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March 2014 Newsletter

Editorial

The Plot Thickens

As we go to press, the mysterious case of the disappearing Malaysian Airlines plane is still only reaching a conclusion at a snails pace. If it did meet its end in the Southern Indian Ocean as now seems likely, then the next question is why was it there in the first place. For the plane to potentially meet its final resting place is akin to a car travelling from Sofia to Greece via Varna: totally illogical. Only time will tell, perhaps, what actually took place on board the plane, though even that may be only assumed?

In our part of the world we tend to be both more cynical of the news and at the same time we also see the truth not in what is said. but in what is either not said or said at the periphery. China is a newcomer to the role of world superpower and the majority of people on board the plane were Chinese nationals, thus they are keener the most for this puzzle to be solved. Just a few days after the plane disappeared and mass upon mass of speculation was bombarding our air waves on where the plane was, an innocuous items of news was said to originate from China via its military; it briefly said that they had detected an unexplained bump in the Indian Ocean in a non seismic area a few hours after the plane disappeared. This fact was not repeated again.

If China has the capability to listen to ‘bumps’ in the Indian Ocean, then so too do the other world super powers. However in the parallel world of the James Bonds, letting on what you know means also revealing what is your capability and where you have that capability. China was maybe being naïve before it realized its error. At roughly the same time as never to be heard again news item was being aired, an American ship and plane were dispatched to the Southern Indian Ocean, this was long before the realization for the public started to creep in that it could even be resting in this particular area.

Equally, a few years ago an Air France plane disappeared in the Atlantic and this also had many cynics scratching their heads knowing that such clandestine listening capabilities already existed as perhaps confirmed inadvertently by the Chinese. Apparently its resting place was only known two years later.

Of course, coming from the Balkans we are the masters of the conspiracy but two plus two sometimes does make four.

 

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

HRG Bulgaria

 

 

Air Berlin under control

Lufthansa will be biting their lips on news that Etihad are to increase their stake in German Airline Air Berlin to 49%. This will give the Gulf airline almost total control of the running of Air Berlin who expanded rather too quickly for their finances to cope.

The longer term threat to Lufthansa is that they will be squeezed out even more on their long haul routes heading to the east.

 

Who to sue?

The mysterious case of the disappearing Malaysian Airlines plane had the even the lawyers scratching their heads. “Who to sue’’ was the potential problem as international law does not anticipate the total disappearance of an aircraft. With no wreckage the legal system would not be able to determine responsibility i.e. aircraft manufacturer, airline or a third party.

 

One size fits all

One or more is the question; and the answer usually is one. We are talking here of airline passengers preferences on airports and the more specific question of whether one huge terminal is better than several smaller ones.

The four main hub airports of Europe i.e. London Heathrow, Paris CDG, Amsterdam and Frankfurt are all different in their set up.

London Heathrow will have (after refurbishment) four large ones set apart from each other and broadly three of them are set up to accommodate the airline alliances. Paris CDG has sort of two huge terminals with one of them divided even further into two parts with each of these two parts divided into sections – confused, you will be!  Frankfurt has two but the vast majority of passengers will use only the main terminal whilst Amsterdam has one huge building. Judging from passenger reaction getting around just one terminal, no matter the size, is the preferred option.

That might be why the Gulf Airport hubs are so popular as they too tend to work on a one terminal concept. Back to Europe though and if we assume Frankfurt and Amsterdam each has one terminal then that seems to reflect the feeling of in particular passengers who are in transit who seem to prefer Amsterdam and Frankfurt to either London or Paris. Changing planes and particular changing airlines in the latter two airports can be a test of patience as well as a test of human endurance.

Thus the conclusion from all this is that as airport plan ahead, shouldn’t they take the human being into consideration and give the passengers what they in fact want?

 

 

Moving in

Part of the dilemma facing any Low Cost Airline is where and how to expand. Typically they use secondary airports across Europe as operating costs are lower. There is however not an infinite number of secondary airports that passengers wish to fly from. Thus, as we have seen recently, the big boys of Low Cost travel have been hugely modifying how they work and now they seem to have their eyes set on increasing operations out of Europe’s main airports. As an example, Brussels and Rome’s main airports have been chosen by Ryanair for an expansion of its flights even though the carrier has traditionally used nearby Charleroi in Belgium as its base.

This trend is likely to continue as airports expand and need more flights to fill the new capacity. Only the likes of the Gulf Carriers and Europe’s blossoming low cost sector can fill this capacity.

The winners in all this are the passengers as increased competition means cheaper fares.

 

A life on (under) the ocean wave

As suggested previously, Richard Branson has confirmed that his Virgin Group is to launch a two ship cruise line which will have its headquarters in Miami. Funding of the 1,7 billion USD has supposedly been secured primarily from Gulf based investors.

At the same time, the ‘not so media shy’ CEO also told press his next venture was to search for investment for Virgin Oceanic, to build submarines that can explore the depths of the ocean.

With Branson and Virgin you can hardly ever say there is a dull moment!

 

Even the Germans can get it wrong?

What ever happened to the all singing all dancing Berlin Brandenburg Airport? The roads were ready, the hotels and the rail link, but someone along the way dropped a huge blob and the thing never opened! Its now five years behind schedule.

The latest news is that the airport will open in 2016 – at the earliest! This is the seventh proposed opening date and probably there will be an eighth and ninth.

The cost of building the airport has now increased from 2.6 billion Euro to 4.3 billion, though that perhaps is no big surprise.

Just for the record the original excuse for not opening was a sub-standard fire safety system which led to a host of other safety issues. The latest excuse is connected with the unplanned reconstruction of the northern runway due to stricter noise protection.

 

Strike one

Lufthansa’s pilots are nota happy bunch and 90% of them have voted to take strike action. However they have not decided when!
The union that represents 5400 of the pilots said they don’t really want to strike but they have no patience left.

 

Time Change

The changing of the clocks at the end of March also signals a move from the winter to summer timetable for airlines. The winter season kicks back in again when the clocks change in October just for the record.  Not that a huge amount changes for airline timetables though. One little change might be of interest to frequent users of the main connecting hubs out of Sofia i.e. Vienna, Frankfurt and Munich, namely Lufthansa will change the time of their late departure to Munich from 17.40 to 19,35. The move designed to allow passengers to connect better to late evening flights to Asia and South America. Lufthansa will fly to Munich three times daily and to Frankfurt twice daily. Sister airline Austrian meanwhile will operate to Vienna five times daily except Saturday when it operates four times.

It’s also interesting to remember that Austrian/Lufthansa do not have any Low Cost competitors operating to its main airports served from Sofia. Having in mind that competition keeps prices in check, be prepared to pay for the joy of travelling via these three hubs.

 

Hilton goes big in Turkey

Hilton recently opened Istanbul’s largest hotel on the European side of the city. The 34 story Hilton Bomonti Hotel & Conference Centre has 829 guest rooms and 12,000sqM of event space. Its location is 3kms from Taksim Square and 8kms from the Old Town in the popular Sisli Area.

Hilton has 24 hotels in Turkey operating under various brands such as Conrad, Doubletree, Garden Inn, Hampton and of course Hilton.

 

Disney claim

The parents of a British crew member who disappeared off a Disney ship are suing Disney for 75,000 USD.

The family says Disney failed its duty of care by not responding quickly enough when they discovered she was missing.

 

On time?

An interesting point was brought to our attention by a friend of ours who sent a clipping relating to the story about a Wizz Air flight operating between London and Budapest has the record as being Europe’s least timely flight! It is said to have left London Luton late 293 times in a row. However what is and what isn’t late is a different question.

Officially a plane leaving or pushing back from its stand within 15 minutes of it’s ‘departure time’’ is not considered late. Here one should note that departure time is not when the plane takes off but when it ‘’pushed back’’ from its stand.

Being timely is something that airlines try and take seriously and being able to boast being timely carries brownie points. To aid that, what airlines have started to do is build in extra time so as to avoid being late. For example BA used to time its London – Paris flight to 50 minutes but by the mind 1990’s that had stretched to 70 – 80 minutes! SAS flights from Copenhagen are only in the air for some 90 minutes but in 1995 they allowed 120 minutes and now it can be 135 minutes for the same amount of time in the air.

So the bottom line is, being on time can really mean different things to different people.