March 2023 Newsletter
One or Two?
Would you feel comfortable if you knew that the plane you were flying on had just one pilot? Getting the travelling publics opinion on this will likely throw up a mixed bag of answers, but as with most things that we are told that will improve our lives/make things cheaper/save the planet/create employment (sic), those who challenge the narrative being put out are putting themselves at risk of being ostracised, as well as jeopardising their own careers. Planes operating with just the one pilot looks like a course we are heading in and that will likely be the end result regardless of who and where that opposition to the concept comes from. Over 40 countries have asked the International Civil Aviation Organisation to make single pilot operations a safe reality.
If there is any wiggle room for those who oppose the concept, which obviously at the outset is led by the airline pilot community, it’s the word “safety”. Pilot associations are able to use real life examples of solid reasons why planes should have two pilots onboard; one such example is the Air France crash in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 when the aptain was taking a rest in the cabin and when an issue arose, by the time he reached the flight deck- 90 seconds later, the plane was out of control in an unrecoverable spin. Two heads may not always solve a serious issue if one arises on a plane but there is double the chance they will be able to solve it before it becomes terminal. We should also not forget that its not so long ago that most flights had three people in the cockpit and some long haul flights even four
The other side of the fence sees the argument for single pilot planes being based on cost savings (naturally) which come with reduced recruitment, training and salaries. The argument for is also supported by the concept that technology is constantly advancing with greater support for pilots available from the ground. As with the Air France example though, it’s a totally different question if the on the ground support can convert into solving real life drama’s: – Pilot “Mayday Mayday I am losing altitude and the engines are out”, Ground Support “just a minute Fred is in the bathroom”.
Air Travel is the safest form of travel in the world and any such move towards single pilot operations will require significant technological and regulatory changes and whilst it is claimed that human error is to blame in most aviation accidents, there is no real quantification on just how many potential disasters have been avoided by quick action from the two pilots in the cockpit, such information is often kept indoors by airlines not wishing to damage people’s perception about flying as well as not wishing to damage their own reputation.
This debate will darg on but one can’t help but think the writing is on the wall.
Jamadvice Travel | BCD Bulgaria
Before reading on, have a guess how many flights Dubai based airline Emirates will operate per week to the UK during the forthcoming summer? The answer is 119. This of course is not just to and from London Heathrow but also includes flights to the likes of Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Stansted as well as to other UK cities.
When one also adds in the fact that all these flights are operated by the largest aircraft in the Emirates fleet such as the A380 and Boeing 777, the business this generates if almost off the scale. This business, it should be noted is not all about moving throngs of tourists to visit the UAE (mainly Dubai) from across the UK on a year-round basis, but Dubai is also arguably the hub of choice for people connecting between Europe and Asia and vice versa. Another question: if Emirates are operating 119 flights, how much is this a lost opportunity for British Airways? 119 Planes leaving the UK operated by Emirates and just 12 flights by British Airways.
Whatever spin is put on the facts, the fact of the matter is that if BA had been astute several years ago, they could have earned a much bigger piece of the pie in what seems to be an ever-increasing market. Not forgetting of course that in addition to Emirates, the likes of Etihad and Qatar also take slices out of the cake whilst BA eat the crumbs. The retort from BA of course will always be that “’the others have deeper pockets” as admitting an opportunity has been lost would not be great for one’s career. No doubt however those who missed this business opportunity are still finding their salaries are healthy.
Buried in the Figures
The latest ill thought out statement from the EU regarding the comparison of the number of flights operated in the EU using 2019 as the base year compared with 2022 shows, that the levels for 2022 are still below those of 2019! Pretty obvious may be the sarcastic retort to that statement. If in real terms the travel industry didn’t start until April in 2022, then comparing the 9 months of “’normality’” of 2022 with the 12 months of normality in 2019 is pretty much making a statement to satisfy a narrative; especially when the figures than state that in both January and February the figures are down over 30%.
Another breath-taking fact mentioned in the same figures is that only Greece showed an overall total increase in flights using the same measurement parameters, whilst in terms of actual airports, both Frankfurt and Dusseldorf had 33 % less flights whilst Munich had 17% less. The same narrative might be trying to state that the economies of Europe had flattened and/or that people didn’t want to travel. The truth is that many airports and airlines had strikes and staff shortages and they couldn’t operate as normal and as such, were unable to match the supply of services with the demand for it.
Still, as we know, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Will it please Stop
Just why any media outlet would still wish to feature articles connected with the incidence of Covid in Bulgaria is beyond most people. 8 people died of Covid last week is a typical headline and 800 people contracted it. Big deal. More people lose their lives every week from countless other diseases and illnesses but these don’t get a mention. Probably thousands get infected with Covid in the same way that they get infected every year with flu, but don’t bother to go to their doctor. Covid is a type of flu and flu will be with us next year and the year after; it is not going to go away. It only becomes a problem when people make it a problem. As most governments and most level headed citizens will now have realised, Shakespeare was way ahead of his time when he wrote “’much ado about nothing”’.
We often run articles highlighting the most expensive cities in the world for hotel accommodation, but perhaps a more important set of figures in the eyes of an employer is the cost per day of a business trip. This would include not just accommodation but items like meals and taxis etc. To that end, as far as Europe is concerned, Geneva is the most expensive city per day for a business trip at 700 Euros per day, followed by Zurich at 640 Euro and now London has crept into third place of the back of massive hikes in accommodation to 565 Euro. Paris came in fourth followed by Bern and Copenhagen.
Across the globe, New York is the most expensive city per day at 770 Euro’s whilst fellow US cities San Francisco and Washington DC also made the world’s top 5 most expensive list.
Then there were Five
It is generally considered that there are four major airlines battling it out to be the main hub carrier that helps Europe connect with the rest of the world; or at least the world to the east and south of Europe; these are Emirates, Turkish, Etihad and Qatar. This number looks like it is about to be joined by a new start up airline from Saudi Arabia.
The new airline is called Riyadh Air and will operate alongside the existing airline Saudia. The operations of the new airline will be based at the mammoth new King Khalid Airport about to be built in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, but whilst start-up airlines are a weekly event, anything connected with this part of the world is anything but modest. The first order has already been placed with Boeing worth 35 billion USD for a fleet of new long-haul aircraft and additionally, talks are also underway with Airbus for 40 other wide boded aircraft.
Under the radar, unless you follow golf or football, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, over the past decade, been rapidly modernising itself and its infrastructure to make it a rival to other Middle East destinations that are now ‘’the” place to go and be seen. Leisure facilities and attractions have been built and continue to be built to not only satisfy the demand for such from its own nationals, many of whom who used to travel to Dubai for their R&R, but also to attract a wider audience both from near and far.
It will be interesting how this pans out in the next decade.
Beaurocracy vs Reality
You would probably be more surprised if it did happen on time rather than if it didn’t, especially when its bureaucrats involved; what are we talking about – the introduction of the new European ETIAS scheme.
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System is a visa waiver for travellers from ‘third countries’ who wish to enter the European Schengen Area and it will apply to non-EU nationals from visa exempt countries who travel into the EU for short term stays.
The system was initially announced to launch 2022 and then delayed until November 2023, but will now enter into play in 2024 – sometime!
Not wishing to be outdone in the desire to expand revenue streams, the UK Government appear to be following the EU and introducing its own “Electronic Travel Authorisation” scheme by 2025. The scheme will require all visitors who do not need a visa for short term visits to the UK, to apply for the new ETA (visa!) in advance of their travels. The new system will apply to travellers from Europe, Australia and the USA. The actual process will kick off on a trial basis this year with Qatar being the pilot country, followed by Jordan and other Gulf States (GCC) later in the year.
The UK government say the scheme will be simple and “light touch” and totally digital. Individuals will ned to provide biometric details and upon issuing, the ETA will then allow the traveller multiple entries into the UK.
Turkish Airlines has been a story of onward and upward in recent years and not even the Covid experience could slow its momentum, the carrier reporting a whacking 2.7 billion USD profit for 2022 having carried 71.8 million passengers. The airlines fleet grew by 20 during 2022 and now sits at a total of 394 and in global terms, possesses 2.7% of the global airline capacity.
Hot on the heels of Turkish is Lufthansa which despite never being out of the news for all the wrong reasons – though often not through any faut of its own – is reporting profits of 1.5 billion Euros on revenues of 32.8 billion Euro’s. This profit is all the more remarkable as in the previous year it lost 1.7 billion Euro’s. just think what the airline could have achieved with more staff! Just for the record the Lufthansa cargo division also made a whacking standalone profit of 1.6 billion Euro whilst sister airline Austrian also has blank ink on its P/L sheet with a 3 million Euro profit after carrying 11.1 million passengers during the year.
People see Western Europe as the bastion of democracy, the free market and freedom of speech; though as many are coming to realise, such perspectives are becoming more and more questionable. Ignoring points one and three, point two and the notion that Europe is a free market has long been a bone of contention; think exporting tomatoes to France or fishing your own catch around the coastlines of Europe. However, in the world of travel, the government of the Netherlands has taken free enterprise one step backwards by trying to reduce the amount of traffic its main hub airport and commercial link to the outside world, Schiphol handles per annum. It typically handles 500,000 flights annually though recently due to staff shortages the number has been a mere 440,000. The government is trying to cap this figure at 460,000 from November 2023 using the soft argument that its decision is based on noise and air pollution and this would appear to override commercial concerns.
This attempt to meddle in the commercial world of aviation has gone down like a lead balloon with IATA who have initiated legal action against the government in the Hague, citing that the move contravenes EU Regulation 598/2014 on noise related operating restrictions at EU airports. This act makes the point that a “Balanced Approach includes consultation with affected parties, using flight reductions only as a last resort and balancing the interests of local residents, the environment, the local economy and with aviation’s economic and social benefits.” IATA’s argument being that there was no consultation and the move was a first resort and not a last one.
The entire world of travel will no doubt hope the Netherlands Government intervention is vetoed and their civil servants are re-directed to things they no more about; this excludes commercial activity.
Providing state aid to struggling European airlines was a fashionable target many years ago for the righteous bureaucrats of the EU, the likes of Malev and Cyprus Airways amongst many were allowed to die without remorse. Then came Covid and overnight the rules were either changed or at best, ignored. The Italian Government has for many years directly or indirectly provided state aid to its then national airline, Alitalia, who made a habit of racking up financial loss after loss, year after year; revenues disappearing into a black hole that no-one bothered to bottle up. So, its no surprise to anyone with any logic that the European Commission has just announced that the airline will have to re-pay 400 million Euro’s it was granted by the Italian Government in 2019. That’s not all, the state aid granted in 2017 of 900m Euro is also deemed to be an illegal payment but the ruling on how and when that should be paid has not been announced. It is calculated that altogether; the airline received some 10 billion Euro’s throughout its life. It was therefore, a useful tool for many purposes(sic). The issue now is, Alitalia does not exist anymore! The new national carrier of Italy is ITA Airways and it acquired some of the old Alitalia assets in 2021 but the EU has ruled that ITA bears no responsibility for any of the funds paid to its predecessor.
In theory Alitalia’s administrators will still be responsible for paying back any funds it receives from the sale of the old entity’s assets. At the same time, the EU rules that the loan can be conveyed as a liability under Alitalia’s ongoing insolvency proceedings. Thus, the official Eu line is that,” the 400 million Euro’s will be repaid by Alitalia within the limits of the revenues obtained from the sale of assets of the company and the value of the remaining assets”. Translated, the fudge means nothing will ever be paid back and the money has gone. Somewhere.
Summer is Here
The last Sunday in March saw the change to the summer timetable for airlines and the recent years has seen a swathe of new destinations added to the Sofia departure board and this year continues along the same lines.
Ryanair is to add flights to the Polish city of Wroclaw and the island of Rhodes in Greece. Wizz is getting more and more adventurous with the addition of flights to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, as well as Riyadh, the blossoming capital of Saudi Arabia. Oslo is back on the roster as well but this time it’s the relatively new airline, Norwegian Air Shuttle who will operate flights each Wednesday and Sunday from June 24th.
All in all, some 77 scheduled and 19 charter destinations will be operated during the summer timetable with 21 scheduled airlines and six charter operators running the flights.
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