‘Ieuan Air’ link between Cardiff and Anglesey ‘underperforming’ on value for money, report finds

The  Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns about the service after it recorded a 43% drop-off in passenger numbers from its peak

Citywing operates flights to Anglesey

A subsidised air link between Cardiff and Anglesey that has cost the taxpayer £9m since it was set up in 2007 has underperformed in providing value for money, a critical report has found.

The National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee said it had significant concerns about the service – dubbed “Ieuan Air” after it started under then-Transport Minister and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones – after a huge drop-off in passenger numbers.

Assembly Members on the committee concluded it would need a big marketing push if the government decided to keep it going.

Economy Minister Edwina Hart ordered last week for a new subsidised contract to be put in place from December, when the current arrangement with Citywing runs out.

The service has run twice-daily weekday flights since it was brought in, but requires public funds under the government’s aim of supporting services that “would not otherwise be commercially viable”.

Evidence from the Wales Audit Office (WAO) to the committee’s inquiry found it had cost the taxpayer around £86 in subsidy for every one of the 65,073 passengers which used the service between May 2007 and April 2013.

The public subsidy was increased by £300,000, but was capped at £1.2m when the last deal was struck.

Passenger numbers have plunged by around 43% since 2008-2009, with the committee hearing planes now runs largely half empty with an average “load” of less than half, at around 46%-47%.

The report recommended a “comprehensive marketing strategy” by any new bidder to run the service to “improve uptake and recognition” of it, with the current spend standing at between £20,000 and £25,000 and involves appearances at Swansea and Anglesey air shows and radio advertising.

It also urged independent variation of passenger figures after it said there was a “discrepancy” between figures provided by the Auditor General for Wales and the Civil Aviation Authority – and said there should be an analysis of who was using the service.

“The committee remains concerned that this service is underperforming when it comes to providing value for money for the Welsh taxpayer,” said Darren Millar, chair of the committee.

“The lack of reliable, independent data about passenger numbers, including the types of people using the service must be addressed.

“The committee also believes that, if the service is to continue with public funding support, a strong marketing campaign should be part of any contract awarded.”

Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrat member of the committee and North Wales AM, dubbed the subsidy “wasteful and polluting” and said the service should be scrapped.

“This costly venture does little to address the real problems of public transport links between north and south,” he said.

“People in North Wales have gained little from this service. The evidence given to the committee raised serious questions with regard to the value for money this subsidy provides. There is also the issue that passenger numbers have fallen by 43% since their peak in 2009.

“Rail links are far more important for my region than this service. Any public money should be spent on improving rail links between the north and Cardiff.”

Plaid Cymru transport spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “Historically, Wales has suffered a connectivity problem, and the north-south air link is an important part of trying to overcome that.

“We also need to prioritise better rail and road links and that is why Plaid Cymru worked hard in government to improve the road network across Wales, and increase capacity on rail and bus.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The service improves business connectivity between North and South Wales, as well as boosting tourism opportunities. The process to award a future contract for this service has now started and will look for the best service for the travelling public, with the highest economic impact while at the same time minimising the cost to the Welsh Government.”

Sourced from walesonline


Light aircraft ‘with smoke coming from it’ crash lands on Swansea beach

 

A plane has crash landed on the beach next to the under-construction Swansea University second campus

The under construction campus at Swansea Bay

A pilot and two passengers have escaped unharmed this afternoon after their plane crash-landed on the beach next to Swansea University’s under-construction Bay Campus.

People working at the £200m campus off Swansea’s Fabian Way on the main eastern approach road to Swansea reported seeing “a light aircraft with smoke coming from it” go down in sand dunes next to the sprawling Swansea University second campus building site.

However, the pilot managed to land the plane safely.

A South Wales Police spokesman said: “Emergency services were called to Jersey Marine at around 4pm today following reports that a light aircraft had performed an emergency landing on the beach. Three people on board were uninjured.”

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service was also called to the scene and sent one crew from its Swansea station but a spokesman for the service said the officers were not needed at the scene and added at 6pm that the fire crew had left the scene.

Sourced from walesonline


Monarch linked to third refinancing in six years

Monarch linked to third refinancing in six years

The Monarch Group has refused to comment on a report that it is lining up a third multi-million pound cash injection from its billionaire Swiss owners in six years.

The latest talks with the Mantegazza family over what the Sunday Telegraph reported to be a £60 million refinancing are said to be linked to a £1.75 billion order for new aircraft.

The order, for 30 new Boeing 737 Max 8, was announced last week during the Farnborough Air Show.

Monarch Group, which owns Monarch Airlines, tour operator Cosmos, seat-only supplier Avro and bed bank Somewhere2stay, was last refinanced in 2011.

At that time its owners, led by Sergio Mantegazza, pumped £75 million into the business. This followed a £45 million recapitalisation just two years previously.

The Sunday Telegraph said the latest talks over equity come amid tough trading in the holiday industry amid fears of over-capacity, rising costs and declining yields.

It claimed sources have told it that during debt financing talks over the Boeing deal it became apparent that the firm needed further equity.

The Sunday Telegraph said a Monarch Group spokesman declined to comment.

Despite raising concerns about the state of trading the Sunday Telegraph said that Monarch Airlines is on the road to recovery.

It reported a £5.9 million pre-tax profit in the year to October 2013, after a £33 million loss in the prior year but was said to have been hit by a weak market and competition from low-cost rivals.

The Monarch Group is one the UK’s biggest travel firms behind the big two, Tui Travel and Thomas Cook.

Avro is the eighth-largest Atol holder, behind On The Beach and BA Holidays, while Cosmos is the ninth just ahead of Olympic Holidays in the top 10.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


Pilots voice concerns over shooting down of flight MH17

Pilots voice concerns over shooting down of flight MH17

Ten Britons have now been confirmed as having died in the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) aircraft whichcame down in strife-torn Ukraine last week.

It is believed a ground-to-air missile which was fired from the rebel held territory was responsible for bringing down the Boeing 777 which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The UK, France and Germany have warned that further sanctions could be imposed on Russia unless air accident investigators are allowed full access to the crash site.

International investigators have still not been given free access to the site four days after the aircraft crashed, killing all 298 people on board.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association voiced its concern over the tragedy.

A spokesman said: “British pilots express their condolences to the families of the passengers and crew aboard MH17. For whatever reason they appear to have become innocent victims in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“Civil aviation should never be allowed to become a part of conflict and be threatened in this way. The apparent shooting down of this aircraft is therefore of extreme concern to pilots.

“We note that action has been taken by many airlines and authorities to avoid this area.  We hope that the conflict in the area does not hamper the ability of the investigatory authorities to determine the exact cause of the crash and any persons who are responsible.”

MAS said yesterday: “There are no changes to the frequency of our services and we will continue to operate daily services between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.”

However, the flight number MH17 has been withdrawn “out of respect for our crew and passengers of the mentioned flight code”.

It has been replaced with flight number MH19.

MAS said any passenger booked to travel by the end of the year who no longer wishes to fly may apply by Thursday for a full refund, even if they have booked restricted fares.

The carrier said: “Passengers who wish to postpone or cancel their travel plans can obtain a refund, including for non-refundable tickets.”

Sourced from Travel Weekly


Opinion: Feelgood factor is returning to sector

Opinion: Feelgood factor is returning to sector

Businesses are increasingly positive about the future and most expect to expand in 2014, reveals Chris Lee, head of travel at Barclays

As we enter the second half of 2014, it’s an opportune time to examine the state of the industry and consider some of the key areas of interest ahead.

Confidence continues to return – more than two-thirds of senior industry representatives expect people to travel more in 2014 than last year.

A survey of more than 200 senior industry representatives from tour operators, high street and online agencies, cruise lines and other travel businesses at the recent Barclays Travel Forum revealed that half were more positive about the future, compared with a third 12 months ago.

Growing confidence

Almost 75% of respondents expected their businesses to expand in 2014, with nearly three in 10 expecting to see growth of 10%-20%. More than 80% expected their business to grow 
in 2015, with more than one in 10 expecting an uplift of at least 20%.

This optimism is supported by the rise in consumer confidence. There appears to be a feelgood factor in London and the southeast, which some attribute to rising house prices, and sales remain strong. Tour operators report good growth in high-end trips with an average booking value of £4,000-£5,000 per person.

The positive outlook is welcome, given the low levels of discretionary spend the sector has witnessed in recent years.

Confidence is rising and, with broadly supportive economic conditions, it appears that growth is becoming more sustainable.

The continuing appreciation of sterling will obviously be a factor in helping Europe account for the biggest growth this year.

Warning signs

However, the strong position is 
not without warning signs.

Operators to lower-end destinations are concerned by overcapacity. Low-cost carriers are expanding holiday sales through their own tour operating divisions or links with partners. And some operators are concerned that TV shows highlighting a cheap-drinks culture in some destinations may deter families.

Changing subject, it will be interesting to see whether there is an exodus of travel companies to Majorca or Dubai to escape UK regulators. To date, this does not appear to be a major trend.

Some of our customers continue to predict that the likes of Google, TripAdvisor and Booking.com will move into holiday sales, and it will be interesting to see whether this becomes a reality.

Good investments

Private equity, and merger and acquisition interest remain strong. Many travel businesses, including Gold Medal, JAC, On The Beach and Key Travel, have been sold over the past year or so. There has also been private equity interest in Lowcost Travel Group, Iglu and Audley Travel. There is every indication this interest will continue.

Several companies have also taken advantage of bank lending at low base rates to fund growth or acquisitions, and entrepreneurs are continuing to fund start-ups. Hopefully, they will be able to navigate the proposed changes to the Small Business Atol on which the CAA is now consulting.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


Malaysia airliner crashes in east Ukraine

Breaking news

A Malaysian airliner reportedly with 295 people on board has crashed in Ukraine near the Russian border, on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines said it had lost contact with Flight MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukraine, it said in a tweet.

An aviation source in Moscow told Reuters the plane had been found burning on the ground in east Ukraine.

It had failed to enter Russian airspace, the source said.

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the plane had been hit by a missile at an altitude of 10,000m (33,000ft).

A number of military planes have been shot down by missiles in recent weeks over eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatist rebels have been fighting government forces.

The UK Foreign Office said it was aware of the reports of the crash and was “urgently working to establish what has happened”.

Sourced from BBC News


Emirates boss calls for more fuel-efficient A380

Emirates boss calls for more fuel-efficient A380

The boss of Emirates has called on Airbus to supply a revamped version of the A380 superjumbo with more fuel-efficient engines by 2020.

The airline’s president Tim Clark (pictured) told the Financial Times that the fast-growing Gulf carrier, which has ordered 140 A380s, could be willing to buy an additional 60 to 80 superjumbos.

But he is pushing the European manufacturer to begin preparatory work to make sure it is ready by 2020 to supply an improved version featuring new Rolls-Royce engines.

Airbus has so far refused to commit to a new engine option of the A380, saying only that it will study the case for such an aircraft entering service sometime in the 2020s.

Clark said an A380neo would boost the aircraft’s sales because more fuel-efficient engines and other modifications could reduce the aircraft’s operating costs by between 8% and 10%.

“We have made it crystal clear to [Airbus] in the event of the [A380] neo being launched we would buy it,” Clark said.

He urged Airbus to finalise details for a revamped A380 and then approach other airlines to gauge their interest.

Clark said Dubai-based Emirates’ fleet of A380s could grow from 50 today to as many as 180 because he expects the airline to move to a new, bigger airport sometime after 2020.

The current A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, can carry more than 500 people and has a catalogue price of $414 million.

Fabrice Brégier, chief executive of Airbus’ passenger jet business, said this month there was “no urgency” to put new engines on the A380, saying his focus was on increasing sales of the existing superjumbo.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


UK air passengers pay at least three times more tax, claims study

UK air passengers pay at least three times more tax, claims study

Passengers flying from UK airports are paying as much as five times more in Air Passenger Duty than from other countries in Europe that levy an equivalent tax.

The claim comes today (Thursday) in research from the A Fair Tax on Flying campaign which shows that only four other European countries levy a similar tax to APD.

And the UK charges more than any of them by between three and 30 times more, depending on the distance of the flight.

The study shows that people flying from a UK airport pay, on average, more than five times more in passenger departure taxes than in those European countries that levy an equivalent tax.

This comprises:

  • For short-haul flights to destinations primarily within Europe, UK passengers pay three times more in air departure taxes than other European countries that levy a tax.
  • For mid-haul flights to destinations such as Israel and Dubai, UK passengers pay almost seven times more in air departure taxes than other European countries that levy a tax, and for long-haul it is more than five times more.
  • UK passengers pay on average almost three and a half times more in air taxes than passengers in Germany.
  • The UK pays on average almost 30 times more than the lowest equivalent tax – that of France.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “The government’s recent reduction in the tax for long-haul routes was a step in the right direction, but there is still a huge disparity in the levels of air tax UK passengers are paying compared with our European neighbours.

“It is time for the government to undertake a macro-economic review of the tax – this way they can assess for themselves exactly how damaging APD is for UK competitiveness and for British consumers.”

British Air Transport Association chief executive Simon Buck added: “Whichever way you look at it UK passengers are losing out thanks to the UK’s APD.

“This analysis shows that whether you fly long, medium or short-haul, so long as you are departing a UK airport you will be saddled with departure taxes that are at least three times those of our nearby European rivals.

“The government has made some welcome first steps to reforming APD, but we hope that they recognise that with such a huge disparity between us and the rest of Europe that more still needs to be done.”

Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives UK, said: “Our airline members have extended their willingness to work with the Treasury on achieving APD reform by proposing seven key asks that address the most challenging and unfair aspects of the tax.

“It is of huge concern to airlines that the UK is isolating itself following the Republic of Ireland’s decision to scrap it’s Air Travel Tax earlier this year, leaving only four other countries in Europe with a comparable tax, albeit at much lower rates.”

Airport Operators Association chief executive Darren Caplan said: “These figures illustrate starkly the extent to which passengers from UK airports are paying a premium compared with people flying from other airports across Europe.

“It’s impossible not to conclude that APD makes the UK less competitive. This is adversely impacting our connectivity, making it harder for businesses to access overseas markets, and damaging our all-important tourism sector.”

For the purposes of assessing the different passenger departure taxes across Europe, the campaign created three different banding categories (short, mid and long-haul flights) to usefully compare the level of taxes levied by each country.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


Abta sets out demands in new political manifesto

Abta sets out demands in new political manifesto

Abta has renewed calls for APD to be reformed and reduced and called for increased air capacity in its new political manifesto launched today.

The trade association also calls for investment in infrastructure and a ‘balanced and comprehensive’ conclusion to consumer protection reforms as Europe continues to work on a new Package Travel Directive.

In the six-page document, Abta also stresses how the travel and tourism industry is a fertile sector for young people, women and entrepreneurs.

The manifesto was launched today in the House of Commons at a reception for up to 60 MPs to try to influence the political debate ahead of next year’s General Election.

Entitled ‘A manifesto for jobs and growth in Tourism’, this is the second manifesto launched by the trade association after its first ahead of the last election in 2010.

The document highlights travel and tourism’s vital role in the economy and sets out Abta’s key priorities for the political parties.

These include:

  • Increased airport capacity in the next parliament
  • Investment in infrastructure to improve surface access and the passenger experience
  • Reform and reduction of Air Passenger Duty
  • A cohesive approach to tourism policymaking;
  • Completion of consumer protection reforms in a balanced and comprehensive way
  • The manifesto has includes new research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) on the impact of the travel sector on the UK economy
  • The analysis shows how travel and tourism is a significant and growing source of employment in the UK

The key findings were:

  • Travel and tourism provides excellent youth employment opportunities with over 1/3 of all workers in the industry aged under 30
  • Entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers are thriving, with the proportion of self-employed workers in the industry exceeding that of the wider economy
  • With almost double the amount of part-time jobs compared with the wider economy, the industry offers flexible jobs for students, those in training and young people
  • Apprenticeships provide great opportunities for young people, with the transport sector in particular providing considerably more (14%) than the wider economy (10%)
  • The sector caters for all skills levels, with 8% of workers having no qualifications at all, but 20% educated to degree level or higher
  • Women make up 51.4% of the industry workforce, far higher than the UK average

The CEBR study builds on a previous Deloitte report that found total employment supported by the industry totals 3.1 million or 10% of the UK workforce.

The was also found to have created a third of all new employment since 2010.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “We are delighted to launch our manifesto in the House of Commons, highlighting our key priorities ahead of the next General Election.

“As an industry, we can point to some real progress in convincing this government to move on reforms to both APD and consumer protection and also in influencing and moving forward the airport capacity debate.

“But we as an industry, and the government, must do more. To compete in this fast-paced global marketplace, it is crucial that the momentum that the industry has been steadily building behind necessary reforms and policies picks up steam beyond 2015, and that is why we are launching this manifesto.”

Stephen D’Alfonso, Abta head of public affairs, said: “The Abta manifesto, and the new research that supports it, is designed to remind policymakers just how innovative, exciting and important the travel and tourism industry is to the UK economy.

“We will now focus on making our case to MPs and parliamentary candidates of all political colours to give them the evidence they need to deliver our industry’s priorities should they be elected in 2015.”

Sourced from Travel Weekly


FCO warns of ‘high threat’ of terrorism in Tunisia

FCO warns of 'high threat' of terrorism in Tunisia

A warning of a “high threat” from terrorism in Tunisia has been issued just ahead of the summer peak holiday period.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated its travel advice to the north African country today (Wednesday).

“There is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners,” the advisory said.

The British Embassy is in regular contact with the Tunisian authorities and the travel advice is being kept under constant review.

An explosion was reported on the beach next to the Riadh Palm Hotel in the resort of Sousse last October and there have been a series of outbreaks of violence since.

Sixteen people with explosives, planning attacks on industrial sites and tourist areas, were arrested near the southern border with Libya in May.

Parliamentary elections are due to take place on October 26 followed by presidential elections on November 23 after a new constitution was agreed in January.

The FCO said: “The possibility of further attacks, including in the coastal resorts and desert areas can’t be ruled out and the Ministry of the Interior has warned of an increase in threats during the month of Ramadan and in the run up to the elections.”

A total of 408,655 Britons visited Tunisia in 2013.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


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