This Week and My April Summary

Posted on: April 30th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

This week, I fly from one extreme of the earth to another: From Buenos Aires (EZE (34°49’20″S 58°32’09″W)  7011 m to Vancouver, Canada (YVR (49°11’38″N 123°11’04″W) a distance of 11283 km (7011 miles) as the crow flies.

Over the last month, I have flown 13 times. In between times, I blogged the following posts:

Trip Reports

Aeroplanes

  • 28 April., 2012: Boeing 787 and Airbus 380 updates

Visits

Airlines

Wacky

Thank your for your friendship and support.

ANA 787 Biofuels Flight

Posted on: April 28th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

787 launch customer All Nippon Airlines (ANA)  received their newest 787 this week. It completed a transpacific biofuel flight from  Boeing’s Delivery Center in Everett, Washington to Tokyo Haneda Airport. The plane was powered by a mix of regular aviation fuel and used cooking oil! ANA currently have five 787s; four are flying domestically and one is flying Tokyo-Frankfurt. They will begin flying Tokyo to Seattle from July 25 with a 777 , and some time in the year,  will switch to a 787.  The ANA 787 has 158 seats (46 Business arranged 2/2/2 and 112 Economy arranged 2/4/2).

The airline itself,  announced a record profit for 2011 so it looks like we will have 787s in Boeing colours for a while.

This week, the first Boeing plane made outside the state of Washington since World War II*  rolled off Boeing’s new assembly line in  Charleston, South Carolina for delivery to Air India. Another three 787s will be built at the plant this year – all for delivery to Air India. Boeing, are aiming to build 10 787s per month by the end of 2013, with three produced each month in South Carolina. The current 787 production rate is  3.5 per month so they have a way to go. Everett also will be focussing on the rollout of the 737NEO. Boeing has apparently bought another 200 acres near the Charleston plant for future expansion. *If you don’t count the Boeing 717 which was really a MD plane built in Long beach

My question is: when will I get to fly a Dreamliner? I had hoped to do it for my 787th flight but that is long past. Maybe for my 878th flight? That is a mere 28 plane trips away!

 

 

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The Vanishing Colours of Europe’s Tails

Posted on: April 27th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

As a kid, I first started plane spotting when I flew through the airports of  in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. I became expert by the age of six at picking out all of the different tails of airlines. The bright colours of Braniff, the dignified blue of Pan Am, the proud speedbird of BOAC,  the Kangaroo of Qantas and the blue and white S of Sabena all were recognisable instantly. Fast forward forty years, and most of those airlines are gone.

As an adult, I still like looking at those tails and dream both about the carrier and it service and the exotic destinations it connects.   I promise I am not obsessive about my plane spotting.  I don’t make many special trips to the airport, just to watch planes!  I am noticing that while I see more planes at most airports, I am seeing fewer and fewer airlines.

A few years ago, a friend of mine Tony (see earlier post on how he got me into Flightmemory) and I tipped that the number of carriers globally would fall to a dozen or so with a small number of regional carriers. We saw national lines would get blurred, that fewer governments would be able or willing to prop carriers up and economics would force consolidation. Tony passed away a few years ago. He would be amazed at how quickly our predictions are indeed happening. Air France-KLM (2004), Lufthansa-Austrian-Swiss (2007-8), Delta-Northwest (2008), British-Iberia (2011), and United-Continental (2012). Now American and USAir are talking.

European airlines seem to be consolidating into seven major airline groups listed here in order of number of passengers carried:

  1. Germany’s Lufthansa (who own Austrian, Germanwings, SWISS, Lauda, 45% of Brussels and 16% of Us Carrier JetBlue)- they made €820m in 2011 but lost money on British Midland who they are offloading. Their subsidiary Austrian is under major pressure
  2. Ryanair- made  €401m and are aiming to double passenger numbers in a decade
  3. Air France-KLM (who are closing in on ownership of Alitalia) lost €353 million
  4. EasyJet – increased  pre tex profits in 2011 to €303 ($362m £248m)
  5. International Airlines Group ( British Airways and  Iberia) who doubled operating profits to €485 million
  6. Turkish Airlines (winner of best European airline in 2011) was profitable and aims to be one of the 12 airlines in the world
  7. Air Berlin  ( now 29% owned by Etihad) and the newest One World member reported a net loss of €271.8m ($322m; £205m). I am curious as to how much Etihad will decide to end up owning
The remaning independent airlines in Europe seem to be increasingly limping toward bankruptcy or absorption: Poland’s LOT, Portugal’s TAP, Hungary’s Wizzair,  Ireland’s Aer Lingus, Slovenia’s Adria airlines, JAT Yugoslav and Czech Airlines all cannot last more than another couple of years.
Spain’s Vueling and Air Europa are now in a much stronger position with the collapse of Star Alliance member Spanair.  Eventually Vueling and Air Europa will have to join the consolidation dance.
Across in Scandinavia,  SAS Group has had four years of losses. Finnair is under enormous pressure after losing €87.5 million 2011 and is looking at outsourciing European flights to a new low cost joint venture.  Meanwhile low cost carrier Norwegian has ordered 222 new planes: 100 737 Neos, 22 737-800s and 100 new  A320neos.
I can’t see SAS, and Norwegian both surviving. One will have to give and the weaker one is SAS. Takeover by Lufthansa or Air France?
 I think Finnair will merge or be taken over. Possible candidates? IAG group? JAL? SAS?
Icelandair who has pegged its strategy on funnelling traffic through Iceland between the US and Europe must choose a new plane to replace its entire fleet of ageing 757s. They could remain a small regional player but more likely will be absorbed by someone else.
The British Airways/Iberia International Airlines Group is considering a possible stake in One World partner Japan Airlines when it has its IPO in September. It would seem to me that Qantas (which BA used to have a stake in) would also be a possible candidate for investment from IAG. Is it further possible that One World could move from airline alliance to airline? Eg One World Airlines combing all or most of their members?
How far will consolidation go? Will we end up with but three airline groupings in Europe all affiliated to an alliance ? And a couple of regional carriers?
Whatever it means, there will be fewer tails at airports to spot. Lets hope the mega-airlines keep the smaller brand names for a while on their planes.

Related Posts

Tuesday Trip Report: My last Malév flight

Malév Malaise- Hungary’s flag carrier demise

 

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Posted on: April 26th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

Buenos Aires, Argentina is the 170th city of 100 000 people I have visited! Argentina is the 54th country I have visited! Bit more trivia: Buenos Aries EZE airport is the 2o0th airport I have been to! I rated it 84.3% on my ranking.

Our plane touched down 23 minutes early into a grey 9 degrees celsius (48F) day. The curse of landing early and getting through means that my car was not of course waiting for me, so I  got to watch the airport activity for a while with people greeting each other with hugs, kisses, tears and business like handshakes. My driver got there after 15 minutes.

The ride into Centro Buenos Aires was a lot less hair raising than  expected and milder than some of my other rides into cities. The freeway limit is 130km/h (91mph) which surprised me. Cars of course took the limit as advice not requirement!

We moved onto Aires 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world with nine lanes wide and gardened medians between the two traffic directions. Looking up, I  saw a massive picture of Eva Peron, gazing down on “her” people. I asked my driver about it and got five minute lecture on Peronist politics.

 

 

 

At the  intersection of 9 de Julio and Corrientes Avenue is El Obelisco (the Obelisk) that represents Buenos Aires and the independence of Argentina. Built in 1936, it stands 67.5 m with a blunt tip measuring just 40 cm. The four sides of the obelisk each represent the defining moments in the city’s history:

  1. its founding in 1536
  2. its second and definitive foundation in 1580
  3. the first raising of the Argentinian flag in 1812,
  4. declaration of Buenos Aires as the nation’s capital in 1880.

During the Peronist government in the 1970′s a sign which read “El silenco es salud”,  (Silence is health). Was it referring to sounding car horns or expressing alternative political views? In 2005, the obelisk was dressed in a large condom for World AIDS day! Unfortunately, the public is not allowed cannot climb its 206 steps to the top.

My hotel is around the corner, near Plaza San Martín  (pictured) in the Retiro neighbourhood at the north of the city. Off to explore now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner tonight was “typical”:Argentinian steak with salads and breads, red wine and a very late night!  I forgot to take photos. Dessert flan with Dulce Leche. Yum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graffiti in Central Buenos Aries.

 

 

 

 

 

Stonehenge complete

Posted on: April 25th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

I visited Stonehenge whilst in the Uk a couple of years ago. Rising up out of the plains, the historical site is awe inspiring. Its one of my favourite places in the world. Access to the site is limited to a very small number of people with most people only being able  to gaze across a fence, I organised to get on a tour that actually goes in and I got to spend sunset at the site, close to the stones.


Last week,  I visited Stonehenge again. This time it was complete. The circle of stones is unblemished. Whats the story?

In a move that is either crazy or astounding, Stonehenge has been re-created in Western Australia as it might have been. 137 granite stones quarried by the Australasian Granite company were assembled over 14 months.

10 Trilithon stones in a horseshoe pattern weigh between 38 -55 tonnes each. Standing with the 18 tonne lintel to a height of 7.7 metres. Inside the Trilithon horseshoe stands another horseshoe of 19 blue stones. The Trilithon stones are surrounded by a circle of 30 Sarsen Stones weighing 28 tonnes each and standing almost 5 metres high including the 7 tonne lintels on top. Standing between the Sarsen and the Trilithon stones is a full circle of 40 smaller stones.


 

 

 

Virgin Australia A330 Per – Syd Business

Posted on: April 24th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling


In aviation, a year can make a huge difference. A year ago Virgin Australia was Virgin Blue.  They did not have A330s and they had no business class. All that changed in May, 2011 when the discount carrier became “ahem” less discount. Since then, my observation is that Virgin have continued to improve their product. Significantly, they managed to increase profits by 118 per cent last year. Not an easy feat in this industry.  Today, I review their A330 Business Class product.

Booking: 9 out of 10

Virgin Australia has a very simple and straight forward booking system at www.virginaustralia.com.au

All fare classes and levels are displayed on the one screen. Scrolling between days of travel is very easy. When booking an economy seat, they prompt you to upgrade to business class for an extra fee. I was actually upgrading to Business Class using one of my four free upgrades gained annually for being a Platinum flyer. To upgrade that way or to use frequent flyer points requires a call to the frequent flyer service centre which is a small nuisance, albiet for a great reward! Be great if you could organise the upgrade on -line.

I then offset my greenhouse gases and chose my seat. All easy!

 

Check In: 10 out of 10

Online check in  was also very easy with Virgin Australia. As a result, of this system, I by passed completely the check in desks at Perth airport. In fact I cannot even remember seeing the area! (I don’t, as a rule, check luggage in).

 

Lounge: 7 out of 10

The Perth Lounge was the one I used to visit when I flew the old Ansett Australia out of Perth. I was very pleased to see it is due for an update and I am really looking forward to seeing it when I am back in September. Be interesting to see how much like the Melbourne lounge it becomes. Staff were very welcoming.

 

Boarding: 8 out of 10

We started boarding a little late. The Boarding area, itself, seemed to be a little chaotic. It didn’t seem to be a very large gate area for the number of passengers milled around. People were scattered everywhere. I suspect the build up had intensified because of the late boarding.

I joined the  Business Class/Platinum/Gold priority line which had a lot of people in it.  When the announcement ewas made for priority boarding, there was a surge forward. Turns out most people had decided they would “self nominate” as Priority.   The agent magically cleared the interlopers out of the way in seconds. The guy in front of me was asked if he was priority and he shrugged his shoulders and moved out of the queue.

After all that,  I was one of the first to board. I am such a geek about planes.  While I love the Airbus A380 and A340 and think the A320 is okay, I was not initially , a fan of the 330. However, after 20 flights in the last five years (and 94 ooo kilometres) with Qantas, Cathay, Virgin, Etihad, Royal Jordanian, Singapore  and Lufthansa, I have fallen in love with the plane!  As I boarded “Cable Beach” (the first of Virgin’s A330s delivered in May, 2011, I gushed to the crew how much I loved it. We got a very warm welcome from Johnny at the door. His smile lit up the gangway. Just the right touch. He directed me left into the Business Class Cabin and my favourite seat.

On Board: 10 out of 10

Business class has 27 seats arranged 2-3-2 (behind a single 2-2-2 row at the front). My favourite Virgin Australia A330 seat is  1K  in the front row of business on the right hand side. I recently observed I think I sit on the right had inside of planes more than the left side. Whys that? Leg room is quite generous (as pictured). Pitch is 62″ between seats

The Business Class cabin was very calm and staff very welcoming. The load was very, very light with just five  seats occupied.

Each seat had headphones, and blanket. The seat has a range of reclining options but doesn’t lie flat. Virgin’s  A330s due to be delivered shortly,  are rumoured to have lie flat beds.

A welcome drink (orange juice, water and sparkling wine) came around. Menu for flight followed with newspapers next. Finally, the amenities kit was delivered.

I learnt there are ten crew aboard the plane, when I presented the staff with chocolate eggs for Easter (I  appreciated the team working at Easter for me and they liked the eggs!).

Economy was much fuller. The economy class cabin of 251 seats is set up in a  2-4-2 configuration with a few rows of 2-3-2. Each seat has its own seat-back video screen for in-flight entertainment. Standard seat pitch is  31″ with 33″ at the bulkheads.

 

Safety Briefing- 7 out of 10

Virgin has a cute video showing all safety features. Great video but I like to have more involvement from the Flight Attendants during the safety briefing. After all, I will be relying on them and not a video if I ever have to evacuate a plane quickly.

 

Takeoff: 10 out of 10

We paused at the runway for a few seconds as the two engines got louder. We started slowly,  very slowly.  Airbuses always seem to be slow beasts to launch into the air unlike the Boeings that thunder into the sky. As we moved down the runway with the Perth International terminal on the right, the front wheels lifted and we were aloft. The ride on the runway was actually quite rough – of course one feels it more up the front! Is the runway overdue for some maintenance- or are the fly in- fly out operations that take 1000s of people every week through the airport to mining sites and oil rigs throughout the state taking their toll?

Perth can be very windy and bouncy in climb but we had none of that. The suburbs flashed past and then we were crossing the dry farmlands , ironically re-tracking the same route,  I had taken a few days earlier to Esperance. (see  Trip Report April 10). The seatbelt was switched off very soon after takeoff.

 

The Flight: 10 out of 10

The crew brought around hot towels soon after take off. Adam, my cabin attendant introduced himself and asked for drinks and menu orders. After, he addressed me as Mr Cowling,  I asked him to call me by first name. The guy sitting in 3K asked the same thing. I noticed the crew on the 737 going over did not address us by name. Is this an A330 thing or inconsistent Virgin service?

I ordered  “The Australian” Cocktail designed by Chef Luke Mangan. Adam served it  with a selection of mixed hot nuts (pictured).

We had a very smooth flight across Australia. We had some light turbulence 35 minutes into flight (almost at the town of Esperance ). This was nothing to be excited about. The seat belt sign stayed off.

 

Meals: 10 out of 10

I was very hungry so enjoyed lunch immensely (I had eaten sparingly in the lounge). There were two choices of starters, three main courses and two desserts. I started with  Prosciutto and char grilled vegetables with bread, dukkah and olive oil. I accompanied it with sparkling water. The other option was a mildly curried pumpkin and coconut soup. Mildly curried always makes me nervous. The Proscuiutto was superb.

For the main dish, I went for braised duck served with chorizo. I was very, very happy with my choice. It was accompanied with a delicious white wine (which I cannot remember now..must have enjoyed it a lot!)

 

 

 

 

I am afraid I was a bit of a pig with dessert having both the coconut custard with lychees, strawberries and pineapple and the Australian cheese selection (King Island Blue, Jindi double cream and Heidi Gruyere)!

 

 

 

 

 

Entertainment: 8 out of 1o

The A330 In-flight Entertainment System in all classes includes six channels of movies, nine channels of TV and music videos, and audio entertainment. I found the selection okay.

Landing: 10 out of 10

Before landing, I had another of the delicious cocktails. We were given another hot towel which was lovely. A perfect ending to an almost perfect flight.

We touched down smoothly and I sadly farewelled the crew!

The Verdict

My rating: Overall 92% (4.6 out of 5)- my overall rating of Virgin Blue flights: 4.6 (based on 19 flights)

Skytrax Rating of Virgin Australia: 4 star

Positives:   Service, Meals, Seat, Cabin Crew, Welcome Aboard, website

Negatives: No option on website to upgrade

Would I fly them again?  Yes. Yes.Yes.

My last trip ReportApril 10:  Skywest  Perth (PER) to Esperance (EPR)  Fokker


 

 

This Week: 23 to 30 April

Posted on: April 23rd, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

I am in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina today. Fly up to  New York City, before flying down to Buenos Aires,  the capital and largest city of Argentina. I know its the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after Greater Sao Paulo. Any advice for Buenos Aires? Its my first time in Argentina!

I will only have three flights this week (only) on two airlines only this week: US Airways and American (ugh).US Airways have pleasantly surprised on my recent flights with them as to how much better they have come. I used to think they were not that good. I like them better than United and American.

The rumours are flying (excuse the pun) that USAirways may take over American.  US have the support of the AA Unions in favour of a merger. US Airways cannot make American Airlines worse! (I am a huge non-fan of American). I assume if that happened, then USAirways/American would be members of One World. That would mean each of the three big US airlines (Delta- Skyteam, United- Star Alliance) would be linked to one of the world alliances.

I note from my Flightmemory, that I will fly the 850th flight of my life this week and I am very, very close to two million kilometres in the air. Also getting close to 50 times around the earth. Over one circuit of the earth equivalent for every year of my life!

Have a great week.

 

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Qantas gets back Nancy

Posted on: April 21st, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

April 21 saw the formal handing back to Qantas of their Airbus 380 named Nancy Bird WaltonThis is the plane  that dramatically “lost an engine” in a mid-air blast off Singapore in November 2010. I have previously blogged about how dangerous the incident was..  The incident dented both the reputation of Qantas as one of the world’s safest airlines (despite the fact the crew managed to nurse the plane into a safe landing) and the reputation of the giant plane. (The concerns some have about the 380 have been  further heightened by hysteria over the wing cracks that have been found recentlyQantas is denying they are considering suing Airbus over the cracks but they are in discussions over the cost). The Financial Times reportsthat Airbus is “cutting the production rate for the A380 from 2.7 aircraft each month to 2.3 for the next two quarters, as it goes about mending defective components in the superjumbo’s wing structure.

VH-OQA fixing was ”one of the biggest repair jobs in aviation”. The repair took 18 months and cost  $A139 million ($US144 million). It required nearly 100,000  hours of work by 170 Airbus staff from eight countries. The repairs were carried out at the hangar of Singapore International Airlines Engineering subsidiary. The airline’s insurance company paid for the repairs and engine-maker Rolls-Royce compensated the airline Aus$95 million for the grounding of the aircraft.

Captain Richard de Crespigny, who was piloting the aircraft when the blast happened, received the flight log book from Airbus engineers and  flew the plane back to Sydney where it departed for its first commercial flight to Hong Kong. Picture from theCanberra Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Austrian re organises

Posted on: April 20th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

Friday has become my day to blog about major changes to airlines. So far, this year, there has been a lot to write about vis a vis airline bankruptcies (Cirrus, Spanair, US3000,  Air AustraliaMalevAir ZimbabweDirect Air, Red Jet, GMG) or near bankruptcies ( ArmaviaKingfisher,  Pinnacle).

Kingfisher is still flying despite being borderline insolvent. Its has gone from being India’s largest airline to its smallest in just over six months! Pinnacle are re organising. Armavia seem to be still flying. Austrian Air’s CEO has said their situation is “critical”.

One of my fellow Boarding Area Bloggers has a great post on Austrian’s re-organisation. The airline has shifted its contracts with pilots and flight attendants to Tyrolean Airways (Austrian Subsidiary). This will save Austrian 45 million Euro annually but mean staff will no longer have automatic wage rises. The airline is desperate to become profitable after losing 62 million Euro last year. Owner, Lufthansa may pump as much as 140 million to keep its subsidiary aloft.

 

 

Wacky Irritation: Press One now

Posted on: April 18th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

Called the Virgin Australia frequent flyer contact centre last week

Get the usual guff: Welcome blah blah

“Press 1 for bookings

Press 2 for Frequent flyer

Key in your membership number

Transferring you now”

(Sound of transfer)

“Due to the Australian Public Holiday, our centre is closed”.

Why not tell me before I pressed all those numbers?

I get so peeved with those automated voice systems when:

  1. I end up in a Department that is not the one I selected
  2. I enter my frequent flyer membership number or flight details or credit card and when I finally get a human, I have to repeat everything
  3. you get menu after menu after menu
  4. the voice recognition system cannot recognise my accent (and I actually do speak clearly!) eg United and American systems

The most offensive of course are the Ryanair call centres that charge you a premium per minute rate to get advice or information.

 

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