Emissions falling at Birmingham

A year-long initiative to reduce aircraft noise and emissions at Birmingham Airport has produced a marked decline in both, according to officials.

The scheme, which encourages approaching aircraft to swap a power-hungry landing technique for an eco-friendly version, dubbed Continuous Descent Approach (CDA), has helped the airport to reduce CO2 emissions by 13,000 tonnes in the past year alone.

Officials note that 95% of planes coming into Birmingham now utilise CDA, and 99% of aircraft stay within their designated flight paths, helping to reduce noise over residential areas. In addition, the average plane landing at the West Midlands airport saves 100kg of fuel per approach, and 315kg of CO2.

Historically, aircraft noise has been something of a hot potato in Birmingham, especially as the airport receives military planes carrying injured soldiers to Solihull Hospital. However, officials claim that airport noise is also down, to the tune of 1-5 decibels per landing.

Combined, the improvements are part of the Sustainable Aviation initiative, which encourages airports and airlines to turn ‘green,’ and spare the environment from harmful fumes and light bulb-shattering noise. CDA is a key element of Sustainable Aviation, but Birmingham are also trying to reduce pollution from taxiing planes, and those being boarded.

Making grounded planes cleaner comes under another initiative altogether, the imaginatively named ‘Aircraft on the Ground CO2 Reduction Programme’.

Paul Waite of NATS, or National Air Traffic Services, commended Birmingham on its efforts to reduce emissions: “Birmingham is one of the most successful airports using CDA”, Paul explained. He continued to state: “It is evident that NATS, Birmingham Airport, and local airlines are fully committed to tackling environmental issues”.

Birmingham has also unveiled a new Google Earth tool, which will allow residents (and, indeed, anybody who hopes to move to Birmingham) to see how airport operations affect their local area. The tool will display information on aircraft noise, sound insulation, air quality, and flight paths.


Sun4U goes bust

Birmingham-based travel company, Sun4U, collapsed last week leaving around 1,200 holiday makers stranded abroad. The firm, which specialised in holidays to the Spanish mainland and to the island of Majorca, had been operating for six years and had an annual turnover of around £20 million.

It is believed that the volcanic ash crisis earlier this year plus the collapse last month of Goldtrail, which provided flights for Sun4U, heralded the demise of the company.

It has now entered administration and, according to Andrew Burnham of the chartered accountants MacIntyre Hudson, many other small firms are liable to follow suit in the next couple of years due to cash shortages.

Most of Sun4U’s customers are in Spain and many of these will be covered by the ATOL protection. Those who used Sun4U for accommodation-only or flight-only deals will not be so lucky although their credit or debit card providers may be able to help.

Even those with ATOL protection, however, may find that they have to pay to stay in their hotels and then reclaim the amount paid from the CAA. This practice was widely reported following the collapse of Goldtrail, with hotels attempting to make sure that they did not suffer financial losses because of the failure of the company.


New poll shows Birmingham top and Luton bottom

It was good news for Birmingham airport recently after it came top in a poll carried out by Airport Transfers to see what British holidaymakers think of their airport experiences.

Almost 2,500 passengers were asked to rate various aspects of the experience, ranging from shopping opportunities to the friendliness of staff. Out of a possible 60 marks, Birmingham scored 54, with an impressive full marks for shopping experience, staff friendliness and check-in efficiency.

Cardiff took second place, bearing out the fact that travellers seem to prefer the smaller regional airports for their friendliness and efficiency. Being able to eat at an oyster bar or buy a Louis Vuitton handbag pales into insignificance if the holiday has got off to a bad start due to miserable staff, a lengthy queue at check-in or a stressful experience at security.

Luton airport, on the other hand, only managed 16 points, coming bottom of the league. And the other London airports did not fare much better: Stansted was second bottom with 20 points, Gatwick scored 26 and Heathrow 30.

It would seem that the staff at Luton could learn a thing or two from their Birmingham counterparts since they only managed a measly one point for staff friendliness. Waiting time at Luton’s security also scored badly, again managing just 1 point.

Heathrow scored top marks for shopping, but with many travellers saying they would be willing to travel more than a hundred miles in order to fly from a “decent” airport, Heathrow needs to pull its socks up.


Exchange rate ‘rip-off’ exposed

A growing trend in ‘last minute’ currency exchange at airports is costing UK travellers £28m a year, according to the Post Office. The average customer, changing £286 to Euros, stands to lose a good £16 more at an airport bureau de change, than they would on the high street.

Last month, the Post Office found that Birmingham Airport was offering an exchange rate of €1.02 to the pound, when the official rate was closer to €1.19. Liverpool was also overcharging customers, offering a rate of €1.06 to the pound.

Researchers note that up to 1.2m million people could have been left short-changed by the excessive rates.

Sarah Munro, boss of travel money at the Post Office, helped to put the average loss into perspective – ‘in Portugal, this year’s best value destination, £16 could buy a round of drinks and eight ice creams.’

The value of the Euro fell earlier this year, in the wake of Greece’s spiralling debt problems, and has yet to make a full recovery. Travellers should be enjoying good conversion rates. The pound is experiencing a ten-month high over the Euro, which ended two days ago worth 83.91p, up from a low of 81.06p in June 2010.

Entrepreneur and founder of MoneySupermarket.com, Martin Lewis, claims that bureaux de change at UK airports are ‘convenience services,’ which typically charge a rate that is 7-8% higher than their counterparts on Britain’s high streets.

Alongside the £11 Air Passenger Duty and the fuel surcharges imposed by airlines, the exchange rate ‘rip-off,’ to quote the Express newspaper, further devalues the budget holiday industry, by adding hidden charges on to a trip that may have otherwise been inexpensive.


Emirates boosts Dubai capacity by 22%

From the beginning of September, Middle Eastern airline Emirates will add an extra Boeing 777-300ER onto flights between Birmingham Airport and Dubai, increasing capacity on the route by 22%. The boost coincides with Emirates’ tenth year at the Midlands hub, according to airport director Martyn Lloyd.

The Boeing 777 series includes some of the largest passenger aircraft in the world. The 300ER model is a relatively new design, introduced in 2004. Its addition to the Birmingham-Dubai route will allow the airline to sell an extra 78 seats on all evening flights.

Emirates maintains both a base and a branded departure lounge at Birmingham Airport, providing business-class customers with a variety of high-class perks, such as leather seats, gourmet dining and even a shower. The 300ER aircraft also has more bells and whistles than Santa’s sleigh, including a TV with 1,200 channels.

Martyn Lloyd described the airline as a ‘vital’ component of Birmingham’s success: "Emirates now offers nearly 900 seats to Dubai, and we’re delighted that such a commitment has been shown to the Midlands by the airline." Emirates’ new Boeing 300ER is the second of two on the Birmingham-Dubai route.

In similar news, the frequency of flights between Birmingham and Cork, Ireland, will also increase from the end of October. The route, which is operated by Aer Lingus, will run twice a day, six times a week. Both the Cork and Dubai routes are being marketed at executives and rich business types.

Tickets between the Midlands and Dubai are priced at between £700 and £900pp for a return trip, taxes included. The route departs Birmingham at 1415 and 2120 each day. Prices for the Cork route vary, but a return flight leaving on the 19 July costs £118.17.


New VIP private jet service from Birmingham

If you have ever been stuck in a queue at the airport hours ahead of departure time and eyeing, with dread, the screaming babies and wayward toddlers who are headed to the same destination as you, you may have dreamt of the day you win the lottery and can afford to fly in a private jet.

Well if your numbers come up soon and you live in the Midlands you might be interested to know that a brand new VIP private jet service is about to be launched, operating out of Birmingham airport.

Cello Aviation has spent the last year and a half preparing and the last four months fitting out the luxurious Avro Business Jet.

Last week, air charter brokers and guests, including football clubs and product launch organisers, were invited on board to see what it was all about and feedback seems to have been extremely positive.

The service is also expected to appeal to the luxury wedding market, high profile entertainers and other celebrities, blue chip companies and sports teams such as motor racing. So far interest has been shown not only by UK clients, but also by potential customers in Spain, France, Sweden and Switzerland. Tony Farmer, Cello’s marketing and sales manager, was pleased to announce that interest had exceeded all expectations.

For those of us lucky enough to be able to afford this way of flying, "VIP movement” throughout is promised so that means no annoying queues and long check-in times at the airport. Once on-board, the in-flight experience can be tailored in any way you wish and with enough notice any menu can be provided.

Since the jet is quiet and has a low carbon footprint it is capable of landing at short field regional airports in even the most environmentally sensitive areas.


Brum celebrates Antalya route

The summer holiday season is incredibly important to UK airlines, and indeed, to any business with a stake in the travel or entertainment industries. New destinations appear in travel agents’ windows, vendors of beach toys spring up along the coast, and the heavy frosts stop for just a few months.

Of course, the British Airways strike and the eruption of the Eyjafjoll volcano put world airlines on the defensive, and many aviation bosses have started the summer season with a six-figure hole in their pockets. That might not be such a bad thing for travellers, however, as airlines are now desperate to fill planes with paying customers.

Birmingham Airport announced a new flight to Antalya, Turkey, just two days before Eyjafjoll blew its top in Iceland. The route, which will be operated by budget carrier, Pegasus Airways, will depart every Sunday afternoon from the 2nd May. Birmingham boss, Paul Kehoe, said the route was ideal for Brits looking to swap unpredictable weather for ‘assured sun.’

Antalya is one of Turkey’s most popular holiday resorts. The city enjoys panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea, and sits in the shadow of the Tahtali Mountain, much loved by local climbers. Turkey’s position outside the Euro zone ensures that travellers get better value for money than they would at Spanish or French resorts, for example.

Pegasus Airways will fly from the Midlands to Turkey until the 17th October 2010. The airline claims that Antalya is set to become very popular with British travellers over the summer, and plans to fly direct to the city’s airport, which is located 8 miles to the northeast of the resort.

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Airport to airport, at 250mph

High-speed rail is a staple of European and Asian transport networks, and has been for decades. But Britain has never managed to deliver the service beyond St. Pancras International and the Channel Tunnel railway.

Excuses abound, but transport gurus frequently point to the elevated cost of upgrading Britain’s rails to handle high-velocity trains – it could cost billions and still run at a loss.

On the 11th March, Lord Adonis, the current transport secretary, announced plans to revolutionise railways with a new stretch of track through the Chilterns linking London to the West Midlands.

The project, which will eat around £16bn of the government’s yearly budget, will introduce 250mph trains to Britain’s rail network, and dramatically reduce travel times between Heathrow and Birmingham Airport.

Whether the plan goes ahead or not is dependant on overall public opinion, but construction is not expected to begin until 2017. The train will run from Euston in London, to Curzon Street in Birmingham. Stations for Heathrow and Birmingham airports will also be incorporated into the line.

However, critics believe that the project is doomed to failure. Financial obstacles aside, the Chiltern Hills in south-east England could be irreparably damaged by construction crews, creating a ‘blight corridor’ through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Opponents are also concerned that the new railway is a clandestine attempt to improve access to airports, rather than a true upgrade of Britain’s ancient railway system.

The high-speed line may also be extended to serve Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool in the distant future. Lord Adonis claims that 10,000 jobs will be created by the project.


Body scanners at Birmingham by end of February

Birmingham Airport is next in line to receive the new ‘naked’ scanners that have been causing such a fuss in the media recently. Reports state that the airport will see the new scanners arrive by the end of the month, and this is already causing controversy.

The scanners are electromagnetic and can see beneath a person’s clothes to show if they are carrying any weapons or bombs. It sounds like a sensible solution, and it has been in the news a lot lately following the failed Detroit bomb attempt on Christmas Day. Calls for extra security measures following the event saw the scanners become the most obvious choice to stop such an atrocity occurring in the future.

The controversy has been increased even more by the fact that the government has now decided that under 18s should also be scanned, whereas before this was not allowed due to child protection issues.

Heathrow and Manchester airports already have the scanners in use, and Birmingham is now next in line to follow suit. Airport security services have said that there is nothing to worry about because the image is deleted straight away. However, many passengers understandably do not like the idea of having a naked image of themselves produced, and many have said that it is not the right way to go about security.

What’s more, passengers who are selected for the scans will be obliged to undergo them – if they refuse, they will not be able to board their flights. Over the next few months the scanners will arrive at other airports across the country, until eventually they are in place at all airports. There are also suggestions that the scans could become a compulsory part of the security procedure in the future for all passengers.


Terminal merger plan at Birmingham

Birmingham Airport is planning to merge its two terminals, following a reduction in passenger numbers over the past year. The move is set to improve the customer experience and attract more people to the airport.

Passenger numbers fell by 5.5% in 2009 compared to 2008. Although last year was particularly tough for the airline industry, this was a blow to the airport and it is hoping this new move will be able to help turn things around. £13 million is to be invested in the new facility which will improve efficiency for passengers.

The work on the terminals will have many benefits for customers. It will result in a much bigger security search area, as well as a larger arrivals area for meeting and greeting. There will also be improved shopping facilities and better catering services for travellers.

This new project comes at the same time that another project is nearing completion. The authorities are in the middle of a £1.5 million project to merge the four control rooms, which should be up and running by March.

The CEO of Birmingham Airport, Paul Kehoe, said that the goal for 2010 was to “improve the passenger experience” and create a smoother journey through improving the overall efficiency of the airport. He also confirmed that £200 million would be spent over the coming decade on improving the facilities of the airport to help it double the number of passengers it can process by 2018.

Having said that, he confirmed that 2010 was likely to be another difficult year for the airline industry.