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March 2005 issue

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New 'superjumbo' unveiled

The first production model of a new jumbo passenger jet was unveiled in January, amid claims that it will be able to carry more passengers a greater distance, in greater comfort, causing less pollution and at a lower cost than any other aircraft.

The aircraft, known as the Airbus A380, will be able to carry 550 passengers as well as providing private showers, gyms, fountains, casinos and self-service food counters. It has 50 per cent more floor space than the Boeing 747, makes half the take-off noise, can fly 1,000 miles further and has less fuel consumption per passenger than a family car. The aircraft will also be 20 per cent cheaper per passenger to fly. ''What we are revealing is the largest, newest, best and most important aircraft in our history,'' said a spokesperson for Airbus before the unveiling.

It is hoped that the production model will be the first of 1,250 A380s to be built over the next 20 years at 15 sites in the partner countries of the UK, France, Germany and Spain. Airbus currently has 149 orders for the plane from 14 different carriers and it is due to take its first test flight in March. Heathrow Airport in the UK is spending UK£450 million (US$841 million) on updating its taxiways, gates and baggage facilities to cope with the new aircraft and predicts that one in eight flights by 2016 will be on an A380.

In contrast, Boeing in the USA is developing a new smaller aircraft, the 7E7 Dreamliner, which has a capacity of 250 but will be able to fly further and faster than other aircraft. ''Passengers want to fly from wherever they are to wherever they are going without having to connect in a hub,'' said Todd Bleacher at Boeing.


Heavy losses despite passenger growth

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has predicted losses of US$5 billion for the international air industry last year despite the fact that passenger traffic increased to a record high of 1.8 billion.

High oil prices were blamed for the losses that have plagued the airline industry for the last four years. Iata economist Brian Pearce said that airlines could experience a turnaround in 2005 if fuel prices averaged around US$34-to-36 a barrel. But he warned, ''The implication is that this will be the fourth year of substantial loss as a result of the price of oil.'' Fuel cost the industry US$62 billion in 2004, about US$15 billion more than in 2003.

Industry data shows a 17.7 per cent growth in passenger air traffic for the first nine months of 2004 over the same period in 2003 and many airlines have been reporting strong passenger growth at the end of last year.

Air Canada reported a record month for passenger traffic in December last year, while Lufthansa, Ryanair, Easyjet and Air France KLM all reported strong growth in the same month.


Open skies deal in Asia

The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, have set a target to liberalise passenger and air cargo services between its member countries by 2008, in order to promote the group's goal of creating an economic community in southeast Asia.

In anticipation of this Asean-wide agreement in four years time, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei have now agreed an ''open skies'' deal for passenger air travel that will allow unlimited flights between these countries.

The agreement between Singapore, Thailand and Brunei will allow the three countries the right to use each other's air space with no limits to the frequency of flights or number of passengers carried. The agreement follows a similar deal last year that allowed unlimited cargo flights between the countries.


Travel Update

South African Airways has signed a memorandum of understanding to join the 15 member-strong Star Alliance. It hopes to benefit from the alliance's cross-marketing, code sharing agreements and reduced add-on fees for flights on partners' networks.

The US Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to allow airline passengers high-speed Internet connections and also agreed to solicit comments from the public regarding the current ban on in-flight mobile phone use. David Stemplar, President of the Air Travellers Association, said that Internet access on flights would ''make business travellers more efficient and while away the time for a lot of other passengers''.

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has introduced a self-service boarding facility for passengers with an electronic ticket in an effort to cut costs. Passengers print off a boarding ticket at a self-service check-in machine and go, via metal detectors, to the gate where they can unlock an automatic door with their boarding passes.

Austrian Airlines Group has announced that it is reducing fuel surcharges on all scheduled flights, in response to an easing in fuel prices.

Low-cost German carrier Germanwings and new Polish budget carrier Centralwings have announced a deal to cooperate on sales and marketing. The Polish carrier launched flights in February from Warsaw to Hannover and Nuremberg and from Katowice to Cologne, Bonn and Hannover.

British Airways has announced plans to suspend flights to Saudi Arabia in March due to reduced demand from passengers. The airline has been looking for ways to cut costs while expanding profitable routes.

The USA and India have announced a new ''open skies'' agreement that will result in more commercial airline flights, lower fares and stronger economic ties between the two countries. ''The deal provides for open routes, capacity, frequencies, designations and pricing as well as opportunities for cooperative marketing arrangements,'' said the Department of Transportation in the USA.

The Minister for Trade and Industry in Singapore has announced plans to invest S$2 billion (US$1.2 billion) in the country's tourism industry in a bold initiative to double tourist arrivals to 17 million and triple tourism receipts to S$30 billion (US$18.3 million).

Ryanair has announced that it will be cancelling three regular flights from Milan in Italy due to a dispute with the airport authorities.

Australian carrier, Qantas, reintroduced services between Australia and Shanghai at the end of last year, after a gap of three years. ''Over the last three years we have seen steady growth in inbound and outbound travel for both Australia and China,'' said John Borghetti at Qantas.

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