Glasgow-Heathrow route in doubt

British Midland International
(BMI) has announced that its five-time daily route between Glasgow Airport and Heathrow, London, could face the chop, prompting fears about the future of Scottish industry. The airline, which is based at Castle Donnington, says that rising passenger fees at Heathrow, equating to a £7 increase over last year, are partly responsible for the bleak forecast.

Whilst BMI has not said when the route will be axed, an educated guess would be late March or early April, when Heathrow introduces the £7 hike in the domestic passenger charge. The price increase, announced in December, was previously described by the airline as “unreasonably discriminating” against travellers, and an “outrage.” BMI intimated that Heathrow was placing high charges on domestic flights to pander to long-haul carriers, such as Emirates and British Airways (BA).

However, even if passenger fees were kept at their current rate of £13.43 after April 1, BMI would still lose upwards of £1m a month on its Glasgow-Heathrow flights. The airline referred to the route as “weaker,” but withheld any information that might explain why the connection was failing. Competition from BA is a likely culprit, as the two airlines operate the same route from Glasgow.

Stuart Patrick, of the Glasgow Chambers of Commerce, said that Heathrow’s links to international airports are the route’s main attraction, and the removal of the connection would leave Scots with “no choice” regarding their choice of airline. Stuart Patrick also noted that Heathrow’s capacity problems meant that there would be no free aircraft slots available for another airline to pick up the route. BA would be effectively invulnerable from competition at Glasgow.

Despite the doom and gloom, BMI says that “no decision” regarding underperforming routes has yet been made. Scottish transport minister, Keith Brown, is hoping to capitalise on BMI’s hesitation by asking Westminster to help support the airline, or take steps to ensure that Glasgow does not become isolated from the UK’s busiest airport.

BAA coughs up £11m for Glasgow overhaul

The British Airports Authority (BAA) could find itself accused of favouritism this year, after the aviation giant announced a £11.2m redevelopment fund for Glasgow Airport, less than a month after the Abbotsinch hub struck a deal with US-based firm, Delaware North, to refurbish the airport’s food court.

Glasgow is the BAA’s fourth largest airport in the UK, after Heathrow, Stansted, and fellow Scot, Edinburgh, with annual traffic of 6-7m people. The hub’s main terminal, opened in 1966, retains a number of original features that have become a hindrance in recent years, rather than a quaint novelty. The BAA, says a press release on Glasgow’s website, is proposing a “major” overhaul of the Scottish airport, lasting up to five years, in a bid to modernise the forty-year-old facility.

The heating system, an essential part of huge lofty structures, is to be stripped out, and replaced with an energy-efficient “boiler plant,” costing £2.5m. Old lights and cracked flooring will be thrown out the terminal doors, seating will be replaced, and new retail outlets will be lured to the airport. A total of £4.5m will be spent on keeping travellers warm and illuminated while they wait for their flight.

On the airport’s ‘airside,’ preparations are being made to modify the taxiway. Glasgow has not mentioned what form the £2m upgrade will take, but it is likely that existing surfaces will be re-laid, possibly to accommodate heavier, ‘greener,’ aircraft. Runway approach lights, which assist inbound pilots, will be refurbished, whilst a number of aircraft stands will also receive makeovers, making loading and unloading faster.

Amanda McMillan, chief at Glasgow Airport, noted that the BAA’s multi-million pound investment would be spent on ensuring the “smooth, efficient operation” of airport business, and helping travellers to “relax” before their flight. However, it is likely that the BAA’s generosity is designed to bring Glasgow back ‘up to scratch.’ The airport lost around a million passengers during 2009/10, due to snow, volcanic ash, and the recession.

“We have continued to invest for the long term,” explained Amanda McMillan. “I am confident that we will see a return to growth in 2011.” Glasgow’s mission has been bolstered by the announcement of a “massive” expansion by Leeds-based carrier, Jet2, and extra flights from Icelandair and Thomas Cook, among others.

US firm to redesign Glasgow’s food hall

Travellers passing through Glasgow Airport will soon be able to enjoy the delights of a homemade burger, after the Scottish hub announced a £1.5m redevelopment of its food court, due to be completed later this year.

The redesign, which will add a total of four new cafés and restaurants, is being handled by the UK arm of Delaware North Companies, an American hospitality firm.

Delaware North, despite being relatively unknown outside the catering world, is a supplier of food services to a number of large sports stadiums, including Pride Park in Derby, the Emirates Stadium in London and the cornerstone of English football, Wembley Stadium. Perhaps of greater relevance is that Delaware North also operates food outlets at Heathrow, Gatwick and Edinburgh airports, three of the largest hubs in the UK.

When complete, Glasgow’s newest development will be located on two levels, the ground and first floor, and will accommodate 406 diners. A sports bar and grill showing live events, a ‘city-centre style’ café bar, a sandwich deli and a buffet-style restaurant will be introduced as part of the expansion. The four outlets will be located on the airport’s ‘landside’ before security checkpoints.

Glasgow’s commercial director, Francois Bourienne, said that the Scottish hub is “really excited” about working with Delaware North, and drew attention to the airport’s ongoing popularity with food and retail companies by stating that “despite a recession, we have added household names such as Tesco and Dorothy Perkins to our retail portfolio".

Delaware North’s UK chief, Simon Dobson, said that his company was “delighted” with recent developments.

Dishes will be available for £3.50 from the Fresh Food Central and Central Sports Bar and Grill outlets, challenging the long-held idea that airport stores and restaurants are more expensive than their equivalents on the high street.

Affair to boost Glasgow capacity by 30%

In 2011, Canadian Affair, the “pre-eminent choice for tours to Canada,” to quote the company’s website, will increase capacity on routes from Glasgow Airport to three North American destinations. The expansion will add around 10,000 extra seats on flights to Vancouver, Calgary, and the largest city in Canada, Toronto.

While it might sound like a bargain bin paperback, Canadian Affair is a specialist holiday company based in London and Glasgow. The firm has been flying from Scotland’s second city since its inception in 1995, and currently provides more than 60 flights a week from seven UK airports.

Bosses have cited exploding passenger numbers as the impetus for the planned expansion at Glasgow. The operator claims that more UK travellers chose to fly with Canadian Affair in 2010 than in any previous year. “We can’t give out the specific numbers, but this has been a record year for us,” a spokesperson told the Evening Times newspaper

Larger planes will be brought onto Glasgow-Canada routes to facilitate the capacity increase, including the Airbus A330, which can carry almost 300 passengers, and the now-discontinued A110 aircraft, seating 200 people. The planes will be borrowed from Canadian Affair’s parent company, Transat A.T.

The Toronto service will operate five times a week from summer 2011, priced at £278 for a return journey. Calgary and Vancouver will be served with one weekly flight. Tickets for the latter two cities are slightly more expensive than on the Toronto route, coming in at £298 per person.

In addition to flights, Canadian Affair is offering travellers a chance to explore the North American countryside, providing scenic train journeys, food and wine events in British Columbia, and a rather novel activity for British holidaymakers, bear watching.

Glasgow trials security ‘breakthrough’

Glasgow Airport might not be one of the largest hubs in the world, and it’s arguable whether its renown extends beyond Britain’s shores, but the Abbotsinch hub has become the first airport in the world to install a new security breakthrough, colloquially known as an electronic ‘sniffer dog.’

The device, mounted in a tall arch, uses lasers to detect IEDs (improvised explosive devices – essentially homemade bombs) that are hidden about a person’s body or stashed in their clothing. The machine works by ‘sniffing’ air particles, and was previously used by inventor, Cascade Technologies, to analyse industrial gases.

Cascade worked closely with French security firm, Morpho, to produce the new scanner, which is immune to external factors, such as magnetism or radio waves, which could produce a ‘false reading.’

The system can also be configured to scan for narcotics, toxic industrial chemicals, and various other agents. However, it cannot yet be used to scour luggage for contraband, which means that the two printers sent from Yemen to Chicago as part of the recent ‘ink-bomb plot,’ would still have made it through security.

Jean-Paul Jainsky, boss at Morpho, said, “We are very pleased with our partnership (with Cascade), and to have reached a trial stage with a major airport operator such as the British Airports Authority.” Cascade boss, Iain Howieson, was “excited” about testing the product “in the field.”

The Daily Mail newspaper claims that a large majority of passengers have agreed to walk through the archway over the past month, emphasising the machine’s popularity with Scottish travellers. The scanner is likely to garner more support than the full-body (or ‘naked’) scanner, as the new device does not take any compromising photographs.

Morpho and Cascade are speculating as to whether two different kinds of scanner can be ‘fused together,’ creating machines that can detect weapons and bombs (for example), and helping to reduce queues at security checkpoints.

Island welcomes UK sunseekers

, the “friendly low fares” airline, has announced plans to connect the Scottish city of Glasgow to the largest Canary Island, Tenerife. The expansion will take place on April 1. Flights will operate twice a week until November 4 2011.

Alongside Dalaman in Turkey, and Alicante, Spain, Tenerife is one of the most popular ‘sun and sea’ destinations available from UK airports, accessible from London Gatwick, Manchester, and Bristol, among others.

Tenerife is famed for its mountainous central regions, as well as its violent geological history, which includes the tantrums of the third largest active volcano in the world, Mount Teide. The island’s pleasant climate, controlled by the trade winds, provides an ideal holiday destination for sun seekers and explorers alike.

Commenting on Jet2’s latest expansion, Pia Louw, Director at the Tenerife Tourism Corporation said, “We are delighted that Jet2 has recognised Tenerife’s ever-growing popularity in the UK market, and we look forward to welcoming even more tourists to our shores.”

The airline’s latest offering will operate on Tuesdays and Fridays, costing in the region of £57, one-way. The flight complements the Abbotsinch hub’s existing routes to the Canary Islands of Fuerteventura and La Palma, operated by Thomas Cook.

, the carrier’s package holiday arm, is also offering new options for travellers. Staying at Playa de Las Américas, a popular holiday resort in the south of the island, travellers can expect to pay around £200 for a self-catered apartment with Jet2holidays, and £263 for half-board.

The company does not have any all-inclusive holidays available at Playa de Las Américas, but there are plenty of B&Bs scattered around the resort.

Jet2 moves into Glasgow

Jet2, an airline more closely associated with English airports, is to expand its business in Scotland by opening a new base at Glasgow Airport in March 2011. The carrier believes that the expansion will bring “significant investment” to Renfrewshire and create around 150 new jobs.

The Yorkshire airline opted for a new Glasgow base over further expansion of its facilities in Manchester or Leeds, according to the BBC News website.

Nine new routes will be added as part of the deal, including several destinations in Europe and North Africa.

Palma in Majorca, Alicante in Spain, Nice in France and Faro in Portugal are already available for booking, as are flights to Dalaman in Turkey, Monastir in Tunisia and Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt.

Flights to the Canary Island of Tenerife and the Cypriot city of Paphos will also make their debut at Glasgow in 2011.

Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish transport minister, noted that some of the new positions available at Jet2’s base would be supported by an RSA (Regional Selective Assistance) grant, to the tune of £150,000.

The minister praised Scottish Development International, a firm that supports businesses setting up in Scotland, for “persuading” Jet2 to move north of the border. “The airline’s new base is a tremendous boost for Glasgow Airport,” Stevenson said.

Jet2 is the second firm to invest at Glasgow Airport in just over a month, after supermarket giant Tesco announced plans to build an Express-branded store inside the airport later this year.

The shop, which will become the first Tesco store of its kind, is expected to create 20 new jobs.

Long kiss goodnight for UK firm

Flight Options, Ltd., the parent company of Kiss Flights, has become the 13th holiday company to fold in 2010, alongside UK-based travel firm, Goldtrail, and the lesser known, Malachite Travel.

Estimates suggest that as many as 70,000 Brits could have had their holiday plans scuppered by the collapse of Kiss.

The airline, whose official website now displays a permanent error, has been operating flights from UK airports for a number of years. The firm was bought by Flight Options in early 2009 from the former directors of the ill-fated, XL Leisure Group. XL folded in 2008, much to the chagrin of 85,000 customers.

Kiss added 12 flights to Glasgow’s books as recently as January, plugging the deficit in flights left by the collapse of Flyglobespan, and becoming a local hero in the process.

Yet Kiss’ business model was fundamentally flawed, according to Co-op Travel boss, Mike Greenacre – “the flights were just too cheap. Co-op took a commercial decision not to sell Kiss flights.” Greenacre, who was speaking to BBC Radio 4, told listeners that the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) decision to allow Kiss to fly in the first place was ‘concerning.’

Whilst the reason for Kiss’ collapse has not been made explicit, the recent volcanic ash crisis, coupled with the recession and a more frugal approach to holidaying by Brits, has produced a marked slump in profits for UK airlines and travel firms.

The harsh winter of 2009-10 has also been blamed, with Highland Airways succumbing to its debts in April this year, after finding its clientele (mostly Highlanders and Islanders) unable to travel through freezing fog and snow.

Holidaymakers who booked through Kiss and departed or returned before last Wednesday evening were protected by the CAA, but the authority warned that pre-booked holidays – around 60,000 – would be refunded, rather than shunted to other airlines. Tickets for Kiss flights will no longer be accepted at European airports.

With the airline’s passengers safe, Glasgow Airport now has to contend with the loss of popular ‘sun and sea’ routes for the second time since December, when Flyglobespan ceased trading and entered administration.

The lost flights could have secured the airport’s finances throughout the winter season, a historically difficult time for the Scottish hub.

Tesco moves into Glasgow

Shopping giant, Tesco, plans to open a new store in Glasgow Airport. The shop, which will carry the Express branding, and stock a range of essential products, will become the first Tesco store of its kind when it opens later this year.

Tesco is one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK, earning around £3bn in the last financial year. The firm’s stores have become a high-street staple in recent years, replacing smaller establishments and ‘corner shops,’ and generating a fair amount of criticism from concerned residents.

In 2007, for example, a Tesco store in Cambridge was opposed by local people, who felt that the supermarket would suck the life out of a ‘lively cosmopolitan area,’ and force the closure of a number of unique outlets. The shop was eventually built in 2009, albeit at a fraction of its original size.

Glasgow’s new Tesco Express will be located in the domestic arrivals area, and fill a ‘prominent space’ in the airport, according to officials. The supermarket hopes to attract returning holidaymakers, especially those who arrive during the early hours, when most high street stores are closed.

“We are delighted to be making this investment at Glasgow Airport,” Tesco chief, Tony McElroy, explained. “Our new shop is a great example of our commitment to keeping our business fresh and trying new ideas." Tony claims that up to 20 jobs could be created by the Glasgow Tesco.

An airport store might be a novel investment in Tony McElroy’s eyes, but rival supermarket, Spar, already has a small shop at East Midlands Airport.

What sets Tesco apart, however, is the price of goods – the airport Express will offer groceries at the same price as its high street kin, without any of the premiums usually heaped on items sold at railway stations and airports.

Glasgow will be hoping that the extra business generated by Tesco will shore up the airport’s finances over the difficult winter holiday season. Last year, the Scottish hub was forced to close its second terminal, as debt problems spiralled out of control.

Glasgow gets German route

The self-proclaimed, ‘number one domestic airline,’ Flybe, has introduced a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, from Glasgow Airport. The route will operate between four and twelve times a week, according to a press release by the carrier, and connect to the German city via Southampton Airport.

Beginning 1 August, Flybe’s new route is designed to generate business links between Scotland and ‘key destinations,’ such as Frankfurt. The airline claims that its latest addition is in response to demand from Scottish executives, who may not wish to travel the 40 miles to Edinburgh for a direct flight to Germany.

Flybe also hopes that its Glasgow-Frankfurt route will demonstrate that the budget carrier has its collective fingers in two lucrative pies – the leisure and tourism industry, and the heady world of business travel. The airline’s Chief Commercial Officer, Mike Rutter, explained that the flight was both ‘convenient’ and ‘cost-effective’ for travellers.

Glasgow is Flybe’s third UK base to provide a flight to Frankfurt, after Birmingham and Manchester airports. Tickets begin at £53.99, taxes included, for a one-way trip, departing at 13.35 on each day of operation. Unfortunately, the short stop in Southampton adds a good two hours to the total travel time.

Passengers can expect to spend an average of 4hrs 25mins in the sky, double that of flights between the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, and Frankfurt. The return flight leaves Germany at 19.00, arriving in Glasgow some 3 hours later, at 22.00.

Frankfurt is one of the largest cities in Germany, and ranks alongside Paris and London as an economic powerhouse. The city is sometimes referred to as ‘Bankfurt’ in honour of its many financial institutions, including the headquarters of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, and the Frankfurt stock exchange.