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.
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.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the number of passengers travelling through the major airports across the United Kingdom has fallen drastically over the past few months. After all, many of us can barely afford to keep up with the ever-increasing energy, food, and water bills and a trip abroad has thus been the last thing on many of our minds. Many families have been busy planning a Christmas break to the homes of relatives scattered across the country in preference to a winter break in the sun.
This has obviously come as bad news for the travel industry and some British airports have been very badly hit. Manchester Airport, for example, saw a drop of almost ten per cent during the month of October, and Gatwick has suffered even more, since it recently announced a drop of over ten per cent.
However, Birmingham International Airport has managed to escape this worrying trend. Passenger numbers dropped by just 0.7 per cent compared to the equivalent month last year. The business development director of the airport, Peter Vella, was very happy with the news. Furthermore, he believes that whilst the numbers for October showed a slight drop, the numbers for November were set to see a return to positive figures.
Birmingham’s continued popularity has been attributed to the airport’s reliance upon budget airlines, as well as the determination of locals to carry on travelling by air. Over the past year, Birmingham has focused upon increasing the number of routes provided by budget airlines. Ryanair, for example, now has thirty-six routes departing from Birmingham.
The international airport at Birmingham has announced plans to expand and upgrade its security system. Hundreds of new security cameras will be installed around the airport site, to improve the level of surveillance offered by the seven hundred existing cameras.
These cameras will be state-of-the-art models and will revolve around an internet-based system. This system will allow officials at the airport to view recorded footage in proper digital quality for one month after the initial pictures have been taken.
The airport’s current cameras are based on an analogue system, which does not allow videos to be saved easily. The new models will therefore make it far easier to track individuals on archive. Furthermore, the airport has revealed that “the system will have a range of sophisticated analytic features available” for use at any time.
The announcement from the officials at Birmingham International Airport has come after a recent embarrassing breach of security. Numerous passengers were allowed to progress through immigration despite not showing passports. Approximately twenty people arrived at Birmingham from Amsterdam in the middle of October and managed to pass through the arrivals zone at the airport without being checked once. The passengers were directed through UK immigration by mistake and their passports therefore stayed firmly in their pockets.
A spokesman for the airport revealed that an investigation was being carried out but was also keen to play down the importance of the incident: “an error might have been made in applying UK immigration policy but […] this would not have compromised other security regimes”.
With the rise of drug mules being used to smuggle drugs into the UK, a new body scanner at Birmingham Airport is going to make their lives that bit more difficult and Britain’s streets a lot safer.
The new X-ray device “strips” anyone suspected of carrying drugs in their stomach and reveals whether or not they are a “swallower”. Prior to the introduction of the high-tech gadget, customs officers had to take suspects to a hospital for an X-ray but now a scan can be done there and then and trained officers can see instantly whether there are drugs concealed in the stomach.
Birmingham airport recently had a case of a man who had swallowed 60 packages of drugs but the airport’s record is 125! The thumb size pellets made from a waxy substance contained around a kilo of cocaine with a street value of about £40,000.
The financial rewards for the drug mules may be high but so is the risk. If one of the pellets breaks in the stomach, the cocaine leaks into the body and kills the carrier in a matter of seconds.
In the last two weeks UK Customs officers have seized 18 kilos of drugs worth almost a million pounds and Steve Roper, a detection manager for the UK Border Agency, hopes that the new developments will send a “robust message" to both drugs barons and mules.
Similar scanners have been used in America for some time and, despite concerns from civil liberty groups over privacy, travellers seem resigned to the possible indignity on the grounds that it saves time and makes them feel safer.
The increasingly popular Birmingham International Airport is to up its game this autumn. As of October this year, it will see flights leaving for the northern Indian city of Amritsar. It’s a joint venture between the new operator Bilga Air from India and the UK airline Monarch, who were recently named ‘Leisure Operator of the Year’ and currently have great success flying from Gatwick, Luton, Manchester and Birmingham.
The flights will be a breakthrough for the West Midlands airport and will hopefully serve both tourists and people travelling on business. It’s predicted that flights will run to India twice a week to begin with, most likely on Sundays and Mondays, but this will be reviewed depending on the demand.
The flights will boast two classes, economy and premium economy, and will be fitted with TV screens, plenty of legroom and a few leather seats in certain areas. The large Asian community in the Midlands gives executives at Bilga Air plenty of optimism about the demand and potential for the service. From Amritsar there is a host of popular destinations in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the rest of Asia available. But Amritsar, with its famous Golden Temple, could well become a new popular tourist attraction for Brits wanting something new.
Birmingham Airport seems to be flying high at the moment. This year also saw regular flights begin to and from Istanbul with Turkish Airlines up to five times a week. At this rate, it might soon be up there competing with the likes of Gatwick and Manchester.
In a surprise move last week, Birmingham Airport announced that Paul Kehoe would take over as Chief Executive. Mr Kehoe is currently boss at Bristol Airport but has also had previous MD experience at Luton and Belfast airports in the 20 years in which he has worked in the aviation business.
He has also worked in air traffic control with the RAF and is known within the industry, according to an anonymous source, as someone with “a track record of cost control and of driving expansion projects forward”. This could well be one of the reasons behind Mr Kehoe’s success in landing the £200,000 pa job, which was hotly contested by a number of suitable candidates.
When the post was advertised earlier this year, it was made clear that not only would the right candidate have to be a “compelling and charismatic leader” but would also be expected to increase passenger numbers from 9 million to 18 million in the next decade, as well as “deliver business transformation”.
Mr Kehoe’s first project will be to manage the extension to the main runway which will enable planes to fly non-stop to destinations such as the West coast of America, China and India. A new terminal for international flights is also planned in the airport’s ambitious expansion scheme.
Hot favourite for the job landed by Mr Kehoe was Joe Kelly, who had been acting as MD after the untimely death of previous boss, Richard Head, in a car accident last year. No announcement has been made as to Mr Kelly’s future at the airport but a tribute was paid to his leadership by a spokesman from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.
Earlier this year budget carrier Ryanair announced that Birmingham airport was to become its 25th European base and last week the airline confirmed that nine new routes would be operated from the airport, starting in October. This is in addition to the routes which have been operating from Birmingham since April this year.
The routes announced last week are to Alicante, Derry, Fuerteventura, Katowice, Kaunas, Krakow, Palma, Malaga and Murcia. There are also rumours that a tenth route to Prague will be introduced, running five times a week and starting in late October.
The airline sees great potential at Birmingham and hopes that passenger numbers will hit 5 million a year in five years’ time. Business Development Director at Birmingham, Peter Vella, sees Ryanair’s involvement as a great move for passengers in the area, giving them “greater choice and flexibility”, whether they are business or leisure travellers. In addition 5,000 jobs will be created as a result.
Not everyone, however, is delighted by the news, with environmental campaigners warning of the potential for a huge increase in carbon dioxide emissions, just at a time when we should all be doing our best to reduce emissions. Chris Williams of the Birmingham branch of Friends of the Earth is reported as saying that the cost of a Ryanair flight is far too cheap and does not reflect the cost to the environment or to people’s health.
To celebrate its announcement the airline has been offering bargain fares of only £5 each way to thirty five thousand customers. This fare includes taxes and charges, the items which often used to add up to making Ryanair’s fares seem less of a bargain.
Birmingham airport has recently announced that the proposed new runway will not only have great economic benefits for the area but will not result in an increase in health risk for the local community. However, the more cynical of local residents have queried the reason behind the commissioning of a further report on the health issues.
A £50,000 piece of research, running to 171 pages, carried out by Liverpool University had previously concluded that children, the elderly and anyone with respiratory or circulatory problems would be adversely affected. A further £10,000 was then spent on obtaining a peer group review of the report which, happily for those in favour of the runway expansion, concludes that no meaningful health effects are likely to be caused and that the net impact on health will be a positive one because of improved employment opportunities.
Joe Kelly, MD at Birmingham airport, said that the original study had not taken account of a £10 million plan both to provide soundproofing and to set up a study to monitor health issues.
Chris Crean of Friends of the Earth criticised Mr Kelly for creating a positive spin, whilst a campaigner from Save Elmdon Action Group was quick to point out that sound proofing amounts to nothing if you want to sit in your garden in the summer or even open a window.
Local MP, Loraly Burt, is, on balance, in favour of the runway extension which will generate £824 million in the next 22 years for the region, with the introduction of direct flights to China, India, the west coast of America and South America.
On the same day that an Austrian man was jailed for smuggling £12,000 worth of cannabis into Birmingham airport, a record drugs haul worth £130,000 was also discovered at the airport.
Earlier this year, Klaus Grunseis was stopped by customs officials at Birmingham airport and, after they x-rayed his luggage, almost six kilos of cannabis was discovered concealed in the lining of two suitcases. Grunseis had travelled from Thailand via Delhi and Zurich and was jailed for eighteen months last week after pleading guilty to the offence.
The six kilo haul, however, pales into comparative insignificance when viewed in the light of the record amount of cannabis (for Birmingham at any rate) discovered in three suitcases being carried by a 41 year old woman and her teenage daughter. The 47 kilos of cannabis resin was discovered by the new UK Border Agency when the women were stopped after disembarking from a flight from Montego Bay in Jamaica. They will appear before Solihull Magistrates in mid July.
Last year Birmingham Airport hit the headlines when HM Revenue and Customs officials and police thwarted an attempt to smuggle heroin with a street value of £1.5 million into the country, hidden in a consignment of air-conditioning units.
The UK Border Agency involved in Birmingham’s latest drugs haul was formed in April this year and has, as one of its targets, the challenge of seizing at least 550 kilos of heroin and 2400 kilos of cocaine by next April, in order to keep up last year’s good work on class A drugs.