Heathrow Airport - London


BA says more Americans will book flights to the UK

More people will book flights from the US to the UK as Americans look to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate, according to British Airways (BA).

A spokesman from the UK's flagship carrier said that it was now cheaper for Americans to fly to Britain because of the fall in air traffic between the two countries.

"From the American point of view, it is cheaper now to come to the UK than it has been in the last few years," he said.

"You may start to see a slight change and you may start to see more traffic coming the other way now."

The spokesman added that the reason for a decline in traffic - between New York and London in particular - was the ongoing financial crisis and the downturn of the economy.

According to BA traffic and capacity statistics published last month, the number of people flying to the US has fallen by 7.6 percent since November 2007, from 604,000 to 558,000.

Source: Reuters

Hilary Benn reveals cabinet split over Heathrow expansion (third Runway)

After months of speculation environment secretary Hilary Benn has confirmed that there are indeed deep splits within the cabinet over whether or not to proceed with plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

In an interview with The Sunday Times yesterday, Benn became the first minister to break ranks and openly voice concerns over the proposed expansion of the airport and its likely contribution to air and noise pollution.

Warning that the airport was already in breach of EU rules governing air pollution, Benn said that the government had to ensure that any expansion would not lead to sustained breaches or air and noise pollution standards.

Heathrow has an exemption, or "derogation", from current EU air pollution standards that runs up until 2015.

Benn told the paper that the government has to "honour that commitment" warning that failure to do so could see embarrassing legal action taken against the EU. "You are then in trouble with the commission, you get infraction proceedings and then off you go – which is not something we can contemplate," he said.

The government's official study on the impact of a third runway said that improvements in aircraft design meant that even if the airport does deliver the planned increase in flights from 480,000 to 700,000 a year the EU standards can be met.

Meanwhile, airport operator BAA has said it will curb the number of flights from the expanded airport if an independent watchdog deems that the airport is breaking the rules.

However, green groups have claimed that the official government pollution projections are based on aircraft designs that do not yet exist, while the government's own watchdog, the Environment Agency, has expressed concerns that a third runway would likely result in the rules being breached.

Benn's comments come just weeks after transport secretary Geoff Hoon announced that he was delaying the final decision on the plans until next month. Officially Hoon said that the delay was necessary to give the government more time to assess the 70,000 responses it received to the most recent consultation process, but reports claimed it was forced by the depth of the divisions within the cabinet over the issue.

The Sunday Times reported that while Benn is the first minister to go on record with his concerns over the expansion of the airport several other senior cabinet figures are also opposed to the plans.

Energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband is said to be concerned that a third runway would make it harder for the government to meets its new legally binding emission targets and retain its reputation as a leader in the fight against climate change.

His fears are thought to be shared by his brother, the foreign secretary David Miliband, and universities secretary John Denham, while Commons leader Harriet Harman is said to be worried the decision will damage Labour's electoral chances in south and west London, particularly given the Conservatives have said they will oppose the plans.

However, Hoon is known to be in favour of the third runway and has reportedly secured support from business secretary Peter Mandelson. The prime minister Gordon Brown is also thought to be in favour of a third runway on economic grounds.

Source: Bloomberg

Heathrow Airport's former chief executive lied to get Terminal Five

The past and present bosses of Heathrow Airport have spun a web of lies in order to get a third runway, it has been revealed.

John Stewart, chairman of anti-expansion group HACAN today sourced letters and interviews in which BAA's previous chief executive lied to get a third runway.

Sir John Egan has been quoted as saying in a letter to residents towards the start of the Terminal Five Inquiry in 1995: “T5 does not call for a third runway.”

When asked about this promise on Wednesday December 10 at the Heathrow Consultative Committee, BAA's director of strategy, Mike Forster, said: “Well, that's what he had to say to get permission for Terminal 5.”

In another “Dear neighbour” letter in April 1999, Sir Egan, said: “We have since repeated often that we do not want, nor shall we seek, an additional runway.

“I can now report that we went even further at the Inquiry and call on the Inspector to recommend that, subject to permission being given for T5, an additional Heathrow runway should be ruled out forever.”

He added: “Our position could not be clearer, T5 will not lead to a third runway.”

John Stewart, chairman of HACAN, said: “We now know it was all lies. For some time now we have ceased to believe anything BAA says.

“The existence of Father Christmas is less of a fairy tale than the promises of BAA.”

At the end of November this year, BAA called on the government to appoint an independent assessor of noise and air quality if it wins approval for a third runway, to ensure limits are not breached.

BAA's current chief executive, Colin Matthews, said: “By calling on an independent assessor to scrutinise the airport's performance against these limits, we are providing an uncompromising assurance that we will operate Heathrow airport within the limits laid down by government.”

Mr Stewart added: “This time round nobody is taking any notice of BAA's so-calle

Source: AFP

Oman Air moves to Heathrow airport

Oman Air has secured valuable slots at London’s Heathrow airport to launch non-stop flights from Heathrow to Muscat in Oman. Oman Air currently operates a daily service to Muscat from London Gatwick but will move its operation to Heathrow from 15 January 2009.

Flights will conveniently depart Heathrow at 2130, arriving Muscat the following morning at 0845, in time for a full day’s business or a day at leisure. Return flights depart Muscat at 1320 and arrive at Heathrow at 1740, offering ample connecting time for regional departures throughout the UK and Ireland.

The flights will continue to be operated with a wide-bodied Airbus A310 aircraft, offering both a Business Class and Economy Class service. The airline’s new state-of-the-art Airbus A330 aircraft, due to be delivered from the manufacturer next summer, will be placed on the route from August 2009.

At the same time Oman Air will also vastly improve its connectivity at Muscat, offering many convenient onward connections from Heathrow to destinations throughout the Gulf region and India.

Oman Air currently operates a fleet of 2 Airbus A310 aircraft, 10 Boeing 737 aircraft and 4 ATR 42 aircraft to 27 destinations worldwide

Source: Oman Air

British Airways aims to become the world's first 'global airline' but Richard Branson will fight it all the way

As the aviation industry struggles to navigate the most extreme economic turbulence in its history, it suddenly looks as if the wave of consolidation that has threatened to rip through some of the world's biggest airlines has finally hit.
In one corner sits Willie Walsh, the plucky Irishman in charge of British Airways, who is attempting to create the world's first "global airline". Walsh has already sought anti-trust immunity for a joint venture with American Airlines. In his sights now is Fernando Conte's Iberia and Alan Joyce's Qantas. The airline has confirmed it is discussing possible merger deals with both Qantas and Iberia. If successful it would create an aviation behemoth with three major hubs on two continents.

As Walsh tries to keep all his negotiations on track, breathing down his neck is Wolfgang Mayrhuber, chief executive of Lufthansa, who next month will have mobilised enough firepower to mount a serious attack on British Airways' lucrative transatlantic routes. Mayrhuber has already announced a potential "transformational" deal with Sir Michael Bishop's Bmi. In January the German group will take an 80% controlling stake in Bmi and with it a much sought-after pile of slots at Heathrow.

Not wanting to be left out of the party, Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson has confirmed his airline will discuss a possible cooperation deal with Lufthansa to make his airline "a stronger competitor to British Airways than we are today". Branson also has his eye on Bmi. He believes Virgin's long-haul operations would sit well with Bmi's predominantly short-haul business.

"Talks will take place with Lufthansa, maybe are taking place, to see whether it makes sense for the two companies to work together," said Branson from the sidelines of a nuclear disarmament event in Paris.

Meanwhile, Ryanair has made a fresh bid to buy rival Irish carrier Aer Lingus, while Flybe is rumoured to be in talks to take over Bmi's regional and low-cost subsidiaries. Then there is the small matter of Italy's failed carrier Alitalia, which has attracted the attention of both Air France-KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa. With this amount of activity in the marketplace it is little surprise that analysts are referring to it as "merger mania".

"The magic formula is synergy," says aviation expert and author of The World's Major Airlines, David Wragg. "There is still a lot of capacity that can be taken out of the marketplace. We still have far more airlines than is economically plausible and in many respects they have not experienced the same amount of pressures from globalisation that other industries have experienced."

With the airline industry embroiled in its most transformational period since the creation of the commercial jet airline, analysts are now asking who will survive the shakeout and more importantly what will this mean for the consumer.

Consolidation has arrived as carriers try to seek shelter from sky-high fuel costs and falling passenger numbers. Latest traffic figures show that the number of passengers travelling through BAA's seven UK airports in November has fallen by a million, or 8.9%, on last year.

Worst hit has been European charter traffic, which has dropped 17%, while domestic traffic has fallen 12.7% and European 9.1%. On top of this the airlines have had to deal with high oil prices. Although oil is presently hovering around the $45 a barrel mark it was high in the summer months, the traditional time when airlines build their profits. Fuel accounts for between 30% and 50% of airlines' operational costs and in the past year the price of jet kerosene has more than doubled. British Airways' fuel bill has risen from 10% of its cost base in 2000 to around 40%. It estimates that its fuel bill will rise to £2.5bn by 2009, a 20% hike on the previous year.

"High oil prices are here to stay," says one aviation analyst. "The airline industry is having to deal with that, and consolidation is one way out of it. The other, of course, is to create as fuel-efficient a fleet as possible."

In Europe the market is contracting into three groups. By far the biggest is Air France-KLM, which has its eyes on Alitalia, the bankrupt Italian flag-carrier. It is followed by Lufthansa, which has bought Swiss Air, is in the process of trying to acquire Austrian Airlines, and once the Bmi deal has completed will have access to 11% of the takeoff and landing slots at Heathrow, which is second only to British Airways.

Lufthansa is expected to use its financial strength to upgrade Bmi's fleet of 54 aircraft and challenge BA on some of its most lucrative routes. A spokesman for the company said all options were being considered, but analysts speculate that Heathrow slots to UK regional airports such as Belfast and Durham Tees Valley may be sacrificed in favour of more lucrative transatlantic routes.

The third group centres around BA. If Walsh can pull off the merger with Qantas and Iberia his next step will be the US.

"It is only a matter of time before there is a transatlantic merger. If BA can do the Qantas and Iberia deals it will clearly establish itself as a credible and serious competitor in the market," said Gert Zonnefeld, an analyst at Panmure Gordon.

Others are more sceptical. "I can't see an international airline being created," says David Wragg. "There are all sorts of problems. Where would the head office be? Who will have safety oversight over the airline? And while it may be good news for the airlines and also for their shareholders it will be very bad news for the customer."

Amid all the brinkmanship, clandestine negotiations, rumour and counter-rumour, Virgin's vociferous opposition to British Airways being allowed to get any bigger at Heathrow remains a constant.

"You can see the world consolidating down to a certain number of carriers and it would be very disappointing if each carrier had their own little turf which they control," said Virgin Atlantic chief operating officer Lyell Strambi. "It would be a very boring world, a very controlled world. I don't think it is remotely desirable. I think it would be very bad for UK aviation.

"There's a golden opportunity here to create two very big carriers. Heathrow's a big enough market to have two home-based carriers and it would be a bit disappointing if that was sacrificed to suit a monopoly."

Analysts say next year will bring even more consolidation as more airlines continue to collapse amid the economic storm. On Friday Colm Barrington, chief executive of Aer Lingus, said he was looking for a friendly investor to take a majority stake in the airline and stave off a £670m bid from Ryanair. Barrington said he had not identified a perfect partner for Aer Lingus, but said from a consumer and a country point of view Air France KLM "would be a better option than Ryanair".

If Ryanair is unsuccessful with Aer Lingus it will look elsewhere, snapping up smaller regional carriers such as bmibaby. As negotiations continue, one thing remains constant: the growing speculation surrounding the industry.

Source: Reuters

BAA's air passenger numbers drop 8.9% in November

Air traffic fell sharply in November registering the biggest decline since November 2001, when the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US helped to plunge global aviation into recession.

Passenger numbers at BAA's seven UK airports fell last month by 8.9 per cent year-on-year from 10.8m to 9.8m - by far the steepest monthly year-on-year de-cline since traffic began to weaken in April. The pace of the decline has been accelerating since September.

As well as passenger numbers at the airports, the volume of flights moving through UK airspace is in sharp decline as airlines cut their schedules and ground aircraft to try to bring capacity more into line with falling demand for air travel.

Nats, the air traffic control service, said November, the first full month of the winter travel schedules, had shown a 9.8 per cent decrease in the number of flights it had handled from 188,000 to 169,500.

The steep fall in passenger numbers is hitting BAA just as it is trying to sell Gatwick airport. It could soon be facing a demand from the Competition Commission to dispose as well of Stansted and either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports in order to improve competition.

Traffic at Gatwick fell by 13.5 per cent year-on-year in November. The airport has been hit by the recent collapse of several carriers including Zoom Airlines, XL Airways and Denmark's Sterling Airlines.

It has also suffered in particular from the transfer of a large number of its US long-haul services to Heathrow as a result of the US/European Union "open skies" treaty.

Both American Airlines and Continental Airlines have closed their Gatwick bases, and British Airways has transferred several US long-haul services from Gatwick to Heathrow.

BAA said Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe measured by passenger numbers, was proving the most resilient of its UK airports to the deepening recession with a fall of 4.8 per cent partly because of its greater share of the stronger long-haul markets.

By contrast Stansted, the most important airport in Europe for low-cost airlines, suffered a fall of 13.2 per cent under the impact in particular of the cut in flights by Ireland's Ryanair. The carrier has grounded 15 aircraft at the airport for a large part of the winter

to eliminate loss-making routes.

Monthly traffic numbers at Stansted have been falling for 13 months in succession year-on-year, but the drop in November was by far the steepest decline.

Passenger numbers at Glasgow fell by 15.6 per cent in November, the sharpest drop of any BAA airport, with numbers at the Scottish airports, including Edinburgh and Aberdeen, declining by 11.5 per cent.

Volumes at the three London airports Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted fell by 8.4 per cent overall.

Many airlines that have already reduced capacity for the winter are also preparing to reduce flights in the next summer season. British Airways, for example, is due to remove four more aircraft from its Gatwick operations, cutting departures at the airport by 15 per cent. Ground staff there are being reduced by 8 per cent.

Source: Financial Times

Airports in Europe to run out of space by 2030

Despite the current economic crisis, European passenger traffic is expected to increase from the current 10 million per annum to 20.4 million by 2030, a report has forecast.

In its study, Challenges of Growth, Eurocontrol also forecasts that 20 of the largest airports in Europe will be saturated by 2030, with 11 per cent of flights not being accommodated on the ground. This sends a strong warning about the need for the European Union to align capacity on the ground with capacity in the air.

Eurocontrol believes that demand in the long term is still set to rise despite the economic downturn and prospect of slower growth in the short term brought about by maturing European markets and higher fuel-related costs.

As a consequence, airports are going to run out of space, and – according to David Marsh, Manager of Forecasting and Statistics – "with half of each day's flights going through one of the saturated airports, a small delay at one airport could rapidly escalate to infect the whole European air network".

One flight in two faces congestion, delays and cancellation by 2030, Eurocontrol said. As a result of the lack of airport capacity and climate change, one flight in two will risk delays or cancellation at highly congested airports, it added.

The study finds that even taking the economic downturn into account, demand for flights in Europe will rise from 10 million today to 20.4 million in 2030. Even though airports are working to make the most of their capacity and expanding to meet demand, on current plans, they will only be able to handle 18.1 million of those flights, leaving 2.3 million a year or 6,300 flights a day unaccommodated. That equates to 170 million passengers being affected each year.

As a result, airport congestion is set to rise substantially. By 2030, about 20 of the largest airports will be saturated, that is to say operating at full capacity for eight hours or more a day.

The risk of delay will be higher because weather-related delays are likely to be more common, Eurocontrol said. "Bouts of extreme weather will occur more frequently and probably be more severe, bringing further disruption to already saturated airports," it said.

As higher temperatures become the norm across Europe, holiday patterns are likely to change. While airlines will be able to change their routes to cope with this, airports, which require substantial infrastructure, are not so flexible.

Unusually persistent fog allied with freezing conditions caused three continuous days of virtually zero activity at the London region airports in early December 2007 and a cold snap in the same period this year promises much of the same, the study said.

"Although that is hardly symbolic of global warming, the other side of the equation is the prediction that large parts of southern Europe, and especially the still highly popular Spanish Costas, will become too hot to live in, never mind take a vacation at, within 50 years. Similar claims have been made about the Gulf states," Eurocontrol said.

Marsh said: "Prosperity in Europe relies on the smooth movement of people and goods, and the air transport industry has a key role to play in this. Whatever capacity can be delivered at airports, the outlook is for a heavily congested future.

"Thanks to climate change, demand may be elsewhere than today. We need to start thinking of an agile air transport network, one that brings together people and technology so that it can react effectively both as the day's events unfold and as demand changes by the year, unencumbered by the 20th century concerns of national borders: a real Single European Sky, an agile pan- European system, if we are to cope with the challenges of the future."

While there are new airports opening or set to open in Spain (Ciudad Real, Castellon, Murcia, Lerida), and plans for them (mainly of the low-cost variety) in several others like Portugal (Lisbon), France (Nantes), Italy (Frosinone), Poland, Turkey and Ukraine, there is the reality of the decision on the third runway at London Heathrow being put back yet again, well into 2009.

And many doubt this critical project for London will ever see the light of day now.

ACI Europe Director General Olivier Jankovec said: "The implications are clear. European airports need to be in a condition to develop further their infrastructure. For many of them, getting the licence to grow is an increasingly uphill struggle. Despite ever-evolving and genuinely ambitious environmental activities, airport capacity is becoming the flashing light that many local and national governments are all too reluctant to address.

"This also means that European airports already need to invest more in new facilities. This is no small challenge, particularly in the present economic and financial conditions."

Source: AFP

British Airways (BA) World Cargo to resume flights to Saudi Arabia

In two separate developments, British Airways World Cargo has announced the resumption of services to Saudi Arabia and the launch of a new freighter operation in Latin America.

The UK carrier said Saudi services, which had been suspended in March 2005 due to reduced customer demand, would be restarted on March 29, 2009. There would be five flights a week to Jeddah and Riyadh out of London Heathrow's new Terminal 5. The former would be operated by B767 aircraft and the latter with B777 equipment.

Johnny Rubio, Area Commercial Manager, Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, BA World Cargo, said: "Demand for services into Saudi has grown considerably as a result of significant increases in inward investment into the country and the ongoing importance of the oil market. We expect the bulk of cargo to reflect this investment with key commodities such as building materials and equipment designed for the oil industry."

Source: Associated Press