Iraq for Christmas

Iraqis and Kurds living in the Midlands have been handed a nifty Christmas present by Birmingham Airport – a route home. The new flight departs every Tuesday morning, and travels to the cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan, Iraq.

Kurdistan is a mountainous plateau that crosses the border of four different countries – Turkey, where the majority of the Kurds live, Iraq and Syria, and Iran. There are around thirty million Kurds in the world.

Aer Olympic, a Swedish airline, will be in charge of the trip. The carrier joins fellow Scandinavian, Viking Airlines, as the most important Western airline in Erbil, a truly ancient metropolis.

Birmingham boss, Paul Kehoe, noted “encouraging loads” on the first few flights – “The route will offer a direct link to Kurdistan for the first time. We wish the service every success.” Aer Olympic were equally optimistic.

Iraq is still considered a dangerous country by UK and US governments, due to recent military action, but Erbil and Sulaymaniyah are safer by degrees.

Erbil is full of archaeological remains, boasting one of the most impressive citadels in Eurasia, whilst Sulaymaniyah has become an important symbol of Iraqi freedom. Azadi Park, a green oasis within urban Sulaymaniyah, was once an execution site favoured by toppled dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Aer Olympic’s Birmingham – Iraq flight makes a short stop in Stockholm before jetting off to the Middle East. The two cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah are visited on alternate weeks.

Unfortunately, the route is difficult to book, and does not feature on Birmingham’s official website. The official Aer Olympic website is the only reliable resource for flights to Kurdistan, and should be your first port of call.

Please consult the Foreign Office website before departing for Iraq.


New flights from Birmingham Airport

Birmingham Airport has just announced the launch of new flights to Palma de Mallorca in Spain. The flights have been launched by MSC Cruises in order to connect customers easily with the start of the cruises that it operates, and it is hoping that this will help to increase passenger numbers.

The flights will only run between May and October 2010 during the height of the cruise season. Cruising continues to grow in popularity in the UK, and MSC Cruises decided to organise the flights to make the process of joining a cruise easier for its customers.

The flights will cost £249 for a return, which includes all transfers to and from the port. They will be run by Monarch Airlines and will depart each Saturday for the six-month period mentioned above.

Customers will fly direct to Palma de Mallorca, where they will then join up with their cruise and go on a seven-day journey that will take them to Toulon, Genoa, Portofino, Ajaccio, Salerno and Tunis before finishing up back in Mallorca.

The company currently runs a special deal whereby any children under the age of 18 who are sharing a cabin with two adults get to go free. They only have to pay for their flights, transfers and port taxes.

The managing director of MSC Cruises in the UK and Ireland, Giulio Libutti, said that the company had seen a growth of 50% between 2008 and 2009 and expects this growth to continue each year. It has expanded its service offering to “open up MSC fly/cruise holidays to a wider UK audience”.


Birmingham rues funding shortfall

Birmingham Airport cannot afford to expand and resurface its runway, according to resident executive Paul Kehoe.

Despite the continued support of local councillors, the airport has been unable to raise the £120m required for the expansion. The Solihull site is struggling to offset the effects of the recent recession.

Whilst bank loans are available, officials fear abominable interest rates, which could throw the airport’s long-term future into jeopardy. Mr. Kehoe does not believe that the £400m extension is worth the risk.

November has not been kind to airports in the Midlands. Yesterday, East Midlands Airport conflicted with local infrastructure, finding the A453 insufficient to support continued growth at the site.

A £25m rehash of the A45, a road that travels east of Birmingham, is also under review, as government funding begins to look unlikely. The European Council could be persuaded to step up to the plate.

With money so scarce, Paul Kehoe fears that Birmingham’s runway expansion is not necessary, stating “we haven’t got the money" and that "airlines are going south rather than north.”

Visitors to the Birmingham Post website have added their two cents to the runway saga, with many believing that larger planes and new routes would be a cost-effective way of improving airport connections.

A high-speed rail link between Heathrow and Birmingham could help both airports solve their troubles, easing congestion at the former and filling Birmingham’s planes with passengers, thereby justifying all the money spent on the International Pier.

If all goes to plan, the runway expansion should be completed by 2012, but any delay in funding could set the planning process back seven years. Experts predict that 16,000 jobs will be created by the project.


Midlands hungry for more

Birmingham International can handle up to nine million more passengers a year, according to chief executive, Paul Kehoe, effectively doubling the airport’s passenger traffic. Officials believe that the Midlands site could help ease congestion at the UK’s busiest airport, London Heathrow.

Mr. Kehoe was responding to claims that the British Aviation Authority (BAA) would abandon plans for a third runway under a Conservative government – a claim that has since been proved untrue, or at least, inaccurate.

David Cameron vowed to suspend plans for a third runway at Heathrow, ending years of angry campaigning, but leaving the capital in a fix; with the airport operating at 99% capacity, the BAA is desperate to create additional space for aeroplanes.

Officials claim that Birmingham would be able to handle a significant passenger boost, without having to resort to a costly runway expansion.

Despite their differences, both Labour and Tory parties want high-speed rail links to serve UK airports, reducing the demand for environmentally unsound short-haul flights, and cutting travel time between Birmingham and London to just forty minutes.

Birmingham City Council is a vocal advocate of the super-fast rail network, claiming a lengthy relationship with modern railways, stretching back to the launch of the very first intercity train in 1837.

Mr. Kehoe was keen to start the ‘high-speed renaissance’ in the Midlands: “Birmingham is uniquely positioned to not only claw back people from our own region, who make the long journey to Heathrow, but to attract passengers from the overheated south-east.”

Birmingham aims to attract a further eighteen million passengers by 2030, boosting revenue, and developing links with airports in China, India, and the Far East.


Ryanair blamed for job cuts

Beleaguered handling firm, Servisair, could be forced to slash sixty permanent jobs at Birmingham Airport, after cutbacks in Ryanair’s winter programme brought the firm’s business model tumbling down.

The budget airline has axed hundreds of flights over the last few months, jeopardising countless jobs, and throwing UK airports into disarray.

Workers’ union, Unite, has implored Servisair to consider other options, but with more than a fortnight of industrial action hanging over the firm, Servisair has empty pockets and little patience for conciliation.

“They are asking for volunteers first.” Unite official, John Partridge, explained; “They have looked at the programme for the winter and it is over 100 flights less than last year. People are not going to be happy.”

Baggage handlers, check-in staff, and seasonal workers will suffer the biggest job losses, Servisair has admitted.

Servisair has struggled to beat the recession, losing a major employer in Brussels Airlines, and facing vehement wage disputes from its workers.

Earlier in the month, Servisair employees organised a siege of Liverpool John Lennon Airport, demanding delivery of a pay increase.

When the handling firm refused to acquiesce to the pleas of general workers’ union, GMB, officials attempted to involve emergency personnel in the strike – a stroke that would have forced the airport to close.

Since then, Servisair has flirted with insolvency, trying its best to avert disaster, and to secure employee positions.

The loss of Ryanair services can only worsen the firm’s plight – Servisair provided a large proportion of the airline’s apron services – refuelling, baggage transport, and customer care.


Residents angry at ‘house-shaking’ planes

The war in Afghanistan has had some unexpected casualties – residents of Solihull, Birmingham, a suburb close to the city’s airport.

A recent council meeting revealed that “house-shaking” military planes are keeping householders awake at night, dampening efforts to reduce aircraft noise, and ruining customer relations.

The ancient planes, many of which are made by aviation giants, Boeing and Lockheed, are employed to transport injured troops to the university hospital – a route that has grown ever busy since the advent of Operation Panther’s Claw.

Officials claim to have ‘no control’ over the conduct of military aircraft, even if sound levels breach established guidelines.

Aircraft noise dropped to an all-time low this year, with just twenty-five thousand people forced to shout over low-flying aircraft, down from ninety thousand in 1993.

The figures emerged as the airport’s Noise Action Plan entered consultation phase in the towns of Hampton-in-Arden and Balsall Common, among others.

Officials have cited better sound insulation and quieter planes for the reduction in noise pollution.

Kirstin Kane, an officer at the airport, commended Birmingham’s efforts to limit the environmental impact of resident aircraft.

Mrs. Kane emphasised the need for action on an individual basis, liaising with airlines and captains as they enter the airport.

Birmingham’s commitment to noise reduction has come at a price, however – all carriers who want to fly at night have abandoned Solihull for East Midlands Airport.

Passenger numbers have dropped 6% over the past year, bringing the facility in line with Robin Hood, Glasgow, and Heathrow airports, all of which have struggled beneath the recession’s boot since late last year.


Birmingham Airport chief executive wants high-speed rail link

Paul Kehoe, the chief executive of Birmingham International Airport, has become more vocal in his attempt to bring the new high-speed rail link to the airport, fearing that it may be given to the city centre instead.

He claimed that Birmingham train station is “tired” and that it hasn’t improved much since the 70s. Instead he wants the 200mph service from London to stop at the airport, and said that if it does not then jobs will be lost and investment will go down in the region.

Network Rail currently doesn’t have any plans for a high-speed rail link to the airport, suggesting that it is more likely to go to the city centre. This has led Kehoe to criticise the high-speed link as being more for the benefit of Scotland and the north of England rather than Birmingham.

He also said the link would be the “single most important thing to influence the West Midlands economy” since Birmingham first became connected to the rail network in 1837.

Head of corporate affairs, John Morris, has also written to stakeholders to explain his vision for two high-speed stops in Birmingham. He wants to influence the government inquiry, High Speed Two, and has asked them to write to chairman Sir David Rowlands.

Initial efforts could be working. Now Rowlands has told the Birmingham Post that he thinks the link should go through the airport, suggesting it is more likely the city will just get a spur from the high speed line.

The inquiry will last a year before the decision is taken.


Airport unveils ‘International Pier’

Birmingham Airport is set to unveil an impressive new terminal building – the "International Pier", the first investment of its kind in over two decades.

Constructed under the auspices of Buro Happold, an engineering firm, the expansion will help boost passenger numbers by eleven million a year, a two-fold increase over the current terminal, which saw nine million people pass through its doors in 2008.

Airport director, Will Heynes, revealed that the Pier was built to accommodate further expansion, becoming a magnet for large department stores, and providing officials with an opportunity to experiment with additional security modules.

“This investment provides the airport with the facilities to meet growing demand for international services to global destinations.” Mr. Heynes explained.

At a cost of £45m, the International Pier is a modest expansion, falling some £105m short of the renovation planned at Bristol, for example.

Officials are keen to introduce the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Birmingham, a factor that further influenced the design of the Pier. Six new aircraft stands, each capable of holding next-generation aircraft, are key aspects of the expansion.

Buro Happold, a British company, has also built terminals at Gatwick and Heathrow, favouring minimal, functionalist designs over bells and whistles.

The new terminal was born out of blueprints used at Gatwick’s Pier 6, ensuring that Birmingham is capable of handling millions of passengers, their luggage, and future expansions with greater ease.

At 230m long, the International Pier is an unassuming, but prominent feature of the Birmingham Airport landscape. The official opening ceremony will take place on September 9th 2009.


New route from the US into Birmingham

The huge American airline US Airways hasn’t been shy of ambition throughout their seventy-year history. They currently fly to over 225 cities around the world and this month have just added another few more destinations to their list. Currently US Airways fly non-stop to London, Manchester and Glasgow. This year they will also be introducing a direct route from the US to Birmingham.

Flights will arrive in Birmingham from Philadelphia International Airport. Services will run five times a week to begin with, but if the route proves a success, there will surely be more to come in the future. The aircraft taking on the challenge is a Boeing 757 ETOPS plane, where there is room for 165 passengers in the main cabin.

There are two main flight options, going each way across the Atlantic. The first leaves Philadelphia on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, departing at just after six o’clock in the evening and arriving at Birmingham at six in the morning. It’s a little longer going back to the States from the Midlands (travellers have to take into account the fact that Philadelphia is five hours behind the UK). This service runs on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. On all of these days this flight departs from Birmingham UK at just before nine o’clock in the morning and arrives into Philly just before midday.

As a result of these routes, the airline is hoping to drum up more trade, and is looking forward to carrying passengers further afield than just internal flights at home. Later this year another two routes are being launched, one being to the Norwegian capital Oslo and the other being to Tel Aviv.


Birmingham may suffer over Heathrow expansion

After the furore surrounding the controversial decision to go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow, it is not only the environmentalists who are complaining. It has just come to light that the proposed plans to increase the length of the runway at Birmingham airport may also suffer as a result of the decision.

The concerns have arisen as a result of the government’s targets in relation to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. If the third runway at Heathrow does finally go ahead, as is now widely expected, then this might mean that the government will have to prevent schemes at other airports from going ahead which could see it miss its strict targets.

Birmingham wants to increase the length of its runway by 400 metres, and this will mean that it can increase its capacity enormously from 9.6 million to 27 million flights a year by 2030.

Not only will Birmingham airport have to scrap its plans for the increased length of the runway, but many other smaller regional airports could be forced to reduce their flights to prevent the government from missing its targets.

The environmental group Campaign For Better Transport has released research suggesting that Heathrow alone could be responsible for two thirds of the British aviation quota by the middle of the century, which would clearly affect the ability of the other airports to increase their own flights.

However, the government has dismissed the findings, claiming that it has a clear plan to bring increased aviation with reduced carbon emissions by 2050, and that Birmingham and other UK airports are not going to suffer.