 million gallons (110 million lit).

“The fuel savings and emissions reductions that we will achieve with the winglets are one more step in our efforts to both moderate costs and shrink the impact we have on our environment – two goals that go hand-in-hand,” said Bob Reding, American’s Executive Vice President (Operations).