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SeaFrance operations to resume

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Beleaguered ferry operator SeaFrance has been told that it will be allowed to continue operating until the end of January next year, even though it is bankrupt. The European Commission has told the French government that its bail out offer of 200 million euros is not legal. The Tribunal de Commerce has also rejected a takeover bid by rival operators DFDS. The firm has offered £5 million.

The CFDT union has also placed an offer for the company, but has been refused. The court said that it would be looking into any offers which are made before 12 December. If a solution is not found, then SeaFrance will cease to trade on 29 January 2012.

Currently, there are four SeaFrance ferries operating between Dover and Calais. Around 1,650 people are employed by the company which transports some 3.5 million people between the continent and the UK every year.

A spokeswoman said that SeaFrance was happy with the decision made by the Tribunal de Commerce, as it meant the company could continue transporting passengers until at least 28 January. She said that this would also give the firm some time to work out the best solution to its problem.

On its website, the firm said that it was sorry for any inconvenience caused by the recent cancellation of services. Ferries will set sail again after necessary safety checks have been made. DFDS has said that it accepts the decision made by the courts and will consider how best to move forward.

Flybe passengers watch aircraft wheel fall off

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

A Flybe passenger plane had to return to Exeter Airport after taking off en route to Newcastle, after one of its wheels fell off, according to a report. The incident happened as the landing gear was retracting after take off, and was apparently witnessed by a number of passengers on board.

According to the Air Accidents Investigation Board, the passengers did not immediately alert Flybe air crew. Following a radio message from Air Traffic Control, the pilot asked a stewardess to go to the back of the plane and check the situation. It was then that the passengers admitted what they had seen.

The pilot then issued a mayday, and returned to Exeter. He held the Bombardier Q400 over the airport as passengers were re-seated to better distribute their weight prior to landing. The decision was made to employ a landing technique known as ‘left wing down’ which involves using the emergency brake and right rudder to ensure that the pressure is taken off the affected right side landing gear.

Although there was some veering to the left on landing, the technique proved successful and the 39 passengers on the flight were able to disembark without any injuries.

The report explains that the pilot had checked that landing gear on both sides of the aircraft before deciding it was safe to commence with the flight. The AAIB added that a cursory check would not have been enough to spot that there was a problem. The incident was caused by a jammed bearing which resulted in the wheel falling off.

Boris Johnson backs plans for Thames Estuary airport

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Plans for a new airport in the Thames Estuary have been referred to as the solution to the aviation crisis in the South-East by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The design is the work of architect Lord Foster, who said the four-runway hub would put Britain back in a dominant position in terms of world trade. The proposal involves a high speed rail link being built between London and the airport. Lord Foster claims that the estuary hub would be able to cope with 150 million passengers every year.

The proposed site for the airport is the Isle of Grain. The plans include building a connecting tidal barrier across the river, which supporters say would be an added benefit. New land would also be created for business development.

The proposal also includes a railway station beneath the terminal which would be capable of dealing with up to 300,000 passengers daily. Power for the facility would be generated by the North Sea tides, and because aircraft would be landing and taking off over the water, residents would not have the noise pollution problems which are currently a nuisance around Heathrow.

The government has said that airports in the South-East will be at capacity by 2030, but have also said that plans for another runway at Heathrow to deal with the problem will not be allowed to progress.

Detractors of the proposition cite reasons such as the dangers posed by the Isle of Grain’s massive gas facility, and the fact that the island is home to millions of migrating birds as reasons why the plan should not go ahead.

Bangkok floods impact Thai tourist industry

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Tourism experts are predicting that severe flooding, which has affected a number of provinces across Thailand in recent weeks, could have a significant negative impact on the travel industry. As the flood waters reach areas of Bangkok, the situation looks like it will worsen. Don Muang airport, the capital’s hub for budget operators and domestic services, has been forced to shut, as workers and passengers have difficulty reaching the terminals.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanporn, from the Thai Travel Agents Association, said that tour companies were reporting cancellations from foreign visitors. He warned that, if the situation does not show signs of improving, visitor numbers could plummet by 20 per cent.

The country’s government had set up a crisis response centre in Don Muang, but has been forced to relocate because of the floods. The airport was also being used to shelter residents who have been forced to leave their homes. They too will now have to be moved elsewhere.

Suvarnabhumi International in Bangkok is still operating a normal service, but the airport could suffer as staff struggle to get to work. The floods across the country have so far displaced around 10 million people. The heavy rains have also caused the deaths of at least 370 people.

However, the floods have now dispersed in the north, and popular tourist spots such as Samui and Phuket have so far avoided the crisis. Tourism is responsible for around 15 per cent of the jobs in Thailand, and the industry creates six per cent of the GDP.

12 point driving ban not being applied

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Research conducted by a driving charity and an insurance company has revealed that a quarter of all drivers who have accumulated 12 points, or in some cases a great many more, are still being permitted to take to the roads. According to Direct Line Insurance and Brake, one driver is still getting behind the wheel with 32 points.

Any motorist managing to accrue 12 points should, in theory, be banned from using a vehicle for at least six months. However, exceptions are made if a driver can prove that losing their license would result in what is termed ‘exceptional hardship’. This could be the loss of a job, or a partner walking out etc.

According to official figures, 10,072 drivers currently on the road have managed to evade a ban by persuading a judge that their lives would be damaged if they could no longer use a vehicle.

Julie Townsend, campaigns director at the charity Brake, has called on the government to take the situation seriously. She said that the points system was in place for a reason and that it was shocking that so many who should no longer hold a license still do. She explained that drivers allowed to get away with multiple offences were a danger to other motorists and the general public.

Direct Line’s pricing and underwriting director Andy Goldby said the wrong message was being sent out by allowing so many motorists to flout the law. He added that the ‘exceptional hardships’ people were claiming didn’t appear to be all that exceptional at all.

Leeds Bradford airport considers £1 million taxi rank

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Council officials have warned that the construction of a new taxi rank at Leeds Bradford airport could cost as much as £1 million. The council claims that since a drop-off charge was introduced in May this year, traffic congestion has become a serious issue. Motorists dropping friends and family off in front of the airport are now being charged £2 every time they do so.

Leeds City Council said that existing arrangements at the airport were less than satisfactory and were responsible for traffic build up on Whitehouse Lane. The high cost of constructing a taxi rank is due to the problems involved in relocating utilities, traffic management and a widening of the road.

To create 22 taxi spaces will cost at least £515,000, and there is the possibility that the price could rise by around £325,000, according to a report. Landscaping costs alone could be as much as £65,000. The airport has so far declined to comment on the proposition, but council members said that they would look into the document in more depth.

The report says that the issue of managing traffic should be addressed by the airport in conjunction with the council.

The drop-off charge has resulted on many people driving to the airport avoiding having to pay by parking where it is illegal or performing U-turns. The issue has lead to problems on Whitehouse lane and a significant rise in congestion

IAG announces rise in passenger numbers

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

International Airlines Group, the mega-airline created by the merger of British Airways and Spanish flag-carrier Iberia, has said that passenger traffic was up in September by 4.3 per cent compared to the same month a year ago, and that its load factor was up to 82.8 per cent, a rise of 0.1 per cent on last September.

Premium business is also up by 9.3 per cent, and traffic in non-premium class rose by 3.5 per cent. IAG said that it was continuing to predict that its operating profit would be significantly better for 2011 than it was at the end of the last financial year. Thomson Reuters has predicted a figure of 544.5 million euros.

However, IAG has admitted that there could be some drop off in cargo and passenger traffic through October. The airline said that there were indications that demand for business seats could be softer this month.

IAG added that it plans to be flexible if passenger demand drops, and will look at ways of reducing capacity if this happens. The carrier intends to pull three of its aircraft off long-haul routes over the next year. IAG’s positive profit forecast comes as much of the rest of the industry struggles to cope with weakened demand and the high cost of aviation fuel.

IATA said that it expects the industry to have weak end-of-year results. It added that next year’s profits were also likely to be slim because of the state of the global economy and rising operating costs.

MP wants travel insurance to be mandatory

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The case of Matthew Taylor, a 30-year-old Brit recovering from a motorcycle accident in a Singapore hospital, has prompted an MP to request the government makes it compulsory for holidaymakers to have travel insurance.

Mr Taylor was working as a teacher in Bali when he suffered acute head injuries after crashing his motorcycle. Because he did not have medical cover at the time, his family has had to foot the hospital bill which currently stands at £172,000.

The hospital has said that Mr Taylor is still not fit to fly home which means his family is having to come up with £2,000 a day to cover his care. MP Andrew Bridgen said the situation highlights the need for travellers to have insurance. He added that if drivers have to take out insurance before taking their car abroad then the same should go for people.

Mr Bridgen suggested that checks could be carried out at airports when people check in for a flight to make sure that they are adequately covered. Darrell Taylor explained that his son had made the decision not to get cover because it would mean spending half of his monthly pay packet. He added that the family was running out of cash and that he was not sure what was going to happen when they did. He went on to say that he was certain the hospital would continue to take care of his son rather than let him die.

Mr Bridgen said he now intends to see how much support he has from other MPs.

Heathrow failing to take advantage of emerging markets

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

A new report commissioned by the company which operates Heathrow suggests that the airport is falling behind other European hubs when it comes to connecting directly with cities across the emerging markets. According to chief executive of BAA, Colin Matthews, the annual cost to the UK for its lack of direct connections already stands at £1.2 billion.

He said that as the world economy continued to shift, Britain should be working towards forging better links. As he sees it, if the country continues as it is, the UK could become an island cut off from the most important markets on the planet.

The analysis was undertaken by Frontier Economics. The results suggest that over a decade lost business could cost as much as £14 billion. The study claims that 21 destinations in the emerging markets, including Jakarta, Guangzhou and Manila, are already being served from other airports around Europe on a daily basis which are not directly served by London’s main airport.

The report also says that Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle are flying 1,000 more services to China’s three biggest cities every year than Heathrow was managing. The findings have been disputed by Heathrow expansion opposition Hacan Clearskies. Chairman John Stewart said Heathrow currently has more services flying to the world’s most important business destinations than Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle combined.

Increasing capacity by adding a third runway at Heathrow has been ruled out by the government. Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s idea for a Thames Estuary hub has also been dismissed.

Avis no longer interested in Dollar Thrifty

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

American car rental giant Avis has decided to pull out of the race to acquire budget rival Dollar Thrifty. According to the company it has withdrawn its $1.6 billion bid because the market conditions are unfavourable at the present time. Hertz Global is now the favourite to take over the firm.

Industry consultant, Neil Abrams, said Avis had also become frustrated by the process of trying to obtain antitrust approval from the authorities. Recent consolidation of the car hire business in the US means that there are only four major companies: Avis, Hertz, Dollar and Enterprise. Regulators are concerned that further consolidation will have a negative impact on the consumer.

Hertz and Avis have been keen to get their hands on the leisure market which Dollar successfully penetrates. Both of the larger firms are more geared to corporate customers. Dollar currently controls around 13 per cent of the US airport rental market relying on customers looking for a cheap deal rather than the latest model. Hertz is still to comment on the decision by Avis to withdraw its bid but has said it is continuing to seek approval from the Federal Trade Commission for a take over.

Earlier in the year Avis declared that it was to acquire its European counterpart. The company is currently seeking financing for the £636 million deal which is possibly another reason why it has pulled out of the race for Dollar.

Mr Abrams said that although the global economy remained shaky, the demand for rental vehicles was remarkably robust.